Rome, Italy, May 25, 2022 / 10:57 am
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi’s election as president of the Episcopal Conference of Italy is, at one level, unsurprising. For at least two years, he was spoken of as a frontrunner to succeed outgoing president Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti. And everyone pointed to Zuppi as the only figure who could lead the bishops’ conference in the direction desired by Pope Francis. Yet, on another level, the appointment was somewhat unexpected.
Zuppi’s election was announced as Italy’s bishops met for their plenary assembly at the Hilton Rome Airport Hotel. In the corridors of the hotel near Rome’s Fiumicino airport, there was a somewhat defiant air.
Some bishops, who asked to remain anonymous given that the ballot took place in secret, suggested that the pope was “forced” to select Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna, because he received the most votes among the three candidates sent to him for a final decision. It was evident, they said, that the pope would have preferred Cardinal Paolo Lojudice of Siena, who, they indicated, would be appointed as the new vicar of Rome.
Presidents of Italy’s bishops’ conference have a five-year term. At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis had asked for the statutes to be modified so that the bishops would elect the president themselves. But they preferred to keep the existing arrangement whereby the pope, as Bishop of Rome and Primate of Italy, chooses the president.