Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the retired Archbishop of Milan who for years was Europe's most prominent progressive Church leader, has broken a long silence with a new call for greater collegiality in the governance of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Martini, who now lives mostly in Jerusalem, offered his thoughts in a long interview just published by the Italian daily Il Tempo. He said that there is "still a long road" to the implementation of the vision proclaimed by Vatican II for a collegial government.

In October 2000 Cardinal Martini had brought up the same subject during an interview with the Jesuit monthly, Jesu. Then and now Martini is reviving a long-standing debate on the subject of Episcopal collegiality. On both occasions he suggested regular meetings at which bishops discuss "the most urgent questions" facing the Church.

On both occasions he insisted that he was not calling for a new general council of the Church. That would be a mistake, he said, because "it would mean calling into question all that was done by Vatican II".

Speaking recently to Il Tempo, the Jesuit cardinal mentioned the Synod of Bishops as an important element in a less centralised form of Church governance. The Synod, he said, should be "a sort of permanent council of regents for the Church, beside the Pope". But he said with regret that the Synod has not yet become a permanent institution. He suggested that modern means of communication should make it feasible to assemble up to 4,500 bishops.

Cardinal Martini called for occasional meetings of the Synod of Bishops to discuss the central problems facing the Catholic Church. He also called for a stronger role for national bishops' conferences in the administration of the Church.

He suggested that the episcopal conferences might even be given a voice in papal elections, so that the conclave would be more representative of the world's Catholic population.

On another controversial issue, Cardinal Martini said that the possibility of ordaining women to the deaconate "deserves greater recognition than is currently possible under canonical legislation".

Cardinal Martini was regarded for some years as the leading "progressive" candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II. During a meeting of the Synod of Bishops for Europe in 1999, he caused a stir by suggesting that the Church should reconsider the understanding of papal primacy, and suggesting the development of new forms for exercising collegial leadership.

Although he is no longer considered a likely successor to the current Pope, and will not participate in the next papal conclave because he has passed his 80th birthday, Cardinal Martini remains highly influential and other Church leaders closely watch his opinions.

Quite naturally the opinions of Cardinal Martini will not be welcome in several sections of the Vatican but people with prophetic insight like Martini have a duty to speak out their minds for the good of the Church.

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