Vatican City, 23 Jan. (AKI) - The successor of the powerful president of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) could be announced on 7 March, the anniversary of Camillo Ruini's appointment 16 years ago - the longest tenure ever at the helm of CEI. The Italian media reported on Tuesday that Pope Benedict XVI has not chosen Ruini's successor yet but intends to do so by the first week of March. Three cardinals are widely believed to be the frontrunners for the post - Angelo Scola, patriarch of Venice, Dionigi Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan, and Ennio Antonelli, the archbishop of Florence.
Long time readers may remember the circumstances surrounding the last time Cardinal Ruini was reappointed as recounted by Magister:
In 1991, 1996, and 2001, John Paul II, each time before he made Ruini head of the CEI, asked for the advice of the presidents of the sixteen regions into which the Italian episcopacy is subdivided.
But this time – and this was at the end of January – rather than the pope, the secretariat of state extended the consultation to all of the 226 bishops in office. To each one, the nuncio in Italy Paolo Romeo sent a letter under the seal of pontifical secrecy, asking the recipient to “indicate ‘coram Domino’ and with gracious solicitude the prelate that you would like to suggest.”
But there’s more in the letter. It begins by stating in no uncertain terms that “next March 6 the mandate of the Most Eminent Cardinal Camillo Ruini as president of the CEI will come to a conclusion.” And it continues by asserting that “the Holy Father thinks that a change in the office of the presidency is in order.”
The letter bears the date of January 26, and the only one to whom it was not sent was Ruini. But he was immediately made aware of it. And Benedict XVI was also informed, and discovered that it said the opposite of what he was planning to do.
On February 6, the nuncio who signed the letter, Romeo, was called by Benedict XVI for an audience. The pope asked him how and why this initiative came about. Romeo left the audience in shambles, but Sodano was the one who was really trembling.
On February 9, Benedict XVI received Ruini together with his right hand man, the secretary general of the CEI, bishop Giuseppe Betori. They both received the pope’s reassurances. News of the letter had not yet leaked to the outside.
But a few days later, the news agencies and newspapers were writing about it, attributing the idea for the letter to the pope and to his desire to decide “more collegially” on a replacement for Ruini. And in fact, on the morning of February 14, as soon as he saw the complete text of the letter published in two newspapers, a very irritated Benedict XVI picked up the telephone and ordered that his confirmation of Ruini as president of the CEI be made public immediately. The pope’s order was so peremptory that the Vatican press office released the news before any of the other communications of the day.
By confirming Ruini, the pope invalidated the letter of Romeo, alias Sodano, which had pegged Ruini as a has-been.
Of course, Cardinal Sodano is now retired and Benedict's man Bertone is safely installed in the Secretariat.