Mario Draghi, an economist and retired banker, was sworn in as prime minister of Italy on Saturday, after the previous government coalition collapsed when a party pulled its support for then prime minister Giuseppe Conte.
As President Sergio Mattarella’s pick to form a new government, Draghi was an unexpected choice. But he was able to win enough support to form a new coalition, appointing a mix of technocrats and politicians to his cabinet.
Many in Italy hope that the 73-year-old Draghi, president of the European Central Bank from 2011 to 2019, can save the country’s faltering economy. He is credited with saving the failing euro during the eurozone crisis, earning him the nickname “Super Mario.”
Pope Francis signaled his approval for the economist in July 2020, when he named him as one of 26 ordinary academicians of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which promotes the study of economic and political sciences to aid the development of the Church’s social doctrine.
But Draghi, who has had private audiences and phone calls with Pope Francis, has been seen with favor from inside the Vatican for much longer.
The former banker, who described himself in 2015 as a “liberal socialist,” was featured in a November 2019 article in the Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, which is approved by the Secretariat of State and the Holy See before publication.
The article had high praise for Draghi, saying that he “emerges as a policymaker of the highest stature: to gratitude is added the hope that his way of proceeding without rhetoric, with in-depth analysis and vision, will be adopted in broader areas of both European and Italian politics.”
Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., La Civiltà Cattolica’s editor-in-chief, told the Italian news agency AdnKronos in early February, before Draghi was confirmed as prime minister, that “the figure of Draghi was the protagonist of one of the most complex phases in the recent history of Europe.”
Spadaro, seen to be close to Pope Francis, said that while a technocratic government was not ideal for Italy, it “could be a parenthesis intended as a moment of reflection” for the country before it returns to a political government.
Draghi’s connections to the Jesuits begin from childhood. He attended a Jesuit-run school in Rome, the Massimiliano Massimo Institute, from fourth grade through the third year of high school, an experience for which he has expressed “profound gratitude.”
In a 2010 interview with Vatican Radio, he recalled “the dedication of the Jesuit fathers” and the moral standards that the school imparted.
“A message that expressed that things had to be done to the best of one’s ability, that honesty was important, but above all that we were all special in some way. Not so much because we went to Massimo but because [we were] special as human persons,” he said.
While serving as president of the Bank of Italy in 2009, Draghi wrote an op-ed for the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, in which he commented on Pope Benedict XVI's social encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.”
The economic crisis “confirms the need for a relationship between ethics and economics,” Draghi noted in the more than 1,000-word article. “Every economic decision has moral consequences. This is even more true in the era of globalization…”
“According to the Church’s social doctrine, if the autonomy of economic discipline implies indifference to ethics, man is pushed to abuse the economic instrument,” he said. “If it is no longer a means for achieving the ultimate goal -- the common good -- profit risks generating poverty.”
The economist was also a featured speaker at the August 2020 Rimini Meeting, an annual gathering in Italy organized by the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation.
In 2019, he was given an honorary degree from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.
At the awarding ceremony, university rector Franco Anelli called Draghi “the protagonist of an economy ‘in action,’ not just ‘in the books.’”
And in his own speech, Draghi told students of the university that he hoped they would “put their skills to public service.”
“There will be mistakes and retreats because the world is complex,” he said. “However, I hope that you will be comforted by the fact that in history, decisions based on knowledge, courage, and humility have always shown their quality.”