Outsiders watching the Catholic Church as it engages in choosing its next leader should be feeling alarmed at the emergence of Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan as the papal frontrunner. Despite the cliché that frontrunners never win the papacy (‘He who enters the conclave as pope, comes out a cardinal’ is how the old saying goes) this isn’t always the case. The cardinals who became Pius XII in 1939 and Paul VI in 1963 both went into the conclave as the clear favourites beforehand. So, should we be worried about the papal candidacy of Angelo Scola? Very.
For one thing, Scola’s elevation would be a seamless continuation of the theologically conservative ‘Ratzinger era’ that has held sway since John Paul II was elected in 1978. It would be yet another nail in the coffin for the liberal Vatican II reforms of the 1960s – which, not co-incidentally, have been the target of one of the two major documents issued by Benedict XVI since his resignation. Scola has been Ratzinger’s man since the mid 1960s, when he became the Italian editor of the journal Communio that was part-founded by Ratzinger. Subsequently, Scola served under the German cardinal during Ratzinger’s term at the helm of the Congregation For the Faith, the Church’s doctrinal watchdog. In 2011. Benedict XVI named his protégé to the archbishopric of Milan.
Fair reward for services rendered? In the mid 2000s, Scola had continued his deference to the prevailing line in his book The Nuptial Mystery which contains 38 references to John Paul II in its index, and virtually clones the views on sex, marriage and homosexuality that John Paul II expressed in his book The Theology of the Body. As per usual, feminists and homosexuals came in for particularly harsh treatment from Scola. In a detailed and highly critical review of Scola’s book in Commonweal magazine in July 2006, Professor Luke Timothy Johnson noted:
…Enthusiasts will be further cheered to find John Paul II’s lead being followed by Scola…in the condemnation not only of abortion and of genetic engineering (cloning), and of birth control, but also of feminism, of homosexuality, and of cultural traits Scola associates with feminism and homosexuality, namely individualism, libertinism, relativism, narcissism, and even nihilism. The cardinal’s logic, in fact, seems to be that feminism is responsible for homosexuality, because the more women act like men, the more men are likely to want to have sex with other men.
As Johnson demonstrates, Scola ducks those parts of the New Testament that don’t fit his views on the family and gender relations. Ultimately, in Scola’s thinking, there is an obsessive concentration on the sexual act, and with its alleged sole purpose of facilitating procreation. As Johnson points out: “Everything [about marriage in Scola’s book] hangs on the procreative act between male and female.”
Even prelate-theologians should be held to a certain minimal standard of logic and common sense. I have already mentioned Scola’s reckless correlation of feminism and homosexuality; he also associates homosexuality with narcissism and nihilism. Another example is his indignant condemnation of (I think—the prose is not altogether clear) in vitro conception, which he declares will inevitably make the child into a “product” because the child did not result from “recourse to the conjugal act”; he does not seem to appreciate the effect of his words on childless parents who seek to adopt, or children who have been adopted, without “recourse to the conjugal act.”
Finally…while he asserts the primacy of the family and superficially equates the male/female/child triad to the Trinity – ie, the family in God’s image – Scola tends to avoid the implications of his own argument. Johnson, again:
The same recognition would work to locate “fundamental rights” of decision making within the family also with respect to the sexual relations of spouses against the incursions of the church—as in the case of birth control—or that the church might have been a trifle more aware of the sovereignty of the family during the extended period of time that children were abused by priests (in disregard of the sovereignty of actual Christian parents) and the abusers were protected by the hierarchy (with contempt for the sovereignty of very specific families). Such lapses of clear thinking do not inspire confidence in the magisterium’s capacity to speak coherently or convincingly on the subjects about which it claims to have much of worth to say. This book is neither profound nor helpful. It does, though, have a very attractive cover.
You get the picture. A vote for Scola would be a vote for business as usual, especially with Scola’s mentor still very much alive and on the premises. Administratively and theologically, the Ratzinger era has been a disaster for the Catholic Church. So…anyone still holding out hope for reform of this particular multinational, should be praying that the current frontrunner falls at the last hurdle.