To the surprise of no one, Benedict XVI has
appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, who worked alongside
then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1995 to 2003 as the secretary of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to be his new Secretary of
The move makes Bertone, 71, the most powerful
figure in the Vatican after Benedict XVI himself. Since the era of Paul
VI, the Secretariat of State has played the role of a "super-dicastery,"
to some extent coordinating the work of all the other departments of the
Vatican. It is also responsible for the Vatican's relations with states,
hence its "foreign policy."
Bertone will officially assume his duties Sept. 15. He replaces
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who has held the post for 15 years.
Bertone is not a product of the Vatican's diplomatic corps, and thus
reflects the priority of doctrinal concerns over diplomatic exigencies in
the pontificate of Benedict XVI. (French Cardinal Jean Villot, Secretary
of State under Pope Paul VI, was the last man to hold the post who did not
have a diplomatic background, but the context was different, since Paul VI
himself had served most of his career in the Secretariat of State).
Benedict has also accepted the resignation of American Cardinal Edmund
Szoka as head of the Vatican City-State, appointing Archbishop Giovanni
Lajolo as his successor. Lajolo is currently Secretary for Relations with
States, effectively the Vatican's Foreign Minister.
Since Bertone may be expected to occupy himself more with the internal
governance of the church, the choice of Lajolo's successor could be
especially important for determining the diplomatic profile of the Holy
See under Benedict XVI. Candidates are rumored to include Archbishop
Fortunato Baldelli, currently the papal ambassador in France; Archbishop
Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's permanent observer at the United
Nations; and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.
While at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bertone was at
the heart of some of its best-known recent documents: the declaration
Dominus Iesus on religious pluralism; new rules of procedure for
investigations of theologians; a new profession of faith; and a document
on the role of Catholic politicians. Bertone was also involved in the
early stages of the congregation's response to the sexual abuse crisis,
after Pope John Paul II assigned it juridical responsibility for cases of
accused priests in 2001.
Bertone earned a reputation as a "fix-it" man under Ratzinger. He took
the lead in publishing the infamous "third secret" of Fatima, and also was
the point man for the Vatican during the soap opera in the summer of 2001
surrounding the on-again, off-again marriage of Zambian Archbishop
Emmanuel Milingo to a follower of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
A Salesian, Bertone did his license in theology on "tolerance and
religious liberty," destined to be critically important issues in
relationships with both Islam and China, and then completed a doctorate at
the Salesianum in Rome -- ironically, on the governance of the church
under another Pope Benedict, this one Benedict XIV. Bertone eventually
became the head of the canon law department at the Salesianum, and
participated in the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983. In 1988,
Ratzinger named Bertone as part of the commission that handled
negotiations with the breakaway Society of St. Pius X, known popularly as
His academic ascent was rapid, and from 1989 to 1991 he served as the
rettore magnifico, roughly the chancellor, of the Salesianum. In
the early 1990s, Bertone was also tapped by the Secretariat of State as
part of a European commission designed to aid the newly emancipated
countries of Eastern Europe to prepare constitutional and legislative
In 1991, Bertone became Archbishop of Vercelli, a post he held until
his assignment in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Last year, Bertone earned international headlines by calling The Da
Vinci Code a "sack full of lies," and calling on Catholic booksellers
not to sell the book.
Bertone is a staunch conservative on doctrinal issues, and a man with a
very positive and optimistic spirit. In true Salesian fashion, he is good
at youth ministry, and has made outreach to the young a priority in Genoa.
One of his first outings as archbishop was to a local disco, where Bertone
was photographed on the dance floor. He has also taken a few turns at
providing color commentary during broadcasts of Italian soccer matches.
Bertone's appointment was widely expected, given his ties to the pope.
Benedict's emerging approach to top appointments seems to be to tap men
with whom he has a close relationship of trust, regardless of whether they
fit the traditional profile for the post. (This was the case, for example,
in his appointment of Cardinal William Levada as prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).
Many in the Secretariat of State are nonplussed by the appointment,
since they regard a background in Vatican diplomacy, including a few tours
in postings around the world, as a sine qua non; one told me last
week that being Secretary of State is "no place for on-the-job training."
Currently, rumors in Rome suggest that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re,
Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, may replace Bertone in Genoa. If
so, combined with the recent transfer of Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe from the
Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to Naples, it would mean
the exit from the Vatican of the most senior officials associated with the
diplomatic corps, and would be widely read as "clipping of the wings" of
the church's diplomats in favor of officials with a stronger doctrinal
background. Sepe's replacement, Cardinal Ivan Dias of India, although a
longtime diplomat himself, is also known for a strong set of theological
convictions close to those of Benedict XVI.
The logic for Bertone's appointment, aside from his personal connection
to the pope, is no doubt that he can ensure that concerns of Catholic
identity trump the logic of compromise that is often the stuff of
diplomacy. Further, he's an Italian who knows the world of the Vatican
It will be interesting to see, especially in the early stages, if
Bertone's relative unfamiliarity with the inner workings of the
Secretariat of State renders him dependent upon the very diplomats he was
named to oversee. Such is sometimes the case with "outsider" appointments,
and hence observers will be paying careful attention for early assertions
of independence from the man who is now, in effect, the Vatican's Prime
One sign to watch for may be Bertone's line on China. As a Salesian, he
will have considerable sympathy for Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, also
a Salesian. Under John Paul, the diplomatic corps was frequently leery of
Zen because of his outspoken challenges to Chinese authorities on
religious liberty, at a time when improved relations with China is a top
Vatican priority. Benedict's appointment of Zen as a cardinal suggested a
break with this atmosphere of caution, and Bertone's appointment may well
embolden Zen and the other critics of the Chinese authorities even further.
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