Sunday, September 07, 2008

Deja Vu, Vatican Style

As soon as tomorrow, the Pope is expected to name the longtime #2 of the Italian church -- the CEI secretary-general Bishop Giuseppe Betori -- to one of the Bel Paese's plum posts as archbishop of Florence.

First reported yesterday by Il Giornale's Andrea Tornielli, the foreseen promotion for Betori, 61 (shown above with B16 at a 2007 concert), entered the buzzmill hours after the June transfer of Cardinal Ennio Antonelli from the 800,000-member Florentine church to the Vatican as president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. The formal announcement has reportedly been timed to coincide not just with tomorrow's feast of the Birth of Mary, but the 712th anniversary of the cornerstone-laying of Florence's famous Duomo of S. Maria del Fiore.

As the Tuscan see's tradition of cardinal-holders stretches back to the early 16th century -- i.e. the Medicis -- Betori's safely assured of a red hat at the next consistory. It's not the first time the presumptive appointee finds himself following in Antonelli's footsteps, either; the newly-named Family Czar likewise preceded Betori as the Italian hierarchy's second-in-command.

Best-known as the faithful deputy to Cardinal Camillo Ruini over the final years of the latter's run as Italy's most-powerful churchman, Betori's star began rising in earnest after his oversight of Rome's World Youth Day in 2000; he was elevated to the episcopacy and named the CEI's day-to-day chief but seven months after the festival's climactic closing liturgy on Tor Vergata drew upwards of 2 million. As secretary-general, he's had the task of overseeing the nuts and bolts of the shop built by Ruini's amassed clout -- a purview that's ranged from managing church-state relations and the conference's influential daily Avvenire to defending the use of modern art in the Italian Lectionary and arguing against preventative war.

Yet despite the post's premium on (mostly) keeping behind-the-scenes, Betori's flair for the spectacular didn't go completely unbrandished. When the Italian bishops mounted a firm protest last year to the civil partnership legislation proposed by the government of then-Premier Romano Prodi, the CEI organized a mass protest in Rome against the plan, known as the "DICO." The result: after the "Family Day" rally attracted a crowd estimated in excess of a million, the DICO was stalled, and Prodi's center-left coalition was swept out of office last March.

Given the widely-reported intent of the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to play the lead role in the church's dealings with the Italian government, Ruini's empire was gradually split up after he passed the retirement age of 75; then-Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa was named to the conference's top post in early 2007, and -- with the "Vice-Pope" reported to have "excluded" Betori from consideration -- Cardinal Agostino Vallini was named papal vicar for Rome in late June after months of leaks leaving little doubt that the pastoral, low-profile canonist was Bertone's choice.

According to Tornielli, Betori's successor at the CEI will be chosen at the next meeting of the body's secretariat later this month. The tradition of the Italian conference has invariably seen the post held by a bishop.