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Whose side is the Pope on?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 18, 2009

 It's just a small, unassuming item in today's  list of papal audiences...

This evening he is scheduled to receive in audience Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa, Italy, and president of the Italian Episcopal Conference.

...but wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall when that meeting took place? 

Ordinarily it's not a big deal for the Pope to meet with the head of the Italian bishops' conference. The Holy See is located in Italy, obviously; the Vatican cooperates with the episcopal conference on a whole host of issues.

Or perhaps I should say that the Vatican usually cooperates with the episcopal conference. For some weeks now there have been signs of tension between the two bodies, with the Italian bishops being markedly less diplomatic in their criticism of the Italian government. During the past month, the tensions have boiled over, as Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the episcopal conference, has been engaged in open battle with the Berlusconi regime, and the Vatican Secretariat of State-- especially through its own newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano-- has been just as open in its criticism of Avvenire.

So the meeting Friday evening between Pope Benedict and Cardinal Bagnasco could be unusually significant, and particularly so if Cardinal Bertone, the Secretary of State, is also in attendance. By nature a peacemaker, the Holy Father would undoubtedly like to put an end to the sniping. But it's fair to assume that two Italian prelates-- both with surnames that begin with "B"-- will be pressing for papal support. 

In the obscure intrigues of intramural politics at the Vatican, there are rarely clear winners and losers. But journalists in Rome will be watching carefully for any hint of a change in the respective public stands of Cardinals Bagnaso and Bertone, or any whiff of a suggestion that the Pope has weighed in on one side or the other.

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