Cardinal Bertone’s Sins against Children
By Matthew Fox
April 18, 2016
Not content to create a strategy for priestly pedophile cover-ups during two papacies, the former Vatican Secretary of State also steals from a children’s hospital
Recently news of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s chutzpah emerged again in Barbie Latza Nadeau’s article “Vatican Bling-Bling: Hospital Funds Diverted to Cardinal’s Villa“ when we learned that, in jaw-dropping contrast to his boss Pope Francis (who lives in a 750-square-foot apartment in a guesthouse at the Vatican), the Cardinal created a penthouse for himself by refurbishing two Vatican-owned rooftop apartments. One of the apartments belonged to a children’s hospital. He shares the elegant space with three nuns who wait on him day and night. According to the Italian newspaper Il Tempo the renovation was worth one million euros (but he got a 50% reduction). Actually, it seems the renovations were paid for twice, thus no discount occurred at all. The Vatican Tribunal opened a criminal dossier on the matter last week.
Where did the money come from to furnish so lavish a penthouse for the “prince of the church” who takes his title so literally? From a fund intended for the Bambino Gesu children’s hospital.
What did the prince of the church get for his money? Each bedroom has its own private bathroom, the kitchen facilities are fit for a banquet hall, and there are eight independent sound systems, including one for a rooftop chapel. Expensive herringbone oak parquet floors and luxury white Carrara marble and double-glaze energy efficient windows, silent heat pumps and climate control grace the edifice as well.
Needless to say, Cardinal Bertone’s lifestyle conflicts with the poor church that Pope Francis is preaching and hoping for. But that does not dismay the cardinal, who says in his defense, “scores of other prelates live in even nicer apartments” and calls the place “dutifully restored (at my expense).” When embarrassed that the news got out, he offered a $170,000 donation to the children’s hospital in December, claiming that his donation “reflects my sentimental attachment to the hospital and its little patients.” The hospital president, Mariella Enoc, saw it differently however, saying that “acknowledging that what has happened has been detrimental to the Bambino Gesu, Cardinal Bertone wanted to meet us half way, donating a sum of 150,000 euros.”i In other words, he got caught with his hands in the cookie jar and suddenly became a philanthropist out of his love of children (“little patients”).
One can wonder: Where did he come up with 150,000 euros so readily? And for the gross sums to remake his palatial apartment?
Why is this story bigger than a story about another greedy establishment figure? The reason is this: Cardinal Bertone was not just another Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Under Pope John Paul II he was plucked out of obscurity as a priest canon lawyer by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Sacred Inquisition). His assignment? To deflect investigations of pedophile clergy, including and especially the nefarious Father Maciel of Mexico who started a series of seminaries and abused over 20 seminarians. News of this abuse was beginning to leak out and Ratzinger wanted a lid put on the leaks. Maciel also had time to launch his own very well-funded order, The Legion of Christ, which was committed to obedience-based religious ideologies (including a vow never to speak badly about the founder, a unique vow indeed).
Maciel raised untold sums for the Catholic Church and, on the side, was secretly married to two wives and fathered four children, three of whom he sexually abused. Maciel was a favorite of Pope John Paul II, who took him on his airplane when he traveled and personally ordained 50-some of his priests at a gala affair in St Peter’s Square attended by many fawning aristocrats who admired both men.
Bertone’s sins are not limited to greed, alas. To follow Bertone’s career is to see the shadow side to two papacies, the details of which I have recorded in my book The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved.
His scheme that so pleased Ratzinger’s office (which preferred to denounce and silence 106 theologians rather than to pursue pedophile clergy) was to declare a “professional secrecy” for clergy who knew about clerical pedophile realities. Bertone was awarded for his canonical cleverness by being named Archbishop of Genoa and was swiftly elevated in October 2003 to the rank of Cardinal. He voted in the conclave that elected Ratzinger, his former boss, as Pope Benedict XVI.
In turn, upon becoming pope, Pope Benedict rewarded Bertone a second time—making him the second most powerful man in the church, i.e. secretary of state. It was Bertone who blamed pedophilia on homosexuality and also, when the word was getting out, publicly announced that it was enemies of the church, “outsiders,” who wanted to destroy the church who were confusing the “faithful” by telling the truth. He called the revelations “silly talk” and “petty gossip”—as if the abuse of children was a petty matter.ii This language was coming from the Number Two person in the Vatican, anointed by both of the bad popes whom he served. All this was happening about the time that the exposure of Cardinal Law (dramatized in the Academy Award-winning movie Spotlight) was unfolding back in Boston.
To those of us who know something of his shadow side, The Daily Beast’s latest revelation of Cardinal Bertone’s sins is not a big surprise. His appetite for power is not limited to pining for a luxurious penthouse lifestyle at the expense of sick children. But his claim that his “donation” was for love of the children’s hospital is a little hard to swallow. What is more true to his character are the facts of the case: Having for years countenanced the abuse of children, he could without compunction rob a children’s hospital of its endowment so that he could live his privileged lifestyle.
This man needs a serious retreat. And whoever is his “confessor” all these years ought to be fired.
But the system of which he is a part - the privileged class of clericalism that thinks the world (and church) owe them something - ought to be dismantled golden brick by golden brick. There are those who believe that the real reason the former Pope Benedict is living “on campus” still at the Vatican is so that he will not be extradited to the World Court in Holland to face criminal charges for covering up pedophile abuse. Bertone was an accomplice in this cover-up. His apartment extravaganza shows just a glimpse of what makes this sad man tick and of the dark ecclesiastical underworld that rewards people like him, who prefer institutional defense to protecting the young. With him the institution’s reputation trumped conscience every time.
The recent Grand Jury Report on Sexual Abuse by Clergy in the Altoona Diocese of Pennsylvania reveals that more than 50 clergy knew but covered up (and therefore assisted) the victimizations going on. Surely they profited from the canonical trick that Bertone played on behalf of Ratzinger’s Congregation. The current Bishop Barchak, who has taken down from the Cathedral the pictures of his two predecessors since they were part of the cover-up, declared that “the darkness of sin” has done this.
But it is not just about sin; it is about Evil. Sin and Evil are not the same thing. As I point out in my recent book on Evil, sin is the door that lets evil spirits in.iii Said State Representative Frank Burns, who attended Bishop McCort High School, where it has been revealed that clerical abuse was rampant, “Our region is devastated by drugs, suicide, alcoholism, and then you wonder—is this abuse tied into all of this?”iv
The dismantling of the establishment church and the greedy lifestyles of many of its prelates may be yielding to a far more effective action, however, than removing golden bricks. The mass exit of “believers” and the closing down of vast numbers of empty churches and the young turning their backs on ecclesial hypocrisy is the real church news of our time.
The movement of Spirit is seen in the serious, grassroots efforts to reinvent the deep Christ Path—most of those efforts happening far away from the institutional church and its clearly silly, petty, ineffective, and morally compromised seminary training places.
i Barbie Latza Nadeau, “Vatican Bling-Bling: Hospital Funds Diverted to Cardinal’s Villa”, The Daily Beast, 04/03/2016,
ii See Matthew Fox, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved (NY: Sterling Publishing, 2011), 125-144, 165-166
iii See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2015)
iv Laurie Goodstein, “As Pennsylvania Confronts Clergy Sex Abuse, Victims and Lawmakers Act”, New York Times, 04/04/2016,