Meet former Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

“That there is the Casa di Santa Marta, where Pope Francis lives. That down there is the monastery where Pope Ratzinger retired. And this right here is the Terrace of Scandals.”

I am strolling on the roof of the Palazzo San Carlo with the man who for eight years was the most powerful person in the Vatican after the pope: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s former secretary of state.

For decades, he’s been one of the church’s most powerful officials — and he’s been suspected of playing a central role in some of the Curia’s most mysterious intrigues, including last year’s allegations that he mishandled millions of dollars through the Vatican Bank.

Sunlight gleams off the towering cupola of St. Peter’s, that Roman sunlight which already portends the arrival of spring.

This terrace has for months been presumed to be part of Bertone’s lavish — and widely criticized — retirement complex: a 2500-square-foot luxury apartment with a view of the city.

But the terrace is shared, and the supposed extravagance of the balcony can in fact be enjoyed by everybody in the building, without giving direct access to Bertone’s apartment.

He gives a sly smile.

“A certain cardinal told me this would be a magnificent place to relax and meditate. But it was not up to me to decide,” he says.

“Despite what has been written and said, it does not belong to me; it is for the use of all the building’s residents.”

Bertone lives here in an apartment on the third floor that for decades was the home of Camillo Cibin, the legendary head of security for John Paul II.

The condominium resembles many others in the Vatican area.

At first glance, Bertone’s home is not more than 1000 square feet, comprising two small secretarial rooms for his secretary, a living room, a long corridor, a private chapel, a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom and a small terrace filled with grapes, olives and jasmine.

The room that serves as library and study is a whole other story.

There is a glass cabinet where the cardinal keeps his treasured Fiats: little red models of the Ferrari Formula One, black-and-white scarves and Juventus soccer balls autographed by the players.

For years, Bertone chose to be silent in the face of all the accusations that came down on him.

But now, 80 years old and no longer at the top of the Vatican hierarchy, he has decided to get a few things off of his chest — first, by showing his home, where those little models are perhaps the most valuable furnishings.

As for the secrets and machinations that he has been accused of, he is “collecting material” for an upcoming writing project.

The biggest of the accusations he will address by writing in his own hand the truth about the long, tormented era when he governed the church under three different popes, two of whom are now his neighbors.

Your Eminence, why is everybody out to get you?

Well… they say there are two motives. The first is because I was nominated as secretary of state without going through the Vatican’s channels of diplomacy.

An exception to tradition.

You could say that. Since the transition is so venerated, it was not well received.

The second reason?

It concerns the job I performed. During the eight years I served as secretary of state, I executed my duties in perfect compliance with the pope, but [I] took actions, began procedures, reformed offices and made appointments that involved the advancement or exclusion of some people. And this might have made certain of them dissatisfied. But there was also a certain outrage…

Why outrage?

Well, it is undeniable that some of the problems we had to face were dramatic, the pedophile question for instance. I also worked to launch procedures for economic transparency and anti-laundering legislation. In the beginning, Benedict’s papacy looked promising; but successive developments, including certain moments of tension, were intentionally provoked against the church. Perhaps, in some way, so were the attacks against me.

They wanted to harm the pope?

Somebody thought about it and somebody also wrote about it.

Ratzinger’s papacy was extremely different from that of his predecessor.

Of course. But it developed in relation to that of his predecessor. Pope John Paul II thought very highly of Cardinal Ratzinger and led the church with his permanent and continual support, not just on a doctrinal and intellectual level but also, regarding certain aspects, in accordance with his vision of administration. There was, therefore, continuity between the two popes.

With a difference in communication abilities…

Yes, but also a difference in character.

But we must appreciate that Pope Benedict, in his turn, led the church as a priest enlightened not only spiritually, but technologically.

First as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then as pope, he met thousands of bishops, listened to them one by one and kept abreast of local situations until he built up a global vision that allowed him to create guidelines and govern the church universally.

At a certain point [though], he felt the burden of not being able to continue this method of direct, concrete knowledge — that is, physical contact with local communities as Pope John Paul II had done before him and as Pope Francis is doing now.

It was a thought that troubled him until he realized that there was need of a pope with sufficient energy to travel and continue these meetings all over the place in person.

In other words, Pope Benedict’s was a sort of unfinished papacy.

On the contrary. It was a courageous papacy.

Before every trip journalists would write that he wouldn’t be able do it.

They would predict insufficient, substandard results and flops. But I think about the trips to Turkey and England that I made with him, to World Youth Day in his native Cologne when he led more than a million youths in silent prayer before the Body of Christ.

How surprised were you by his decision to leave?

I had guessed it, but put it out my thoughts.

I knew long in advance, at least seven months before. And I had many doubts.

We debated the topic at length after it seemed already decided. I told him: Holy Father, you must bestow upon us the third volume on Jesus of Nazareth and the encyclopedia of faith, before you sign things over to Pope Francis. Continue reading


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