Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bertone: A subtle Sodano?

Sandro Magister has this morning an article on the maneuverings around the appointment of the next president of the Italian bishops conference (CEI). The prime figure in the maneuverings is Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State.

Magister starts out by recounting the major failure of Bertone's tenure thus far.

The winning candidate, Stanislaw Wielgus, was clouded over with the suspicion of having collaborated with the secret services of the communist regime. But neither the Vatican nuncio in Poland, Józef Kowalczyk, nor his direct superior in Rome, Bertone, had made any effort to investigate his past thoroughly and inform the pope of the matter. It was enough for them that Wielgus had sworn in secret before the nuncio, on December 2, that he had never done anything against the Church, although he had acted as a spy for years.

Four days later, Benedict XVI made the appointment official. On December 21, he solemnly reconfirmed it – only to see later the documents that had come to light, and to realize that Wielgus had lied even to him, the pope.

Benedict XVI, left alone by a negligent curia, had no choice but to resolve the matter himself by applying the ax of dismissal to Wielgus on January 6. It was an appointment that had begun poorly and ended even worse.

Following this is a brief recounting of the Sodano affair of last year where the former Secretary of State attempted to do an end-run around the Pope in the appointment of a successor of Cardinal Ruini as president of the CEI at the end of his term. At that time, Benedict himself had to step in to set things according to his wishes.

One year ago, when cardinal Angelo Sodano was in office and Ruini was about to finish his third five-year term as president of the CEI, the Vatican nuncio to Italy at the time, Paolo Romeo, in agreement with Sodano, sent a letter to the 226 Italian bishops to ask them, under a pontifical seal of secrecy, to indicate who they wanted as the successor.

The trouble was that Benedict XVI, who as pope and primate of Italy has the right to appoint the president of the CEI, did not at all intend to proceed immediately with the replacement.

And so, when on February 14 of last year the letter from Romeo appeared in the press, the pope, highly annoyed, immediately ordered Ruini’s reconfirmation in office “donec aliter provideatur,” until other arrangements are made. And the schedule for Sodano’s retirement was moved forward.

Magister describes how at the beginning of last autumn, there was agreement between the Holy Father and Cardinal Ruini on the succession and the personnel involved.

The new president of the CEI was supposed to be cardinal Angelo Scola, the patriarch of Venice and a friend of Ratzinger’s since the early 1970’s, when they were among the founders of the international theological journal “Communio.”

Scola was supposed to be joined as the new president of the CEI by the current secretary, bishop Giuseppe Betori, a staunch follower of Ruini, who was confirmed by the pope last spring for another five-year term.

Furthermore, his ascent was supposed to be followed by that of the real emerging star of the Italian episcopate, Cataldo Naro, the bishop-theologian of Monreale, on the verge of being promoted as bishop of Palermo within a few years, likely to become the future leader of the CEI.

But disaster struck...

If not for the fact that at the end of September, during those same days, Naro died of heart failure, and Betori had to be operated on for a cerebral aneurysm. The transition at the top of the CEI was postponed, and, moreover, everything came back into question.

At this point, Magister describes Cardinal Bertone's plans for a restructuring of the CEI as well as his choices to carry out his plans, including many men from his home region and home diocese.

But Bertone had something completely different in mind. In the meantime, step by step, he was building his own team of highly faithful associates, all from Canavese like him, and from the little diocese of Ivrea.

As the new nuncio to Italy, in the place of Romeo, who had been promoted as bishop of Palermo, he would install Giuseppe Bertello. And as secretary of the CEI, in the place of the convalescent Betori (who in reality had recovered very well) there was a great buzz about the appointment of the current bishop of Ivrea, Arrigo Miglio.

For the presidency, as a geographical counterbalance, he proposed a man from southern Italy, the Capuchin Benigno Papa, archbishop of Taranto and vice-president of the CEI for the south.

In mid-January, Bertone was sure he had convinced the pope of the value of the appointments he had proposed. And, in effect, it hadn’t been difficult for him to find an opening. As cardinal, Ratzinger had often expressed himself in critical terms toward the bishops’ conferences.

But alas for Cardinal Bertone, Magister describes Cardinal Ruini's reaction and efforts upon seeing the plans of the Secretary of State.

So on February 2, when cardinal Ruini came to visit the pope two days before flying to Turkey to say Mass in the church where Fr. Andrea Santoro had been martyred one year ago, he discovered that the rumors were true and that the plan was very close to being carried out.

In brief: Benigno Papa as president, Miglio as secretary, Betori removed, and Scola out of the game.

Benedict XVI had received a letter opposing Scola from cardinal Severino Poletto, archbishop of Turin and a pupil of cardinal Sodano. The appointment of Scola as president, Poletto cautioned in the name of the other bishops of the Piedmont region, would divide the CEI rather than unite it.

Naturally, Benedict XVI took note of Ruini’s counterarguments, against what he maintained would appear as a public disowning of his presidency and a decapitation of the CEI at a crucial moment, and he returned to meet him again after he came back from Turkey.

But in the following days, the national media presented Bertone’s operation as a fait accompli. More than that, in the jubilation of the anti-Ruini camp there began to circulate the idea of a political agreement between the Vatican secretary of state and the head of the leftist government in Italy, the Catholic Romano Prodi: with the offer of a less interventionist CEI presidency, in exchange for a taming of the laws on de facto unions proposed by the government.

But it’s enough to follow, day by day, the insistent rhythm of the statements from Benedict XVI and Ruini in defense of the “irreplaceable uniqueness” of the family to understand how the story will end.

Scola is once again in the running for the presidency of the CEI, or at least the leader of some cardinal archbishopric is. Betori will stay on as secretary.

As for Bertone and the other prelates of the curia, the spiritual exercises for the entire first week of Lent will be preached to them by the super-combative cardinal Giacomo Biffi. He’s been called in by Benedict XVI.

Really, having seen Ruini in action over the years, did Bertone think that his plans would succeed against Cardinal Ruini?

One would think that in just one appointment, Benedict could pick a total Ratzinger loyalist, someone who, regardless of seniority or ecclesiastical rank, was completely and totally in line with Ratzinger's thought AND had no other agenda besides carrying out the Pope's will while serving as a watchdog on the Curia. Isn't that what the Secretary of State ought to be for?

The little mini-biography presented by Magister of Cardinal Scola is interesting.

Scola doesn’t have the crystalline clarity of a Ratzinger or the inexorable argumentation of a Ruini, but these limitations are actually advantages for him. The opaque formula “hybrid of civilizations” that he loves to offer against the phrase “clash of civilizations” has brought support for him from the progressive camp. Likewise the multilingual magazine “Oasis” that he has created in Venice, and which he went to present last January in Washington and New York, has won him a name as a multicultualist “liberal,” in spite of the fact that he comes from the group Communion and Liberation.

I need to subscribe to Oasis.

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