00 9/21/2009 3:43 PM

Sandro Magister's translator renders his title for the following article as "Make or Break. The Italian Bishops at the Final Tally", an approximate translation of Magister's Italian title, but in any case, the title seems to be misleading.

The implication is that the Italian bishops conference could stand or fall on the Boffo case, although the text of the article itself does not reflect that view at all! It concentrates on the CEI's Cultural Project - about which a good background was provided in the articles on Cardinal Ruini, its president, posted last week in PEOPLE AROUND THE POPE.

However, I continue to be bothered that even Vatican experts like Messori and Magister do not seem to look at the CEI as the organization through which the Holy Father carries out his function as Primate of Italy, because whenever they speak of the Italian bishops - which neither of them appear to have high regard for as a group - they tend to be very critical and sometimes contemptuous. As if the CEI had nothing to do with the Pope at all, or that what the CEI does and how it is regarded by the public and/or treated by the media does not reflect on the Pope.

Also, I think the assumption is false that 'there are some who are giving it up (the Cultural Project) for dead'. Who exactly is thinking that, knowing that Cardinal Ruini has not been asleep at the helm - as one can see by a simple look at the 'Progetto Culturale' webpages on the CEI website and what it reports on the project's activities and Cardinal Ruini's speaking engagements to promote these activities.

What the CEI has been doing
in its 'cultural project'

There are some who are giving it up for dead. But the facts prove that it is more alive than ever.
With three big new developments: a proposal to the country on the "educational emergency,"
a new school of theology applied to a "pluralist" society, and an international conference on "God today".

ROME, September 21, 2009 – The executive board [formally, it's called the Permanent Council] of the Italian bishops' conference is meeting in Rome this evening for the usual early fall session, with shock waves still spreading over the resignation of Dino Boffo as editor of Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the CEI, after he was defamed by public attacks against his person.

During the firestorm, the Church hierarchy, both in Italy and at the Vatican, demonstrated that they were divided and disoriented. [Divided certainly, but 'disoriented'?]

The attack against Avvenire, in fact, was also leveled by some against the approach that they personify in Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the CEI for fourteen years, until 2007, and of the "cultural project" that he conceived and realized, to a great extent through the newspaper directed by Boffo. [But the 'cultural project' was hardly ever mentioned in the secular coverage of the main Italian newspapers.]

The idea that the Ruini approach is disappearing is contradicted by various signals – all in recent days – that prove its vitality. [The idea appears to have been mostly wishful thinking by commentators who had previously been enthusiastic about Ruini when he was the big gun at CEI and have suddenly decided to find fault with how he handled the CEI's political actions - successfully by all accounts - in his time!]

One of these signals is the widespread diffusion in Italy, beginning on September 17, of a book produced by the committee for the cultural project of the CEI, entitled La sfida educativa [The challenge of education].

The book is presented as a report on what has been called, including by Benedict XVI, an "educational emergency." A report, that is, on the dramatic incapacity that today's society demonstrates in educating the new generations.

{More importantly, the reason the study was carried out came from Benedict XVI's exhortation at the decennial national convention of the Italian Church in Verona in 2006.]

But in addition to being a descriptive and analytical report, the book is also a proposal on how to face this emergency and overcome the challenge. In the preface, Cardinal Ruini writes that what is at stake are "the fundamentals of the existence of man and woman, the very meaning that we attribute to man and to our civilization."

The educational challenge therefore does not concern only the family, the schools, the Church, but society as a whole. Chapter after chapter, the book examines it in various areas and through the work of different specialists: including the areas of work, business, commerce, mass media, entertainment, sports.

The question of education will be the linchpin of the pastoral action of the Italian Church during the decade of 2010-2020, as established by the bishops' conference. But with the cultural project, the intention is to involve the entire nation.

One piece of evidence is that the printing of La sfida educativa was entrusted not to a Catholic publishing house, but to one that is "secular" to the core, Laterza.

And it is at the Rome offices of Laterza that the official presentation of the book will take place, on Tuesday, September 22. With Cardinal Ruini, with the education minister, Mariastella Gelmini, with the president of the industrial confederation, Emma Marcegaglia, and with the president of the publishing house, Giuseppe Laterza, acting as moderator.


A second signal is coming from Venice, and also has a cardinal as its inspiration: not Ruini, but Angelo Scola, patriarch of the city.

[Interestingly, Cardinal Scola was Ruini's first candidate to replace him as CEI president, a nomination opposed by Cardinal Bertone, who agreed to Ruini's next choice, Cardinal Bagnasco, who had succeeded Bertone as Archbishop of Genoa..]

Both cardinals – not by accident – are part of the committee for the cultural project instituted by the CEI in 2008, with Ruini as president. Scola, in Venice, is living proof of how the cultural project can be realized in original forms, creatively, and productively in a model diocese.

On September 5, Cardinal Scola opened in Venice an international conference entitled "The pluralist society," with lectures by Italian and foreign scholars from different disciplines, Catholics and non-Catholics, from Massimo Cacciari to David Novak, from Ottfried Höffe to Cesare Mirabelli, from Ignazio Musu to Steve Schneck.

The conference marked the opening in Venice of a new study center called the "Alta Scuola Società Economia Teologia," ASSET, which has the purpose of promoting interaction among the various disciplines, including theology, in confronting the crucial questions of a culturally "pluralist" world.

In introducing the conference, Scola invited Christians to identify and propose "common ground" on which to enact "noble compromises" among different positions.

But this does not change the duty of these same Christians, whenever compromise is not possible, as in the case of abortion or of the family, to make use of conscientious objection and otherwise continue their "proclamation" in society at full voice, in the hope of a positive change.

The new Alta Scuola is the latest of a constellation of initiatives organized over the past five years by Cardinal Scola and collected under the banner of the Studium Marcianum, named after the holy patron of Venice, the evangelist Mark, including the international magazine Oasis [for the Oasis Foundation set up to promote dialog with the Muslim world].

ASSET will operate through seminars, cultural laboratories, summer courses, publications, annual lectures. The inaugural lecture, next December 17, will be delivered by the philosopher Robert Spaemann, of the University of Munich [a devout Catholic traditionalist and friend of Benedict XVI]


A few days earlier, on December 10, Spaemann will speak at a major conference organized in Rome by the committee for the cultural project of the CEI, meaning by Ruini himself.

And now we come to a third signal.

The conference will be entitled "Dio oggi. Con lui o senza di lui cambia tutto [God today. With him or without him, that changes everything]." This has already been covered by www.chiesa.

There is a striking convergence between the theme of this conference and what Joseph Ratzinger indicated as the "priority" of his pontificate: "to make God present in this world, and provide man with access to God." All the more reason at a time "when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel" [from the Pope's March 10 letter to the Catholic bishops of th3 world].

Last September 9, Cardinal Ruini – in Milan to present a book in which he talks with the secular intellectual Ernesto Galli della Loggia – emphasized the importance of this next conference on God.

On that occasion, at Ruini's table, the editor of L'Osservatore Romano, Giovanni Maria Vian, recalled how at its beginning ten, fifteen years ago, the cultural project launched by Ruini seemed like "a phoenix," no one knowing what it is and where.

The rector of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Lorenzo Ornaghi, told him again that in reality the cultural project later revealed itself to be "a giant effort to transform the Christian message in popular culture."

The Catholic University was and is a crucible of this project. It is no coincidence that the appointment and reconfirmation of the "Ruinian" Ornaghi as its rector was one of the most hotly contested episodes of the Italian Church in recent years.

Another crucial instrument of the cultural project was and is Avvenire. It is no accident that Ornaghi's opponents were the same ones who in recent years also opposed Boffo as editor of the bishops' newspaper, having inflammatory false accusations circulated against both of them. This has also been reported in recent articles from www.chiesa.

The choice of Boffo's successor as editor of Avvenire will therefore be indicative of whether or not the Italian bishops' conference intends to continue on the path of Ruini's project.

[Cardinal Ruini was elected president of the Cultural Project in 2008 for a five-year term, so regardless of who the eventual editor of Avvenire is, the CEI will continue to use Avvenire as an informative and promotional outlet! Again, the 'Cultural Project' is an initiative of the CEI in accordance with Benedict XVI's explicit indications in his 2006 Verona speech - it is a major initiative for the CEI and Ruini precisely because it is in accordance with the Pope's vision of pastoral work in the Church of Italy.]

Of course, Cardinal Ruini has always worked in complete harmony with the current Pope and with his full support, just as he did with his predecessor.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/21/2009 9:10 PM]