Monday, February 05, 2007

Keeping Up With the Nepos

Next week marks five months since the world's most famous Salesian -- Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB -- officially returned to the Vatican (and Joseph Ratzinger's right hand) as Secretary of State.

To date, the first non-diplomat to run the San Damaso show in recent times has gotten ink for his public dream (later retracted) of a Holy See calcio squad and for conveying the Pope's order to pull the plug on Wielgus. And speaking of dreams, who could forget his vision of Wojtyla?

How's he doing besides? In a rare interview with an English-language outlet, TIME's Jeff Israely in Rome finds out:
"The Holy Father has shown to have great trust in me," Bertone says, recalling their years at the doctrinal office. [Bertone served 12 years as secretary of Ratzinger's CDF.] "We were the consummate duo. We've always gotten along personally, and there is a mutual understanding that continues to be the basis for our work together." It's the kind of affinity--similar to what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have with President George W. Bush--that inevitably adds extra weight to an already influential assignment....

Both men have learned quickly that their respective new roles go well beyond the internal discussions over church doctrine that marked their old positions. Bertone came on the job just three days after the Pope's controversial speech in Germany about faith and violence that angered many Muslims. The new Secretary of State hit the ground running, orchestrating what, by Vatican standards, was a swift response that included conciliatory public statements, a quickly organized meeting with ambassadors from Muslim countries and, ultimately, the success of November's trip to Turkey, where the Pope surprised his critics with a moving prayer together with an imam in Istanbul's Blue Mosque. "Words have great value," says Bertone. "But sometimes gestures can have such an enormous emotional impact that words might not be able to achieve."

Yet, not all of late has gone smoothly in Rome. The low point was the Pope's botched appointment last month of the new Archbishop of Warsaw, who had to immediately resign after revelations that he had been an informant for the Polish communist regime. There are also broader complaints inside the Curia that other appointments, and key documents, have being delayed. "We're still waiting on important changes," says a senior Vatican official. "Benedict is turning out to be more cautious than we had thought, and so far Bertone hasn't managed to really get things moving."
Remember, the long-awaited reorganization of the Curia's been held up.
A Vatican official who has worked with the Cardinal in the past says, "I've never seen him betray his principles--but he's had to do everything just short of it." Adds the official: "He knows how to operate within the structure of the Holy See. He has the skills of a politician."

Still, Vatican watchers say it remains an open question if the Benedict-Bertone team--which may have been effective in imposing orthodoxy on wayward theologians when the pair ran the doctrinal office--has the worldly vision and institutional muscle to impose their will on the 1.1 billion--strong universal church.
In related news, Bertone -- a superfan whose turns as a soccer commentator on Italian television have become the stuff of legend -- signed a papal telegram of condolence for Filippo Raciti, a 38 year-old policeman killed last weekend amid fan riots at a Serie A match in the Sicilian city of Catania.

Expressing Benedict's "firm condemnation for each act of violence that stains the world of soccer," the message called upon fans to "promote with greater determination respect for the law's favor for loyal solidarity and healthy competition" on the part of their respective sides.

Italian officials have announced that stadiums which fail to meet security criteria will not be permitted to host spectators for upcoming matches.

Gianni Giansanti