On May 24, the Pope informed the Italian bishops, meeting in conference at the Hilton Hotel in Fiumicino, near Rome, that he had appointed a new president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI). Choosing from a trio of names presented by the bishops themselves, the pope appointed Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna since 2015.
Zuppi was immediately presented by the Italian press as a choice in line with the preference for the poor and the marginalized, far from the power games and political interests that are usually attributed to the Italian Episcopal Conference, at least for those who think in the line followed during the time of Cardinal Ruini.
Additionally, Zuppi is presented as one of Francis's loyalists and possibly as his potential successor.
What to think of such a presentation? Cardinal Zuppi is neither naïve nor a stranger to real power, whatever the leftist press says, and it does not matter that he presents himself simply and modestly as a poor street priest.
Zuppi is, on his mother's side, a nephew of Cardinal Confalonieri, powerful prefect of the Consistorial Congregation – later the Congregation of Bishops – under John XXIII and Paul VI. In 1973, while still a student, he joined Andrea Riccardi in the nascent Community of Sant'Egidio, whose aim was to care for the poor and destitute, and which in a few years would become a political and ecclesial power with clearly progressive tendencies.
As a priest, vicar, and then parish priest of St. Mary’s in Trastevere for 29 years, Zuppi was at the center of the activities of the Sant'Egidio Community, which were not limited to organizing tables for the poor inside the basilica.
We must not forget that it is to Sant'Egidio that we owe the organization of the first great interreligious meeting for peace in Assisi, in 1986, desired by John Paul II, where the true religion and the papacy were humiliated and equated with paganism and heresy.
This first meeting was followed by countless others, until today, always with the participation of the Community.
As a point of reference for “Catholic” progressivism in Italy and beyond, the Community is now an influential international body. Thus, the peace treaty signed in 1992 in Mozambique, thanks to the mediation of Sant'Egidio, in which Zuppi personally participated, remained celebrated.
The Community also played an important role in the China-Vatican agreement of 2018, celebrated by Riccardi himself in an editorial in Corriere della sera.
The power of the Community in Italy is such that Riccardi himself was Minister for International Cooperation in 2012, and a left-wing candidate for the Presidency of the Republic in January of this year.
As minister, he pushed forward the proposal to grant Italian citizenship by jus soli – birth right – to children of immigrants born in Italy. Other members of the community have held and hold important roles in the various center-left or coalition Italian governments, as well as in numerous governmental and diplomatic posts.
It is not a question here of listing the power relationships of the Community and its members with the Italian left, which can be found in any newspaper. The Community enjoys an excellent media reputation in this regard. Zuppi's career is therefore linked to the very powerful group to which he belongs, an expression of the most classic “Catholic” progressivism.
After two brief years as parish priest in Torre Angela, an abandoned Roman suburb, it was Benedict XVI who chose Zuppi as auxiliary bishop of Rome in 2012, – responsible however for the historic center, where the palaces of power are located, and not for the poor of the city suburbs, thereby opening the doors to his future career which will see him a few years later as archbishop of Bologna and cardinal in 2019, with the title of Sant'Egidio, precisely.
It should be noted that Bologna is the only Italian see traditionally cardinalate, which Pope Bergoglio has kept as such, preferring to appoint Italian bishops of “minor” cities as cardinals.
Cardinal Zuppi therefore pleases the Pontiff, and not only him. His appointment as IEC chair was also enthusiastically received by Rabbi Di Segni of Rome and Jesuit James Martin, a well-known supporter of the cause of Catholic LGBT.
In fact, the preface of the Italian edition of the Jesuit's book “Building a Bridge,” devoted to the integration of the homosexual world into the Church, was written by the Archbishop of Bologna.
As bishop in Rome, he celebrated a pontifical Mass according to the Tridentine rite at the Trinity of the Pellegrini, and as cardinal, solemn vespers at the seminary of Gricigliano, of the Institute of Christ the King.
The ex Ecclesia Dei communities obviously have no problem with the doctrine of the bishops they invite; and the Tridentine rite, so long as it is not tied to the faith which it is supposed to express, presents no problem to the more progressive members of the hierarchy.
Upon his appointment, the Cardinal declared that he was entrusting the whole Church to Our Lady, represented in the General Assembly of the CEI also by “so many referents and so many lay people, a piece of synodality which entered into the collegiality.”
In line with Francis, Zuppi shows us that synodality is not a simple application of conciliar collegiality, but the integration of the laity into the governance of the Church, in the name of the – erroneous – principle of equality among all the baptized.
The appointment of Zuppi to the presidency of the CEI does not therefore represent the victory of the Church “of the poor and the excluded,” as the Italian press seems to say, but that of a precise and clearly identifiable power lobby, closely linked to Italian and international progressivism.
A very precise political choice, which – it is easy to foresee – will see the future of the Italian Church (even more) engaged in the struggle for the rights of migrants and the “excluded” of various “sorts.”