by Massimo Faggioli

The profile of Cardinal Angelo Scola is one of the most complex – and, in a way, mysterious – of the cardinals taking part in the conclave of 2013. His career is made of diocesan life as a bishop, of Roman posts, and of his longtime membership in the new (post-conciliar but also anti-conciliar) ecclesial movement “Communion and Liberation.” The movement is usually called CL or cielle, and its members are usually called ciellini.

Born not far from Milan in 1941, Angelo Scola met the founder of “Communion and Liberation,” Fr. Luigi Giussani, in 1958. This was before the split between Catholic Action and “Communion and Liberation” that has traumatized Italian lay Catholicism in the last 50 years in its opposition between the more progressive lay Catholicism in Italy and the aggressive and papalist stance of “Communion and Liberation.”

Scola studied philosophy at the Catholic University of Milan and then entered the seminary of the diocese of Milan in Venegono in 1967. But soon after, Scola left the seminary because of the incompatibility between post-conciliar life in a Catholic seminary and the more skeptical reading of the council within “Communion and Liberation.” In 1969 Scola studied at Fribourg in Switzerland, which at the time was a meeting point for members of “Communion and Liberation,” and also for important Catholic theologians close to “Communion and Liberation” such as canon lawyer Eugenio Corecco.

In 1970 Scola was ordained priest of the small diocese of Teramo in central Italy. Between 1970 and the mid-80s Scola did research in anthropology, and between 1986 and 1991 he was consultant for the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. In 1991 he was ordained bishop of Grosseto (in Tuscany), where he stayed until 1995. He then left Grosseto because he was appointed rector (president) of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome and president of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Family Studies. In 2002 he was appointed Patriarch of Venice, and he was created cardinal in 2003.

Scola left Venice in 2011 to return to Milan as cardinal archbishop of the most important Catholic city of Italy – culturally speaking, it is more important than secularized Rome. This episcopal appointment seems to have been made personally by Benedict XVI. Benedict’s sympathies for “Communion and Liberation” and for Scola go back to the 1970s, when he and Scola had worked together for the journal Communio, which is published by Jaca Book, the publishing house founded by “Communion and Liberation.”

In Milan Scola had to deal with the massive political power of “Communion and Liberation” in the city and in the region. The governor of Lombardy, the now disgraced Roberto Formigoni, was for a long time the most important politician from “Communion and Liberation.” Scola also had to deal with the legacy of Cardinal Martini, archbishop of Milan from 1980 to 2002, the most popular Catholic bishop in Italy for a long time, especially but not only among liberal Catholics. Martini was respected for his biblical and pastoral theological approach to modern issues and his honesty in addressing them, not only in interviews with the media, but also at the famous Synod of Bishops of 1999. There, Martini said that it was time for the Church to have a moment of collegial discussion on issues such as the role of women in the Church and human sexuality. Martini was immediately rebuked by Tettamanzi, who a few years later would become his successor as archbishop of Milan. At the final press conference of the synod, Tettamanzi  said that Martini’s intervention sparked no interest among the other bishops.

Scola has “normalized” the Milan diocese. He has not tried to be a second Cardinal Martini, after the transitional but not unimportant episcopate of Cardinal Tettamanzi (the successor of Martini, in Milan between 2002-2011). It is important to note that Scola seems to have “rehabilitated” some of the “Martinians” in Milan that had been banned from leadership role in the diocese by the Martini’s immediate successor, Tettamanzi.

Scola is member of several curial congregations and pontifical councils. He is a thinker and a writer known for his intense publishing activity. His publications range from Thomism (La fondazione teologica della legge naturale nello Scriptum super Sententiis di San Tommaso d’Aquino, 1982), to theological anthropology (Questioni di antropologia teologica, 1997), to the spirituality and culture of “Communion and Liberation” (Un pensiero sorgivo. Sugli scritti di Luigi Giussani, 2004) to a fine interpretation of the teaching of John Paul II (L’esperienza elementare. La vena profonda del magistero di Giovanni Paolo II, 2003). Scola is familiar with the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar , and he recently published a book on the challenge of secularism (Una nuova laicità: temi per una società plurale, 2007).

In the last few months Scola has made news, at least for Catholics, with two speeches. In a lecture in Rome on October 4, 2012, during the conference on the history of Vatican organized by the Pontifical Lateran University, Scola presented a nuanced view of Vatican II following the Ratzingerian framework of “continuity vs. discontinuity.” But at the same time he tried to create some room for distinguishing the documents of Vatican II from the event of Vatican II, as is done by more progressive interpreters of the so-called “Bologna school.” (The speech has been edited and published by the Catholic journal Il Regno – documenti 17/2012, pp. 538-549.) Scola said that Vatican II as an event is richer than the mere documents of the council: “Non c’è antinomia tra evento e corpus dottrinale, ma conformità. Tuttavia è possibile domandarsi: esiste una sporgenza dell’evento rispetto ai testi? Esiste. E non deve meravigliare.” (There is no antinomy between Vatican II as event and as a body of documents, but rather conformity. And yet it is possible to ask this question: does an overhang exist from Vatican II as event compared to the final texts? It does exist. We should not be shocked by that.”)

The second speech was delivered for the feast of St. Ambrose, patron saint of Milan, on December 6, 2012. In it, Scola described the relations between religion and secular culture in the West as unbalanced in favor of secularism. He expressed the wish for “American” way, a “gentle separation” between church and state with a stronger role for society and a smaller government. (See my analysis at HuffPost.) Scola set out to criticize the European idea of “laicitè,” and he welcomed a more “American” idea of the relationship between religion and politics: less government, more society – meaning, more Christian faith-based social services financed by taxpayer money. It is the European version of the fight for “religious liberty” waged by the U.S. bishops the last few years.

Scola has not published books on liturgy, and he is not known primarily as a liturgist. But his transfer from Venice to Milan makes his case particularly interesting, in light of the difficult application in Italy of the 2007 motu proprio Summorum pontificum which allows unrestricted use of the pre-Vatican II 1962 liturgy. Summorum always faced strong headwinds in the Italian bishops’ conference, where many bishops do not share Pope Benedict XVI’s fondness for the pre-conciliar rite. Cardinal Scola was one of the main cardinals, along with the former vicar for the diocese of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, and the archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, to defend the papal motu proprio and the need to implement it locally – or at least the need to pretend to implement it.

Cardinal Scola has also defended Summorum in academic settings, such as his speech at the liturgical institute of Santa Giustina in Padua on October 17, 2007 [“Il rito: tra rinnovamento e tradizione,” Il Regno, 19/2007, 614-619]. This speech was thoroughly criticized by Andrea Grillo.

The archdiocese of Milan had remained notoriously reluctant to implement Summorum, at least as long as it was governed by Scola’s predecessor, Tettamanzi. Officially this was because the motu proprio does not apply to the Ambrosian rite. This made Milan and Tettamanzi enemies of the Catholic traditionalist network in Italy trying to expand the web of churches celebrating the pre-conciliar rite. But things started to change with the arrival of Cardinal Scola.

Already as patriarch in Venice, Scola had put the motu proprio in effect by entrusting a church near the Grand Canal to the Society of St. Peter and Fr. Konrad zu Loewenstein, a very popular figure in the Catholic traditionalist blogosphere. In 2010-2011, according to some reports, Cardinal Scola celebrated Mass in the old rite himself during his visit to the church, but others report that Scola merely assisted rather than celebrated.

And now, unsurprisingly, the “old Mass” is making a comeback in archdiocese of Milan, even if thus far apparently only in the city of Monza, the second most important city after Milan in the province. But the deanery of Monza is Roman rite, not Ambrosian, so this decision might mean a conscious plan to shield the Ambrosian rite from Summorum. Latin Mass according to the 1962 Missal is already celebrated in the diocese in the community of the Perpetual Adorers of the Most Blessed Sacrament, which is part of the large network of “Communion and Liberation.”

Cardinal Scola has long tried to disassociate himself from “Communion and Liberation,” some think because such ties could harm his chance in the conclave. It is not clear, though, how distant Scola really is from “Communion and Liberation,” given CL’s power in Milan. Scola delivered the homily at the Mass celebrated for the seventh anniversary of the death of the founder of the movement, Fr. Luigi Giussani, on February 22, 2012. It was very damaging for him, and for the Roman curia, when the Vatileaks scandal revealed a letter of Giussani’s successor,” Fr. Carron, that expressed to Benedict XVI his concern for the diocese of Milan after two “liberal” archbishops like Martini and Tettamanzi. Scola, of course, would be the best man to normalize the situation.

Some typical cultural aspects of “Communion and Liberation” are still very evident in Angelo Scola: an anthropological reading of Christianity with existentialist accents; an ultramontanism and papalism typical of anti-modern Catholicism; a blunt and sometimes rude unawareness of the theological importance of dialogue with Judaism and Islam.

The tenure of Angelo Scola as patriarch of Venice and now as cardinal in Milan is more significant for his relationship with Muslims. There was the incident of August 2012, when Cardinal Scola sent a letter to the Muslims in Milan celebrating the end of Ramadan. The Cardinal’s letter was intended by him to be read in public to the Muslims gathered in the civic arena of Milan. But the leaders of the prayer that day never read the letter. It is not clear if they did not read it because of its content, or because they did not like the idea of a letter from the leader of the Catholic Church in Milan being read during a solemn Muslim festivity.

But already in Venice in 2004 Scola founded “Oasis,” a well-funded foundation and study center for the relationship between Christian and Muslims in the age of “meticciato di civiltà” (hybridization of cultures – but in Italian “meticciato” brings to mind a vocabulary typical of racists). “Oasis” has a very broad network of intellectuals and donors, and it is engaged in creating bridges in the Mediterranean area. It played an important role especially since the beginning of the “Arab Spring.” An ambiguous initiative such as “Oasis” suggests that Scola is ready to dialogue, but he does not yet have the vocabulary of a John Paul II to carry it out.

Massimo Faggioli is assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has written extensively on modern Church history and on Vatican II. He is author of True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Liturgical Press, 2012).