A Cardinal’s Recollections

Source: FSSPX News

Cardinal Camillo Ruini

Cardinal Camillo Ruini was one of the main influential figures in the Curia during the pontificates of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, performing his duties as President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and Vicar General of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome for close to 15 years. Hence there is interest in the interviews the senior prelate recently granted to Corriere della Serra, in June 2024.

The former President of the CEI—close to Christian Democratic circles—recalls a lunch that took place in 1994 at the Quirinal Palace, the former residence of the Supreme Pontiffs and the current seat of the presidency of the Italian Republic. The anecdote takes on a particular flavor in the Italian political context of 2024.

The Head of State at the time, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro—a center-left Catholic—received Cardinals Camillo Ruini, Angelo Sodano (then Secretary of State of the Holy See), and one of the latter’s closest colleagues, the French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.

Cardinal Ruini recounts that the Italian President asked them for the intervention of the Church to help him “overthrow” the government presided over at the time by Silvio Berlusconi, a man in whom Scalfaro then saw a “populist threat” to democracy. It was a proposal received in an “embarrassed silence” by the three high-ranking ecclesiastics who decided not to follow up.

“Berlusconi had his merits and his limits, like all the other politicians, but he did not have subversive aims. For us, the dangers of the Republic were elsewhere,” Cardinal Camillo Ruini explains. Mutatis mutandis, 30 years later, Scalfaro’s successor is still a center-left man who probably has as much sympathy for the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, as his predecessor had for Il Cavaliere.

But at the head of the CEI is now found Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, of the Sant’Egidio Community, who has not hesitated to take a stand against the political current embodied by Giorgia Meloni. Would we see the same request come from Quirinal in 2024, and how would it be received by the current head of the CEI? It is something to think about for the Vaticanists and political commentators of Italy who suspect that Cardinal Ruini did not tell the anecdote by chance.

Two other stories concern the pontificate of John Paul II: the latter “used a phrase which seemed to accept the theory of the theologian [Hans Urs] von Balthasar, who said he hoped that Hell were empty.” Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Re confided in Cardinal Ruini that the Polish Pope “did not recognize himself in this ambiguity and had asked the Curia never to quote that phrase of his, because in reality, Hell exists and is populated.”

Similarly, in the year 2000, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published the Declaration Dominus Iesus, reaffirming that Christ is the only Savior of the world, progressive theologians protested, seeing in it the hand of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the CDF. Yet, according to Cardinal Ruini, the document was a personal request of John Paul II, who wanted “to put an end to all doubts.”

At the time of the interview, Cardinal Ruini ponders the evening of his life—he is 93 years old—and “is re-reading Thomas’s Summa Theologica, he has reached ‘question 75,’ first part,” on the essence of the soul.