a differently political street priest

Dear manager,
a premise is obvious, and not only that to oblige: no one – inside or outside the Catholic Church, Italian and otherwise – has ever been able to doubt that Cardinal Matteo Zuppi was the candidate for the presidency of the episcopate in the country that hosts the Pope’s diocese. The curriculum and above all the talents ( doctrinal, pastoral, geo-political) expressed by the archbishop of Bologna throughout his journey as a presbyter, prelate, leading animator of the Community of Sant’Egidio have for some time been speaking for themselves. They also spoke to the more than three hundred voters who yesterday chose the three for the succession to Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti at the top of the CEI. The first one voted at the end of the first ballot was Zuppi. And Pope Francis – formalizing it ad hours the indication – respected the commitment made on Monday afternoon in front of the assembly of the Italian bishops.

“Feel free” he told them after two hours of a confrontation defined by many sources as “frank”: using more political-diplomatic jargon than ecclesial jargon. “Franco” – transparent – was certainly the Pontiff when, a couple of weeks ago, he said in quotation marks to the director of the Corriere della Sera, Luciano Fontana, to hope that the new president of the CEI was a cardinal. No one – in or around the Italian Church – has objected in the least. First of all because the “following” of the Pope is the peculiar declination of Catholic “obedience”. And the challenges for the CEI – above all the contrast to a growing “sleep of faith” in Italian society and the submerged scourge of pedophilia in the clergy – certainly imposed on anyone who had been invested with the presidency an authority out of the ordinary: cemented above all by the full confidence expressed by the Primate of Italy, in the form of a cardinal’s appointment.

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Not for this reason the Italian bishops did not feel free to report to the Pope the talents of the archbishop of Modena-Nonantola, Erio Castellucci: second most voted after Zuppi in the first (decisive) ballot. Castellucci – outgoing vice president of the CEI for Northern Italy – immediately rejected any hypothesis of a “ballot” with the cardinal of Bologna. According to concordant sources, the then cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio did not differently when the conclave of 2005 assigned him a qualified minority (potentially blocking) in the vote for the succession to John Paul II: finally smiled at Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Less than 50 kilometers run between Bologna and Modena, at the lower edge of Northern Italy. In the “transitional” CEI assembly, they emerged in some ways as a frontier, if not just as a moat. The triad presented to the pope was formally composed of three prelates representing as many Italy (Cardinal Paolo Lojudice governs the archdiocese of Siena, Monsignor Antonino Raspanti the diocese of Acireale). Even the “Bolognese” Zuppi is however a native of Rome, where he was auxiliary bishop (a photocopy curriculum presents Lojudice). In 2022 no bishop of northern Italy was in contention for the CEI. Moreover, none of the holders of the traditional see of cardinals (Milan, Turin, Genoa and Venice) was in possession of the hat that the Pope had informally suggested as a selection criterion.

What happened yesterday is therefore an objective judgment prepared by the Pope – with all evidence – in years of episcopal appointments. Critical of the “Euro-continental” (Italian) Church and much more confident of that projected towards the Mediterranean and beyond (Zuppi was among other things peacemaker of the civil war in Mozambique).

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From today, however, the Pope’s judgment certainly becomes a challenge for the new president of the CEI. A great predecessor of his – Cardinal Camillo Ruini, still alive – had begun his journey as bishop in Reggio Emilia, which had finally led him to the vicariate of Rome but above all to the most profiled leadership that the CEI had after the Second Vatican Council . Now he is a “Roman priest” who is entrusted with a new “project” for the Italian Church: probably less “cultural” than that developed by Ruini, but more intensely social. Not necessarily less political: although perhaps differently political.

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