Report: Papal Frontrunner Tied to Mafia

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 12 2013 1:33 PM

Angelo Scola, Papal Frontrunner, Gets Vatican Version of October Surprise

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Cardinal Angelo Scola attends the Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass at St Peter's Basilica, before they enter the conclave

Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Just before the doors to the conclave closed on Tuesday, a story that might be the papabile equivalent of an "October surprise" popped up on the Guardian: Angelo Scola, rumored to be the leading candidate of the so-called "reformer" cardinals, was (very) tenuously connected to the mafia.

Scola is the Archbishop of Milan, in the region of Lombardy. According to the Guardian, police conducted a series of dawn raids this morning looking for evidence in an investigation of "corruption linked to tenders by, and supplies to, hospitals." Scola, it turns out, is a childhood friend of the guy in charge of the regional administration running Lombardy's health care system, Roberto Formigon. Since this is Italy, the connections here are convoluted but important: Formigon is one of the leading members of the Communion and Liberation movement, a conservative lay Catholic group that, among other things, lent substantial support to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Until recently, Scola was the Communion and Liberation movement's biggest advocate among the cardinals.

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But that changed to some extent recently. Scola started distancing himself from the movement last year, after one of its leaders complained directly to Pope Benedict XVI about the Archdiocese. That distance was well-timed for the cardinal contender, as the Guardian writes:

The regional administration headed by Formigoni – a member of Silvio Berlusconi's party – collapsed last October amid a welter of accusations regarding alleged corruption and misconduct. The final blow came when one of his regional ministers was arrested, accused of buying votes from the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia. Formigoni himself is a formal suspect in an investigation into corruption and conspiracy. He denies the accusations.

At the time Formigon's administration collapsed, 13 of its members were under investigation.

It's unclear whether the brewing controversy will sway the direction of the Vatican, scandal-ridden as it is itself, in conclave. But with Scola previously rumored to have about 50 of the 77 votes needed to take the papacy secured, the news will likely make some papal speculators take one giant step back before the white smoke.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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