Pope Francis has chosen an LGBTQ-positive prelate as the new head of the Italian episcopal conference, which has the added significance that he was one of three names put forward for the post by the bishops’ themselves.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna was named president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference by Pope Francis last week following the bishops’ meeting, reported Vatican News. Unique to Italy, the episcopal conference’s president is directly appointed by the pope from three names put forward by the country’s bishops, a Francis-era reform.
Zuppi has taken pro-LGBTQ actions in recent years. In 2020, he wrote the prologue to a book on homosexuality in view of Pope Francis’ papacy, which featured interviews with theologians and LGBTQ Catholics. In the prologue, Zuppi wrote, “When communities will truly begin to look at people as God looks at them, then homosexual people — and everybody else — will begin to feel, naturally, a part of the ecclesial community.”
Zuppi also wrote the preface to the Italian edition of Fr. James Martin, S.J.’s, book Building a Bridge in 2018. He affirmed the priest’s use of the term “LGBT” as “a necessary step for beginning a respectful conversation,” and said the book was “useful for encouraging dialogue, as well as reciprocal knowledge and understanding.” He endorsed gradualism, or the idea that people journey toward Christian perfection rather than being expected to practice it instantly, an idea that had been quite controversial during the Synod on the Family.
Beyond LGBTQ issues, Zuppi, who has been called the “Italian Bergoglio” in reference to Pope Francis, is quite involved with peace and justice work. He is a longtime supporter of the Community of Sant’Egidio, which works for peace, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, and the provision of social service, including specific work on HIV/AIDS. When Zuppi was made a cardinal in 2019, he was assigned the Church of Sant’Egidio in Rome as his titular church. He presently serves as a member of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, often called the Vatican’s justice and peace office.
When accepting the nomination now, Zuppi said, “Let’s walk together to listen to everyone’s suffering.”
Like many church appointments, there are complex politics to why the Italian bishops gave Zuppi the most votes in listing their nominees for Pope Francis—and why Francis chose him. Whether or not LGBTQ issues played a role in the appointment, what is clear from this choice is that being an outspoken advocate for greater LGBTQ pastoral care is no longer a barrier in the pope or many bishops’ eyes for church leadership. And, notably, Zuppi is considered a papabile (a possible next pope) by some, so this appointment could take on greater significance at the next conclave.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, May 31 2022