Pope publicly backs secretary of state

Thu, Jul 5, 2012, 01:00

IN A highly unusual step, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday expressed his full confidence in his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, his de facto prime minister, who appears to have been the main target of the embarrassing “Vatileaks” scandal which led to the arrest of the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, in May.

As he prepares to head off to Castel Gandolfo for his summer break, the pope took the trouble to release an open letter to Cardinal Bertone expressing his support.

“I wish to express to you (Cardinal Bertone) my profound gratitude for your discreet solidarity and wise counsel, both of which have been of particular help to me in these last months. Having noticed that you have been the object of unfair criticism, I want to once again state my personal trust in you, something I had occasion to do in my letter of January 15th, 2010, and which for me remains unchanged,” the pope wrote.

In his January 2010 letter, the pope had rejected the cardinal’s offer of resignation, made in accord with canon law, which imposes mandatory retirement for bishops, archbishops and cardinals at the age of 75.

With yesterday’s open letter, the pope again clearly rejects that resignation even though the cardinal will turn 78 in December.

For months there has been widespread speculation that the pope might use the cardinal’s birthday to replace him with a younger cardinal. Vatican insiders said yesterday, however, that the pope would be extremely reluctant to dismiss his powerful secretary of state when he appeared to be at the centre of an orchestrated media campaign to oust him.

Vatican blogger Marco Tossati said that even at the height of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal in the early 1980s the Holy See had no hesitation in defending archbishop Paul Marcinkus, head of the Vatican bank.

The butler Paolo Gabriele remains under arrest in a Vatican “safe room”. His immediate fate will shortly be known because, under Vatican City law, after 50 days’ initial detention he must be released or sent to trial.