Italian Vaticanist Looks to Next Pontificate in New Book

Francesco Grana’s ‘What Remains of the Papacy’ will be launched Nov. 18, with leading ‘papabile’ Cardinal Matteo Zuppi in attendance.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi (photo: Edward Pentin)

VATICAN CITY — “It is evident that factions [are] already organizing themselves in order not to be caught unawares when the sede vacante begins,” reads the publisher’s description of a new Italian book on the future of the papacy.

Titled Cosa resta del papato (“What Remains of the Papacy,” published by Edizioni Terrasanta) by Italian Vaticanist Francesco Antonio Grana, the book looks to the next conclave, examining the “future of the Church after Bergoglio” and asking if the papacy is “still a valid institution” or “perceived as completely anachronistic.”

It will be launched in Rome on Nov. 18 with the help of Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna, as a keynote speaker. 

The Rome-born cardinal’s presence is significant, as for months he has been tipped by Vaticanists, most notably Sandro Magister, as a leading papabile and the favored candidate Magister cites as one of those pre-conclave factions that are “organizing themselves” — that of the Sant’Egidio lay community. 

As a co-founder and former parish priest of the community, Cardinal Zuppi, 66, is known not only within the Church but also beyond the Catholic world due to the well-known international peace and humanitarian work of the organization. 

Cardinal Zuppi’s meteoric rise to become a leading papabile was further underlined this week following reports that he is tipped to become the next president of the Italian bishops’ conference next year, a pathway Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio trod with the Argentina bishops’ conference on his way to the papacy.

Grana, who is the Vatican correspondent for the Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, told the Register Nov. 5 that he invited Cardinal Zuppi to attend the launch of his book because he believed that the cardinal and two other speakers at the event will “effectively illustrate the revolutionary significance of Francis’ papacy” and also be able to “look at the pontificates of his immediate predecessors.” 

Grana is sympathetic to such a revolutionary vision for the Church, seeing it as necessary so the Church can “readjust herself to the profound and radical changes of the time.” The Italian Vaticanist said he was prompted to write his book because of Pope Francis’ wish, expressed in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), for a “conversion of the papacy” away from “excessive centralization [that] complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach” — a goal of the Second Vatican Council and its emphasis on “collegiality” that the Pope said had not yet been realized.  

It is perhaps no coincidence, therefore, that Cardinal Zuppi has similar aspirations. 

In my book The Next Pope (Sophia Institute Press), I explain how Cardinal Zuppi’s “lifelong concern for the poor and marginalized, forged through his close connections with the Sant’Egidio community” has revealed him “to be a true son of the spirit of Vatican II, someone who seeks to constantly engage with the modern world and implement the ‘profound change’ that he believes the Council wanted for the Church.” 

He is fully committed to adhering to the vision of this pontificate and seeing it to fruition, beginning with Evangelii Gaudium, and it is possibly for this reason that Cardinal Zuppi is, according to Marco Mancini writing in ACI Stampa, “one of the Pope’s most esteemed prelates.” (Sources close to the Vatican told the Register that Cardinal Zuppi’s presence at next week’s book launch wouldn’t have been possible without the Pope’s explicit approval).  

Known as a “street cardinal” for his help for the poor, Cardinal Zuppi’s emphasis on material poverty and equality has brought him close to Italian leftist politics — so much so that when Cardinal Zuppi’s appointment to the College of Cardinals was announced, the Italian media joked that the “chaplain” to Italy’s leading socialist party is to become a cardinal. 

As archbishop of Bologna, he has eulogized a far-left, pro-abortion Italian radical, and even incardinated into the Bologna Archdiocese a Communist priest who ran for a seat in the European Parliament. He is also remembered for writing the preface to Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, Jesuit Father James Martin’s controversial pro-LGBT book published in 2018. 



For Magister, Sant’Egidio’s efforts to propel Cardinal Zuppi into the See of Peter are indisputable, partly generated by a growing discontent with Francis’ pontificate indicated in a book called La Chiesa brucia — Crisi e future del cristianesimo (The Church is Burning — Crises and the Future of Christianity) written by Sant’Egidio’s principal founder, Andrea Riccardi. 

The community has a highly influential lobby with extensive connections in the upper echelons of the Church. 

In an Oct. 12 column headlined “Conclave in Sight, Operation Sant’Egidio,” Magister noted how Sant’Egidio has been strategically distancing itself from this pontificate and increasing its — and Cardinal Zuppi’s — profile in recent months, most recently hosting an interreligious gathering at the Colosseum with a host of big names, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

Cardinal Zuppi was the only cardinal to take part in the event, speaking on the subject of “Caring for Our Common Home” alongside the pro-population control member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Jeffrey Sachs.

During the conclaves of 1978, 2005 and 2013, “the men of Sant’Egidio tried to steer the outcome” but “each time without success,” Magister recalled — perhaps because in raising a favored candidate’s profile, they pushed him too hard and too fast and the cardinal electors became suspicious. As the famous Rome saying goes, “He who enters the conclave as pope, leaves it as a cardinal.”