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from issue no. 08 - 2006

A Salesian chosen by Pope Benedict

An interview with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, from 15 September Secretary of State to His Holiness

Interview with cardinal Tarcisio Bertone by Gianni Cardinale

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

«I see three new characteristics in the new Secretary of State. First he’s an academic. Then a person who knows how to decide and thirdly a person who has a great sense of good humour. Characteristics that don’t seem to me of small account in a new Secretary of State». With these words Joaquín Navarro-Valls, for 22 years director of the Vatican Press Room, gave a brief and effective portrait of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has been chosen by Pope Benedict XVI as his Secretary of State, a post he fills from 15 September. To amplify the brief summary that Navarro-Valls gave to fellow journalists while he was in the Val da Aosta where he was invited by the Pope, 30Days asked Cardinal Bertone to speak of the salient points in his life.
A life also rich in curious anecdotes, that start from the day of his birth… «I was born», the cardinal tells us, «into a family of farmers, the fifth of eight sons, on the night between the 1st and 2nd of December 1934. Only that for the Registry Office I was born on the 1st, while for the parish I was born on the 2nd. So my date of birth is different for the State and for the Church: in the civic documents the date is the 1st, in the Pontifical Yearbook it’s the 2nd. My parents were good Catholic people, and they got me baptized with the name Tarcisio Pietro Evasio. Tarcisio was the young man martyred in the third century for safeguarding the Holy Eucharist he was taking to some imprisoned Christians, and for that reason was the protector of the aspirants in Catholic Action. My father, a board member of CA, decided to give me the name in his honor. Pietro then was my father’s name. Evasio, instead, bishop of Casale, was the saint celebrated on December 2. I received baptism on 9 December, in the parish of the Saints Pietro and Solutore».

Do you take more after your mother or your father?
TARCISIO BERTONE: After both. My father Pietro was, except for a priest of the village, the only subscriber to the Osservatore Romano edited by Romano Canavese. He was very devout and very attached to daily mass. And he had a great passion for music. My mother Pierina was very religious and involved in numerous social and charitable works, but she had a rather “combative” character, with a great passion for politics. She had been a member and an activist in Don Luigi Sturzo’s Popular Party, and in the ’twenties had not been afraid of attending rallies at which fighting sometimes broke out, and in 1948 devoted a great deal of energy to the victory of Alcide De Gasperi’s Christian Democrats. Not only that. During Fascism she never paid the party dues for me or for my brothers.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone with Benedict XVI

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone with Benedict XVI

So from your father you inherited a certain passion for the printed word and for music. Your brother, in the fine book written on you by the Secolo XX journalist [20th Century] Bruno Viani (Tarcisio Bertone. Il cardinale del sorriso [Tarcisio Bertone. The cardinal of the smile], De Ferrari, Genoa 2004, Euros12), also speaks of two youthful musical compositions of yours, Frenesia primaverile, a molto allegro piece, and Zingaresca, in a jazz rhythm...
BERTONE: Yes, I remember that the words of Frenesia primaverile were a poem by a lifer that I met during a visit to Fossano jail who asked me to put it to music… But they certainly weren’t masterpieces. The composer’s path wasn’t mine. Even if I’ve always liked to relax by listening to the good music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or also some opera by Giuseppe Verdi. Or also playing the piano a bit.
From your mother instead you took a certain interest in society and politics. There’s no secret about your friendship with Carlo Donat-Cattin, the Christian Democrat leader who died in 1991, which led you to write some articles in Terza Fase, the magazine of the New Forces current...
BERTONE: There was a relationship of friendship and very strong mutual respect with Donat-Cattin. I always admired his firm Christian inspiration and great passion to raise the standard of living of the working classes, in agriculture and industry, with no inferiority complex towards the Left. On the contrary. As well as that, I found in him a lack of any kind of intellectual pride and a healthy secularism, marked by great respect for the ecclesiastical hierarchies and an absence of any would-be imposition of his own ideas or ideologies on the Church. A great man, a great Christian politician. But apart from Donat-Cattin I have had the opportunity of knowing another politician also, very different from Donat-Cattin, but equally fascinating...
Whom do you mean?
BERTONE: Giorgio La Pira. I remember very well that I happened to accompany him by car to the concert given for the Fathers of the Vatican Council II in the Basilica of Saint Paul Without the Wall. Already as a student of Theology I corresponded with him and I recall it with great affection.
Let’s go back to your young days. One of the tastiest episodes mentioned in the book by Viani is that in which it says that you, in the years immediately after the War, together with other kids from your neighborhood, enjoyed shooting with weapons left over from the War such as Mauser pistols and Stein machineguns. Do you continue to practise the hobby?
BERTONE: No, for Heaven’s sake. Already at the time that kid stuff won me a serious ticking-off from my parents who’d been told by the police that they’d found us at it… Personally, I’d like the use of weapons to be seriously reconsidered and above all the banning of the deplorable and shameful arms trade, that is a dominant cause of so many recurrent conflicts.
When your nomination to Secretary of State was announced in an ANSA report, it was said in your village that when you were small you expressed the ambition to become an engineer…
BERTONE: I don’t remember that. To tell the truth I had a certain passion for modern languages and I thought that I would have liked to be an interpreter and who knows… a diplomat. But then – when at fourteen I went to the college of Valdocco – a Salesian, Don Alessandro Ghisolfi, invited me to a vocational retreat and then suggested that I join the family of Don Bosco. I still remember the date, it was 3 May 1949, the day after the tragedy of Superga that involved the whole of Turin. I accepted. And I told my parents on 24 May following, on the feast of Our Lady of Help.
Bertone in a photo of 1950, the year of his religious vows

Bertone in a photo of 1950, the year of his religious vows

How did they take it?
BERTONE: They were a bit surprized, but they didn’t get in my way. On the contrary. When, after a bit, I had a moment of crisis - the novitiate seemed an oppressive place to me – it was precisely my parents – especially my mother - who suggested to me with firmness to think it through before giving it all up. I listened to her. And I did the right thing. Thanks be to God.
You took your first religious vows on 3 December 1950 and were ordained priest on 1 July 1960. Afterward you gained a licentiate in Theology with a dissertation on tolerance and freedom of worship. Then your superiors sent you to study to Rome…
BERTONE: Where I didn’t have much desire to go. I didn’t like Rome. And instead I’ve already lived here for more than thirty years. In the City, however, I got the licentiate and a doctorate in Canon Law with a thesis on “The governance of the Church in the thinking of Benedict XIV–Pope Lambertini (1740-1758)”. The supervisor was Don Alfons Maria Stickler, now cardinal. As are now cardinal two others of my professors of the time: Don Antonio María Javierre Ortas, whose courses of Ecclesiology I followed, and Don Rosalio José Castillo Lara, professor of Penal Law.
It’s said that Don Stickler had great respect for your potential but criticized you because you didn’t apply yourself much …
BERTONE: In effect he reproached me because I spent little time in the library. In those years, as always for that matter, I’ve never wanted to devote myself only and exclusively to study, but I’ve always tried to engage in pastoral activity among young people with the preaching of retreats (one of them was attended by Maria Fida Moro also) and with courses of preparation for marriage, as also among lay believers involved in the social and political world. And then those were the years of the Council and we young students were spellbound by the event and sought in every way to be spectators of it and, why not, active agents.
What memories do you have of the Vatican Council II?
BERTONE: Many. First of all I participated in the splendid inaugural ceremony of 12 October. That very day it happened that Vacchetti, the engineer who designed the Council Hall, didn’t know how he was going to be able to distribute the first highly confidential texts to the more than two thousand Fathers. I offered to gather a group of a dozen seminarians with whom, respecting the confidentiality, we managed to get it done in a short time. Then I recall with what eagerness we young priests followed the reports of the Council that were written by the then young Arcangelo Paglialunga in the Gazzetta di Torino, and by Raniero La Valle and Giancarlo Zizola in Avvenire d’Italia. Additionally we tried in every way to get into Saint Peter’s to hear the live discussion of the Fathers in the Council. To manage it we sometimes offered to accompany the more elderly fathers who needed help.
Bertone as a young priest, on a trip with the boys of the Oratory in 1955

Bertone as a young priest, on a trip with the boys of the Oratory in 1955

Were there aspects of the Council that particularly interested you?
BERTONE: Having done my licentiate thesis on freedom of worship, I was highly interested in the discussions that led to the Dignitatis humanae Declaration. I remember that thanks to Don Castillo Lara, who was the expert of the Venezuelan episcopate, I managed to get permission to participate in one of the debates that led to the drafting of the text. It was a warm discussion with profound speeches like those from Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, Josef Beran, Charles Journet, etc. At a certain point the question was so controversial that Paul VI decided to postpone the voting on the text. And then a curious episode occurred that has remained imprinted on my mind. Cardinals Julius Doepfner and Leo Jozef Suenens didn’t agree with the decision of Pope Montini and so employed a couple of young theologians to gather the signatures of the Fathers for an appeal to the Pontiff to come immediately to the vote. And I remember that those two famous theologians took up position in front of the two cafes of the Council, prettily called bar Jona and bar Abba, to gather the signatures of the fathers. They managed to get around a thousand. But the Pope didn’t accept the appeal. And he did well, because at the end the document was approved with less resistance than was shown in the first instant.
How is it you come to remember the names of the two Council bars with such precision?
BERTONE: Simple, because there were always packed not least because everything was free: coffee, croissants, drinks, sandwiches… And for us who came on foot from Via Marsala, where the interim quarters of the Salesian university then were, it was a real blessing…
Other memories of the Council?
BERTONE: I remember attending an interesting lecture by the young Hans Küng, who had not yet lost his way, on “Church and charisms”. And then that I attended a meeting of conservative Fathers, so to speak, who had gathered at the Augustinianum to work out a strategy to combat any openness on the theme of collegiality. There were the archbishops Dino Staffa and Geraldo de Proença Sigaud. To tell the truth, they didn’t want to let us in, but we said that we were students of Don Stickler, who was a Council expert, and then the doors opened. However the Salesian athenaeum also organized meetings with groups of Council Fathers.
When you came to the end of that first period of living in Rome, from 1961 to 1965, you returned to Piedmont to teach Moral Theology to the international student body of Bollengo, near Ivrea. But in 1967 you were again in Rome.
BERTONE: They called me to teach Special Moral Theology at the Salesian Academy that in 1973 Paul VI elevated to the rank of Pontifical University. In 1976, following the untimely death of an eminent Belgian jurist, Don Gustave Leclerc, I was called to direct the Faculty of Canon Law, where I taught up to 1991, Ecclesiastical public Law in the two specific treatises “Constitutional Law of the Church” and “Relations between the Church and the political community”, as well as Rights of Minors and International Law. From 1978 then I was called to teach the same disciplines at the Pontifical Lateran University also.
One of your Salesian brethren, Don Umberto Fontana, has told Verona Fedele that he met you in the early ’seventies. And described you as follows: «A true Salesian… a great mate, he organized games of ferocious soccer. On summer evenings, then, open-air parties with grilled chops in the courtyard of the university, and, at times, a good bottle of wine…». So already in those years there was the passion for soccer and for good food…
BERTONE: Of course yes. When I could I also tried to get to the Olimpico stadium to watch my Juventus of which I’ve been a fan since I was a youngster. As for good wine, as a good Piedmontese I can’t not appreciate it, but I must say that, in summer especially, a good cool beer is not so bad…
From 1979 to 1985 you were dean of the Faculty of Canon Law, from 1987 to 1989 you were vice-rector and from 1989 to 1991 rector of the Pontifical Salesian University.
BERTONE: In these years I was also called to collaborate in the last phase of the revision of the Code of Canon Law. In particular, then, I directed the work group that translated the Code into Italian, with the approval of the IEC. Always in that ambit I visited a hundred or so dioceses, Italian and foreign, for the launch of the «great discipline of the Church». Given the job by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I also supervised the drafting of the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches promulgated in 1990.
Your confrere Don John Baptist Zen has told the Asian Catholic press agency UCAN that as rector of the PSU you visited China. What memories do you have of that trip?
BERTONE: It was in 1990. I visited Hong Kong and Beijing, where, together with my guides, I stopped to pray in the Cathedral. I don’t however remember any significant meetings either with the civil authorities or with bishops of the Catholic Church, official or clandestine whatever.
Bertone at the Vercelli diocesan mission to Isiolo, in Kenya, in 1994

Bertone at the Vercelli diocesan mission to Isiolo, in Kenya, in 1994

Meanwhile, precisely during the years of teaching, you begin to work with the Roman Curia…
BERTONE: Yes, at first in informal fashion. Then I began to be appointed consultant to different departments. In 1989 I was then called to join the group of rectors of Catholic universities who collaborated on the editing of the future apostolic constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae, on the identity and mission of the Catholic university, a document very eagerly awaited, especially in the United States.
When did you meet Cardinal Ratzinger?
BERTONE: If I remember rightly, my nomination to consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith goes back to 1984. But I’d had the chance earlier to meet the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who was in Rome from early 1982.
In 1988 you then became one of the group of experts who accompanied Ratzinger in the negotiations with Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre.
BERTONE: It was an extremely arduous and interesting experience, even if the results were not positive. I remain convinced, however, of the fact that, especially after the historic audience granted by Benedict XVI last year to Monsignor Bernard Fellay, if the Lefebvrians have a genuine wish to re-enter into full community with the Holy See, it won’t be difficult to find fitting ways of achieving that result.
Did you also collaborate with the Secretariat of State during that period?
BERTONE: In 1990, requested by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, who was Secretary of State up to the December of that year, I took part in the meetings of the European Commission of Democracy through Law, set up by the Council of Europe. The purpose of the body was that of creating a fruitful dialogue between East and West, above all to help the countries that had just emerged from behind the Iron Curtain to give themselves constitutional texts and bodies, like the Supreme Court, worthy of the great European legal tradition.
On 1 August 1991, Pope John Paul II nominated you metropolitan archbishop of Vercelli.
BERTONE: It was a great honor for me to be called to head the oldest episcopal see in Piedmont, as successor to the great Saint Eusebius, friend of Saint Athanasius, along with whom he resisted the spreading Arian heresy of the 4th century.
Saint Eusebius whom you once likened to Don Bosco…
BERTONE: There are many affinities between Eusebius and Don Bosco. Enough to remember the efforts that Don Bosco made against the deviations and heresies that swarmed in nineteenth-century Turin, but also their sweetness in treating people. And also in political relations: Don Bosco was a shrewd saint, some say too shrewd, in dealing with the representatives of power just to obtain the simple possibility of acting to open loopholes for the freedom of the Church. In that, too, there are analogies with Eusebius.
Talking of politicians. You were archbishop of Vercelli at the height of the “Clean hands” campaign, when the city council was investigated and imprisoned. On that occasion you asked to visit the councillors in prison and expressed in a communiqué all your dislike of the scenes of exultation outside the barracks of the Finance Police on the arrival of the people arrested: «The illusion of having won a battle for justice was vitiated by cruel euphoria and incredible uproar, unworthy of men and coherent Christians».
BERTONE: To set things straight, those councillors were then found innocent. I don’t like justice as spectacle, whether in the ecclesiastical field or the civil. However, in those years, as president of the Justice and Peace Ecclesial Commission of the IEC, I put my name on two important documents (Legality, justice and morality, in 1993, and Social state and education for social behavior, in 1995) in which the need of ever greater honesty in public administration was emphasized.
In the Vercelli years you also had the opportunity to visit foreign countries.
BERTONE: I visited communities of people from Vercelli in the United States, in Canada and in South America. But above all I consolidated the archdiocese’s relations with the mission of Isiolo in Kenya – that I visited several times – encouraging the creation of the apostolic Vicariate and consecrating its first bishop, Monsignor Luigi Locati, who was savagely killed on 14 July last year, witnessing to his faith by shedding his blood.
Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, during the press conference announcing the third secret of Fatima, in 2000

Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, during the press conference announcing the third secret of Fatima, in 2000

On 13 June 1995 your return to Rome was announced, where you were called to work alongside Cardinal Ratzinger as Secretary of the former Holy Office. In the seven years spent in that post, what were your most important tasks?
BERTONE: They were years of great work. In that period the Congregation published very significant documents. I’m thinking of the declaration Dominus Iesus, of the Regulation for the examination of doctrines, the norms on the more serious crimes reserved to the Congregation, of the doctrinal Note about some questions regarding the involvement and behavior of Catholics in political life…
Documents that have stirred debate and even some controversy…
BERTONE: Oh yes. I remember that the Dominus Iesus was received with words of criticism even from eminent figures. So much so that Pope John Paul II, after a working lunch with the upper echelons of the Congregation, decided that at an Angelus he would make clear that the document had been desired by him and by him approved. And so he did.
During your years as secretary of the former Holy Office there was no lack of missions to foreign countries.
BERTONE: In fact I had the good fortune of being able to accompany Cardinal Ratzinger to two important meetings: one with the Latin-American episcopates in Guadalajara, in Mexico, in 1996, and with those of North America and of Oceania, the second in 1999, in San Francisco, where William Joseph Levada, now at the head of the Congregation, was archbishop. Then I also had to go to the Czech Republic to follow the delicate question of the clandestine ordinations of married men during the dark years of communist persecution.
Then there were special tasks. Such as the publication of the third secret of Fatima and the Milingo affair…
BERTONE: Two very different stories, united maybe by the fact of having been followed by the media with a certain morbid curiosity.
Is there still something not told about Fatima?
BERTONE: Absolutely not. As officially made clear, the third secret is what was published in 2000 and Sister Lucia never predicted the election and subsequent death of John Paul I nor made any connections between Fatima and the 11 September attacks. I have heard Sister Lucia say so with my own ears. The only aspect that could have developments concerns the fact that Sister Lucia asked that the prayer of the Rosary become a liturgical prayer. But that is another story.
Your Eminence, let me take advantage of this reference to the Rosary to confess to you that you are looked on with a certain suspicion by some circles of devotees to the Blessed Virgin Mary, because of some letters you sent as Secretary of the former Holy Office which included the reminder that official diocesan pilgrimages are not allowed to Medjugorje. And also because you revealed that the regional Episcopal Conference of Lazio has decreed the non constat de sopranaturalitate on the well known case of Our Lady of Civitavecchia…
BERTONE: To accuse a Salesian of being a bit weak in his Marian piety is frankly a bit ridiculous. From when I was little I was brought up always to turn trustingly towards Our Lady of Help. And over the years, thanks be to God, that trust has never faded. That, however, doesn’t mean that one mustn’t always respect the official position, as it is, of the Church on delicate questions such as those regarding real or alleged Marian apparitions.
And Monsignor Emmanuel Milingo? It seems an interminable story…
BERTONE: I only want to say on this that I was as glad of his return after his first flight, as I am now saddened by his second fall. I hope and I pray that he returns definitely to take his place in the Catholic Church. I have entrusted it to the Servant of God Pope John Paul II.
On 10 December 2002 you were nominated archbishop of Genoa, and on 2 February 2003 made your entry into the cathedral of San Lorenzo. Did you expect the nomination?
BERTONE: I wasn’t expecting it, but I greeted it with Salesian enthusiasm. For me it was an honor to be called to lead an ancient and prestigious diocese and be the successor of pastors of great character such as blessed Tommaso Reggio or the great Giuseppe Siri…
Whose example you immediately said you wanted to follow. Even if one of your first acts – immediately trumpeted by the media – was to go to a disco and sing along with the young people the song that goes: «Io, vagabondo che son io… ma lassù mi è rimasto Dio» [I, tramp that I am… but up above God has remained to me]…
BERTONE: It was not a disco but the Paladonbosco. And Don Bosco himself taught us to go out to meet young people. Then the song in question, not certainly a liturgical hymn, has always struck me, because it has real content.
The Genoese years were marked by your numerous interventions. Which gave you a certain public visibility in the chief city of Liguria, but also at national level. For example, your criticisms of the Halloween fad and of Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code made some stir, as did your praise of the film The Passion directed by Mel Gibson. And so on. To the extent that some people have spoken of an excessive loquacity…
BERTONE: I’ve been told about these criticisms, but they haven’t much affected me. Not least because they never came from my superiors. And then I believe that a healthy parresia in churchmen is more a virtue than a vice…
Bertone being created cardinal by John Paul II, 21 October 2003

Bertone being created cardinal by John Paul II, 21 October 2003

Your sports commentaries from Marassi and your joke that the Church could make an exception in its views on cloning in the case of Sophia Loren remained celebrated. But let’s come to your more serious interventions. You’ve taken a firm stance against the war in Iraq.
BERTONE: I’ve repeated with conviction the judgment on the war formulated by John Paul II and by the Holy See. And the present situation in Iraq shows how prophetic that judgment was. However, when poor Fabrizio Quattrocchi was assassinated and the family asked me to celebrate the funeral, I didn’t hesitate and did it in the Cathedral. And then when immediate withdrawal of our soldiers from Iraq was proposed, I warned of the dangers - for the local populations– of a premature exit on our part.
Your judgments on economic-financial relations between the North and South of the world have been particularly sharp …
BERTONE: I have more than once repeated the judgment of eminent scholars and of whole episcopates: the international loans of the World Bank and of the Monetary Fund and those from country to country are by now at usury levels and should be declared illegal. The debt in fact becomes usury when it does harm to the inalienable right to life and all those other rights that have not been given to man but belong to him by nature. Some technocrats, especially those of the multinationals, of the World Bank and of the Monetary Fund, have imposed unacceptable conditions on poor populations, such as obligatory sterilization or the obligation to close Catholic schools. According to the social doctrine of the Church a democratic popular capitalism should be created, that is to say a system of non-oligopolistic economic freedom that accommodates the largest possible number of subjects, enabling them to become entrepreneurial and creative, encouraging healthy competition within a clear normative framework.
You also spoke out on the proposal of a mosque in Genoa and also used harsh words to a government minister («Certain persons should be sentenced to hard labour in Cyrenaica so as to learn true respect») who had adopted the anti-Muhammed cartoons that inflamed the Islamic world.
BERTONE: The Islam question is a delicate one. I’ve always said that the human dignity of Moslem believers needs to safeguarded, including that of those – increasingly numerous – who populate our neighborhoods. And hence, I am not against the building of mosques here in Italy, even if one might hope for a certain reciprocity for the Christians who live in Islamic countries. And as a matter of principle I don’t exclude the possibility that in future in Italian schools there be an hour set aside for the Islamic religion, provided that it be compatible with the constitutional values of our Republic, and takes place within a normative framework and supervision of contents and teachers analogous to the regulation of the teaching of the Catholic religion. But I foresee that it will be rather difficult.
You had barely arrived in Genoa when you had to deal with the argument that broke out because of a book accusing the Church in Genoa of having conspired in the escape of a whole series of Nazi war criminals to South America.
BERTONE: To answer those ignominious accusations, alas widely taken up by the Secolo XIX, we printed 50,000 copies of a special edition of the Settimanale Cattolico [Catholic Weekly] consisting of articles that documented the groundlessness and unwarranted nature of the accusations. Not only that. A history Commission appointed by me that, as far as I’ve heard, will prove the absolute straightforwardness of the Genoese Church in that period, is in its final phase.
In Genoa you had to deal, for institutional reasons, with politicians of various extraction. With the DS mayor Giuseppe Pericu, with the president of the Province Alessandro Repetto (Margherita), with the presidents of the Region Sandro Biasotti (center-right) and then Claudio Burlando (center-left), with the former Forza Italia minister Claudio Scajola… How did you get on?
BERTONE: Generally well. Even if, when necessary, the Genoese Church let its voice be heard loudly. However, the demonstrations of respect and affection that the politicians you name have shown me, I found really touching.
Genoa is also the diocese of Don Gianni Baget Bozzo and Don Andrea Gallo, so near, and yet so far…
BERTONE: The Church in Genoa is a Church rich in history and tradition. But it is a living Church also today. And Don Baget and Don Gallo, though sometimes showing a different sensibility, belong to that Church by full entitlement.
During your Genoese years you were still able to engage in missions to various parts of the world…
BERTONE: In Genoa I tried first of all to visit all the parishes and all the religious communities in the diocese. And I must say that in three years I visited almost all. Then I paid great attention to the social and charitable works that the Genoese Church engages in with great love for the city: beginning with the large fact of the Gaslini and Galliera hospitals of which the archbishop of Genoa is president. But Genoa is a city historically open to the world. And thus I had occasion to go to Latin America to visit the Ligurian communities in Peru and Argentina. I then went to visit the diocesan mission in the Guaricano barrio, in Santo Domingo, and then I went to Cuba, where, on the request of the bishop of Santa Clara, we opened a new diocesan mission in collaboration with the diocese of Chiavari.
And in Cuba you also met Fidel Castro…
BERTONE: In Cuba I first of all met the local Church, beginning with the good cardinal of Havana Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, the archbishop of Santiago in Cuba and other prelates. Then, yes, I also met Fidel Castro who had expressed the wish to see me. It was a fine meeting, very long. Castro expressed the desire to invite Benedict XVI to Cuba. «He’s a pope I like», he told me, and added: «He’s a good person, I understood so immediately looking at his face, the face of an angel». All words that I reported to the Pope as soon as I was back in Italy. But I also asked Castro to meet with the Cuban bishops, after ten years of problematic relations. Which happened promptly on 16 November 2005.
You were created cardinal in the Consistory of 21 October 2003, and in April 2005 took part in the conclave that elected Cardinal Ratzinger pope with the name Benedict XVI.
BERTONE: The nomination as cardinal was an honor, to the Church from Genoa rather than to myself. I’m keen to remember that. As for the conclave, obviously I can say nothing, despite the fact that we cardinals are not liable to excommunication for breaching secrecy. However, it’s no mystery that the election to pope of Cardinal Ratzinger was a quite particular joy to me, given that I have had the privilege of knowing him closely and of esteeming his great human and Christian gifts.
Cardinal Bertone and former president Giulio Andreotti at the Conference held for the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Cardinal Joseph Siri, in the Ducal Palace in Genoa, 4 May 2006

Cardinal Bertone and former president Giulio Andreotti at the Conference held for the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Cardinal Joseph Siri, in the Ducal Palace in Genoa, 4 May 2006

Finally last 22 June the Vatican Press Office published the announcement of your nomination as Secretary of State, to begin on 15 September.
BERTONE: In December 2005 the Holy Father had already asked me if I was willing to accept this task. After a period of reflection and prayer I declared my willingness. And on 22 June the Holy Father decided the time was ripe to announce his choice.
A revolutionary choice, given that it breaks with the almost unbroken tradition that a churchman with experience in the pontifical diplomacy be at the head of the Secretariat of State.
BERTONE: I’ve also read those observations, but I believe the Holy Father doesn’t think that tradition, with a small “t”, to be binding.
You, as well as everything else, belong to an Order and, apart from the brief experience of the conventual Antonio Francesco Orioli who was Secretary of State ad interim for a month in the turbulent year of 1848, your only precursor not belonging to the secular clergy was the Barnabite Luigi Emmanuele Nicolò Lambruschini, who furthermore, before becoming Secretary of State to Gregory XVI from 1836 to 1846, had been archbishop of Genoa…
BERTONE: Yes, I’ve read so. But for Heaven’s sake, don’t liken me to Cardinal Lambruschini, who will have certainly been a saintly man, but was also, politically, an out-and-out reactionary!
An idle curiosity. You mentioned earlier that as a boy you wanted to study modern languages. But what languages do you know?
BERTONE: As a young man I studied French and therefore have no problem with it. Then my superiors sent me for some years for summer spells in Germany and hence I’m familiar with German. Additionally I understand and speak Spanish and Portuguese fairly well.
And English?
BERTONE: It’s my weak point. I can grasp the sense of texts more akin to the theological and social contents, but I don’t speak it. I immediately told the Holy Father when he suggested me serving him as Secretary of State. He cheered me by telling me that even important figures, like the great chancellor Helmut Kohl, don’t know English. And then there are excellent interpreters in the service of the Holy See.
Your Eminence, a last question. Would you like to say something about the war that broke out in Lebanon in mid July?
BERTONE: Nothing to add to the heartfelt words of the Pope, and to the appropriate declarations of Cardinal Angelo Sodano and of Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo. If not that I also pray every day, and invite others to pray, so that the Lord may give us peace not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, but give us peace today! And spare us from further futile slaughter!

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