(Melbourne)David's previous articles
has well and truly reached the mandatory retirement age of seventy five. In fact
he has only two more years to go before he loses his active vote at a papal
conclave, but still he continues on in his position as the Vatican Secretary of
State. Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone is still there because the Pope wants him there
despite all the accusations of incompetence, internal power games, personal
empire-building, nepotism and the catalogue of dis-edifying intrigues of the
past few years.
has had genuine pastoral experience as a Salesian priest as well as in the
Italian hierarchy having served as Archbishop of Vercelli then Genoa before
being appointed Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He
served in that capacity from 1995 – 2002. Significantly his immediate superior
during those years was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Their time together developed
into a relationship based on personal loyalty and mutual dependence. Bertone, a
Canon Lawyer by profession, was just the kind of assistant Ratzinger needed then
to ensure the legal justification for his ultimate agenda for the Church, the Reform
of the Reform.
is widely known that John Paul II had little time for bureaucracy or for the
discipline of the day to day governance of the Church. He was far more
interested in being the travelling Pope, preaching the New
Evangelization throughout the world.
An important consequence of the very long period of his absence from Rome was
that the Curia became increasingly rudderless, lethargic and introspective. In
this situation of bureaucratic void, Ratzinger was
effectively left to set ecclesiastical policy, steer the doctrinal agenda
and actually run the Church. Understandably, he became extremely powerful. With
Bertone at his side, he had the legal muscle he needed to exercise his role as
the enforcer of internal discipline and universal doctrinal compliance.
of the major projects Ratzinger worked on with great passion, conviction and
single-mindedness during these years included the disciplining
of ‘dissidents’ in the theological academy, the authorization and
regulation of new ecclesial movements, canonical visitations of seminaries and
some religious orders/congregations, laying the foundations for the universal
approval of the old rite of the Mass and the tour de force, The
Catechism of the Catholic Church. All of it had JP II’s name attached but
it was the creation of Ratzinger and guarantee legal authority of Bertone.
as Secretary of State
precise reason Bertone was chosen as Secretary of State remains somewhat of a
mystery but his personal loyalty to and friendship with Ratzinger/Benedict seem
to be critical factors. It certainly wasn’t for any diplomatic preparation or
previous experience and competence. He never
attended the Vatican diplomatic academy and had no significant expertise in
foreign relations. His lack of competency in English, the universal language of
diplomacy and global commerce, remains a clear embarrassment. It may indicate
little interest in international affairs on Benedict’s part compared with his
predecessor. He was and is very interested in the English speaking branches of
of the speculation, Bertone was chosen for Benedict’s own reasons. But
suspicions about his appointment were perhaps well founded especially about his
tendency to carve out his own domain and arbitrarily to fill up papal vacuums,
whether real or imagined. Sandro Magister comments on this,
fact is that in appointing Bertone secretary of state, Benedict XVI thought he
was making use of his sincere devotion and untiring activism to have him carry
out those practical tasks of management from which he, the Pope-theologian
and-professor, wanted to keep far away. Bertone accepted enthusiastically, but
he interpreted his assignment his own way. The Pope didn’t travel much? He
started globe-hopping in his place. The Pope kept his nose in his books? He
started frenetically cutting ribbons, meeting with ministers, blessing crowds,
giving speeches everywhere and on everything with the result that the
secretariat of state worked more for Bertone’s agenda than for the Pope. And
the cardinal slips into his agenda, once again according to his own designs,
manoeuvres that are sometimes very ambitious and risky.
Tablet correspondent, Robert Mickens
echoes similar misgivings about Bertone. He refers to representations to the
Pope by high ranking colleagues who counselled Benedict not to appoint
Cardinal Bertone to the position of Secretary of State. Mickens writes,
fact, it is well known that some of the fiercest critics of Cardinal Bertone
include some of his more notable Italian confreres in the red-hatted college.
These include (but not limited to) Cardinals Angelo Sodano, the college’s
84-year-old dean and Bertone’s predecessor as Secretary of State, and Giovanni
Battista Re, the 78-year-old prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops
and, along with Sodano, one of the most powerful men in the last pontificate.
They and many members of the old guard had counselled Pope Benedict against
appointing the now 77-year-old Salesian to the Vatican’s top post back in
September 2006 because of his lack of diplomatic skills and generally limited
cultural background. Since he took up the reins as chief administrator of the
Roman Curia, the pontificate has ricocheted from one public relations or policy
gaffe to another. And most of the blame has been laid at the door of Don
butler, the book and the banker, The Tablet, 02/06/12)*
and the Curia
dynamics between Cardinal Bertone and the Church’s central bureaucracy have
become a focus of popular attention. Sandro Magister refers to the bureaucrats
of the Dicasteries as the
men of the Curia whose interests are in
creating scorched earth around the Pope. It seems that both Bertone and the
Curia have proven spectacular failures in that regard.
major contributing factor is that Bertone, not technically of the Curia, is its
superior and overseer. As Benedict has withdrawal into his preferred world of
books and disengaged from direct Church governance, Bertone has asserted his
authority over the Curia in such a way that deep unrest, disturbance and
resentment have surfaced. The rage, in the form of destabilization tactics, has
escalated to such a level that the Vatican has become divided and dysfunctional.
It is simply not working remotely like a charismatic leadership mirroring
Christ-likeness or Christ-mindedness. Corruption, in-fighting, careerism wedded
to systemic presumption and incompetence have come close to neutralising the
action of the Holy
is becoming more and more obvious that, as Benedict’s health continues to
decline and his interest in governance diminishes, Bertone is now effectively
doing for Benedict what Ratzinger did on behalf of JP II throughout out his
pontificate but especially during the years of decline. It may well be now that
as Benedict’s pontificate winds down it is a matter of the cutting the losses
and saving face. It remains, however, that Bertone continues to be the object of
such intense pressure and adverse criticism from many quarters that the Pope has
been forced to come out with a vigorous public defence of his loyal friend and
One might now legitimately ask, who is making scorched earth around whom and to
what end, especially when it is not only Rome that is burning?
more of Robert Mickens on moves inside the Curia to remove Cardinal Bertone
Mickens on Bertone’s growing paranoia about negative treatment in the Press
over VatiLeaks and associated Byzantine intrigues, here.
commentary on the not so stellar performance of Bertone as Secretary of State
and of his two immediate predecessors, Cardinals Sodano and Casaroli, click here.
the conflict between Cards Bertone and Sodano
see Richard Allen Greene.
Timbs writes from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Comments welcome - please send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments will be published a.s.a.p.