Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Cardinal Carlo Martini: Two Clear Voices of Moral Reasoning in an Age of Deceit and Denial.

The death on August 31st of the Roman Catholic Cardinal Carlo Martini may have passed unnoticed in the largely secular world of quick buy and sell materialism. But, it deserves significant attention because the late Cardinal was not only a champion of liberal causes within the Catholic Church; he was also honest and forthright in expressing his views of its corrupt, outdated and often arcane practices. Of the ongoing sexual abuse scandals he wrote that it “obliged the Church to undertake a journey of transformation” and of its arcane rituals devoid of genuine spirituality-the kind Jesus practiced and urged others to undertake- he remarked that “The Church is tired, our prayer rooms empty…our religious rites and the vestments we wear pompous”.  The kind of scandals and avarice within the Catholic Church today is reminiscent of its state in the 12th century when Francis of Assisi attempted to reform the corrupt, aristocratic practices of his day when he founded his Order in 1209. Some 800 years later even the Franciscans struggle with their own largesse, vast palatial properties (I stayed in their 5 Star Hotel in Santiago de Compostela recently), wealth beyond the ordinary person’s imaginings and its collection of vineyards world wide.

Cardinal Martini is that voice of reasoning and inspiration in the 21st century. His message is clear-the Church needs repair: morally, theologically, politically and economically. Firstly, it needs to review its doctrine of compulsory morality and admit that its dichotomy of soul-redemption versus sinful-flesh hasn’t worked and has done more to pervert the natural drive of human sexuality throughout history than many other (though not all) secular or religious ideologies. It needs to allow its clergy to marry, embrace divorced people as Jesus would have done, rethink its concept of family, permit the use of contraception and accept that homosexuality is a natural attraction for those of same sex orientation. Secondly, it should review its theological position on original sin, purgatory and the nature of Hell-to instill such fear and paranoia in the minds of children from preschool age is tantamount to emotional and psychological abuse. There are more humane ways to instill a sense of the good, and care and compassion in the young. Thirdly, it should deregulate its internal political hierarchy and eschew the aristocratic nature of its titles, like Bishop, Pope, Cardinal (Princes of the Church indeed), Father, Reverend and so on, and revert to simples names as the Apostles had: John, Paul, Peter and so on. It should lead by example in more humble and gentle self-effacement practices in how to address each other. Finally, it should sell all of its gilded works of Art, properties, and other vestiges of its princely aristocratic lineage, and practice Jesus’ retort that “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” The life of a tenant is more in keeping with Gospel values I think. It is my view that aside from the Dali Lama there’s a lack of overt genuine spiritual and moral guidance in the world today. It’s not too late for the Roman Catholic Church to undertake a “radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his Bishops” as the late Cardinal Carlo Martini urged shortly before his death.

In the realm of the living, still alive and expressing sound moral reasoning which we ought to heed is the great Bishop Desmond Tutu. The Nobel Laureate’s call for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to indict Tony Blair and George W Bush for War Crimes is timely. Bishop Tutu argues cogently that double standards are being applied to Western Leaders. The death toll from the Iraq war continues to climb today with bombings and sectarian killings becoming the accepted threshold for what Blair and Bush refer to as a “new democracy”. I recently spoke to a colleague of mine who returned to Mosul for the summer to see his family, and he reported that “life was a struggle for ordinary people”. I have argued elsewhere that up until 1991, Iraq had a 100% literacy rate, and had one of the best educational systems in the region. (Al-Azzawi, 2011)

However, the devastation and destruction inflicted upon Iraqi society, leading up to and including  the USA and UK led invasion in March 2003, is still a tragedy unfolding.  Souad Al-Azzawi, Associate Professor at the University of Baghdad, described the complete annihilation of the education sector under USA and UK occupation, and it is worth quoting in full here:


Looted Facilities

Burned Facilities

Bombed Facilities


Universities & Colleges





Technical Colleges





Secondary Schools & related services










 More than 738 secondary schools and educational centers were occupied by military invading forces…the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) took control of Iraq under occupation. In opposition to all international laws and norms which call for the preservation and national ownership of education and culture of the occupied country, the CPA abolished the national education curriculum by decree in July 7, 2003. “ (Al-Azzawi, 2011)

Such actions contravene the Geneva Convention and in themselves would be enough to prosecute those responsible.  I agree with Bishop Tutu that Western leaders should “be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague. “ Mr. Blair remains in a state of denial and his tired, recurring self-defense that the intelligence was correct is simply a lie and a denial of the facts. I have lived in the Middle East since 2001, and it is, as Bishop Tutu says, on the precipice. It didn’t get this way through poor local polices and decision making. The conditions were created on that fateful day of March 17th 2003 when in a publicized television address George W Bush gave the Iraqi leader and his family an ultimatum- ” leave your country in 48 hours or we will attack”. The outcome as Bishop Tutu explains has made the world more unstable; yet those responsible for this instability and mayhem have never been brought to account.

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