The recent death of Cardinal Carlo Martini, Archbishop of Milan, prompted a piece at First Things that has me wondering again about the arbitrary differences between liberal Roman Catholics and Protestants, not to mention the solidity of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the magisterium it professes to represent. (Though I must add that if gin without tonic water agreed with my tender stomach, I might be called to a communion that has a bishop named Martini.)
Here is the run down of the spectrum of thought in Roman Catholic circles, all within one high ranking official’s thought and service. First, there’s the Christocentric and exegetical side of Martini that sounds reminiscent of Luther:
At the heart of Cardinal Martini’s spirituality was an intense devotion to Christ. Understanding the Lord, drawing closer to him, and becoming his faithful servant, was what directed Martini’s exegesis. Of course, he knew that in order to be a disciple of Christ, one first had to accept the Incarnation, and truth of the Gospels, which is often a struggle for those contending with modernity. It is a trial Martini experienced himself. . . .
Longing to find the truth, Martini plunged himself into studying the New Testament, and read everything he could on “the historical Jesus”—including Christianity’s fiercest critics. Only after testing the Church’s claims against the most rigorous demands did he see “more and more clearly the solid basis for what we can know about Jesus” and that “there were significant and decisive sayings and events in his life that could not be eliminated by any criticism.” Having liberated himself from his fear of embracing Christ fully, he did so, and was inspired to evangelize others. . .
If Martini sounded like an evangelical when it came to Christ and the Bible, the other aspect of his career also echoed Protestant sensibilities (especially mainline and some born-againers):
Cardinal Martini was not merely “open” toward homosexuality, he approved civil unions for same-sex couples. He often praised the family and Christian love, yes—but did so in the context of assailing Humanae Vitae, and advocating the use of condoms to fight AIDS. He challenged the Church’s position on bioethics. Most seriously, he wrote that there was a “positive” aspect to legalizing abortion, and referred to this crime euphemistically as a “termination of pregnancy.”
The Cardinal’s defenders say these statements shouldn’t be isolated, but viewed in a broader picture, alongside his strong statements in favor of life, traditional marriage, and the papacy. . . . The biggest disappointment here is that the Cardinal’s persona as a public commentator was often at odds with his strengths as a biblical interpreter. Serving as the latter, he stressed the need for interior conversion, a renunciation of worldly values, and deeper obedience to Christ. Yet his outreaches to the world became not so much pastoral as fashionable. There was a reason he was “respected among nonbelievers and lapsed Catholics,” as the Washington Post put it, and it wasn’t because he challenged his secular audiences: it was because he accommodated them.
What is striking here is that such a prominent figure in the church was not known for defending the papacy, venerating Mary, or adhering to church tradition. Was he to Rome what Brian McLaren is to Protestantism?
Sure sounds like Called to Communion folks might want to add a page or two about the breadth and diversity of the church to which they are calling Protestants.