Cardinal Bertone--just because
Pope Francis wants to rough it,
why should the rest of us suffer.
While other prelates have begun—often for some with embarrassment and for others with reluctance—to scale down their princely residences, one brave soul among the College of Cardinals has decided to raise the banner of resistance and flaunt his ecclesiastical princedom right in the face of the Holy Father. Cardinal Tarcisio Pietro Bertone, SDB, former papal Secretary of State, has taken over two apartments—each somewhat spacious in its own right—in the Vatican San Carlo Palace to create a supreme Vatican bachelor pad for himself. Bertone was brought in by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 to replace Cardinal Angelo Sodano as Vatican Secretary of State. Sodano’s administration had been tarnished by allegations of corruption on various levels, most notably failures to deal effectively with issues of clerical sexual abuse and financial issues concerning the Vatican Bank, and Bertone was seen as a “reform” candidate. Benedict sincerely wanted to clean up the Vatican mess but was unable to do so as was demonstrated by the episode last year of the papal butler stealing incriminating documents from the pope’s desk to leak them to journalists. Bertone turned out to have no cleaner hands than his predecessor, however, and had strong ties to Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, the former head of the Vatican Bank, who was ousted in 2012. The bank’s integrity was called into question under Tedeschi’s administration for money laundering and lack of transparency. Bertone was also anxious to restore Italian control over the Curia and his appointments to key posts tended to advance disproportionately his fellow Italians. In a similar vein, he also has been accused of a sort of nepotism for having advanced a remarkable number of Salesians of Don Bosco—the religious congregation to which he himself belongs—to posts in the hierarchy.
Bertone was considered a quite possible successor to Benedict in the Conclave of 2013 and when Cardinal Bergoglio was elected as Francis I, Bertone “took an early retirement.” In fact he was pushed out in Francis’ determination to clean out the “old-boys” network in the Roman Curia, a network built in part by Bertone as Secretary of State. This fall from power delighted Cardinal Sodano whose own forced retirement from the Secretariat of State had made room for Bertone and who never forgave Bertone for his own loss of place. In fact, as a sort of ecclesiastical Cheech and Chong, both these men tarnished the office once held by such notable Secretaries of State as Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII), Mariano Rampolla, Dominico Tardini, Amleto Cicognani, and Pietro Gasparri. But they had all belonged to an age of diplomats and statesmen and a Church had had not only the trappings of royalty but ministers that could equal a Metternich or a Talleyrand or a Pitt. Of course, what Jesus would think of that is another question, but the above named were all great Secretaries of State.
Having lost his post, Bertone is no admirer of Pope Francis and once his new home is renovated—and will be ten times the size of Francis’ suite—he will be able to look down—literally—from his roof-top terrace on the humble papal hotel room where the Successor of the Apostles sleeps at night. Now most Cardinals, Bishops, and priests—including Archbishop Myers and Bishop Tebartz-van Elst—do not have a vow of poverty. Only members of religious orders take a vow of poverty. The Holy Father is a religious—a Jesuit—and has a vow of poverty. Cardinal Bertone also is a member of a religious congregation—the Salesians of Don Bosco—and as such has a vow of poverty. This new 6500 square foot “apartment” is not a shabby home for this son of Don Bosco with a “vow of poverty.” I wonder what Don Bosco would think of it? I wonder if that even every crossed the good Cardinal’s mind.