Rome, Italy, May 3, 2022 / 11:52 a.m. (CNA).
In an interview published on Tuesday, Pope Francis narrowed the number of candidates to be the next president of Italy’s influential Catholic bishops‘ conference.
Speaking to reporters from Corriere della Sera, Pope Francis stressed that the next president should be “an authoritative cardinal.”
His comments appear to exclude Archbishop Domenico Battaglia of Naples from the race, starting a two-way race between Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna and Cardinal Augusto Paolo Lojudice of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino.
Italian bishops will meet in Rome to choose a new leader May 23-27. The pope will then make the final choice.
“Now the general assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference will have to choose the new president,” the pope noted in the interview published May 3. “I’m trying to find one who wants to make a nice change. I prefer him to be cardinal, authoritative.
Zuppi and Lojudice are of course not the only cardinals in Italy. There is also Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, papal vicar for the diocese of Rome, among others. But he seems to be out of action. Indeed, the possible appointment of Lojudice to the presidency would represent a kind of revenge of Pope Francis against De Donatis.
Rumor has it that the pope wanted Lojudice, then auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Rome, as vicar. But when the pope launched a consultation of the priests of Rome, the vast majority of the clergy indicated that they were in favor of De Donatis.
According to other rumors, Lojudice is preferred over Zuppi. These claim that Zuppi lost some papal sympathy because of the way he applied the motu proprio Traditional custodianswhich effectively abolished the liberalization of the ancient rite of the Mass admitted by Benedict XVI.
Unlike many other bishops, Zuppi offered a freer interpretation of the decree within his archdiocese, allowing traditional Mass celebrations with the only limitation of having to find a church that was not also a parish for the celebration.
While other bishops applied the pope’s provisions to the letter, the 66-year-old cardinal adopted a more conciliatory position. At the papal residence, Casa Santa Marta, it is rumored that rumors that Zuppi was acting in preparation for a future conclave have reached the ears of Pope Francis. This probably reduced the Pope’s sympathy for the Archbishop of Bologna, who has strong ties to the influential Sant’Egidio community.
On the other hand, the pope’s sympathies for Lojudice would remain firm. The 57-year-old is considered an “archbishop of the lesser” and the pope has made him a cardinal even though he does not lead an archdiocese traditionally associated with a red hat.
Unlike Zuppi, who makes appearances on Italian television programs, Lojudice remained more isolated and less visible, which would have increased the pope’s esteem for him.
The Italian episcopal conference does not finally elect its president since the pope, as bishop of Rome, is the primate of Italy. Pope Francis had asked the Italian bishops to adopt a new statute that would allow them to elect the president themselves, but the bishops preferred to leave the final choice to the pope.
In a compromise arrangement, the bishops present the list of three candidates with the most votes to the pope, who then chooses between the three or opts for another candidate entirely.
The indications of the pope in his interview will be interpreted as a guideline from which the bishops are not likely to deviate. A bishop told CNA that “the election will take place as usual: the pope will specify who he wants us to elect, and we will vote for them.”
In the interview, Pope Francis hinted that in addition to a new president, there will also be a new secretary for the Italian episcopal conference. The pope said he hopes the new president “will have the opportunity to choose the secretary, that he can say: I want to work with this person.”
Therefore, the mandate of Bishop Stefano Russo, who had served as secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference since 2018, seems to have come to an end. His mandate is due to expire in 2023, but he could be removed from office as soon as the next general meeting ends. Pope Francis could therefore assign him to the pastoral curia of a diocese. So, perhaps, also of the Archdiocese of Perugia-Città della Pieve.
The current archbishop of this archdiocese, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, is the outgoing president of the Italian episcopal conference. Bassetti turned 80 on April 7 and his successor as president will emerge after the general meeting this month.
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