Friday, August 18, 2006

The Faithful Secretary

The Italian journal Il Riformista ran a piece today on Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, who takes office as Secretary of State on 15 September.

Get ready for a month of stories on the Vatican's new prime minister, the Pope who chose him, and the coming sea-change in the Holy See's oldest office, which was founded in 1487. Of course, Wednesday's appointment of State's chief English-language official as nuncio to South Africa kicked off our own coverage, but much more will be coming.

Both a theologian and canonist by training, Bertone served for eight years as Cardinal Ratzinger's #2 at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before being named archbishop of Genoa in 2003 and a cardinal later that year. To the wider audience, he's best known as the voice of the Holy See's response to The Da Vinci Code.

The incoming Cardinal-Nepos brings no diplomatic experience to the dicastery which oversees Vatican diplomacy but, given the onetime Grand Inquisitor's manifest distaste for the culture of the Secretariat of State, it seems that's just the way Benedict XVI wants it.

Catholic News Agency has summarized today's piece for the Anglophone audience.
According to his friends and associates, Bertone is always one to thoroughly study the problem at hand before taking action. Monsignor Giuseppe Versaldi, Vicar General of the Vercelli Archdiocese where Bertone was first appointed bishop, tells the story of Bertone’s appointment. “After (Pope John Paul II) named him bishop, Bertone locked himself in his room all night and studied the life of Saint Eusebius, who was bishop of the city back in 345 AD.”

“Bertone spurred us all to study Thomas, Newman, Romini and to organize conferences in order to spread their thought,” Maria Antonietta Falchi recalled.

Falchi, who in addition to being a member of the Political Science faculty of the University of Genoa also lends a hand at the archdiocesan office of culture, said that while he was a scholar, at the same time Bertone was always among the people. “He could get along anywhere. He said Mass on the docks with the workers. He made his presence known throughout the region, even in the hall of the city council.”

Bertone’s priest secretary recalled for the paper an occasion in which Bertone decided to take a public bus to the Vatican. As the Cardinal in his long black cassock and red fascia strode on to the bus, the people - especially a group of young people – stared in silence. Bertone immediately broke the ice with his “characteristic” smile. By the time he reached his destination the prelate had engaged the youth in a deep conversation on love, sex, virginity, and chastity....

Bertone worked through the late nineties as second in command to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was through their work at the congregation that the two grew to understand and appreciate one another. And, many Vatican insiders say, it is this relationship that allowed Ratzinger to easily make the decision to call Bertone once again to his side, in replacement of the aging Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

But while the Holy Father quickly made up his mind as to who the new Secretary of State would be (some say with in the first two months of his pontificate) he waited to announce his surprising decision until June of this year.
This theory has long been known -- Bertone was one of the handful who visited with Benedict during the seclusion of the Les Combes portion of his vacation last year.
The announcement continues to surprise many in the Secretariat of State, who expected Sodano’s successor to be someone from within their ranks. Most had presumed that Benedict would continue the practice, which had developed over the years, that the Vatican’s “prime minister” was someone groomed within the diplomatic corps and raised in the mindset of his predecessors. The choice of an outsider, in fact, led many to joke that Bertone was chosen because he was the only one who could decipher the Pope’s tiny handwriting.
To say the San Damaso crowd are "surprised" is a soft-pedaled assessment. As someone said on the morning of the 22 June announcement, "Call the [Roman] pharmacies and see if they've got any Paxil, Zoloft or Xanax left."