Italians hoping to reclaim papacy
By Jason Horowitz, Washington Post, March 1, 2013
VATICAN CITY—Minutes after Pope Benedict XVI retired from office on Thursday evening, his former second in command, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, received a scepter symbolizing his role as chamberlain with operational authority over the church during the interregnum.
Bertone is himself something of a symbol.
For many close observers of the church, the tall, lanky and polarizing prelate represents the dysfunction in the Roman hierarchy and the dangers of over-staffing the universal church’s government with too many Italians.
Benedict’s last year in office was overshadowed by leaks exposing Italian prelates engaging in turf wars and battles to influence the Italian government. Even as Benedict’s helicopter, emblazoned with the words “Repubblica Italiana,” lifted over the Vatican walls and spirited him away to a hidden life of retirement, an Italian magazine reported that in the midst of the leak scandal, Bertone had authorized wiretaps, that most Italian of pastimes, to root out potential moles among clergy in the Vatican. The Holy See confirmed that it had ordered the bugging of some phones.
The very notion that Italy is a contagion marks a historical departure. For 455 years before the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978, an uninterrupted chain of Italian popes led the church. Now the scandals that haunted the German Benedict also loom over Italian candidates hoping to reclaim the papacy.
As cardinals begin meeting on Monday before entering the conclave from which the next pope will emerge, the 28 voting Italians will once again be the largest group from any one country. (The United States follows with 11 cardinals.) But the college of cardinals will also discuss the great challenges facing the church, and one of them is the crisis of management in the Vatican.
While there is near consensus that bad governance has hobbled the church, there is far less consensus about how to fix it. Would another Italian pope contaminated by Italy’s political culture exacerbate the problem? Or can only an Italian pope steeped in his country’s brand of political maneuvering mend the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that governs the church?
For a long time, church support was necessary to govern in Italy. But in last week’s election, the church’s preferred candidate, Prime Minister Mario Monti, a faithful Catholic who received warm words in the Vatican’s official newspaper, was trounced. Instead, Berlusconi returned to influence, and a protest party led by a former comic turned rabble rouser astonished Italy with a quarter of the vote. The result has paralyzed the Italian government and worried the Vatican.
The potential for an antagonistic government is one of the reasons Vatican officials say Italians have always been necessary.
“As long as the place is rooted in Rome, it’s going to require Italians who can keep good relations with the government,” said one non-Italian official who is otherwise critical of the Italian influence on governance. “You fly into Rome, not the Vatican.”
The next pope may again not be Italian, but the Italian-speaking government he leads likely still will be. Bertone forfeited his post per canon law the moment that Benedict ceased to be pope. But some church watchers think that despite the scandals, an Italian, if not Bertone, would probably return to the new pontiff’s side.
“It’s more important that the pope have clear ideas,” Andrea Tornielli, another prominent Vatican analyst said. “If the pope isn’t Italian, the secretary of state should be.”