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What is behind the Vatileaks plot? Mainly, it seems, it’s a conspiracy against the Pope’s most trusted collaborator: so we should pray that it fails

Cardinal Bertone was appointed for the right reasons; his enemies now are those of the Pope himself

By on Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Cardinal Bertone, left, and Cardinal Sodano, who apparently tried to block his appointment as Secretary of State (CNS photo)

Cardinal Bertone, left, and Cardinal Sodano, who apparently tried to block his appointment as Secretary of State (CNS photo)

What on earth is going on in Vatican City? I cannot be the only one utterly confused by the whole thing nor the only one concerned for the Holy Father, whom this affair has, apparently, greatly distressed.

His butler is under arrest; a great stash of the Pope’s private papers have been found in his apartment. Leaked papers of this kind have formed the basis of a scurrilous book by an Italian journalist: and the whole phenomenon has now been given its journalistic nametag. At least it’s not “butlergate”, but something almost as ghastly: “Vatileaks”. There is, it is generally assumed, a conspiracy: but if so, what is it all about and who is involved? Having spent several days on the net trying to sort out the whole complex story in my head, and stumped for an opening paragraph, I had a brainwave. I looked up “Vatileaks” on Wikipedia. Sure enough, there’s already an entry. Here’s the introductory paragraph, which, since it looks more or less correct, I hereby adopt as my own prefatory remarks:

“The Vatileaks scandal is a scandal involving leaked Vatican documents, allegedly exposing corruption.

“The scandal first came to light in January 2012 when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published letters from Carlo Maria Viganò, formerly the second ranked Vatican administrator to the Pope, in which he begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions in higher contract prices. Viganò is now the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

“Over the following months the scandal widened as documents were leaked to Italian journalists, uncovering power struggles inside the Vatican over its efforts to show greater financial transparency and comply with international norms to fight money laundering. Also in early 2012, an anonymous letter made the headlines for its warning of a death threat against Pope Benedict XVI.

“The scandal escalated in May 2012 when Nuzzi published a book entitled His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI consisting of confidential letters and memos between Pope Benedict and his personal secretary, a controversial book that portrays the Vatican as a hotbed of jealousy, intrigue and underhanded factional fighting. The book reveals details about the Pope’s personal finances, and includes tales of bribes made to procure an audience with him.”

Now, there seems to be a growing consensus that the principal target of the conspirators is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope’s Secretary of State or “Prime Minister”. According to Robert Mickens on the Tablet blog,

“First of all, the leaking of the private Vatican documents is clearly intended to embarrass Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope’s Secretary of State. They are aimed at his removal.” (my italics) Now, Cardinal Bertone himself gave an interview on Monday; and according to the usually well-informed John L Allen, “The Bertone interview
is noteworthy primarily because it’s the first time the Vatican’s “prime minister” has spoken at length about the leaks scandal … Bertone’s comments take on special significance given that many analysts believe he is the primary target of the leaks… perhaps the most striking element of the interview is Bertone’s comment that the leaking of confidential documents seems “carefully aimed, and sometimes also ferocious, destructive and organised”.

Carefully aimed at him, he means: so why? I have a theory, and if I am right, I ought to have been able to foresee that there would be opposition to him (though not its ferocity) since I wrote approvingly about one of the main reasons for his appointment at the time: that he was not one of the professional State Department diplomats, not, in other words, one of the class from which a series of (for us) disastrous papal nuncios has emerged. There would obviously be opposition from the diplomats: and so it has proved. One of the leading conspirators, according to the authoritative Sandro Magister, is “Jean-Louis Tauran, who as former foreign minister of the Holy See has never been able to swallow the entrusting of the Secretariat of State to someone with no expertise in diplomacy, like Bertone”.

Of all the many explanations I have read of the motivations behind this conspiracy, the one that makes most sense to me is that of the Italian journalist Andrea Gagliarducci in his blog MondayVatican this week, which I need to quote at length:

Let’s make a step back in the past. In June 2006, the Pope had to announce that – after his return to Rome from his trip to Bavaria – his first act of governance will be the change of the Secretary of State, with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone replacing Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

… Many in the Curia were discontent. Bertone not only was not a career diplomat – as almost all the secretaries of state have been in recent centuries – but he came from the ranks of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of which he was the secretary from 1995 to 2003. He was the number two man, with Joseph Ratzinger as prefect, and now he is again becoming the main collaborator of the new Pope. Even after his election as Pope, Ratzinger has kept him as an adviser and a friend: not a week was gone by that they have not spoken together or seen each other.

Bertone’s appointment as Secretary of State signed a sort of “vindication” for the Holy Office. Called by this name until the 1960s, the Congregation was referred to within the Vatican as «la Suprema». Its highest official was the Pope himself, and the rest of the Curia hinged upon it. But then came Paul VI, and the Secretariat of State became the central axis of the Curia.

With John Paul II, who had little interest in Church governance, the power of the Secretariat of State in the Church’s internal and external affairs grew even greater. It is no surprise that in the last change of the papacy, the two head honchos of diplomacy and of the Curia – Cardinals Sodano and Achille Silvestrini – were the ones most staunchly opposed to the election of Ratzinger, just as they later tried to block the appointment of Bertone.

The Pope’s reasons for appointing Bertone in the first place were clear enough then: and they explain both the conspiracy against him, and the Pope’s clear support for him, now. At the time, John L Allen surmised that Pope Benedict’s intention in appointing Cardinal Bertone was to give more emphasis to doctrine and less to diplomacy; this was confirmed by the Pope himself who said that as Archbishop of Genoa, Cardinal Bertone had combined “pastoral care and doctrinal wisdom”. Those same qualities, the Pope wrote, led him to choose the cardinal for his “exalted and delicate task” at the Secretariat of State.

But why, I wrote in Faith Magazine in 2006, would the Pope want a more doctrinally focused Secretary of State? The answer had to do with another question, often asked in this country. Why was it, when nearly all the present bishops were appointed by Pope John Paul II, that so many of them seemed dedicated to frustrating his intentions? Why, in other words, had he made so many mistakes? The answer was that in recommending a priest to the Pope for appointment as bishop, the Congregation for Bishops in Rome is almost entirely dependent on the information relayed to it by the Apostolic Nuncio of the country concerned. Why have we had overwhelmingly liberal bishops for the last 30 years? Because we have had liberal nuncios. Who appoints the nuncios? Why, the Secretary of State.

The Pope will stand by Cardinal Bertone. For the fact is that the conspiracy against Bertone is nothing less than a conspiracy against the Holy Father himself. Remember Andrea Gagliarducci’s words: “in the last change of the papacy, the two head honchos of diplomacy and of the curia – Cardinals Sodano and Achille Silvestrini – were the ones most staunchly opposed to the election of Ratzinger, just as they later tried to block the appointment of Bertone”. The tensions inside the Curia are the same now as they were then: the difference is that the anti-Ratzingerians cannot expose themselves as such: they cannot openly oppose the Pope: so they oppose his closest collaborator.

Let us be clear: the battle going on in Rome is one in the outcome of which we in this country have a clear interest. Thanks to Cardinal Bertone, we have the first trustworthy and clearly orthodox nuncio here for many decades. So this battle concerns us. I don’t recommend that you get involved in the details. As Mgr Ronald Knox famously pronounced: “He who travels in the Barque of Peter had better not look too closely into the engine room.” But we should pray for the Holy Father, and also for his close collaborator, Cardinal Bertone, as they come under attack. We will all get through all this; the Pope will see us through. But it’s steady as she goes.

  • Tristan

    After the Pope’s “Regensburg Address”, the worst attacks on His Holiness came from anonymous “Vatican Insiders”. They blamed what they saw as the Pope’s “blunders” on the fact that he wasn’t taking notice of the “diplomats”. These “diplomats” who were given power under Pope Paul VI have overseen decades of decline, corruption and cover-ups. They are determined to discredit this papacy so that the world will say “The conservative/restorative experiment of Ratzinger has failed. Never again….”. And they want this good and gentle Pope out of the way as soon as possible so that they can get back to business as usual…….

  • nytor

    I don’t think I agree. I agree with your basic premise – that a SoS from the CDF has led to a more “doctrinal” diplomatic policy, and that this is a good thing. I’m not in accord, however, with your conclusion. I do think Bertone should be replaced. The reason for this is simply that he has not shown himself to be a good SoS. He has made one too many gaffes, and is widely regarded as unfit for office, and doesn’t command respect within or without the curia. Coming from the CDF and being doctrinally orthodox and appointing good nuncios can still be the biography of the SoS, but another person fitting that description should now displace him. In fact, the alternative view I have seen is that in fact those doing the leaking are seeking to protect the pope by bringing down Bertone and procuring the appointment of a better SoS.

  • nytor
  • EndTimes101

    This a plot to discredit the Pope NOT Bertone. They want to unleash the
    Anti-Pope of history and complete the construction of the New World
    Order, which will control a one world religion. Only Benedict and a handful, a relative remnant, of faithful and true Christians/priests/Bishops remain. We are getting to decision
    time/crunch time for every single Christian.
    Whom do you love, God or the world?
    Pray for the Holy Father as we (the Church) embark on the passion stage of the Church’s life…….

  • Dr_balavendrian

    The leak is Good for the church it clearly shows How the Holy father had to bear this Cross of Rubbish in the vatican. so the cat is out of the Back. we Must assist the Holy father to Expose more illegality in the Vatican, so the Holy father can clean up all this Rubbish, Its also Going in the Religious order worsr scandals .Institution are runned by Buddist  who kills tamil in sril anka but the catholic in malaysia are still under the smoke front is christ behind in the hide out is Buddist .so Jesus is a Buddist for malaysian catholic. The catholic church in malaysia is Bleeding .so why bother money is all for Religious orders . christ for sale. one day u will have a Buddist monk saying mass and Giving Holy communion, 

  • Patrick

    I wish that the Pope could replace Bertone asap, but I am sure that he won’t…and can’t.
    Bertone is due to retire at the end of the year anyway and God willing, he will. If the Pope replaces him now it will look like a reward to the petty, jealous, thieves who have betrayed him. 

    Unlike what some think, I don’t see anything good coming from this affair.

    Pray for our beloved Pope and the Church.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    The conspiracy consists of a group of Vatican insiders appointed by Benedict plotting against another group of Vatican insiders appointed by Benedict – what more does anyone need to know?

    One of the hopes of this papacy was that someone who had spent more than twenty years at the highest level in the Vatican would be the ideal person to sort out any problems there – not let it sink into an international laughing stock.

  • theroadmaster

    The Western media are hovering like vultures around the Vatican “Wikileaks” leak stories, and treating them as if they were uniquely damning, in terms of corruption and sharp practices in the Holy See.  But they fail to see how such machinations are part and parcel of human activity as opposed to filial loyalty,  wherever group associations are formed e.g. corporate bodies, social institutions or Churches.   The current storm is indicative of current rivalries within the Church curia and they should not be totally surprising in the scheme of things.  It is all regrettable but we must hope that the role of the Holy Father is not seriously compromised.  With the help of God, he will survive this episode even stronger than he was before it and will come out fully vindicated in the eyes of the global Faithful.

  • Benedict Carter

    Pius XII for a period of 15 years or so made himself the Secretary of State. Benedict XVI might have done the same, but did not. Still, for a “Conciliar Pope”, he is as close as we will get to a Pope acting as a true Pope.

  • Parasum

    Why the big deal ?

    ” Thanks to Cardinal Bertone, we have the first trustworthy and clearly orthodox nuncio here for many decades. ”

    ## The implications of *that* are fun. If the rest were a bunch of heretics, who put them in place, & why were any of them given in the job in the first place ? 

    The Pope must be off his head to think that another spot of scandal in a Vatican which is knee-deep in scandal already can possibly compare to the little spot of bother that is happening in the real world, the one outside the cocoon these people inhabit, and has been in the news for ten years & is not going away. This is nothing. As usual, Rome’s prorities are upsidedown & inside-out

    This stuff might not happen if there were legitimate means in the CC for people to express their concerns about how the CC is about to run onto the rocks. But no such means exist.  Until they do, these scandals are going to blow up like eggs in a microwave and take a *lot* of cleaning up. The rest of the Church should not be condemned  to clean up after Rome, every time it disgraces itself :(

  • Parasum

    Better for it to become a laughing-stock, than be heartily despised. And worst, if it becomes both – which is the likeliest result IMO. JP2 is the author of a lot of the ghastliness.

  • maideqi

  • maideqi

  • Benedict Carter

    I agree with this general overview. The clash inside the Vatican is between those (including the Pope) who are slowly waking up to the catastrophe of the last fifty years and those who are still living in the revlutionary days of the 60′s and 70′s. Sodano, Kasper and other similar heterodox revolutionaries are probably at the back of it, supported by the Curial officials who despise Bertone as an outsider. 

    All Conclaves are important. The next one will be a great determinant for the recovery of the Church from the post-Vatican II disaster or its further drowning in the revolutinary soup of Modernism, neo-protestantism and Masonry.

  • Diego

    The problem is Sodano, now retired but still with dozens of his placemen in significant roles within the governance of the Church,
    He is the spider at the centre of a the web.

  • W Oddie

    Spot on.

  • nytor

    Off topic, but I can’t see any reference to this on this site and it is really most deeply alarming. A law has been passed in Denmark forcing all churches to marry gay couples whether they want to or not.  It’s an appalling attack on religious freedom. Whilst there are not many Catholic churches in Denmark, there are some (I’ve been to Mass in Copenhagen and in Odense) and what on earth are they going to do?

  • nytor

    Although upon reading a Danish newspaper, they use the word “folkekirken”, which refers to the national Lutheran church. I’m not sure, therefore, whether the law will apply to Catholic churches. It’s still a monstrous attack on religious freedom, though, and almost certainly the type of thing that many liberals would like to see in this country.

  • paulpriest

     No – the opportunistic machiavellian wannabee Sodano’s the monkey: Silvestrini is [and always was] the organ-grinder.

  • Daclamat

    Cardinal Sodano has got his biretta on the wrong way round. Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it. Good to see the Sacred College bringing the house down around their ears.

  • Victor

    CIA records do prove that the Church was infiltrated by communists and KGB paid agents in the 50′s and 60′s. Some of these defected and helped the US government identify KGB strategies of weakening the Church from within (as well as secular academia and the media). The questions now is who has been infiltrating the church since then? Who do they work for and why?

  • Patrickhowes

    I think you will find that all is the work of Card Angelo Sodano.The legion fo Christ was his baby.He was Papala Nuncio in Chile and Mexico and opened the doors for Maciel!The Pope pulled the rug on one of the most monied and powerful organisations that the Chucrh has ever seen!

  • Patrickhowes

    Cardinal Bertone is not the problem!He is a solid man!It all lies at the feet of the former Secretary of State.An evil.evil man who has been exposed cleverly by the HF

  • Patrickhowes

    I think that Vatican ll was intended to expose all “dark smoke” that lay within the walls of the Holy See.It was not an invitation to raildoad changes that nobody really wanted nor an opportunity to destroy Catholic tradition and identity.What have we ended up with?Neither one nor the other.The black smoke is still circulating and a huge lack of identity,very little discipline and everyone singing off their own hymn sheets.

  • Patrickhowes

    No!Bertone is a GOOD MAN!

  • Annodomini6

    We must all indeed pray very much for The Holy Father

  • Annodomini6

    We must indeed pray very much for The Holy Father

  • Benedict Carter

    This infiltration is a matter of historical fact. 

    The great and currently almost entirely unknown story of the Catholic Church in the 20th and hence our own century is the story of Marxist and Masonic infiltration of the Church. These attacks are bound up with the warnings of Our Lady at Fatima and with Vatican II. The latter of course ushered in the full maelstrom of hell’s forces against the Church. 

  • Patrick_Hadley

     It is not correct to say that the worst attacks on the Pope following the Regensburg Address came from “Vatican Insiders”. For a list of some of the responses, including the fire-bombings and the murder of a nun, you could do worse than look at the Wikipedia page .

  • Patrick

    “those doing the leaking are seeking to protect the pope” I have heard this argument countless times…but I still don’t believe it. How could they possibly think that stealing, betraying and humiliating people would help the Holy Father. If anything, I worry that it will adversely effect his health. This seems to me to be the work of petty, jealous individuals who are settling scores. 
    While I agree that Bertone, who may well be a very decent man, has not helped the Pope in his position od S of S.. All this could have been handled in a more productive way, especially since Bertone was probably going to retire at the end of the year anyway. 

  • JByrne24

    If CIA records proved this, you would not now be quoting them as they would be still classified.

    Your claims are absurd and only intended to give rise to remarks such as those of Benedict Carter and others  below.

    Kremlin and GRU/KGB records of this period during communist times are NOT still classified and show no such activities and references. The individuals who would have been concerned in Soviet times, with any such activities, have also been interviewed and deny any reality in this tale (even though they would have a fantastic opportunity to write, or ghost-write, sensational books about these non-events – earning large sums of money).

    This drivel spreading was attempted by other fundamentalist, right-wing lunatics in the US over 10 years ago, and was dismissed as nonsense.

  • Percivalduncan82

    It applies to the Lutheran state church. You can drop the “monstrous attack on religious freedom” canard. If Danish Lutherans, or Anglicans for that matter, don’t want the state telling them what to believe then they need to stop taking the state’s money.  It’s that simple.  Render unto God those things that are God’, and unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s. Pretty good advice.

  • ben afroilan

    Transparency has no religion. Neither does it bow to any pope, cardinal, bishop, or priest.

  • Rlakin123


    In all big enterprises, there is bound to be
    corruption, and unfortunately, the Vatican is become a huge enterprise. So let
    us not be trying to white wash the stains of corruption, but we should hope and
    pray that the powerful bodies that surround the Pope, and the Vatican,
    including Italian enterprises and others concerned with money and power who
    with Satanic cunning and deceit are rocking the very foundations of The Church.
    It is urgent that  a body of good
    Catholics examine the dishonest and unworthy aspects that mar the holiness of
    the Church founded by Jesus Christ and have portrayed it as a showy place of miters,
    gold chains and rings and places where the hierarchy live in comfort when  Jesus had no place to lay His Head, wore
    no fine garments, no miter, nor gold chains nor rings and He was humble and
    serving and meant His Church to be so.. To spread the Good News to the world is
    very difficult (particularly in countries where their religious monks are simple and
    all including the head  wear the same
    type of robes with a color of renunciation of worldly glamour)  and when the teachings ( parables) of Jesus
    are not practiced or taken into account by preachers. RML