Mutiny at the Vatican
Machiavellian power struggle makes Holy See 'a total mess,' official says
February 14, 2012
By PHILIP PULLELLA, Reuters
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has a reputation as a heavy-handed administrator whose style has alienated many in the Curia. Photograph by: ALESSIA PIERDOMENICO REUTERS
"It is a total mess," said one high-ranking Vatican official who spoke, like all others, on the condition of anonymity.
The Machiavellian manoeuvring and machinations that have come to light in the Vatican recently are worthy of a novel about a sinister power struggle at a medieval court.
Senior church officials interviewed this month said almost daily embarrassments that have put the Vatican on the defensive could force Pope Benedict to act to clean up the image of its administration - at a time when the church faces a deeper crisis of authority and relevance in the wider world.
Some of those sources said the outcome of a power struggle inside the Holy See may even have a longer-term effect on the choice of the man to succeed Benedict when he dies.
From leaked letters by an archbishop who was transferred after he blew the whistle on what he saw as a web of corruption and cronyism, to a leaked poison pen memo, which puts a number of cardinals in a bad light, to new suspicions about its bank, Vatican spokespersons have had their work cut out responding.
The flurry of leaks has come at an embarrassing time - just before a usually joyful ceremony this week known as a consistory, when Benedict will admit more prelates into the College of Cardinals, the exclusive men's club that will one day pick the next Roman Catholic leader from among their own ranks.
"This consistory will be taking place in an atmosphere that is certainly not very glorious or exalting," said one bishop with direct knowledge of Vatican affairs.
The sources agreed that the leaks were part of an internal campaign - a sort of "mutiny of the monsignors" - against the pope's right-hand man, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Bertone, 77, has a reputation as a heavy handed administrator and power-broker whose style has alienated many in the Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the central administration of the 1.3 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church.
He came to the job, traditionally occupied by a career diplomat, in 2006 with no experience of working in the church's diplomatic corps, which manages its international relations. Benedict chose him, rather, because he had worked under the future pontiff, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in the Vatican's powerful doctrinal office.
"It's all aimed at Bertone," said a monsignor in a key Vatican department who sympathizes with the secretary of state and who sees the leakers as determined to oust him.
"It's very clear that they want to get rid of Bertone."
Vatican sources say the rebels have the tacit backing of a former secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, an influential power-broker in his own right and a veteran diplomat who served under the late Pope John Paul II for 15 years.
"The diplomatic wing feels that they are the rightful owners of the Vatican," the monsignor who favours Bertone said.
Sodano and Bertone are not mutual admirers, to put it mildly.
Neither has commented publicly on the reports.
The Vatican has been no stranger to controversy in recent years, when uproar over its handling of child sexabuse charges has hampered the church's efforts to stem the erosion of congregations and priestly recruitment in the developed world.
But the latest image crisis could not be closer to home.
It began last month when an Italian television investigative show broadcast private letters to Bertone and the pope from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former deputy governor of Vatican City and now the Vatican ambassador in Washington.
The letters, which the Vatican has confirmed are authentic, showed that Vigano was transferred after he exposed what he argued was a web of corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts at inflated prices.
As deputy governor of the Vatican City for two years from 2009 to 2011, Vigano was the No. 2 official in a department responsible for maintaining the tiny city state's gardens, buildings, streets, museums and other infrastructure, which are managed separately from the Italian capital that surrounds it.
In one letter, Vigano writes of a smear campaign against him by other Vatican officials, who were upset that he had taken drastic steps to clean up the purchasing procedures and begged to stay in the job to finish what he had started.
Bertone responded by removing Vigano from his position three years before the end of his tenure and sending him to the United States, despite his strong resistance.
Other leaks centre on the Vatican bank, just as it is trying to put behind it past scandals, including the collapse 30 years ago of Banco Ambrosiano, which entangled it in lurid allegations about money laundering, Freemasons, mafiosi and the mysterious death of Ambrosiano chairman Roberto Calvi - "God's banker."
Today, the Vatican bank, formally known at the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), is aiming to comply fully with international norms and has applied for the Vatican's inclusion on the European Commission's approved "white list" of states that meet EU standards for total financial transparency.
Bertone was instrumental in putting the bank's executives in place and any lingering suspicion about it reflects badly on him.