An article published in the Italian journal “Il Riformista” today provides a unique glimpse into the man Pope Benedict XVI chose to head what is arguably the most important dicastery of the Vatican.  A surprising choice many Vatican insiders say, decided almost a year before it was announced.

The article characterizes Tarcisio Bertone as a man who, despite a great capacity for humor and jokes, prefers discretion and silence to “formal dinners, parlors, and idle chatter,” and therefore “fits well with the austerity of the German Pope.”  The 71 year-old Italian Cardinal, who is scheduled to take the reigns at the Secretariat of State on September 15th, will be responsible not only for communications between the Holy See and other nations, but also for caring for the universal Church and dealing with the dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

Monsignor Francesco Moraglia, who worked with Bertone when the cardinal was Archbishop of Genoa, said that in his opinion Bertone exhibits a perfect blend of thought and action.  “The pope has chosen to have Bertone at his side because he is a peaceful man but also a man of action.”  Moraglia recalled for “Il Riformista” a time in which he was waiting for Bertone at the Cathedral of Genoa.  Despite the fact that he was running late for Mass, Bertone took a moment to encourage Moraglia to hurry the progress of a planned conference on “The Da Vinci Code.” “It is necessary to say something,” Bertone said as he was putting on his vestments, “because (the book) undermines our historical principles and therefore the faith.”

According to his friends and associates, Bertone is always one to thoroughly study the problem at hand before taking action.  Monsignor Giuseppe Versaldi, Vicar General of the Vercelli Archdiocese where Bertone was first appointed bishop, tells the story of Bertone’s appointment.  “After (Pope John Paul II) named him bishop, Bertone locked himself in his room all night and studied the life of Saint Eusebius, who was bishop of the city back in 345 AD.”

“Bertone spurred us all to study Thomas, Newman, Romini and to organize conferences in order to spread their thought,” Maria Antonietta Falchi recalled.  

Falchi, who in addition to being a member of the Political Science faculty of the University of Genoa also lends a hand at the archdiocesan office of culture, said that while he was a scholar, at the same time Bertone was always among the people.  “He could get along anywhere.  He said Mass on the docks with the workers.  He made his presence known throughout the region, even in the hall of the city council.”

Bertone’s priest secretary recalled for the paper an occasion in which Bertone decided to take a public bus to the Vatican.  As the Cardinal in his long black cassock and red fascia strode on to the bus, the people - especially a group of young people – stared in silence.  Bertone immediately broke the ice with his “characteristic” smile.  By the time he reached his destination the prelate had engaged the youth in a deep conversation on love, sex, virginity, and chastity.

Bishop Mauro Piacenza, who Bertone ordained to the episcopate in 2003, thinks that it is precisely Bertone’s adaptability which makes him a perfect candidate for his new position.  Piacenza says that the intellectual and spiritual foundation Bertone received in his religious congregation – the Salesians – is added to by, “the variegated experience of the oratory, the academic world, the Roman Curia, and two Metropolitan sees (Vercelli and Genoa).”  

In addition to such experiences Bertone also has plenty of practice working with the Holy Father, Piacenza points out.  

Bertone worked through the late nineties as second in command to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  It was through their work at the congregation that the two grew to understand and appreciate one another. And, many Vatican insiders say, it is this relationship that allowed Ratzinger to easily make the decision to call Bertone once again to his side, in replacement of the aging Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

But while the Holy Father quickly made up his mind as to who the new Secretary of State would be (some say with in the first two months of his pontificate) he waited to announce his surprising decision until June of this year.  

The announcement continues to surprise many in the Secretariat of State, who expected Sodano’s successor to be someone from within their ranks.  Most had presumed that Benedict would continue the practice, which had developed over the years, that the Vatican’s “prime minister” was someone groomed within the diplomatic corps and raised in the mindset of his predecessors.  The choice of an outsider, in fact, led many to joke that Bertone was chosen because he was the only one who could decipher the Pope’s tiny handwriting.

In a way, they may be correct.  It is not a hidden agenda of the current Pope to enact a reform of the Curia.  Bertone seems to be a man of like-mind and heart with the Pontiff and one who Benedict knows will be an excellent partner in carrying out his plans to move the Church forward.

“The pontiff of great teaching and great action in contemporary society finds in Cardinal Bertone, who becomes again his first and closest collaborator, a faithful friend, in whom he shares intellectually the analyses and, therefore, will strive with tenacity and with motivated movement to act on his plan of operations,” Bishop Piacenza said.  “The complementariness of their characters and the outspokenness of their relationship, in fact, will guarantee the effectiveness of the pastoral government of the universal Church.”