Catching up on a whole week of the usual Catholic news sources, I noticed this friendly bite in CNS on the new Archbishop of Milan. I noted three themes on which I’d like to offer a few brief comments, then open it up to the boxes:
What does distinguish Cardinal Scola is that he is very much in line with the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI. Like the pope, he is a respected theologian who sees a crisis of values in modern society and believes the church must mobilize its resources in resisting this slide. Both men also view education — and more specifically, Christian formation — as a top priority if the church’s members are to successfully challenge the secular drift of contemporary culture.
Most of us would agree this seems to sum up the pope’s thinking. I’m sure Pope Benedict might say it with more nuance and with a lot more explanation, but I don’t think this is inaccurate. And my problem is not so much that there is a “secularity” that moves counter to the Gospel (Wouldn’t we expect the secular culture to be … well … secular?), but more with the notion of “drift,” that Western Culture is any more or less aligned with Christianity today than it was yesterday. More pointedly, does today’s leadership look back with fondness to what they see as an identifiably “Christian” West that promoted racial prejudice, large-scale warfare from the Thirty Years’ to the Cold, colonialism, or economic exploitation of the early industrial age? Are we expected to take seriously the notion that a century or three ago, we were any less nominally Christian? The notion of “exceptionalism,” that one age or another can be identified as more “great” or more “problematic” is a most unhelpful relativism. (To borrow a phrase.) Can we manage to inspire believers to work to change the world because it’s the one we live in today, and because there are serious things that need changing? Or must we break out the pom poms because it’s the absolute worst that God has even shaken his head at?
In other words, I don’t see the most recent 50’s as some sort of idealized time when Fathers Joseph Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyla were all smiles as they lived out their early years as priests while across the pond, Ozzie and Harriet and Ward and June raised nice Protestant boys who were certainly never going to shack up someone of their own sex.
While I don’t claim to be an historian, I do openly wonder if the alarmist tenor of conservatives and the self-styled orthodox doesn’t have way too much of the Vatican’s ear these days. And if so, to what degree does paying attention to that monotone compromise the public gospel preached by the mouth attached to that ear?
Personally, I would hope for a more consistent witness within the institution and outside of it, and a bit more serenity. A bit less alarm. New York same-sex people are far less a threat to sacramental Catholic marriages than unenlightened economics, selfishness, materialism, narcissism, and the like. Or even lingerie catalogues, alcohol advertising, or the public hypocrisy of the Culture War shock troops–let alone their generals.
In fact, many reporters presumed this made the 69-year-old cardinal the leading Italian candidate in a future conclave. But that he slipped so easily into the front-runner status may say something else: Right now, there is little if any consensus, in Italy or elsewhere, about who the strongest papal candidate would be.
Of course. The College of Cardinals had no idea whom the Holy Spirit had set upon them by the election of John Paul II. That larger-than-life figure was followed by perhaps the second-most prominent Catholic in the world. Nobody in the Church has that kind of profile, as much as Cardinal Arinze trots the globe, or other bishops have broken into the blogosphere.
And finally, this guy was a patriarch of a major see, Venice. I can see a patriarch from Venice becoming pope–in fact two of the last five popes were assigned to Venice before they ascended to the papacy. I’ll note that according to wikipedia, this is only the fourth time in three centuries an Archbishop of Venice hasn’t died or been elected pope. And of those four, one was a retirement and two were curial appointments.
On the other hand, since the turn of the century past, Milan has been “bested” 3-2 on the papal elevation front by Venice. Do you sensibly Catholic history buffs know where your last nine or ten popes have come from?
So what do you think? Am I reading too much into a paragraph that will appear as filler in your diocesan print media in a few weeks?
*CitE: Careerism in the Episcopacy