Saturday, 24 June 2006

Bertone the 'Fix-It' Man

Here are some perceptive comments on the new Cardinal Secretary of State, courtesy of the insightful John L. Allen Jnr (writing for the National Catholic Reporter). Judging from his words, it's going to be an interesting, hopeful and colourful few years. The rumour about Cardinal Re moving to Genoa is also intriguing and would change the political contours within the Vatican:
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 the "Lefebvrites."
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 documents.

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 colour 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, rumours 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 well.

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 Minister.

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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