I am posting this article - and took the trouble to translate it - only because it represents a secular point of view, that may or may not be valid, about what is taking place within the Vatican. It is very much in the style of the facile speculations that the Italian weekly magazine Panorama usually indulges in. Il Sole 24 Ora is Italy's equivalent of the Financial Times and is widely read.
Bertone goes full steam ahead
towards full power in the Curia
by Carlo Marroni
Sept. 1, 2009
The 'junk', or the 'information', depending on your viewpoint, about Avvenire
editor Dino Boffo, has certainly accelerated consolidation of Ratzingerian power within the Leonine walls. ['Certainly'? Or 'appears to have...'?]
Management of the crisis brought about by Boffo's case has made evident that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has consolidated his power in the Roman Curia within three years of his nomination as Secretary of State. [But Bertone power is not necessarily always 'Ratzingerian power'!]
There are still dissenting voices - as, for instance, a longtime diplomat who thinks that cancelling Bertone's dinner appointment with Berlusconi was an error, because it confused the institutional aspect of the job with a political issue. [But Berlusconi decided he wouldn't show up, and the dinner host decided there would be no dinner.]
The political-juridical-mediatic affair involving Boffo will have the same effect as a storm at sea: it doesn't last long but it stirs up the depths of the sea and turns up all sorts of things.
But the Boffo case has served in the short term to bring together various lines of thought among Italian prelates who move between the Curia and the Italian bishops' conference (CEI); and it has made visible the chaos that still reigns in the relationship of the Church, in general, with the political world, and with the normalization of such relations that had so far been achieved by Papa Ratzinger's Curia.
The Church is universal, but in Italy, questions affecting the Italian Church naturally take center stage. This can be seen in the 'interventionism' of high Church circles in the affairs of government [When the Church enunciates its doctrines on social issues, that is not interventionism at all, and certainly not in 'affairs of government'. Unless the writer means the individual opinions expressed by some Curial prelates critical of specific actions by the government, such as a perceived lack of compassion for the plight of illegal immigrants]
, or the reaction of L'Osservatore Romano
to comments on the Church in the secular media, or the level of confrontation on events and issues that are even more concerning in other countries, also Catholic.
Until two years ago, dealing with Italian politics and politicians had been entrusted by John Paul II to his faithful Vicar, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who led the CEI for more than 15 years (two years of it under Benedict XVI).
Ruini skillfully steered the Church in the post-Christian Democrat era with quite striking results, dealing setbacks to the center-left, splitting them over issues several times, then practically drew a line for a compliant Berlusconi when the latetr came back to power.
But times have changed, the pastoral and apolitical Cardinal Bagnasco replaced Ruini, and Bertone promptly took upon himself the role Ruini used to play, even saying so in writing so that the CEI and Bagnasco would be clear about it.
Bertone, a Salesian who has become quite close to Ratzinger, has progressively taken the Curia in hand over the past three years, giving it a stamp different from the diplomacy and politics long followed at the Secretariat of State dating back to Cardinals Casaroli and Silvestrini down to Cardinal Sodano.
A style, however, that proved rather weak, especially at the start of the year with the FSSPX fiasco, which showed a failure of governance that strengthened the hand of Bertone's opponents in the Curia.
Now there's a new climate. The success of the Pope's trip to the Holy Land and of his encyclical Caritas in Veritate
gave a fresh coat of paint to Bertone's leadership [Excuse me, but that was all thanks to the Pope, not to Bertone or anyone else in the Curia!]
, who has also now positioned his own people in strategic positions within the Curia, starting with the young Ettore Balestrero, the new undersecretary for foreign relations. [Are the new Curial nominations Bertone's people primarily, or Pope Benedict's people?]
He has also re-launched relations with his deputy for internal affairs, Mons. Fernando Filoni, who headed those who rooted for the American Brian Wells to be named general counsel for internal affaits replacing the Sodanist Mons. Gabriele Caccia.
But the central given is that Bertone has definitely assumed full powers, which until recently, did not seem to be the case. [How does Marroni know this for a fact?]
The currents that worked against him were all traceable to the so called 'Sodanists' - effectively, all the diplomats in the Secretariat of State who resented the fact that Bertone had no prior experience in Vatican diplomacy, and to the 'Ruinians' who are still influential in the CEI and in the dioceses - the sector that has been most involved in the Boffo case.
Bertone has expressed his maximum solidarity with Boffo - who was named editor of Avvenire by Ruini and who remains very faithful to Ruini and his former #2 man, Mons. Giuseppe Betori, now Archbishop of Florence - in the current controversy, although it is a setback to the line that Bertone has assumed lately in regard to attacks by the Church against the Italian government and its Prime Minister.
When Bertone said, in the interview given to L'Osservatore Romano last week, that everything individual prelates say cannot be attributed to the Vatican or the Pope, he was making it clear that the Church should speak with one voice (unless perhaps the prelate is named Veglio or Fisichella) [references to prominent prelates who in recent months have taken positions that can be described at the very least as equivocal or confusing with respect to the official Church line, but which, for some reason, Bertone has sanctioned]
, and automatically revaluing those who generally work quietly, such as the Pope's current Vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini.
Moreover, Bertone denounced 'maneuverings and gossip' in the Curia, sending a clear warning to those who are working surreptitiously who still do not understand that a sea change has occurred.
When the Pope went to Bertone's hometown of Romano Canavese during his vacation last July, it was a vote of confidence in his 'prime minister' that gave the lie to many rumors that Bertone was in hot water, especially when he was not among four cardinals (Ruini, Bagnasco, Scola and Schoenborn) whom the Pope summoned to Castel Gandolfo recently for a consultation.
Of course, Bertone's consolidation of power - which may soon include changes at the Vatican bank IOR, in which Cardinal Sodano maintains some influence - has taken place incrementally, and the effective 'emptying out' of any direct political role for the CEI has not been taken lying down: many bishops still insist on expressing their personal positions, contributing to create an impression of confusion to the outside world - a confusion with Bertone's Curia wishes to correct.
Also, bishops are marking out their personal niches, such as the Patriarch of Venice, Angelo Scola, who appears to eschew Italian affairs in favor of promoting dialog with the Muslim world through his Oasis Foundation.
Or Archbishop Carlo Cafarra of Bologna, who holds a firm conservative line on bioethical issues, the field in which Church influence is most likely to be challenged these days, starting with the campaign to disallow widespread use of the abortifacient RU-486.
Berlusconi and his ministers are now trying to regain ground and consensus from the Church hierarchy, so the Church may have a good hand for now. But it may have to fight for retaining government funding for Catholic schools. [It is perhaps to Berlusconi's credit that he does not see 'good relations' with the Church as a political disadvantage.]
The editor of L'Osservatore Romano
, Giovanni Maria Gian [Bertone's man], said yesterday that the relations between the Holy See and the Italian government are 'excellent', presumably articulating the line from the Third Loggia [refers to the physical location of the Secretariat of State in the Apostolic Palace]
Moreover, Vian also criticizes the CEI newspaper Avvenire
for its editorial denunciations of government policy on immigration - and given what is happening, this too is significant. [Namely, that Bertone does not want Avvenire to attack the government?]
I dislike the entire premise of this article which implies that Bertone is really the decisive power in 'running' the Church. Yes, he is administratively responsible for the government of both the Holy See and the Church - just as the Prime Minister of a secular government is.
But the Church is not a democracy, and the Pope has no 'Deputy Vicar of Christ' or "Deputy Successor of Peter'. He is absolute sovereign of both the Holy See and of the Roman Catholic Church.
Bertone's role is to assist the sovereign in practical matters, which means, to execute actions which the sovereign wants and intends. Not to carry out initiatives of his own for the sake of consolidating power. Power is not necessarily defined by how many key positions he is able to fill with his own people. What he does with it is what matters.
I will believe he has consolidated power in the Curia when he is able to stop heads of dicasteries, like Cardinal Kasper, or prominent cardinals like Cardinals Schoenborn and Lehmann, from publicly expressing opinions which are openly critical of the Pope.
Or better yet, when he is able to mobilize all of the Curia, the major cardinals and the bishops of Italy, at the very least, to promptly express support for the Pope when he is under fire from the media and secular leaders - something that has not happened in the past, and Bertone himself was conspicuously missing in action in the days immediately following the recall of the FSSPX excommunications!
If Bertone can do that, then that is the best test of how much power he has. Not whether he can prevent other Catholic media from criticizing the Italian government - an unworthy and crass objective when bluntly expressed.
Cardinals Ruini and Bagnasco beat back the Prodi government on its proposed legislation to recognize homosexual marriages by relentlessly pushing the Catholic position - not by being friendly to them. But also without Avvenire making any personal attacks against Prodi and his fellow 'adult Catholic' ministers.
And to his credit, Silvio Berlusconi, for all his questionable morals, has been sensitive enough not to force himself on the Vatican.
When the media began speculating that he planned to be in Viterbo to represent the Italian government, so he could have an opportunity to meet with the Pope, he promptly announced he had no plans to go to Viterbo.
When the media reported that it was bad form for him to go to L'Aquila on the day of the observance of the Celestinian Pardon, given his current moral problems, he promptly cancelled going to L'Aquila.
And even last March, before the new round of scandals arose about him, he did not try to take advantage of the Pope's visit to L'Aquila to share the spotlight, even though as Prime Minister, he had every business to be there as often as he could after the earthquake [as he has been].
And as I pointed out, he has never been reported to openly seek receiving Communion, because he is a divorcee. He attended the Pope's Mass in Cagliari this time last year - because he has a summeer home in Sardinia - but did not present himself for Communion.
All that does not excuse his questionable behavior with young women, but at least, he has been proper in his relations with the Vatican and the Church.
Here is Sandro Magister's take on the issue. He actually ties in the case of Obama and the Catholic bishops with the Berlusconi case, but a) I do not believe the situations are comparable at all; and b) this discussion is all about the Italian situation, so I shall not include the first part of the article which may be seen in full on
The Church, Berlusconi and Obama:
Confusion among the powers-that-be
ROME, August 31, 2009 – For a few months, two political leaders of the highest order have been under critical observation by the Church hierarchy in two key countries for worldwide Catholicism: Barack Obama in the United States, and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy.
In both cases, the Holy See and the respective national episcopacies are not taking the same approach. The Vatican authorities appear more inclined to a peaceful and conciliatory relationship, while the national episcopacies appear more critical and combative.
And in both cases, two Church newspapers are also participating in the conflict: L'Osservatore Romano
, an organ of the Vatican, and Avvenire
, the newspaper owned by the Italian bishops' conference.
THE BERLUSCONI CASE
With Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, there have been two main causes of friction with the Church in teh past two months.
The first is immigration. The Berlusconi government applies very strict rules in deciding admission and keeping out illegal immigrants. And this has provoked criticism from many Church organizations, for which "welcome" is the first precept, if not the only one.
The official stance of the Italian bishops' conference CEI), according to which welcome must be accompanied and balanced always by legality and security [also the posotion that pope Benedict XVI publicly advocates]
, is therefore considered – by the Catholic clergy and laity most involved in social assistance, and by some of the bishops themselves – as being excessively moderate, or worse, subservient to the Berlusconi government. The same thing with the newspaper owned by the bishops, Avvenire
. [The bishops' newspapere contradicts and criticizes the bishops, is that it????]
But if one compares Avvenire
with L'Osservatore Romano
, the Vatican newspaper appears by far more respectful of the government's decisions on immigration.
Giovanni Maria Vian, the history professor who edits the Vatican newspaper, said in an interview with Corriere della Sera
today that some of the articles in Avvenire
have been so "exaggerated and imprudent" in criticizing the government so as to cause concern at the Vatican. [And I maintain Vian has no business commenting on the editorial policy of Avvenire! It's bad form, unprofessional, improper and a lapse of taste on his part.]
He denounced two of these in particular: an editorial comparing the apparent indiffrence of everyone to the shipwreck of African migrants in the Mediterranean with the extermination of Jews in the Shoah [an erroneous accusation has textually shown not to have been in her editorial at all!]; and another article contesting the statement of the Italian foreign minister that Italy is the European country that has helped the most immigrants at sea.
But even at the Vatican itself, there is no lack of dissenting voices
. [You cannot be serious! That has to be the understatement of the decade!]
Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for migrants, is extremely critical of the stance of the Italian government on illegal immigrants, and is understandably quite a favorite with the anti-Berlusconi media, even if the Secretary of State has said more than once that when individual prelates in the Curia express their personal views, they do not speak for the Holy See or the Pope.
Another loose cannon against the government's immigration policy in the Curia is Cardinal Renato Martino. But he was recently replaced as president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants by Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò, who comes from the world of diplomacy and is prudence personified.
In short, "relations between the two shores of the Tiber are excellent," Professor Vian said in the same interview, meaning by the two shores the Italian government and the Holy See.
The OR editor cited and defended his newspaper's total silence on the second element of the current clash between Berlusconi and the Church.
This second element concerns the Prime Minister's private life, in particular, reported sexual escapades that Berlusconi has dismissed with the words, "In Italy there are so many pretty girls, and I'm not a saint."
The campaign of accusations against Berlusconi's private life was ignited in mid-June by his second wife – from whom he is separating – and above all by La Repubblica
, the leading newspaper of the Italian left, which, paradoxically, has always preached liberation from the bonds of Catholic morality.
Since then, this curiosity about Berlusconi's sex life has occupied the pages of many newspapers, not only in Italy, but also around the world. Not, however, in L'Osservatore Romano
, which has not printed a single line.
And "for excellent reasons," Vian says, refusing to get the Pope's newspaper mixed up with a journalism "that seems to have become an extension by other means of political infight5ing".
At first, Avvenire
, the newspaper of the Italian bishops, also kept silent. Or at the most, it prudently expressed the wish that the prime minister could eliminate "shadows" and "situations uncomfortable for all."
But in the meantime, more and more, many bishops, clergy, and laity expressed outrage at Berlusconi's behavior that Avvenire
joined the fray.
At the end of June, two days in a row, the newspaper published a pair of opinions side by side: in the first case, by two editorialists for the newspaper, Marina Corradi and Piero Chinellato; in the second case, by two outside commentators, Antonio Airò and Professor Pietro De Marco.
Only Chinellato sided with a public denunciation "ad personam." The others, with different arguments, maintained that although one should denounce the sin but not the sinner, a politician must be judged for what he does politically.
And what about the Italian bishops' conference, publisher of Avvenire
? On July 6, the feast of Saint Maria Goretti, a young martyr who died in defense of her virginity, the secretary of the CEI, Mons. Mariano Crociata, lashed out against "the display of a gleeful and irresponsible libertinism," which all of the media interpreted – without any denial – as alluding to Berlusconi.
This homily was like the breaking of a dam. What many bishops, priests, and laity had already been doing on their own - criticizing the prime minister's sex life – was now carried out from that point on by the editor of Avvenire
, Dino Boffo, apparently responding to increasing pressure from readers, some of them highly placed.
Boffo would say something, and immediately someone else would tell him that he had to say more. A perfect specimen of this relentless pressure was the letter from a priest in Milan, published on August 12 with the umpteenth response from Boffo.
This display – unintentionally staged by Avvenire
itself – appeared to show that the Italian bishops lacked an authoritative and vigorous leader, and that control appeared to be with who shouted loudest against Berlusconi. Even if his government has been quite attentive to the Church's interests in the defense of life and the family.
Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone sought to impose some control and arranged a meeting with Berlusconi in L'Aquila on August 28, on the occasion of the annual pardon instituted by Pope Celestine V.
Before the meeting, Cardinal Bertone gave an extensive interview to L'Osservatore Romano
, in which he was very reassuring in discussing relations between the Church and the Italian government.
On the same day, in La Repubblica
, lay theologian Vito Mancuso accused the Bertone of wanting to dine at the table of Herod, instead of denouncing his misconduct.
immediately responded [in a front-page editorial the next day] that the Church does not accept "partisan involvement in contingent political matters," because its concern is for "the individual care of consciences," not public condemnation of the sinner.
At the last moment, the meeting between Berlusconi and Cardinal Bertone was scrapped because of an unexpected attack against Boffo by teh editor of Il Giornale
, the newspaper owned by Berlusconi's brother.
In the August 28 issue, Il Giornale
had a front page story headlined: "Sexual incident involving 'Avvenire' editor. The supermoralist has been charged with harassment. Dino Boffo, at the helm of the Italian bishops' newspaper and involved in a fiery press campaign against the transgressions of the prime minister, intimidated the wife of the man with whom he had a relationship."
In the following days, the attack was revealed to be dubious and falsely founded. Boffo declared his innocence. [He did not, exactly. He admitted paying a fine to the court for the 'telephone molestations' that he claimed were made on his cellphone by a teenage drug addict whom he was trying to rehabilitate. And frankly, he has yet to contest the claim that he is homosexual. Because if he is homosexual, he will always be a target for the enemies of the Italian bishops and the Church, and would therefore be untenable in his high positions.]
The current president of the CEI, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, defended him completely. And so did his predecessor, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who had named Boffo to be editor of Avvenire
and had confirmed his trust in him when rumors began to circulate against Boffo in 2002.
The accusations have been made in anonymous fliers that have been distributed any time there was a desire to attack, through Boffo, the presidency of the CEI.
For example, during the dispute over the appointment of the rector of the Catholic University of Milan, when Ruini's man, Lorenzo Ornaghi, faced stiff opposition from then-secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano, former president of the Italian Republic Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, former prime minister Emilio Colombo, and the director of the university at the time, Carlo Balestrero, all members of the Istituto Giuseppe Toniolo that oversees the university and of which Boffo is also a member.
Recently, these anonymous fliers were circulated again, with the avowed intention of displacing Boffo from all his CEI positions - as editor of Avvenire
and as director of teh CEI radio and TV stations. [The flier, in the form of an anonymous letter, was the basis for Feltri's most defamatory accusation against Boffo, that he has a long-standing reputation as a homosexual, with prior complaints received by the police.]
On August 31, the bishop of Mazara del Vallo, Domenico Mogavero, former undersecretary of the CEI and now president of its legal affairs council, said that "for the good of the Church and of his newspaper... Boffo might consider whether it is appropriate for him to resign."
The attack against Boffo in Il Giornale
– which is counter-productive for Berlusconi who wants good relations with the Church -
was acknowledged by Osservatore
only with a brief indirect quote from Cardinal Bagnasco's homily which touched on the issue.
As for the confusion in the Italian Church, Cardinal Bertone may now be tempted to take back the letter that he wrote on March 25, 2007, to Cardinal Bagnasco, on the occasion of his appointment to as president of the CEI, in which he asserted "the respectful guidance of the Holy See, as well as my own [. . .] concerning relations with political institutions."
Written when the extraordinary leadership of Cardinal Ruini was still at its peak, that letter was interpreted by the CEI as a slap in the face. Cardinal Bagnasco did not reply.
Now it has become strangely relevant again.
[But why would Magister think that Bertone would want to take back the letter? On the contrary, if the CEI were as confused and leaderless as Magister says, it would seem to prove that Bertone was 'right' about wanting to arrogate all political dealings with the Italian government to himself and away from the CEI!
Magister was very critical of the letter then, claiming it was an unwarranted attempt at a power grab by Bertone. Even if not a naked power grab, it was certainly unwarranted, to say the least, considering that the CEI represents the Church of Italy, not the Vatican.
And confusion is hardly the right word to apply to the CEI! Rather there is outright division, with the anti-Curia bishops - sometimes openly anti-Benedict - being among the most outspoken, particularly in the matter of the liturgy and the FSSPX.
The accusation of confusion also ignores that Cardinal Bagnasco has always been clear, firm, unequivocal and prompt about expressing the official position of the CEI on the side of Benedict XVI!
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/2/2009 1:37 AM]