The next Pope? Cardinal Scola on nature and freedom

Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Angelo Scola

As the conclave begins today, there is much speculation about the who next Pope will be. While it is impossible to know, and we should not underestimate the ‘microculture’ of Cardinals impacting the outcome, one of the candidates is Cardinal Scola. The current Archbishop of Milan has written before on nature and environmental issues, among other themes. In an article in ‘Communio’ last year, focused on the participation of Karol Wojtyla in Vatican II, he said:

“The nature of the human person is revealed in every relationship but above all in the relationship to the personal God, who is himself a perpetual event of relation and trinitarian exchange…the human person, in every relation with himself, with others and with the world, might understand and put into action the truth of his integral vocation”. Here we see clear signs of the awareness, following the teachings of Archbishop Wojtyla, of a trinitarian theology, emphasizing the relational dimension of existence and recognizing the basic relations that make for a theology of reconciliation. The theology of reconciliation is the backbone of Creatio and greatly promoted as an approach to engage environmental issues.

Recently, 2 weeks ago, I was able to participate in a Conference where Cardinal Scola spoke on religious freedom. Below a summary of his speech:

Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, spoke to an audience yesterday in Washington DC about the importance of religious freedom in our times. He began his speech with a historical outline of religious freedom, tracing its roots to the Edict of Milan in 313, which also ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. He quickly moved to the present time where the issue of religious freedom has arisen to respond to the “emergency” of religious persecution, which is on the increase around the world. Among other regions of the world, Cardinal Scola specifically mentioned the Unites States, and the HHS mandate as an imposition of a limitation on religious freedom and an expression of “civilizational malaise”.

Cardinal Scola, speaking at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family ‘Conference on Dignitatis humanae’, then outlined two of the “thorny issues” concerning religious freedom. The first is the relationship between religious freedom and peace. There is a close correlation between these two issues, and recent experience demonstrates that when the state imposes limitations on religious freedom this tends to increase resentment and frustration among its citizens.

The second issue, which is related to the first and is more complex, concerns the attitude of the state and public institutions with regard to religious freedom. While only a few decades ago public institutions made substantial references to anthropological positions based on religious views, now these are disallowed and must be replaced by ‘neutral’ positions. This marginalizes individuals who profess a belief in certain truths. This liberalist framework, which is presented in the guise of neutrality, is in fact an institutional prejudice against religions. The case for the states neutrality rests on the now antiquated assumption that the deepest social divisions are among different religious groups. The truth is that today the deepest social division is rather a different one, between secularist culture and religious culture. In this way, it is the “non confessionality of the state” that leads public power to defend secularity while discriminating against religious groups, labeling them as partisan and shutting them out of the public arena. This makes the state non impartial, where legislation becomes hostile to cultural identities of religious origin.

The remedy of this situation, said Cardinal Scola, requires the centrality of truth as an essential condition. The adherence to truth is only possible in a personal and voluntary way and this hinges on the personal commitment to truth, which is both a duty and a right. This commitment to truth makes the distinction between religious freedom and religious indifferentism. Religious freedom becomes an empty concept if we do not suppose the existence of truth. In concluding, Cardinal Scola quoted Pope Benedict XVI extensively and explained that the state must not only create a space for expressing religion but the need for giving a reason for believing. This reason must be intelligent and touch the other person, a task that requires effort but is fascinating. Finally, quoting Pope Benedict, he said that this dimension of witness always carries a martyriological component.


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