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Might the Holy See return to an Italian? A profile on the papabile Angelo Cardinal Scola

Fr Dwight Longenecker - published on 02/27/13 - updated on 06/07/17

It's not clear if Cardinal Scola being Italian an aid or a detriment to his chances

Will an Italian be named the Successor of Peter once more? Now that the Italian hold of the papacy has been broken over the course of two successive pontificates, will the cardinals steer clear of an Italian just because he’s Italian? I think they’re bigger than that. The cardinals will undoubtedly have to look past the nationality of an African or a Brazilian, but things will be no different in the case of an Italian.

If any Italian is a favorite to step into the shoes of the Fisherman, it is Angelo Cardinal Scola, the Archbishop of Milan. At 71 years old, he has an impressive record of leading not only the Milan Archdiocese, but also serving as Bishop of Grosseto, Rector of the Lateran University, and Patriarch of Venice.

The son of a truck driver, Cardinal Scola has a down-to-earth manner and an easy pastoral style. In high school, he joined Gioventù Studentesca – the student group associated with the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation. Communion and Liberation (or “CL”, as it is nicknamed), is a controversial movement in the Catholic Church. An intellectually based student movement, critics say it is closed and cult-like. Its advocates say the movement is one of evangelization and renewal, helping Catholics to experience a profound encounter with Christ and belong to strong, faith-filled communities.

As a university student, the young Angelo Scola met Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion and Liberation. He earned a degree in philosophy, taught in high schools, and then decided to become a priest. He continued his education with a second doctorate in theology from the University of Fribourg on St. Thomas Aquinas. As a theologian, he was directed personally by Giussani and became a leader in the growing Communion and Liberation movement. As a theologian, he contributed to the influential journal Communio along with Henri de Lubac, Hans von Balthasar, and the young Joseph Ratzinger.

National Catholic Reporter correspondent John Allen puts the case for a Scola papacy with four clear points: First, he’s a theological heavyweight like Ratzinger, but he’s got a common touch. Second, as a veteran Vatican operator, he knows the Roman Curia and will know how to reform it. Third, as a former high school teacher, seminary professor, parish priest, and bishop, Scola knows the church from the ground up. Fourth, he’s the founder of an interesting initiative to dialogue with Muslims, and that is a growing concern of the Church for the future.

As could be expected, Scola’s strengths are also his weaknesses. As an Italian, the rest of the world’s cardinals may simply dismiss him as too much of an insider in the same way that the American electorate is suspicious of politicians from “inside the beltway.” Communion and Liberation is an influential but controversial movement, and Scola’s history with them may put off some cardinals who are suspicious of CL. Scola’s affiliation with Ratzinger’s theology may be a weak point if the cardinals are looking for a fresh approach, and Scola’s reputation as the papal front runner may work against him.

What would a Scola papacy look like? He would have a down-to-earth approach popular with ordinary people, and his ability with the media would serve him well in the global, instant news world in which we live. We could anticipate a repeat of Benedict XVI’s warm-hearted personalist approach to theology. In other words, Scola would echo Benedict’s (and Communion and Liberation’s) ideas that Christianity is all about a personal encounter with Christ – that Christ proposes a relationship with the individual, and the individual may respond with intelligent inquiry and personal commitment.

A Scola papacy would also continue Benedict XVI’s agenda of attempting to re-convert Europe. The main concern is that he would be too narrowly European in his outlook. Cardinal Scola does not have the range of languages other candidates do, and he has little experience working in the Church in the developing world. Cardinal Scola may be a Vatican insider, a leading member of Communion and Liberation, and a colleague and disciple of Pope Benedict, but the world’s cardinals may be looking for a man with more global experience and vision.

In other words, Scola is a strong candidate. But at 71, he may be yesterday’s man rather than the man of tomorrow.

Fr Dwight Longenecker is pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is Catholicism, Pure and Simple. Browse his books and be in touch at
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