Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Pope to CEI: Take a Bagn... asco

Ladies and gentlemen, the presidency has left the Urb.

Ending a year-long war for the Italian church's top post, Benedict XVI has named Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa as president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, the CEI.

Bagnasco, 64, succeeds Cardinal Camillo Ruini, whose retirement from the post was accepted for reasons of age; Ruini, 76, remains papal vicar for the diocese of Rome. Italy is the only country where the president of the national body of bishops is chosen by appointment, given the Pope's prerogative as primate of Italy.

This morning's appointment, foreseen for weeks in the Italian press, closes a drawn-out contest over the succession to Ruini, who has consolidated a firm grip on the life and message of the Italian church since being named to the vicariate of Rome and CEI presidency simultaneously in 1990. Various parties have sought to advance -- or, alternatively, kibosh -- an overflow slate of candidates, with former Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano attempting to derail Ruini on his own initiative and his successor, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, attempting to emasculate the conference and dismantle Ruini's mini-empire.

In a statement released after the formal announcement, Ruini offered "fervent and affectionate" good wishes to his successor and his work, assuring Bagnasco that he would be accompanied by his predecessor's "profound friendship" and "closeness in prayer." As the appointment is effective immediately, a farewell ceremony for the outgoing leader has already been held at the conference's headquarters in Rome.

The choice is a compromise between two of Benedict's two most influential policy-movers -- Bagnasco is a confirmed Ruini-ite, "but Bertone likes him," as one op put it. The former ordinary for the Italian armed services, the new president was named to succeed Bertone in Genoa last August, and is in line for the traditional red hat that comes with the post. His Ruini cred is drawn from years of involvement at the top ranks conference's apparatus, most especially the strongman's delegation of his successor to head up the governing board of Ruini's prized soapbox: the conference's daily newspaper L'Avvenire.

A native of the archdiocese he heads, it appears unlikely that Bagnasco will be making a move to Rome; Bertone was reportedly intent that the CEI presidency be removed from the capital, where the concentration of political and media presence allowed for a dominance that the cardinal-secretary was said to find unhealthy. When his prior leaning in favor of a little-known, out-of-the-glare archbishop was met with Ruini's disdain, a come-to-Benedict was had, and Bagnasco's name surfaced.

First task for the new president: refill the conference's recently-vacated top ranks. As for the rest, stay tuned.