VATICAN CITY — In his first formal speech to the international diplomatic community, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s new Secretary of State, has highlighted the need for a “universal commitment” in favor of the world’s poor.

The call was made in a Sept. 29 address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.

“We need a universal commitment in favor of the most disinherited of the planet, of the poorest, of people who often seek in vain for something to live, so that their families can live,” the cardinal told nearly 200 diplomats, speaking in French in the Ducal Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace.

Said Cardinal Bertone, “The dignity, freedom and unconditional respect of every human being in his fundamental rights, in particular, his freedom of conscience and religion, must be part of our primary concerns, as we cannot be lacking in solidarity with the fate and future of our brothers and sisters in humanity.”

The “problem of peace” must have priority in present-day concerns, the cardinal added.

The cardinal’s diplomatic agenda focused on three main areas — overcoming poverty, working for peace and building diplomatic ties with all nations. These goals are not new ones for the Vatican, and Cardinal Bertone drew heavily in his speech on the words of John Paul II.

But Cardinal Bertone’s remarks also indicated Pope Benedict XVI’s specific priorities: pushing for a united front against world poverty, taking a more robust stand on religious freedom and calling for disarmament (including advocating the “ethical value” of unilateral disarmament).

Within the scope of diplomacy, Cardinal Bertone also highlighted the protection of the unborn and protection of women and children from violence of all kinds.

“The defense of life — from conception to its natural end — as well as the defense of the family founded on marriage, are also essential themes in social life,” he said.

Cardinal Bertone said that the provision of security was a “necessary guarantee of social, political and economic structures,” but he added that at the “ethical level” all wars should be condemned as a means to “resolve eventual differences between states.”

In closing, the cardinal encouraged diplomats to read and contemplate the many papal and other Vatican documents on international order, and to strive to help make the Christian ideals of self-giving and peacemaking a contemporary reality.

And the former archbishop of Genoa expressed hope that members of the international community would “commit themselves to a new drive of solidarity among all peoples, in particular to reconsider the issue of the poorest countries’ debt, so that there will never again be people, especially children, who die of hunger or endemic illnesses.”

Delegating

Cardinal Bertone, a jurist rather than a Vatican diplomat, is reportedly relying extensively on the expertise of his diplomatically trained assistants in framing diplomatic policy and is not expected to take a hands-on role with respect to day-to-day management of Vatican foreign policy.

Instead, the cardinal is delegating much of that oversight to others, including his secretary, Msgr. Nicholas Thevenin.

A French priest who worked with the cardinal in Genoa, Msgr. Thevenin is known a “sharp and able” diplomat who, unlike his superior, speaks fluent English. He previously served as a Vatican diplomat in Venezuela and Cuba and was reported to have come away with few illusions about the negative aspects of the socialist regimes of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

In recent months, a number of diplomats say that they have detected a pronounced shift away from formal diplomacy under Benedict XVI, with more Vatican attention directed instead to interreligious dialogue and ecclesial and structural reform issues.

But Cardinal Bertone’s Sept. 29 speech signaled that the Holy See has no intention of abandoning its traditional involvement with the affairs of states. And last month’s controversy over the Pope’s University of Regensburg address was a reminder of the importance of that area, in the view of some members of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps.

“It’s one thing for religious to deal with religious,” says one diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity, “but the consequences of the crisis over Islam shows that the Holy See’s relationships with states is of vital importance and sensitivity.”

The Gospel, however, remains the driving force behind the Holy See’s diplomacy.

Jesuit Father Robert Araujo, a professor of law and a former representative of the Holy See at the United Nations, said the Church’s evangelical proclamation helps diplomats and government leaders “realize that most of the actions they take are filled with moral issues that cannot be addressed simply on the basis of a utilitarian calculus.”

Said Father Araujo, “Many actors in the international order forget that the decisions they make are moral ones, not just political, social or economic.”

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.