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The men who could be pope: Cardinal Angelo Scola

Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan celebrates Mass at the Duomo (Photo: PA)

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Bell’amore, which means “the beautiful way of Christian loving”, and meticciato, which refers to Christians and Muslims living together fruitfully: these two new Italian words have been invented by Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, who is among the Italian favourites to succeed the pope. He has a strong chance when one considers that a significant number of the cardinals are his compatriots.

“Cardinal Scola has an impressive cultural, anthropological and theological preparation,” says Alberto Laggia, a journalist with the Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana, who has met him several times since 2002, when he became Patriarch of Venice, where Laggia lives. “When he arrived in the city he immediately got on with the mayor, Massimo Cacciari, an atheist who is one of the most famous Italian philosophers. They organised several events where they were asking each other questions and Cacciari definitely liked the cardinal, despite not sharing his faith.”

Born in Malgrate, a village in the far north of Lombardy, Angelo Scola had to go to another diocese, Teramo-Atri, to be ordained a priest because Communion and Liberation, the movement which formed him in his university years, was looked upon with suspicion by officials in Milan at the time. So it is an irony that Cardinal Scola now leads the very archdiocese which once turned him down. The decision, taken by Pope Benedict in 2011, to move him from the Archdiocese of Venice, already one of the most important sees of the Church, to Milan, when he was almost 70, was a surprise. Usually archbishops don’t get moved between two such important sees, and Cardinal Scola was then only about 10 years away from retirement.

There are perhaps two reasons that reduce his chances of being pope. The first is his age: 71. The second is that those cardinals most heavily tipped by the press are not usually chosen as popes.

Cardinal Scola and Benedict XVI have been very close for many years. It is perhaps significant that the last bishops received by Pope Benedict on an ad limina visit were the Milanese ones led by Cardinal Scola.

The cardinal was previously director of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family and president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for the study of marriage and family. He has published extensively on family issues.

At the Seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan last May he told journalists he didn’t like the expression “the crisis of the family”. He said: “There still is a big zest for family life. Nothing is lost. We are just living through the period of big choices.” And he dismissed those who claim there is no future for the lasting union of man and wife open to children. According to Cardinal Scola, human beings in the 21st century face a kind of gamble. Invaded and overcome by globalisation and internet, the advance of neuroscience and technology, and the mixing of cultures, they have to choose what they want to be: people in relation to others or a self-centred experiment. The real struggle is here, Cardinal Scola says. He then went on to explain that, according to the latest figures of the European Values Studies, family is the top value for 84 per cent of Europeans, before work, family, friendship, religion and politics. According to Cardinal Scola, the problem is not that today’s men and women don’t consider families important but that they don’t know how to preserve them. “Even sexual diversity or difference, which is a fundamental dimension of ego, is being questioned,” he has said. “As always happens, when you have rapid and strong social changes, adjustment causes uneasiness. It takes time.”

The cardinal suggests that the sexual revolution, with the different role now assigned to women, has created tensions in the relationship between husbands and wives and that couples need new ways of thinking to find a way out. “Only now,” he says, “in some parts of the feminist movement, you start facing the problem starting from the insuperability of ‘sexual difference’. But it will take a long time, hundreds of years in the future, to find a way out from the anthropological loss of this beginning of the millennium.”

Alberto Laggia says Cardinal Scola loves dialogue and never fears crowds. He stops and talks to anybody. “You would think an intellectual is not at ease with children, but Scola is not like that at all,” Laggia says. “When he visited the primary school of my children in Venice he talked extensively to them and made himself popular by saying he supports football and Milan.”

Although he has always been close to Communion and Liberation, the cardinal has never shown any bias towards it. Shortly after he was appointed to Milan, he was asked about his relationship with Roberto Formigoni, the president of the Lombardy region and a member of the movement, then charged with corruption. Cardinal Scola said he only saw him once a year to exchange Christmas wishes.

Cardinal Scola recently presided at the funeral of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan. He has also continued the work of Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, his immediate predecessor and an extremely popular leader. The two appeared together, at World Youth Day in Madrid, in front of 7,000 young people who, after singing “YMCA” by the Village People, screamed: “Tutti pazzi per Tettamanzi” (“All crazy for Tettamanzi”) and “Olè, olè, olà, Scola, Scola!” Cardinal Tettamanzi then asked his successor “to love the young people more than I managed myself”.

Silvia Guzzetti is an Italian journalist