Former Catholic Archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini's final comments on the Church are that it is “200 years out of date”.
The devastating remarks by the highly respected cardinal were made in the final media interview he gave to an Italian newspaper before his recent death, published on Saturday 1 September 2012.
Cardinal Martini had been backed by Vatican progressives to succeed Pope John Paul II. But poor health and deep dislike of his views in the highest councils of the church ended his chances of papal office.
Nevertheless, Cardinal Martini remained a prominent, outspoken and courageous voice within the Catholic Church until his death at 85 on Friday 31 August.
His final earthly verdict was that the Church he served and loved had become a pompous and bureaucratic institution failing to move with the times in a way that resonated with the core of the Gospel message and the the calling of Christ.
“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,” Cardinal Martini said in the interview, published in Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera.
"The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the Pope and the bishops. The paedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.”
Cardinal Martini, who said that the use of condoms could be acceptable in some cases, told interviewers that the church should open up to "new kinds of families", or risk losing its flock.
“A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children.” he declared. “A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off, but also her children.”
In this way “the church loses the future generation,” the cardinal said, in an interview given two weeks before he died.
Cardinal Martini was a noted scholar and a man of pastoral sensitivity, concerned that the Church should deepen its faithfulness to the message that gave its vocation.
His chances of becoming Pope were weakened when he revealed that he was suffering from a rare form of Parkinson’s disease. He retired in 2002, but continued to speak out.
The cardinal’s final message to Pope Benedict XVI, of whom he was a theological critic, was that a shake-up of the Catholic Church should begin without delay.
“The church is 200 years out of date,” he said. “Why don’t we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?”
In 1999 the cardinal urged that a council should be held to look at church governance, the shortage of priests and the role of women and marriage, alluding to the Vatican's hardline stance on divorce.
Conservatives within the vatican have been swift to push aside Cardinal Martini's comments, or to suggest that they have been "misinterpreted".
But progressives say that his prophetic voice is one that can take the Church forward in fidelity to the dynamic of the Second Vatican Council, which those around Pope Benedict have been seeking to rein back.
Robert Mickens, the Rome correspondent of The Tablet, says that Cardinal Martini's deathbed comments "must be seen in the context of coming from a man who loved the Church and who gave his life to the institution. He made a profound statement, which he had already said many times to Benedict and John Paul II in private."