Cardinal Scola Is Going Back Home. To Milan
The current patriarch of Venice is about to be named archbishop of the diocese of his birth. The story and portrait of a man trained in the school of two great teachers: Giussani and Ratzinger
by Sandro Magister
ROME, June 24, 2011 – Returning as archbishop and cardinal to Milan, the same archdiocese that forty years ago didn’t even want to ordain him a priest, is splendid vindication for Angelo Scola.
If it had been decided collegially, by the senior clergy and the upper echelon of the Milanese laity, his appointment would never have passed muster. Much less if Benedict XVI had listened to his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. The meek Joseph Ratzinger was inflexible in this. One name, only one name was on the pope’s mind for the largest and most prestigious diocese in the world. And he held firm against all opposition.
Benedict XVI will not go down in history as a great manager. He has left the Vatican curia as he found it, in the disorder into which it had already plunged with his predecessor, Karol Wojtyla, too world-embracing to pay attention to the homestead. For the higher curial offices, pope Ratzinger has limited himself in six years to a very few appointments, not all of them successful, of men known personally to him. The first, that of Bertone as secretary of state, soon proved to be a source of more trouble than advantage for the pope. But the latest, that of Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet as head of the congregation that examines and proposes to the pope the appointment of every new bishop, promises to bring him more consolation. On sending Scola to Milan, the understanding between Ouellet and Ratzinger has been perfect.
As it should have been. The fellowship of the three is longstanding, tempered by common battles. The international theological journal “Communio,” founded in 1972 by Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Henri De Lubac as a conservative counterweight to the success of the progressive journal “Concilium,” found its first disciples in Scola and Ouellet, and took shape in Fribourg, Switzerland, at the theological faculty where Scola was studying.
Scola had arrived in Fribourg after a tortuous journey, having been ordained a priest at the age of 29 in 1970, not in Milan, his native archdiocese, but by the bishop of Teramo, Abele Conigli, who had hosted him after the Milanese seminaries, where Scola had gone knocking three years before equipped with a philosophy degree from the Catholic University, had shown him the door on account of his activism in Communion and Liberation, a movement about which the archbishop of Milan at the time, Giovanni Colombo, had strong reservations.
Scola was one of the most prominent proteges of the founder of Communion and Liberation, Fr. Luigi Giussani. He was for about ten years the second highest-ranking member of the movement in Milan, before and after the turbulent year of 1968, before and after becoming a priest. In 1973, Fr. Giussani – as he would relate in his memoirs – seriously thought about him as his successor.
But the following year, and for two years, Scola suffered from health problems. And Communion and Liberation took on an anti-bourgeois, Third World focus that Fr. Giussani didn’t like, and which Scola himself seemed to tolerate as the head at the time of the ISTRA, Institute for Transition Studies, where he boldly combined theology and political theories, linguistics and anthropology, Hosea Jaffe and Samir Amin. Fr. Giussani ordered the closing of the ISTRA in 1976, and resumed control of the entire movement. After that, Scola’s journey continued to be marked by his membership in Communion and Liberation, but without any more official duties.
With the advent in 1978 of a friendly pope, John Paul II, the path was cleared for Fr. Giussani and his movement. Scola started teaching theology in Fribourg. Then, beginning in 1982, at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. In 1986, he became an adviser to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, of which Cardinal Ratzinger was prefect.
In 1991, he was consecrated bishop of Grosseto. But four years later, he was back in Rome as rector of the Lateran, where he founded and directed the “Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family,” with branches all over the world. In 2002, he was appointed patriarch of Venice, and the following year he was made a cardinal. He was added to the list of candidates for pope, but when the conclave came, in 2005, he didn’t campaign for himself – he didn’t even consider it – but for his mentor, Ratzinger.
As pope, Ratzinger has continued to favor him. On the rare occasions when Benedict XVI consults with cardinals on the major questions facing the Church, Scola is one of them.
Venice is a small diocese with a great world history, which allows its patriarch to operate with broad scope.
Scola founded a “Studium generale” there named after Saint Mark, the patron of the city, which covers all of the stages of learning, from childhood to university, with students from many countries, with courses in various disciplines and theology embracing them all, and with its own publishing house.
He then created a magazine and an international cultural center named “Oasis,” as a bridge to the East, from Eastern Europe and Northern Africa all the way to Pakistan, in multiple languages including Arabic and Urdu, with marked attention to Islam and Christianity in those countries, with periodic conferences between bishops and Christian and Muslim experts.
From Venice, Scola has launched a byword to define the encounter between peoples and religions: “mestizaje.” In Oasis, the bishop of Tunis, Maroun Elias Lahham, has contested it as unclear and incomprehensible for Muslims themselves. But the patriarchate is holding firm and defending it. Unlike Ratzinger, Scola does not shine for his conceptual clarity. With him, the vital experience, the personal encounter with Christ outweigh the argument of reason, as Fr. Giussani always taught him. But this ambiguity of expression has proven to be an advantage for him at the level of public opinion. When he contrasts the “mestizaje of civilizations” with the out-of-favor “clash of civilizations,” the agreement of the progressives is assured. When he publicizes the initiatives of “Oasis,” Scola rounds up the consensus of the multiculturalists. In spite of his background with Communion and Liberation, and in spite of his unquestionable Ratzingerian stance, Scola gets better press than any other Italian ecclesiastical leader, on the right as on the left.
Of course, life would become difficult for him if from tranquil Venice Scola were thrust into the heart of the ecclesial and political fray, as president of the Italian episcopal conference. This was the outcome he was facing when the battle was being fought between 2005 and 2007 over who was to succeed Cardinal Camillo Ruini as head of the bishops. Ruini would have like to see Scola as his successor. But at the Vatican both the old and new secretaries of state, cardinals Sodano and Bertone, were absolutely opposed. The latter in particular did everything he could to sink Scola’s candidacy. His appointment, he maintained would have irreparably “divided” the episcopate. In reality, it would have annihilated Bertone’s ambitions to be the leader of the Italian Church in political scrimmage. In the end, when Benedict XVI had to decide – because in Italy, the pope appoints the president of the CEI – his decision did not go to Scola, nor to the docile bishop with whom Bertone would have wanted to clasp hands, Benigno Papa of Taranto, but to the Ruinian Angelo Bagnasco. The cardinal of Venice didn’t mind the botched appointment at all.
In fact, Milan had been coming up on the horizon in the meantime. After two eccentric episcopates like those of Carlo Maria Martini and Dionigi Tettamanzi, Benedict XVI was convinced that the time had come at last to install a bishop there more in harmony with his own vision. In the mind of pope Ratzinger, there were no alternatives to the Scola candidacy, certainly not those which secretary of state Bertone, once again bent on blocking his way, was hatching to the end. Ratzinger’s conviction is the same as that of another elderly Milanese cardinal, Giacomo Biffi, according to whom getting the archdiocese of Milan back on the right path requires a return to the tradition of the great “Ambrosian” bishops, of strong fiber and sure orientation.
The last of these was Giovanni Colombo. That is, by the irony of fate, the very one who did not want to ordain as a priest that Angelo Scola whom now, from heaven, he sees arriving as his successor.
The website of the archdiocese of Venice with the biography, homilies, speeches, and writings of Cardinal Scola:
On the thought of Cardinal Scola on the role of Church in public life:
On the idea of the “mestizaje” between peoples and religions:
On the birth of the magazine “Oasis,” created in Venice by Cardinal Scola in 2005:
And on the creation in Venice in 2004 of a study center dedicated to Saint Mark:
A commentary by Cardinal Scola on the homilies of Benedict XVI:
> Papa Benedetto, omileta (18.12.2008)
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.