EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the third installment in a series the Associated Press in running on possible successors to Pope Benedict XVI, seen as “papabili” – contenders to the throne. In the secretive world of the Vatican, there is no way to know who is in the running, and history and yielded plenty of surprises. But these are the names that have come up time and again in speculation. Today: Angelo Scola.
VARESE, Italy: To illustrate that life is a journey, one of the Italian cardinals touted as a favorite to be the next pope doesn’t just turn to the Scriptures – but also to writers Jack Kerouac and Cormac McCarthy.
Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, is seen as Italy’s best chance at reclaiming the papacy, following back-to-back popes from outside the country that had a lock on the job for centuries.
For one night last month, during the historic week that saw the shock resignation announcement of Pope Benedict XVI, Scola came across as a simple pastor leading a flock of 20-somethings in a discussion about faith.
The powerful cardinal displayed not only an ease with youth but also a desire to make himself understood, a vital quality for a church that is bleeding membership.
Quoting from Kerouac’s iconic Beat Generation novel “On the Road,” Scola invited his audience of students to reflect on whether they “were going to get somewhere, or just going.” And he cited McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic father-son journey in “The Road,” urging youths to consider the meaning of “destination” – a key theme in McCarthy’s work.
“The destination is a happy life, an accomplished life that doesn’t end with death but with eternal life,” the archbishop said.
Scola, 71, has commanded both the pulpits of Milan’s Duomo as archbishop and Venice’s St. Mark’s Cathedral as patriarch, two extremely prestigious church positions that together gave the world five popes during the 20th century.
Scola was widely viewed as a papal contender when Benedict was elected eight years ago. His promotion to Milan, Italy’s largest and most influential diocese, has been seen as a tipping point in making him a hot favorite for the papacy.
But while Italy has the most cardinals – 28 – participating in the conclave, the Italian contingent is also said to be fractured among those inside the Roman Curia – the Vatican’s bureaucracy – and those outside, where Scola enjoys more support.
Crucially, the Milan and Venice posts have allowed Scola to polish his pastoral credentials, adding human outreach to his already considerable intellectual achievements.
After being ordained in 1970, Scola spent two decades studying in Europe’s renowned Catholic universities and theological training grounds. His ties with Benedict, who named him to Milan, date from that academic period, when he began writing contributions for the Communio magazine cofounded by the future pope.
While Venice’s cardinal, he founded a think tank – Oasis – that seeks dialogue with Islam, reflecting the lagoon city’s historic position as a gateway between the East and the West. As Oasis has developed into a platform for dialogue, Scola has traveled frequently, making him one of the few Italian cardinals known abroad.
He speaks fluent English, French and German as well as his native Italian – along with the Lecco dialect from the corner of Lake Como where he grew up. He also understands Spanish.
“Scola is one of the personalities that presents diverse talents and certain gifts that are to his advantage,” said Sandro Magister, a Vatican analyst who closely monitors the institution’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
“He is certainly a solid theologian, formed along the same lines as [Benedict] ... This is already something to his advantage.”
Scola is recognized as a conservative in the Church, rejecting the idea of female priests and denouncing consumerism. His association with the conservative Italian movement Communion and Liberation has raised eyebrows.
Scola was a theology student when he was invited to join the group, which blends political activism with faith-based fervor as it seeks to influence Italy’s decision-making.
Many prominent Italian politicians have been associated with the movement; In the 1970s Scola is said to have instructed former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, then a real estate developer, in philosophy.
More recently, however, he has sought to distance himself from the movement, especially as a number of officials linked to it have been swept into scandal. The Vatican’s official biography of Scola says he stopped active participation in 1991, when John Paul II appointed him bishop of Grossetto in Tuscany.
The son of a truck driver and a homemaker, Scola is proud of his humble origins. He grew up in a small apartment in the town of Malgrate, on Lake Como.