Pope’s Rome vicar seen as possible Italian candidate to succeed him

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If the world's cardinals decide to return the papacy to the Italians, one possible candidate is Cardinal Camillo Ruini, papal vicar of Rome.

In the eyes of many Catholics in Rome, he is a well-known pastor and a viable candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II.
Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini (CNS photo by Debbie Hill)

As president of the Italian bishops' conference since 1991, he has long been in the public eye, but recently his leadership has been made even more evident.

He stood in for Pope John Paul at Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican this year and presided over many pre-Christmas liturgies in 2004, when the pope's failing health prevented him from taking active part in the ceremonies.

Cardinal Ruini also has been a vocal and vigorous opponent of Italian legislative efforts or other proposals that would threaten human life and weaken the traditional definition of the family.

However, he risked dividing the church in Italy when he called for Catholics nationwide to abstain from a series of 2005 referendums that would have eased government restrictions on assisted and artificial reproduction.

He countered criticisms that he was calling on people not to exercise their political right to vote.

"We are not saying 'do not vote in elections.' We just believe that it is necessary to not vote in this referendum, just as the constitution provides for," he said in a March 2005 interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Under Italian law, if not enough people go to the polls for a referendum vote, the proposal is scrapped.

Cardinal Ruini defended the right of the church to speak in the political realm.

The church "is a voice that should be taken seriously" since about 97 percent of Italy's 57.5 million people are Catholic, he said in the newspaper interview. He said the involvement of the church in political matters was not overriding the separation of church and state.

"I maintain that it is a new way of looking at religious freedom" -- that religious faith does not have to be "confined to the private world," he said.

As vicar of Rome since 1991, he governs the diocese in the name of the pope. He also serves as grand chancellor of Lateran University and archpriest of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral church of the Rome Diocese. He is also in charge of the pastoral governance of Ostia, one of Rome's seven suburbicarian dioceses.

Cardinal Ruini, 74, was a seminary professor for most of his priesthood before he was made a bishop in 1983. He is regarded as a good administrator, but he lacks the personal charisma that has been a hallmark of Pope John Paul's pontificate.

The son of a doctor, Camillo Ruini was born Feb. 19, 1931, in the town of Sassuolo in north central Italy, in what was then the Diocese of Reggio Emilia. He was ordained a priest of that diocese in 1954 and was sent to Rome, where earned licentiate degrees in philosophy and theology at Gregorian University.

Returning to Reggio Emilia in 1957, he taught philosophy at the diocesan seminary until 1968. He taught dogmatic theology at the regional seminary, 1968-1986, also serving as headmaster there, 1968-1977. From 1977 to 1983 he also taught at Bologna's theological academy.

Throughout his career he assisted and organized associations of Catholic students and intellectuals, working to promote the church's influence in educational and cultural life at every level in the Reggio Emilia region, a stronghold of communism.

He was named auxiliary bishop of Reggio Emilia in 1983, and three years later he became secretary-general of the Italian bishops' conference.

He was named an archbishop and papal vicar of Rome in January 1991, became president of the bishops' conference that March and was made a cardinal that June.

Like Pope John Paul, Cardinal Ruini has stressed that Catholicism needs to regain its role as a guide in Italian daily life. He supports dialogue with all parts of society but says the Christian message cannot be hidden or "flattened."

Named recording secretary of the European Synod of Bishops held in December 1991, at the opening session he warned that the reappearance of religious tensions in Eastern Europe following communism's collapse "makes it urgent for us to search for every means to free ecumenical questions from historical prejudice and political conditioning."

He said the church's focus on a new evangelization implied neither "nostalgia for the past nor a desire to conquer."

He also pointedly praised the Jewish tradition in Europe as "an important part of the development of our culture" and described the World War II Holocaust as a "perversion of Europe's conscience."

Cardinal Ruini is a member of the Congregation for Bishops, the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.


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