Assuming all three men become cardinals, the
right wing of the Salt of the Earth party gets a new captain in Scola;
the border patrol gets a pugnacious point of reference, its own Jesse Helms,
in Pell; and the reformers have to wait to see how Ricard defines himself.
|When John Paul II next adds
members to the College of Cardinals, we now know three of the names sure
to be on that list. On Jan. 5, the pope named Angelo Scola, rector of the
Lateran University in Rome, to be the new patriarch of Venice. He joins
George Pell of Sydney, Australia, and Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, France,
as recent appointees to sees that all but guarantee a red hat.
Assuming John Paul does
not die before he has the chance to make these men cardinals, all three
could be important figures in the next papal election, and hence I decided
this week to make some introductions.
Scola’s appointment is
automatically significant because Venice produced three 20th
century popes: Giuseppe Sarto, who took the name Pius X in 1903; Angelo
Roncalli, who became John XXIII in 1958; and Albino Luciani, who served
33 days in 1978 as John Paul I.
For Italians, Scola’s
ascension marks a victory for the lay movement Communion and Liberation
over Catholic Action, its long-time rival. Catholic Action represents the
Paul VI faction of the Italian church, centrists who abandoned church and
state battles such as those over legalization of divorce and birth control.
The ciellini, as members of Communione e Liberazione are
known, are more likely to insist that civil law should reflect church teaching.
In Italian politics, they are aligned with the right; Rocco Buttiglione,
a long time ciellino, is a minister in the Berlusconi government.
Scola is a longtime advisor and supporter.
Over the years, tensions
generated by Communione e Liberazione ran deep. This is reflected
in the fact that nowhere in Scola’s lengthy official biography can one
find the diocese for which he was ordained a priest. In fact, he was ordained
alone in 1970 in Teramo, in Northern Italy, after leaving a seminary in
Milan. Rumors have long suggested that Scola was asked to leave as part
of an anti-ciellini purge, though an Italian bishop who was rector of the
seminary at the time told me Jan. 9 that this is not true. But the matter
is sensitive enough, according to a source in Communione e Liberazione,
that Scola’s original diocese was “censured” from his résumé
as an unwelcome reminder of the group’s troubled past.
For the rest of the world,
of likely greater interest is Scola’s engagement on issues of sexuality
and the family.
Scola, 60, did his theological
work at the prestigious University of Fribourg in Switzerland, and is a
disciple of the Vatican II penitenti – men who were part of the
reform-minded majority at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), but who
later developed reservations about the direction of the post-conciliar
church. Scola was influenced in this regard by Henri de Lubac and Hans
urs von Balthasar. He has published book-length interviews with both men.
Scola was a co-founder
of the Italian edition of Communio, the international theological
journal founded as a conservative counter-point to Concilium, the
journal of the council’s progressive wing. From 1986 to 1991, Scola was
a consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
His field is theological
anthropology, and in 1982 he was appointed to the faculty at the John Paul
II Institute for Marriage and Family, created to defend the pope’s hard
line on issues such as divorce, artificial reproduction, cloning, homosexuality,
and abortion. Key institute figures such as Scola and Archbishop Carlo
Caffarra, in tandem with the Pontifical Council on the Family, have been
the architects of John Paul’s war against the “culture of death.”
I first met Scola in
1998, in Denver, where he took part in a conference on new technologies
sponsored by Archbishop Charles Chaput. I’ve also seen him in action at
the Lateran University, where he has been rector since 1995.
Scola’s views on life
issues are unyielding, but he is no fanatic. I’ve spoken with theologians
in Rome who told me they were nervous when he took over the Lateran, but
who have found him to be open, flexible, and capable of transcending ideology
to form his own judgments. Personally, I have always found him gracious,
with a good sense of humor. I suspect he will be popular in Venice (though
there is a rumor making the rounds that some clergy in Venice were opposed
to the appointment).
One of Scola’s final
projects at the Lateran was the opening of a branch campus of the John
Paul II Institute in Melbourne, Australia, in 1999, where the big local
booster was Archbishop George Pell. The fiesty Pell, 60, has since moved
from Melbourne to Sydney, becoming the primate of the Australian church,
and hence also in line to enter the College of Cardinals.
Pell is not the kind
of man who goes unnoticed. When he took over in Melbourne in 1996, he imposed
a strict regime for future priests at the local seminary, prompting the
departure of its rector and four senior teaching staff. He also refused
to administer communion to gay Catholics, criticized a government program
to provide “safe rooms” for heroin addicts, and suggested that single women
should not be allowed access to in-vitro fertilization clinics. After moving
to Sydney, he kicked up more dust by proposing a tax on divorce.
Pell is known as a doctrinal
“enforcer.” One target was former Sacred Heart Fr. Paul Collins, who announced
his resignation from the priesthood in mid-March 2001. Collins was the
target of a Vatican investigation, which he attributes in part to Pell’s
influence, for a book in which he questioned papal infallibility. (The
final straw in Collins’ case was an interview he did with me in NCR,
which was cited in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s last letter threatening
I say all this to locate
Pell in terms of current ecclesiastical debates, not to paint him as a
sort of Torquemada revivus. In fact, Pell is a charming man, one
of the most accessible prelates around. Journalists love him because he
is open, honest, and never one to sugarcoat answers. Like Nathaniel in
John’s gospel, there is no guile in Pell. (He likes the press; I recently
missed a talk he gave at a Vatican conference on the family, and Pell reached
into his bag and handed me the original of his speech, notes and all).
In last week’s column
I made a passing reference to Pell, and in response papal biographer George
Weigel was kind enough to forward a piece he had written on the Australian
prelate. A sample:
"When I first met
George Pell in 1966, I was struck by the freshness of his personality and
by his lack of clericalism. Those same qualities are manifestly alive in
him today. He combines the rugged good humor of a former footballer with
the intellectual edge of an Oxford-trained historian and the piety of a
convinced Christian disciple. He is at home with lay people and children
in a way few senior Catholic prelates can match. He attracts deep loyalties,
not because he demands obeisance, but because he is a magnet for friendships
that he works hard to keep green.
"That George Pell
is a sign of contradiction these days is obvious. But why? My old friend
has become a lightning rod, it seems to me, not because he is the authoritarian
heavy portrayed by some, but because he has ideas – ideas that challenge
the dominant consensus on the international Catholic left and among Australia’s
thoroughly secularist intellectual and cultural tastemakers."
I suspect Weigel has
it about right. Pell strikes me as a decent man who is controversial because
he refuses to give an inch on some very strong ideas, and now has the administrative
power to back them up. Whether those ideas are right or wrong, and how
one applies them, is of course a matter of debate.
As far as Jean-Pierre
Ricard goes, the new man in Bordeaux, I’ve not met him, but French Catholics
I know give him generally good marks. He was elected president of the French
bishops conference in November, and had served as vice-president since
1999. Le Monde describes him as “jovial and open.”
Ricard, 57, comes from
the southern diocese of Marseilles (French speakers says he still carries
a trace of a Provençal accent), and is reputed to have a quick analytical
mind and a reconciler’s spirit. In his last assignment, as bishop of Montpellier,
people say he worked well with laity, especially women.
He is notoriously slow
to anger, capable of absorbing criticism without taking it personally.
His priests in Montpellier nicknamed him edredon – meaning a big
fluffy blanket. The idea is that he covers you in warmth, no matter what
you say or do.
I confess I paid little
attention to Ricard’s intervention at last October’s synod of bishops.
Looking back now, however, I find that I am impressed. “We may compare
the bishop to a loom weaving the ecclesial material,” he said, arguing
that a bishop should be the agent of shared decision making, or synodality,
in the local church, bringing together all its gifts and excluding none.
Ricard has been willing
to tackle difficult social and political questions. In December, he responded
to a French politician’s assertion that anti-Semitism in France was a “phantasm.”
Ricard said, “It is not a phantasm. It is reality. When one sees a certain
number of inscriptions on the walls of synagogues, I say it is intolerable.”
He also paid a highly publicized visit last March to 18 Kurdish refugees
staging a hunger strike to protest a decision of French courts to return
them to Turkey, where they claimed they would face persecution. Ricard
asked for a “humane and just” resolution.
Part of his sensitivity
comes from spending 1964-65 in Mali as part of his national service commitment.
There he taught French, Latin and Greek, and befriended a young pupil named
Jean Zerbo, who has since become the archbishop of Mali. The two have stayed
in touch, and the relationship is said to have lent a personal dimension
to Third World issues for Ricard. On the other hand, he has criticized
Catholic Action in France for being too wrapped up in matters of social
justice and forgetting the gospel.
Perhaps a key to understanding
Ricard is the fact that he served as vicar general to Cardinal Robert Coffy
of Marseille from 1988 to 1993. Coffy was the classic French prelate: an
open, intellectual pastor deeply engaged with the modern world. (He published
works on Marx, Kierkegaard and Teilhard). Though no doctrinal radical,
Coffy was a pragmatist. For example, shortly before he died in 1995 he
suggested condoms could be justified to halt the spread of AIDS.
If Ricard manages to
carry forward Coffy’s spirit, the church should be well served.
In my new book Conclave:
The Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal Election
(this spring from Doubleday), I identify three political parties in the
College of Cardinals. They are the “border patrol,” theological conservatives
devoted to maintaining boundaries between Catholicism and the world; the
“salt of the earth” faction, interested in changing the world in light
of church teaching; and the “reform party,” pursuing renewal of the church
in light of the Second Vatican Council.
So, the scorecard after
these three appointments?
Assuming all three men
become cardinals, the right wing of the Salt of the Earth party gets a
new captain in Scola; the border patrol gets a pugnacious point of reference,
its own Jesse Helms, in Pell; and the reformers have to wait to see how
Ricard defines himself.
* * *
The best church-related
joke I’ve heard recently was recounted by Jesuit Fr. Ferruccio Romanin,
rector of Rome’s Church of St. Ignatius. He told it during a homily at
the 11:00 am Sunday Mass in English at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier
del Caravita (which visitors to Rome definitely should not miss). The joke
requires a bit of understanding of post-war Italian politics, but I suspect
readers of this column will figure it out.
A son comes home and
says to his father, “Dad, I’m finally getting married.”
The father, beaming,
says, “That’s wonderful, it’s the news I’ve been waiting for all these
years. Who is it?”
The son says, “Guido,
the guy down the street.”
The father, shocked,
screams: “But you can’t marry him. He’s a Communist!”
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
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