Vatican City - Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a rare liberal within the highly conservative Catholic Church hierarchy who was nevertheless long considered a papal contender, has died at age 85.

Martini, former archbishop of the important archdiocese of Milan, had been battling Parkinson's disease for years. His death Friday was announced by the Milan archdiocese.

Martini frequently voiced openness to divisive issues, such as using condoms to fight AIDS or homosexuality, which, while not at odds with church teaching, nevertheless showed his progressive bent. He was a noted biblical scholar and, despite his liberal views, was considered a possible contender in the 2005 conclave that brought Pope Benedict XVI to the papacy.

He retired as archbishop in 2002 and moved to Jerusalem, but returned to Italy as his Parkinson's worsened. - Sapa-AP