Pope Benedict XVI defended his closest aide against a tide of “unjust criticism” in an unusual open letter that underscored the pontiff’s struggle to quell months of infighting within the Vatican’s corridors.
The pope’s July 2 letter to his top lieutenant Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone marked a rare acknowledgment of the cardinal’s controversial standing among Roman Catholic officials. As the Holy See’s secretary of state, Cardinal Bertone acts as the papacy’s prime minister, running day-to-day operations of the Vatican’s government, the Roman Curia, and keeping church officials united behind the pope’s ministry.
“I’ve noted with regret the unjust criticism directed at your person,” the pope wrote, addressing Cardinal Bertone in the letter. “I intend to reaffirm my pledge of personal faith in you.”
Publication of the letter, which praised the cardinal’s “enlightened counsel,” aims to put an end to weeks of reports in Italian newspapers that Cardinal Bertone’s ouster was imminent.
“Silly season is over in terms of guessing who’s going to be the new secretary of state,” said a senior Vatican official.
In the hushed world of Vatican politics, however, the standing of a secretary of state is rarely questioned in the first place. The fact that the pontiff, on the eve of his summer holiday, publicly defended Cardinal Bertone is a clear sign that the cardinal is under siege, according to Vatican analysts. Some Catholic officials are unhappy with Cardinal Bertone’s handling of myriad crises facing the papacy, ranging from his response to the long-running sexual-abuse scandal to his struggle to referee turf battles over Vatican finances.
The battle has been laid bare by a hemorrhage of internal documents that have recently been leaked to the Italian media. [More]