Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has lifted the lid on the backstabbing behind the Vatican walls by denouncing the “crows and vipers” who undermined him during his turbulent seven-year term as secretary of state.
Cardinal Bertone, 78, also suggested that former Pope Benedict XVI, who appointed him in 2006, should share some of the blame for the scandals and gaffes that have plagued the Vatican.
He was speaking publicly for the first time since Pope Francis named Archbishop Pietro Parolin, 58, currently nuncio – papal envoy – in Venezuela, as Cardinal Bertone’s successor. The switch, which will take place on 15 October, forms part of the shake-up of the Vatican’s secretive bureaucracy that Francis has been planning since he was elected in March.
“On balance, I consider these seven years to have been positive,” Cardinal Bertone told reporters at a mass on Sunday in Sicily. “Naturally there were problems, particularly in the last two years, they have made many accusations against me … a mix of crows and vipers,” he added.
His reputation suffered last year with the leak of papal letters by Benedict’s butler containing accusations that Cardinal Bertone was overseeing favouritism, corruption and poor management, after packing key positions with supporters from his home region of Liguria.
Anonymous sources for the damaging revelations were dubbed “crows” in Italy.
Most of the documents, leaked to an Italian journalist, were of interest only to Italians, a reflection of centuries of dominance and intrigue by Italians in the Vatican. The main aim of the disclosures was apparently to make Cardinal Bertone seem incompetent.
Other gaffes under him included Benedict’s lifting of the excommunication of a holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson, in 2009.
This year, the Vatican bank’s director and deputy director – believed to be close to Cardinal Bertone – have resigned following the arrest of a Vatican official suspected of seeking to smuggle €20 million into Italy in a tax fraud.
Cardinal Bertone admitted he had made mistakes. “I always gave everything, but certainly I had my shortcomings and if I could relive certain moments now I would act differently,” he said. “But that does not mean that I did not try to serve the Church.”
Mistakes, he said, had also been unjustly pinned on him.
“On the one hand, it seems like the secretary of state decides and controls everything, but it is not like that,” he said. “There were matters that got out of control, because they were problems which were sealed within the management of certain people who did not contact the secretary of state.”
Someone who should take his share of blame was Pope Benedict himself, Cardinal Bertone suggested. “An honest assessment cannot but take note of how the secretary of state is the first assistant of the pope, a faithful executor of the tasks with which he is entrusted. Something I did and will do.”
Turning to his colleagues at the secretariat of state, he said, “The secretary of state works in a team of five, a fine group that works very much together.” Those officials have been retained by Pope Francis.
As his reshuffle picks up speed, Francis has also reconfirmed Archbishop Georg Gänswein as prefect of the papal household.
He will likely serve as a daily link between the current and former popes.
At a mass he said on Monday at his Vatican residence, Pope Francis appeared to take aim at the Vatican’s climate of gossip.
People become accustomed to gossip, he said, “but how many times have our communities, even our families, become a hell in which we criminally kill our brother with words”.
Francis will hold a special audience on 15 October, the Vatican said, “in order publicly to thank Cardinal Bertone for his faithful and generous service to the Holy See.”