An old Catholic axiom holds that whoever enters the conclave a papabile, leaves a cardinal. If that’s true, what happens to ranking churchmen who are touted as papabile before the current pope so much as comes down with the sniffles? Nothing too bad, I hope. A startling number of Catholic pundits are pinning the Church’s hopes on Cardinal Angelo Scola, recently elevated by Pope Benedict to the archbishopric of Milan. I must say, I like the cut of his jib. Among Scola’s more salient selling points:
Him sabbee lingo of white bushmen. At first, Scola’s mergence as a potential successor to Benedict looked like a retrograde move. In Scola’s native Europe, the Church is teetering, if not toppling; in Asia and Africa, she’s booming. Should’t she pick a pope from among the cardinals who are actually hitting their numbers? Not necessarily. Scola is said to have helped inspire Benedict to found the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. That is, he was bold enough in his thinking to re-envision Europe as mission territory. The global South and East ain’t broke, so there’s no need to fix them; a man who’se produced a workable plan for fixing Europe, on the other hand, might just deserve a promotion.
He’s closely associated with the Communion and Liberation. Called “Opus Dei for bad Catholics” by some, CL might be the only ecclesial movement in the Church without its own survivors’ network. CL’s membership is overwhelmingly lay, which suggests that Scola has very concrete and realistic ideas on how the Western Church can thrive despite the vocations crisis. It’s also built a reputation for respectful dialogue with other faiths.
Has some dirt under his fingernails. I confess — when it comes to popes, I’m as big a pushover for a log cabin story as any red-state Republican. Scola’s father, like the very young Elvis, drove a truck. This puts Scola in good company. Pope Pius X and John XXIII came from farming families. (One of Papa Roncalli’s relatives served time for poaching; when he shared that fact with the inmates of Regina Coeli prison, they cheered him like he was Johnny Cash.) Joseph Ratzinger, Sr. was a small-town cop, making his son, in effect, a Bavarian Opie Taylor. Of all the 20th-century popes, the only one to come from a truly la-di-da background was Pius XII, whose family, the Pacellis, was feeding people to lions back when the Sartos, Rattis, Montinis and Wojtylas were swinging from trees.
Is a fellow traveler, theology-wise, of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac. Okay, cards on the table. I have only the dimmest idea of who these people are. But judging by their names alone, they’d make great characters in a bodice-ripper. In a mighty coup of will, Balthasar tore his gaze from the ravished Lise’s milk-white limbs. Unsheathing his Korbschlager, he cried, “You’ll never get away with this, Henri de Lubac, coward, bully, cad and thief! I’ll avenge her if it’s the last thing I ever do!” “Flattery will get you everywhere, M’sieu Balthasar,” sniggered the Frenchman, twirling first his poignard, then his mustache.
Okay, enough. I could stretch the list out forever, I’m sure. But the bottom line is, I just happen to think convivial Lombards with pinchable cheeks make the best popes. Call me a sucker for the type.