In recent months, Martini has raised subtle though crucial objections to the Church's steadfast opposition to all circumstances of assisted fertility, distribution of condoms for AIDS victims and so-called "right-to-die" cases. His long cover-story interview last April with the Italian magazine L'Espresso set off an internal Church debate about whether a married AIDS patient's use of a condom is the "lesser of two evils," and a Vatican document on the issue may come out later this year.
Martini has long understood that speaking softly is the best way for a dissenting voice to be heard. Most recently, in an interview published Sunday in the Rome-based daily La Repubblica, he politely challenged both Benedict and Cardinal Camillo Ruini, head of Italy's bishop conference, for their repeatedly strong condemnations of an Italian government proposal to legalize civil unions for homosexuals and heterosexuals who don't want to marry. Though no supporter of gay marriage, Martini nevertheless decided it was time to register his opposition to the Vatican's hammering away on family-related issues. "The family is the cell of society, and is therefore very important," he said. "Certainly the family should be defended and promoted.
But the promoting, I think, is more important than defending." He went on to warn against the "confrontation among the various positions that create tensions and useless and dangerous clashes." In the past, he has voiced his support for woman deacons, and even called for a Third Vatican Council to address the many issues dividing Catholics. Martini has long been a beacon for a generation of progressive bishops and cardinals, like Archbishop of Westminster Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who has recently pushed to have a mass for gay parishioners. Martini and his followers, in fact, have long contrasted with the future German pope.