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Italian cardinal breaks ranks on civil unions March 16, 2007

“The Church does not give orders,” Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini told a large congregation of Italian visitors to Bethlehem on March 15. The Italian cardinal’s remarks were generally perceived as a criticism of efforts by other Italian Church leaders to defeat a proposal for legal recognition of same-sex unions.

The former Archbishop of Milan was speaking at the basilica of the Nativity, where he celebrated Mass for about 1,300 pilgrims from Milan. The Italian visitors-- led by Cardinal Martini’s successor in Milan, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi-- were on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where Cardinal Martini now lives in retirement.

In his homily the retired cardinal said that the Church should engage in open dialogue with non-believers, and attempt to make Catholic teachings persuasive to a secular audience. “It is necessary to listen to others, and when speaking to use terms that they understand,” he said.

Cardinal Martini, who was recognized for years as the leading liberal prelate in Europe, has recently distanced himself from the positions taken by the Italian bishops’ conference on several public-policy issues, including condom use, embryonic stem-cell research, and most recently the plea by a noted euthanasia supporter to be disconnected from the respirator that sustained his life.

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