A Papal Front-Runner May Get a Boost in Milan

Article excerpt


Sometimes a job is important not only for what its occupant does, but what it symbolizes. In the Catholic church there's no better example than the archbishop of Milan, Italy, whose incumbent is almost automatically considered tanto papabile, i.e., a leading candidate to become the next pope.

In the 20th century, two archbishops of Milan went on to the papacy, Pius XI and Paul VI, while two others, Cardinals Carlo Maria Martini and Dionigi Tettamanzi, spent more or less their entire tenures surrounded by speculation over their future prospects.

That background makes the current countdown toward Pope Benedict XVI's choice for who will take over from Tettamanzi, which is expected soon, a matter of interest across the entire Catholic world. According to veteran Vatican writer Andrea Tornielli, the top candidate is an already familiar face: Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, Italy.

If Scola does indeed go to Milan, he will likely be touted in the media as a sort of crown prince of Catholicism--the lead item in every story or broadcast about the next conclave, from now until whenever it occurs.

Even without the cachet of the papal sweepstakes, church-watchers have long regarded the 69-year-old Scola as an intriguing figure. He's very much in sync theologically with the current pontificate, but with a more extroverted personality, a deeply global perspective, and somewhat greater optimism about the church's prospects in the here and now.

Born in 1941 in Malgrate, Italy, a small town in the Lombardy region, Scola comes from a humble background--his father was a truck driver, his mother a housewife. He attended the University of the Sacred Heart in Milan in the early 1960s, where he became a friend and disciple of an Italian priest named Msgr. Luigi Giussani, founder of the "Communion and Liberation" movement.

At the time, Italians saw Communion and Liberation as a conservative alternative both to the "Catholic Action" movement and to the broadly progressive ethos of the Milan archdiocese under Cardinals Giovanni Battista Montini (who became Paul VI) and Giovanni Colombo.

Scola later studied at the prestigious University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where his area of interest was theological anthropology. He was drawn to thinkers who had been part of the reform-minded majority at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), but who later developed reservations about the direction of the postconciliar church. He was especially influenced by Cardinal Henri de Lubac and Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, and later published book-length interviews with both theologians.

Scola became a cofounder of the Italian edition of Communio, the international theological journal founded as a conservative counterpoint to Concilium, the journal of the council's progressive wing. From 1986 to 1991, Scola served as a consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was in charge. In 1995, he was named rector of the Lateran University in Rome.

In 1982 Scola was appointed to the faculty at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, created to defend Catholic teaching on issues such as divorce, artificial reproduction, cloning, homosexuality and abortion. …