Thousands attend Milan funeral of leading reformist cardinal

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 03, 2012 1:39 PM
Thousands attend Milan funeral of leading reformist cardinal

By Sara Rossi

MILAN (Reuters) - Thousands attended the funeral in Milan cathedral on Monday of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, an outspoken progressive whose last testament was a scathing attack on the Roman Catholic Church, which he called 200 years out of date.

More than 200,000 people filed past Martini's body lying in state in the soaring gothic cathedral over the weekend, underling the love and respect in which he was held in Italy's business capital,where he was archbishop for more than 20 years.

Milan's Corriere della Sera newspaper said those paying tribute "did not all believe in God but certainly believed in the cardinal".

The ancient Duomo cathedral in the centre of the city was filled to its 6,000 capacity for the funeral service led by the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola.

Martini, a Jesuit leader and world renowned biblical scholar, was one of the last progressive leaders in a Church increasingly dominated by conservatives headed by Pope Benedict. He was known for liberal views including his openness to the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS.

In a last interview published after his death last Friday at the age of 85, Martini said a series of child abuse scandals that have rocked the Church obliged it to make radical changes, starting with the pope and bishops.

"Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and cassocks are pompous," he said in the interview.

Martini was seen as the progressive alternative to Benedict after the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 but had little chance both because of the dominance of conservative clerics and the onset of Parkinson's disease that eventually killed him.

He was known for reaching out to other faiths and non believers and Pope Benedict paid tribute to his "open spirit" and dialogue with all in a message read for him at the funeral by a senior Vatican official, Cardinal Angelo Comastri.

He called Martini "an untiring servant of the Gospel and the Church."

MONTI ATTENDS FUNERAL

Inside the cathedral leading figures from all walks of Italian life, including Prime Minister Mario Monti and dozens of cardinals and bishops dressed in mourning purple attended the funeral.

Outside thousands stood under grey skies to watch the service on giant TV screens. Martini was to be buried inside the cathedral.

Martini became the head of Italy's largest diocese in 1979 at the height of the "years of lead" when Italy, particularly the industrial north, was under siege from leftwing Red Brigades urban guerrillas.

He immediately established respect among trade unionists and leftwingers by celebrating mass among workers at large factories and also frequently visited the city's jail where he built relations with prisoners including incarcerated guerrillas.

He negotiated the handover of a cache of Red Brigades weapons to police due to his contacts with prisoners.

After retiring as archbishop because of his health in 2002, he spent six years in Jerusalem to devote himself to his studies.

The World Jewish Congress issued a statement of sorrow at his death and said he had played an important role in fostering Catholic-Jewish relations.

Milan's Jewish community has proposed naming a park next to the city's main synagogue after Martini.

In his final interview, Martini said: "In wealthy Europe and America the Church is tired".

"In the Church of today I see so much ash covering the fire that I often feel overcome by a sense of powerlessness."

"Why don't we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?"

(Writing by Lisa Jucca and Barry Moody)