Cardinal says Catholic church '200 years behind'

In his last interview, an Italian cardinal condemns the Roman Catholic Church as "200 years behind" and needing radical transformation.

'It's tired. Why doesn't it rouse itself? Is it afraid?'

Pope Benedict XVI shakes hands with Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who urged for radical changes in the Catholic Church in his last interview. (Osservatore Romano/Reuters)

In his last interview, an Italian cardinal condemned the Roman Catholic Church as "200 years behind" and needing radical transformation.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, 85, died Friday and his interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera was published the next day.

He lambasted the church for being "tired" and said that its "prayer rooms are empty."

Once the archbishop of Milan, the Cardinal had been tipped as a possible future pope. During his time leading the largest diocese in Europe, he was outspoken and often critical in his remarks and writings about the church. Martini retired in 2002, suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

In the interview, Martini urges the church to enact radical changes.

"It's tired. Why doesn't it rouse itself? Is it afraid?" he said.

"The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation."

Pope pays homage

In a statement following Martini's death, Pope Benedict XVI remembered his "intense and prodigious Apostolic work" and hailed the Cardinal as "[a] zealous spiritual son of St. Ignatius" — but he did not address Martini’s criticism.

St. Ignatius was a Spanish knight who founded the Jesuit order, known for its rigorous intellectual training.

Martini was a member of the Jesuit religious order, lauded as a man of dialogue and viewed with affection by reform-minded Catholics.

In the interview, he also took a progressive stance on marriages after divorce and said the church should be more open to blended families or risk losing future generations as members. 

"A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children. A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off but also her children," he said.

Martini was also famous for comments about the use of contraception, that in some cases it should be viewed as acceptable.

Cardinal Martini's body currently lies in state at Milan's cathedral, where thousands of mourners have been paying their respects. His funeral mass will take place Monday at the cathedral.