Vatican and its observers find little to react to in WikiLeaks cables

Vatican officials are reacting “serenely” to the latest dump of cables in the ongoing WikiLeaks disclosure. That according to Giovanni Maria Vian, director of the semi-official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

The "stolen" documents "reveal exactly nothing," he told the Italian daily, La Stampa.

"If anything,” he explained, “the cables demonstrate scarce initiative on the part of whoever prepared them and show instead, an excessive zeal in referring to opinions circulating in different environments, especially from Italian journalists."

This has been the Vatican’s line, too. In an official statement issued Dec. 11, Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi said the cables reflect only their authors’ "perceptions and opinions" — which are not terribly insightful. He did urge that outsiders read the cables with “great prudence.”

L’Osservatore Romano has diplomatically avoided coverage of the WikiLeaks cables. And the so-called “Vaticanistas,” Italian journalists who cover the Vatican, have largely reacted in a ho-hum fashion to the release of the once-secret documents.

In their accounts they have portrayed the documents as offering no new “revelations,” but merely old news repackaged to appear new.  The value of the documents, these observers agree, is that they offer an interesting, inside glimpse of the way U.S. government officials regard the Vatican and its officials.

Respected Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli borrowed the words of late-Vatican diplomat Cardinal Domenico Tardini to describe the state of the diplomatic environment.

When the cardinal was told that the Holy See's diplomatic corps was the best in the world, he responded ironically, "Ours the best? Imagine the others.”

Given the circumstances, the "realism" of this light-hearted statement from the cardinal "seems truer in these days of full-immersion in the WikiLeaks files," Tornielli wrote on his blog for the Italian newspaper Il Giornale.

Tornielli said the cables shed little light on Vatican diplomacy. But they do say a lot about the diplomatic blunders of the U.S., which he said, "failed sensationally" in allowing these private communications to become public.

Tornielli said there are no new "revelations" contained in the cables. The information released is already known "in the newspapers and on blogs from the entire world."

Of course, some of the opinions expressed by U.S. diplomats have raised eyebrows.

One cable describes Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone as a "yes man," one who does not contradict the Pope or question the Church’s policies.

It did not take long for the Italian news agency Adkronos to report Cardinal Bertone's cheerful response.

"I am very proud to be described as a 'Yes man'," he said, "given that this colorful description truthfully reflects my support for the pastoral work of the pope."

The Vaticanista Massimo Franco, who writes for Milan-based Corriere della Sera daily, criticized the Vatican’s quick response to the WikiLeaks cables.

He said the Vatican’s statement, which urged “great prudence” in evaluating the cables, appeared both superfluous and defensive."

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No matter what the Vatican is saying officially, the leaked cables clearly "touched uncovered and hyper-sensitive nerves," according to Franco.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi had underscored that quotations and opinions expressed by Vatican officials in the cables cannot be attributed to the Vatican, nor necessarily be considered accurate.

Franco said this attempt to put distance between Vatican officials and the contents of the cables was itself suspicious. It is "almost as if the Vatican wished to exorcise the suspicion, widespread anyway, that the critiques are fed from the inside," he said.

Some Vatican analysts are paying just minimal attention to the cables. A summary of Catholic apologist and Corriere della Sera writer Vittorio Messori's coverage was printed in a post on the new Italian site for veteran Vatican analysts called La Bussola Quotidiana.

According to a brief post, Messori said the cables reveal an American diplomacy "full of holes."

He noted that much of the content reprints "chatter, conversations with some journalists, for the sake of speaking without particular relevance, a little bit of gossip."

Messori did find one sentence in a cable to be "a pearl," however.

In a message ahead of the Pope's trip to Israel and Jordan in May 2009, a diplomat wrote: "Pope Benedict sometimes bewilders politicians and journalists by pursuing what he believes is in the best interest of the Church, such as reinstating the Lefebvrists or considering the canonization of Pius XII."

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Messori said he "could not imagine a better compliment or encouragement for a Bishop of Rome” than that of doing what he holds to be his duty.

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