On Friday, August 31, former archbishop of Milan and one-time candidate for the papacy, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, passed away at the age of 85.
Cardinal Martini was hailed as a “progressive.” Upon listening to the last interview that he gave before his death—and that was released this past Saturday—it becomes immediately obvious that his reputation was well deserved.
In reference to—what else?—its millennia-old injunctions against divorce and contraception, as well as its equally old rituals, Martini stated that the Catholic Church is “200 years behind the times.” He also contended that its much publicized pedophilia scandal should provoke the Church to “admit its mistakes” and embark upon a path of “radical change [.]” The Church must now take “a journey of transformation.”
One very good thing is to be gotten from America’s experience with its 44th president: if we didn’t realize it before, more of us (though, sadly, not nearly enough of us), now know that from such words as “radical change” and “transformation,” nothing very good is likely to come.
Self-styled “progressives”—leftists—can’t resist speaking along these lines. The residents of contemporary Western societies generally, and historically young America specifically, have long since fallen in love with the concept of change. Change signifies aversion to the old and desire for what’s new and novel. Knowing this, leftists exploit these vague, often inchoate associations in their quest to, not reform their civilization, but remake it into something bearing little to no continuity with its current self.
When Martini calls for the Church to engage in “radical change;” when he beckons it to undergo a “transformation,” he is in effect calling for it to extinguish itself.
He calls for its death.
Leftists, like Obama, who want to “fundamentally transform” the United States, want to end the country of their forbearers and substitute for it a new country made in the image of their own ideology. And as goes America under leftists like Obama, so goes the Catholic Church under leftists like Martini.
Change that is radical and/or fundamentally transformative undercuts identity.
Of course, as for change itself, there is nothing in the least objectionable about it. In fact, it is frequently desirable and, at any rate, unavoidable. But for gradual, incremental change, the Martinis and Obamas of the world have no use.
The 2,000 year history of the Catholic Church is a history of changes—a not inconsiderable number of which have been reasonably dramatic. The second Vatican Council is the most recent of such wide reaching reforms that the Church has enacted.
However, change, even dramatic change, is not what Cardinal Martini wanted. Reformative change is not what he had in mind.
Martini wanted radical change. He wanted transformation. The Cardinal wanted the same thing that all leftists want: creative destruction. He wanted to destroy one institution and replace it with something that he could build—or at least seem to be able to build—from scratch.
Martini can now join the ranks of the Church’s critics from over the centuries who, in so many words, have expressed his conviction that it is “behind the times.” Yet when we consider the fate of her critics who did indeed keep up with the times by following them to the place to which all times pass, it can only be judged a good thing by her children that the Church refused to accept her detractors’ advice.
It has been quite some time since anyone with even a shadow of wisdom has come to recognize this counsel for the folly that it is. An institution that has managed to not only endure, but to grow, over the span of 2,000 years and within a staggering variety of cultures the planet over doesn’t need a lecture from this or that generation on self-preservation.
Such an institution is indeed in a sense behind the times. Yet it is also ahead of and among the times. This is the secret to its longevity.
Anyone who doesn’t know this—even if he is a Cardinal—doesn’t know the Church.