The Zuppi hypothesis, towards Pope Egidio

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

Français, italiano

Considering the catastrophic situation of the Church fifty years after Vatican II and the inability of those qualified as Conservative to straighten things up and even to take charge, at least in some areas, a few among those who oppose the Council are coming up with other scenarios. It would no longer be about dreaming of a neo-ratzingerian pontificate but to prepare for a short term future, that is for the next pontificate, various schemes devised as starting base.

Since the state of the Church could only but worsen more and more rapidly, they consider that to prepare for the future, the situation they should look for would be one where the theoretical and practical critic (liturgical notably) of the Council would benefit from a free zone where it could develop.

Such considerations into the future, saying that it is better to have a center-left pontificate which guaranties freedom rather than a center-right which can be incapacitating, can seem particularly risky. Certainly, it takes us out of the “restoration” conformist ways. But, haven’t these ways of thinking already proven themselves to be dead-end streets? Haven’t they become pipe dreams? We provide an example, here, of the type of prelate who could be the actor of such scenario, and we ask this question: What if the new pope’s name was Egidio, Pope Egidio?

Is Matteo Zuppi a “progressive?”

We often hear people mentioning Cardinal Matteo Zuppi. Is he a “progressive?” Edward Pentin, in his book The next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates, thinks so. In this issue of Res Novæ, Don Pace gives us an account on this particular subject. It is actually very difficult to label the cardinals according to quasi-political criteria. In Confessions of a cardinal (JC Lattès, 2007) Olivier Le Gendre reports that his anonymous cardinal told him that “it is misleading to speak of opposite sides with definite boundaries as those who oppose each other in the parliament of a republic or within a party gathering rival factions. We are among cardinals, a world where boundaries are unsettled.” One sees, indeed, that notably during the conclaves, the boundaries between parties fluctuate greatly. Especially since Matteo Maria Zuppi set himself to be a free man: indeed, if he is for welcoming migrants (as seems to be his orientation per an article published in Il Giornale, on 1 July, about the cardinal, in his own city, meeting in his own cities the leaders of the democratic party, PD, during their convention in Bologna), Matteo Zuppi is also for welcoming the traditionalists.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi will be sixty five years old in October. He could succeed Cardinal Basseti, Archbishop of Perugia, to the seat of President of the Italian Episcopal Conference. He will be about seventy years old then – but it could happen earlier – when, because of circumstances as well as old age, the current pontificate will have to make room for the next one. Matteo Zuppi is the grand-nephew of Cardinal Carlo Confalonieri, who was secretary of Pius XI and much later cardinal-bishop of Palestrina, a suburbicarian diocese, thus in the vicinity of Rome. In fact Matteo Zuppi is originally from Rome, like Pope Pacelli, a Romano di Roma as his friends often say, whose father himself worked in the Vatican. More or less exempted from attending the seminary (just like John-Baptist Montini), Matteo Zuppi was first incardinated in the diocese of Palestrina.

Matteo Zuppi, most of all, is the protector of the Community of Sant’Egidio. Ordained to the priesthood for the diocese of Rome in 1988, he was appointed parish priest of the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere in 2000, and he became General ecclesiastic assistant to the Community of Sant’Egidio, which was started not far from this parish, in 1973, with as its seat the small church of Sant’Egidio (saint Giles, a holy hermit from the VII century).

This community founded principally by Andrea Riccardi, devoted to the service of those most in need, gained power in the nineteen eighties by committing to the inter-religious dialogue and work for peace, even exercising an international diplomatic mission. In this way, don Zuppi, Andrea Riccardi and other personalities of the Community have played an efficient mediation in the negotiation between the government of Mozambique and the armed resistance party engaged against the government in a civil war, a mediation which led to a peace agreement, in 1992, between the two parties involved in the conflict.

Matteo Zuppi, a pragmatic, continued to participate in this unofficial diplomacy of the Community of Sant’Egidio, next to and with the Vatican diplomacy, and also in the organization of inter-religious meetings in the path of Assisi, like in Lyon, Bukavu, Munich, etc…, as well as the planning of “humanitarian corridors” for migrants from Africa and Asia into Europe, etc. In such a way that Matteo Zuppi appears as a sort of co-founder of the Community as it became the most influent Catholic “lobby” internationally. The importance of Sant’Egidio played in Andrea Riccardi becoming Minister of International Cooperation, within the euro-globalist technocrat government of Mario Monti, in 2011.

In 2012, Mgr Zuppi was appointed auxiliary bishop of Rome by Benedict XVI. It is said, Zuppi considers the pontificate of Benedict XVI has been sabotaged by cardinal Bertone, then Secretary of State. The Community of Sant’Egidio complied with the successive governments of John-Paul II and Benedict XVI. But, with Pope Francis, it gave the impression it had found its pope of heart. It seems the Community used its influence to serve the accession to the Chair of Saint Peter of Jorge Bergoglio, after the resignation of Benedict XVI. Zuppi and Riccardi would, thus, be part of the makers of Pope Bergoglio, along with others.

On 27 October 2015, Pope Francis appointed Matteo Zuppi archbishop of Bologna, after the renunciation of Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, one of the signatories of the Dubia contesting the orthodoxy of Amoris Lætitia. And on 5 October 2019, he was made cardinal by Pope Francis who, for him and Sant’Egidio, created a new cardinalis title, of the church of Sant’Egidio in Trastevere, and honored him with it. With other members of the Community, such as Matteo Bruni, director of the Press office of the Vatican since 2019, he is now in the avenues of power.

If there is a bishop who knows how to be popular (on the occasion of the reception of the pourpre, a train had been chartered especially to bring with him the Bologneses to Rome), yet he is far from gathering unanimous consent among Catholic people. His book on the theme of the migrant issue, written with Lorenzo Fazzini, a journalist from Avvenire, the Episcopal daily, did not meet a great success: Odierai il prossimo. Perché abbiamo dimenticato la fraternità. Riflessioni sulle paure del tempo presente (Piemme, 2019) – you shall hate your neighbor. Why we forgot about Fraternity. Reflection on fear in present time. The chapter of the book which is maybe the most “franciscan” is the one titled “Anche nella Chiesa ci si odia” – Even in the Church, we hate each other: instead of a true evangelical fervor, we find “the fallacious pleasure of an egocentric indulgence”, in a “ruthless” Church which condemns others but absolves itself for its own behavior.”

The archbishop of Bologna has also written a preface to the italian edition of Fr. Martin’s book, sj, Editor-in-chief of the Jesuit review America, Un ponte da costruire. Una relazione nuova tra Chiesa e persone LGBT (Marcianum Press, 2018) [1], – a bridge to build. A new relation between the Church and the LGBT people –, a book praised by Cardinal Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. It is actually very unfortunate, in an anthropological and social point of view, that the book of Fr. Martin acknowledges the existence of a “LGBT community” within society. But the main problem with this kind of writing is that it never clearly says that the one who asks for the sacraments must no longer be set in a sinful situation, such as those living in a homosexual relationship. Thus, the preface suggests, in the light of Amoris lætitia, that the homosexual persons who turn to the Church be “accompanied” with a “clever pedagogy of graduality.”

One would notice, though, that the Italian edition prefaced by Mgr Zuppi talks in its sub-title of LGBT persons, when the American edition instead talks of LGBT community. In addition, Mgr Zuppi speaks of “the diverse and complex ensemble homosexual persons represent.”

A man of many facets

Cardinal Zuppi is definitely at the center of various religious and political networks. He is, for example, very close to the Bolognese, Romano Prodi, a practicing Catholic, former President of the center-left Council and former President of the European Commission.

A DVD, edited by Emilio Marrese, makes the promotion of Matteo Zuppi, under the title: Il Vangelo secondo Matteo Z. Professione Vescovo, – The Gospel according to Matthew Z, Bishop. La Repubblica promotes the DVD and calls Zuppi “bishop of the streets,” to explain that his profoundly reforming and innovating activity follows the path shown by Pope Francis (1 December 2019).

In fact, Matteo Zuppi has plenty of reasons not to be identified as a strict “progressive.”

First, because after a Bergoglian pontificate criticized as it is, even by those who have shown much praise for it, described as rather sketchy, intellectually weak in the quality of its teaching, as well as unsettling, and without much charisma within the Catholic world, the conclave, whatever its general inclination, will set its choice on a “new man.” Some claim the archbishop of Bologna is not afraid to say that the house needs an urgent reorganization.

In the mean time, we can add that “progressivism”, church-wise, is looking older every day. The men who formed its intellectual base are not young anymore. The number of its supporters is shrinking, and a link is broken in the transmission of ideas: indeed, the sons, grand-sons or grand-nephews of those who carried out Vatican II are no longer going to church and have given up on catholicism long ago. In the Western world, in terms of numbers of faithful and priests – not to mention finances -, every where in the world in terms of basic orthodoxy and often moral stands among the priests, the situation is one of bankruptcy.

If, then, discreetly and pragmatically, Matteo Zuppi already asserts his difference, everything suggests the phenomena will intensify.

Thus, on a very sensitive subject: on the occasion of a pastoral visit as auxiliary bishop of Rome, he celebrated a pontifical Tridentine mass, on 30 March 2014, at the Trinity of the Pilgrims church, a personal parish of the Fraternity of Saint Peter, dedicated to the celebration of the traditional mass. Then, on 8 June of the same year, on the feast of Pentecost, he did the same in the church Gesù et Maria, for the Institute of Christ the King. On 8 December 2014, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, he presided a procession in the street with the same Institute (in their recent chapter, on 26 August last, he gave a conference and presided pontifical vespers). On all these occasions, he seems like a fish in water. When he arrived in Bologna, he immediately confirmed his good intentions in this regard, in the Corriere di Bologna of 28 October 2015: “if asked, I will celebrate in Latin. For the Roman communities who have asked me, I considered it was just to accomplish a gesture of communion and proximity. I am favorable to keeping away from any form of isolation.”

2020 is the 1300th anniversary of the death of saint Giles, which occurred according to tradition in 720, in a monastery located near the Rhone estuary, which became since the Carolingian era a place of pilgrimage from all over Europe. On 1 September, feast day of saint Giles, the Community celebrated this event with a mass presided by Cardinal Matteo Zuppi and streamed uninterrupted on the Community’s websites.

Father Claude Barthe

1. Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity (Hardcover, 2017).