Retiring Vatican secretary of state defends Benedict

Cardinal says Benedict’s pontificate was ‘able to speak to the world’

Pope Francis talks to Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone during the cardinal’s farewell ceremony at the Vatican yesterday. Photograph:  Reuters/Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis talks to Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone during the cardinal’s farewell ceremony at the Vatican yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Osservatore Romano

Wed, Oct 16, 2013, 01:00

On the day of his official retirement yesterday, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, issued a stout defence of the pontificate of Pope Benedict. Often at the centre of criticism, Cardinal Bertone served as Vatican “prime minister” from June 2006 until yesterday, having been appointed to the job by Pope Benedict.

Speaking at a Vatican ceremony to mark his retirement, Cardinal Bertone (78) surprised some by underlining the “continuity” of the papacy of Francis with that of his predecessor Benedict XVI. Many commentators would claim that the pontificate of Francis represents a break with 35 years of doctrinal intransigence from both Pope John Paul II and Benedict. Cardinal Bertone, however, said to Pope Francis: “Today, I see in Pope Francis not so much a revolution but rather a continuity with Pope Benedict XVI before him, even if their personal lives and experiences are very different . . . Being able to listen, to be compassionate, to be merciful and to make contact with people, these are stupendous realities that I have experienced with you Holy Father . . .”

Church commentators are likely to recall Cardinal Bertone’s time in office as one marked by a series of embarrassing blunders by pope Benedict, such as his 2006 Regensburg speech on Islam. Furthermore, many will recall tensions within the Roman Curia as highlighted by the “Vatileaks” scandal and the arrest of the pope’s butler last year for stealing confidential documents from the papal apartment.

Cardinal Bertone, however, said Benedict’s pontificate had been “able to speak to the world, to the heart and to the head of everyone with doctrinal clarity”. He suggested relations with the Jews, with other Christian denominations and even with Muslims had improved under Benedict.

The new secretary of state is Italian archbishop Pietro Parolin.