Italian Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a renowned biblical scholar and former archbishop of Milan, died on August 31 at the age of 85 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He made church teachings accessible to the public through his columns in an Italian newspaper and in Sunday afternoon dialogues with young people at the cathedral in Milan.
A writer and biblical scholar known for his warm, pastoral style, Cardinal Martini was long considered a papal candidate in the last conclave.
In a telegram to Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, Pope Benedict praised Cardinal Martini’s generous service to the Gospel and the church and his “intense apostolic work” as a Jesuit, a professor and “authoritative biblicist.”
As archbishop of Milan, the pope said, Cardinal Martini helped open for the church community “the treasures of the sacred Scriptures.”
Born in Orbassano, near Turin, Italy, on February 15, 1927, Carlo Maria Martini entered the Society of Jesus in 1944, was ordained a priest July 13, 1952, and took his final vows as a Jesuit in 1962.
With doctorates in theology and biblical studies, he was a seminary professor in Chieri, Italy; professor and later rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome; and rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University. When he was named archbishop of Milan in December 1979, Cardinal Martini was the first Jesuit in 35 years to head an Italian archdiocese.
The cardinal was also a prolific author whose books were best-sellers in Italy and included everything from scholarly biblical exegesis to poetry and prayer guides.
Known as a strong pastor and administrator and as a very careful, thoughtful advocate of wide discussion on delicate and, often, controversial church positions, Cardinal Martini expressed openness to the ordination of married Latin-rite priests, under certain circumstances, and permitting women to serve as deacons.
Following his retirement as archbishop of Milan in 2002, Cardinal Martini moved to Jerusalem and focused on biblical studies, Catholic-Jewish dialogue and praying for peace in the Middle East. He returned to Milan after his health worsened in 2008.
Cardinal Martini’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 206 members, 118 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.
For more on Cardinal Martini, see Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield’s account from Italy and the Catholic News Service obituary.