ROME, February 2, 2012 – There are no marches of the “99 percent” at the Vatican; the battles are conducted by firing off letters. On Saturday, January 28, the council of ministers of the Roman curia, in the presence of the pope, dedicated part of the meeting to studying how to shore up the leaking of documents. It was just three days after the latest sensational leak: a sheaf of confidential letters written to Benedict XVI and to cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone by the then secretary of the governorate of Vatican City, now the nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
Those letters – plus other blistering papers that also threaten to come out into the open in the press or on television – are an act of accusation against one person above all: Cardinal Bertone, who introduced the aforementioned meeting of the heads of the curia dicasteries by explaining how to draft and publish the documents of the Holy See without any more of the mishaps that have proliferated of late. There needs to be, he said, more competence, more collaboration, more mutual trust, more confidentiality.
Benedict XVI listened in silence. He was reminded of the worst evidence of mismanagement in the curia that he has suffered since becoming pope: the avalanche of protests that bombarded him through no fault of his own at the beginning of 2009, after the lifting of the excommunication of four Lefebvrist bishops, including one who denied the Holocaust. Shortly after that incident, in an open letter to the bishops of the whole world, pope Ratzinger did not hesitate to write that he had received more support from “Jewish friends” than from many men of the Church and of the curia who are more interested in creating scorched earth around the pope. And at the end he cited this terrible admonition of the apostle Paul: “If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.”
The letters from Viganò have plenty of biting in them. First as the director of the personnel of the Vatican curia, and then as secretary of the governorate, this seventy-year-old Lombard prelate lashed out against many things that are not working, and made a great number of enemies. For starters, when he imposed an electronic card for identification and access on everyone in the curia, the revolt in defense of privacy was universal, but he held firm. At that time, Bertone was on his side. In fact, he assured Viganò, when he went to the governorate, that he was close to being promoted as president of the governorate of Vatican City-State, and as a cardinal.
There are appointments that only the pope can make, but that Bertone is in the habit of administering himself with nonchalance, as if they belonged to him. One time, for example, he guaranteed with such ironclad certainty that Archbishop Rino Fisichella would be promoted to second in command of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith that Fisichella prepared for the move and dismissed his own secretary, only to discover that the pope had appointed someone else.
Rushing the field is a constant feature of the operation of Cardinal Bertone, a great fan of soccer.
In the fall of 2006, shortly after his appointment as secretary of state, he immediately sprang into action to rearrange the leadership of the Italian episcopal conference to his liking. In order to prevent Cardinal Angelo Scola from succeeding outgoing president Camillo Ruini, Bertone proposed as the new president a second-tier man docile to him, the archbishop of Taranto, Capuchin Franciscan Benigno Papa. And he hammered it so hard that the national media echoed it as a done deal. All that was missing was the “placet” of Benedict XVI, who is alone responsible for the nomination and who instead designated the archbishop of Genoa, Angelo Bagnasco.
But by no means did Bertone fall into line. On the day of the installation of the new president of the CEI, on March 25, 2007, he addressed a message of greeting to Bagnasco – all of it written according to his own designs, hidden even from the pope – in which he claimed for himself, as secretary of state, the “leadership” of the Italian Church as far as relations with political institutions are concerned. There was an uproar among the bishops. And since then, the suspicion has never left them that Bertone takes every chance he can get to invade their turf. The opposition between the secretariat of state and the CEI has become the obligatory refrain of any analysis of the political activity of the Church in Italy.
But with Benedict XVI as well, Bertone frequently crosses the line. Ratzinger saw his talents at work when both of them were at the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. He gave the dynamic Salesian the most intricate snafus to untangle: from the secret of Fatima to the outlandishness of African bishop Emmanuel Milingo. And in both cases Bertone seemed to pull it off with success, although in the long run both of them blew up again in his face: in the case of Fatima, with the accusation, never assuaged, that he had kept part of the secret hidden, and in the case of Milingo, with the bishop’s incredible escape from the confines to which Bertone had relegated him.
The 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 interpreted the assignment his own way. The pope didn’t travel much? He started hopping the globe 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, maneuvers that are sometimes very ambitious and risky.
The latest of these was aimed at the takeover of the San Raffaele, the top-notch hospital center created in Milan by the controversial priest Luigi Verzé and crushed under one and a half billion euro in debt.
To rescue it and annex it to the Holy See, Bertone made a stunning move at the beginning of last summer. He made an offer of 250 million euro, made available by the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), the Vatican bank, and by a a friend of his who is an industrialist in Genoa, Vittorio Malacalza. And for many months, the offer remained the only one on the table, with no competing bids, binding the Vatican to honor it.
But in the Vatican, at the top, the pope was not at all in agreement. San Raffaele is a hospital that practices and researches applications of biotechnology contrary to the magisterium of the Church. Not to mention the affiliated Università Vita-Salute, where some of the professors are in stark contrast with the Catholic vision, from Roberta De Monticelli to Vito Mancuso, from Emanuele Severino to Massimo Cacciari, from Edoardo Boncinelli to Luca Cavalli-Sforza, all of them already on a war footing to defend their intellectual freedom in the classroom.
So the order from Benedict XVI came immediately: don’t buy. But it was like he was speaking to the deaf. Bertone left the matter to his ally, hospital manager Giuseppe Profiti, the real strategist of the maneuver, who wanted to do anything but give up on the San Raffaele. Providentially, at the end of the year a higher offer came, for 405 million euro, on the part of a competing hospital system, that of Giuseppe Rotelli, and the Vatican was able to withdraw from the game.
But it left rubble all around Bertone. Even some who were extremely close to him are no longer his followers. Malacalza is infuriated over what he considers an about-face to his detriment. Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, the banker whom Bertone himself wanted as head of the IOR, after his initial openness put up a wall against the purchase of the San Raffaele, fully espousing the pope’s reservations.
On the administrative and financial side, power is being reconfigured at the Vatican. And the expert and taciturn Cardinal Attilio Nicora is the new star, in his capacity as president of the Financial Information Authority created in the curia one month ago to permit the admission of the Vatican to the “white list” of states with the highest standards of correctness and transparency in their operations.
Last November at the Vatican there was a visit from seven inspectors of Moneyval, the international body that monitors measures against money laundering. And the exam imposed even more restrictive modifications on the Vatican laws, which Cardinal Nicora introduced immediately, but have not yet been made public. These include the ability for the FIA not only to inspect every operation of any institution connected to the Holy See, including the IOR and the governorate, but also to punish each individual violation with fines of up to two million euro.
Bertone did everything he could to have the pope appoint as head of the FIA not Nicora, but one of his allies, one of the very few who have remained close to him, Professor Giovanni Maria Flick. Even this did not work out for him. His trajectory is at an end.
Used by permission of Chiesa.