Friday, February 09, 2007

CEI Será, Será

For all the vacancies floating around on B16's plate, arguably the most significant of the bunch lies a stone's throw from his window... over the Vatican border, that is.

Ecclesiastical Italy's been held in suspense for almost a year over the succession to Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the all-powerful papal vicar for Rome who turned 75 last 19 February. While the task of doing the Pope's main job -- i.e. bishop of Rome -- on a day-to-day basis carries a good bit of clout, Ruini's real influence has been consolidated since 1990 through his three terms as president of the Italian episcopal conference, the CEI.

The Bel Paese is the only country whose bishops don't elect their own leader; the CEI head is appointed by the pontiff, who among other things is primate of Italy. The head of the Italian conference serves as the national church's point-man on issues of policy and public life, not only through his own statements, but also through the views expressed in L'Avvenire, the daily newspaper published by the conference. Of late, this has ramped-up even more than usual in light of recent national discussion on end-of-life issues and, most especially, the ferocious debate over the "Pacs" -- the Italian term for proposed civil partnerships for unmarried couples.

In keeping with the usual hum of Vatican life, Ruini's 75th last year was accompanied by a fury of speculation in the national press, along with a dash of attempted sabotage courtesy of the Secretariat of State.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano reportedly tried to undercut Ruini, ending up upbraided immediately and retired four months later. Ruini, meanwhile, was confirmed indefinitely in his post.

As the question of the CEI's future at the top continues to garner huge interest in Italian circles, this pontificate's notable trend of rapid-response to the morning papers kept on yesterday as the director of the Holy See Press Office, Jesuit Fr Frederico Lombardi,
categorically denied a report in Turin's La Stampa that a meeting had taken place between Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, the Vatican Secretary of State, on the CEI presidency and the church's future engagement in the public square. The pack went so far as to christen the leftist premier and the not-so-leftist Vatican strongman a "new axis" of power.

Lombardi also denied the existence of a reputed letter from the bishops of the Piedmontese region, which was said to have petitioned the pontiff to avoid picking Cardinal Angelo Scola, the patriarch of Venice, for the CEI post in light of his ties to the Communion and Liberation movement.

According to today's papers, the sheer rumor of a meeting between Bertone and Prodi was said to be enough to damage the candidacy supposedly favored by premier and prelate alike -- that of Bishop Luigi Papa of Taranto, who this morning's La Stampa deemed "weak by nature." The selection of a less-outspoken figure to take Ruini's place would be viewed as a "ceding" of ground on the part of the church, the paper observed, and a particular capitulation amidst the fight over the Pacs, viewed by Benedict as "the mother of all battles."

"The Pope wants a cardinal and not a bishop at the head of the CEI," the paper said. "And, as [Bertone] knows, the word of the Pope is law in the Church."

Yesterday, the Italian cabinet approved a version of the Pacs bill that includes partnership rights for same-sex couples; the legislation now goes to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian parliament.

As for the CEI presidency, after Ruini's curiosity about his successor was said to have gotten the better of him, Bertone sent word back that "nothing has been decided."

It won't get any less interesting. As always, stay tuned.