Cardinal Bertone as Secretary of State. What was his aim?

On Jan. 28 2012, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone met the heads of the Roman Curia congregations and discussed with them a document he had sent them in advance, so that everybody could be aware of the topics and could eventually make his own remarks. It would make sense to read that document once again now, when Cardinal Bertone is preparing to step down and his post is going to be taken over by Archbishop Pietro Parolin on Oct. 15.

The 14-page document is full of clarifications on the basis of Church law and good practices. Sometimes the points could be seen as trivialities. But they were not. In that document, Cardinal Bertone underlined the need to re-organize the Roman Curia; asked for more dialogue and more collegiality among the branches of the Roman Curia; and he questioned how the documents from the curia are communicated.

Most of these topics were pivotal during the pre-conclave meetings before the election of Pope Francis, and now they have become part of the goals of the new pontificate.

This is the reason why it would be good to look back at Cardinal Bertone’s work, reading directly his speeches and looking at the activity of the Secretary of State he led.

Benedict XVI and Bertone followed the same footsteps. The link between the two has always been very tight.

Bertone was attacked because of his frequent “official visits” as Secretary of State (there had been ten trips, including visits to Poland, Peru, Chile, Spain, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Cuba). But, in fact, Benedict XVI used his Secretary of State as a special envoy: where the Pope couldn’t be and wanted to be, there was the Secretary of State.

Bertone faced opposition because he is not a diplomat, as Secretary of States have often been.

In fact, Bertone’s diplomatic effort was something very different from what the Vatican diplomacy was used to.

For example, in a speech addressed to the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences on April 30, 2007, Bertone lamented that the concept of the “duty of humanitarian interference,” one of the pillars of the Vatican diplomacy under John Paul II, “had not been sufficiently explored. This is a case in which it is not only the international organizations or States that are responsible but also the institutions of civil society, of the governments of the countries in greatest need of help and of the local Churches themselves”.

It was a speech certainly inspired by the new course Benedict XVI gave to the Holy See diplomatic effort.

In fact, the theme of the first message of Benedict XVI for the World Day of Peace – that is traditionally delivered to governments and diplomatic representation to the Holy See – was In truth, peace. Benedict XVI wrote: “The theme chosen for this year’s reflection  expresses the conviction that wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace.”

Benedict XVI’s pontificate aimed to abandon – or at least to consider less – the fickleness of diplomacy, and to get back to the solidity of the law.

Thus, intentionally,  Benedict XVI wanted an expert of Canon Law as Secretary of State, and not a diplomat.

The choice of Cardinal Bertone was part of a long-sighted project of the German pope..

The Secretary of State must not necessarily come from the diplomatic service. His function is to “provide close assistance to the Supreme Pontiff in the exercise of his supreme office, and this close assistance does not deal just with diplomatic relationships.” For example, according to the pastoral constitution Pastor Bonus ,the Secretariat of State must “draw up and dispatch apostolic constitutions, decretal letters, apostolic letters, epistles, and other documents entrusted to it by the Supreme Pontiff.”

Bertone was entrusted by Benedict XVI with two tasks: that of representing him when needed, and that of giving a new “vision” to the State Secretariat, and to the way diplomacy was managed.

In fact, Benedict XVI’s project faced much opposition.

That’s the background of the Jan 2012 document issued by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to the curial heads.

And additional context was the first “Vatileaks” headlines in the media, which publicized the accusation of corruption moved by Msgr. Carlo Maria Viganò, formerly number 2 of the Vatican City State administration, and a confidential memo on Institute for Religious Works (the so called Vatican bank) and the Authority for Financial Information.

It was just the beginning of the Vatileaks scandal.

At that time, Bertone limited the international activity and dedicated himself to reform the Curia. Browsing the Secretary of State web page, it is evident that the cardinal’s public interventions are always fewer since 2009 on.

During that period, many important questions were at stake: the reform of the Constitution of Caritas International; the reform of the anti-money laundering law’ the reform of the regulation of the Prefecture for the Economical Affairs.

The theme of the Jan. 2012 meeting with the heads of the Roman Curia was “The elaboration, publication and reception process of the documents of the Holy See.”

In his address, Bertone mentioned the spread of the “passion for the utter chatter and ecclesiastical gossip, which undermines the Holy See prestige and sometimes also the trust among the Curia branches.”

For a new Curia order, he proposed  “Ratzinger’s method”, i.e. the method Joseph Ratzinger perfected when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “On the basis of my personal experience,” Bertone wrote, “I remember that the modus operandi of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was particularly effective. That method previewed the involvement of the Congregation personnel on addressing a problem, the entrusting of the issue to the consultants, and in the end the final decision of the ‘fathers’ of the Congregation in the so-called meeting of the Feria Quarta” (the weekly meeting of the members of the congregation).

So, Bertone suggested more collegiality, harmonization of the texts issued and privacy. At the same time, Bertone asked for more coordination, in order not to issue texts when they can collide with Benedict XVI’s activities.

This was Bertone’s plan for the State Secretariat, and this is the background that explains the way he acted.

He perhaps made some mistakes, but at the same time he proved a loyal  collaborator of the pope, and he always followed Benedict XVI’s footsteps.

It was, in fact, a new way to operate as the State Secretariat.

Now that the Secretary of State elect is a diplomat again, one wonders what will be of Benedict XVI revolution and of Bertone’s aim to reform the Curia. And, moreover, one hopes that the Church doesn’t backtrack in reform but keeps moving forward.

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