Il Foglio, a politically influential Italian newspaper, published an article criticizing Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone last Saturday. Despite his "Salesian exuberance" and friendly demeanor, the paper claimed he has "little or no strategy" and a lack of “diplomatic pedigree." The article drew a rebuke from an Italian bishop, who wrote that Pope Benedict believes that the cardinal has the correct skill set.
Referring to him as "Bertone L'Allegrone” (Bertone the big happy guy), Il Foglio took a poke at him, saying that it's difficult to be happy seeing that the second part of his motto of "Fidem custodire, concordiam servare” (To guard faith, to serve peace), recently "seems evermore unfulfilled."
The paper's criticisms cover a number of situations that have arisen in the cardinal's just over three years as the Pope's "right hand."
During this time span, Il Foglio says his rapport with the Italian bishops conference has been characterized by elements of "friction" and that he has butted heads with some of the largest episcopal conferences in the world.
The ire of the U.S. bishops was earned after an editorial published in L'Osservatore Romano under his watch gave the "pro-life politics" of President Obama a positive evaluation the Italian daily argued. Cardinal Bertone was also faulted for an article in the Vatican newspaper that angered the Brazilian bishops because it appeared to condone the actions of Brazilian doctors who directly aborted the twins of a 9-year old girl in that country.
They also attributed various "misadventures" to the Secretary of State, including poor media management in handling the Pope's revocation of the St. Pius X Society bishops' excommunication and the successive problems with Bishop Williamson. All of this could be traced to "a lack of capacity and diplomatic pedigree," since Cardinal Bertone came from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and not from within the Holy See's diplomatic corps, the paper asserted.
However, the Vatican expert Sandro Magister told Il Foglio that Cardinal Bertone was chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for the position because of his "incontrovertible practical capacity that makes him act with speed, passion and devotion," which the Holy Father witnessed first-hand when they worked together in the CDF.
Magister added, "no one can put his absolute devotion to this Pope in question."
The secular newspaper also quoted Massimo Introvigne, the vice president of Catholic Alliance and a sociologist, who said the qualities that make Cardinal Bertone a good Salesian also lead him to 'irregular behaviors.'" These “behaviors” can be traced to the founder of the Salesians, St. John Bosco, who said that members of the order "should be friendly, have a captivating style and should be disposed to mixing."
"This attitude, said Introvigne, is characterized by discretion, reserve and also secrecy, could create a contrast of style with the predecessors of Bertone.” “But," he added, "the positive side is his sincere interest for mass and popular communications."
Upon reading Il Foglio's piece, a collaborator of the cardinal's, Bishop Giuseppe Versaldi of Alexandria, Italy, wrote a letter to the Italian Bishops' Conference-sponsored newspaper, L'Avvenire, in which he rejected the "allegrone" title and expressed "reproach" for the description of the Secretary of State as "lacking diplomatic pedigree and strategy."
He wrote that while his words might be read as influenced by his close relationship with Cardinal Bertone, "more than every other opinion" that of Pope Benedict who "chose him not by indirect recommendations, but by 'tested' direct knowledge" should be recognized.
He continued, saying that "if an intelligent and prudent person such as this Pontiff chose Cardinal Bertone as his Secretary of State, after having had him as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the only possible explanation is that he regards him as suitable for this mission and his best collaborator."
"If Pope Ratzinger had wanted a person with 'diplomatic pedigree' as secretary of state," indicated the bishop, "he had no more than the hindrance of the choice and this means that the pastoral government of Benedict XVI wanted such a collaborator, possibly also to erase in the Church that 'filth' that, as a cardinal, Ratzinger knew and denounced."
"The fact that some can criticize Cardinal Bertone is completely legitimate (as long as the truth is respected), but one cannot ignore how much the Secretary of State has done to serve the Pope and that each attempt to separate one from the other is the fruit of a conspiracy theory devoid of facts (see the communique from the secretary of state from Feb. 9 approved by Benedict XVI, who ordered its publication)."
This letter was released by the Press Office of the Holy See denying Vatican involvement in the Boffo affair, in which the Cardinal Secretary of State has been accused of involvement by some media outlets.
Bishop Versaldi closed by expressing his wish to offer "a greater understanding of reality so that, as reads the communique, 'truth and justice are affirmed.'"