VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 15, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican’s new secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, disclosed that during his university years he preferred soccer games to studying in the library.
Speaking with journalist Gianni Cardinale of 30 Giorni magazine, the former archbishop of Genoa, revealed a glimpse into the life of the man who is now the Pope’s first collaborator.
Cardinal Bertone, 71, today assumed the position of Vatican secretary of state, replacing Cardinal Angelo Sodano who presented his resignation for reasons of age.
Tarcisio Bertone, the fifth of eight children, is a native of Romano Canavese, in the province of Turin, Piedmont.
The cardinal told the Italian magazine that his father was a farmer, and the only one in his village who subscribed to L’Osservatore Romano, with the exception of the parish priest.
His mother, continued the cardinal, was a determined anti-Fascist militant of the Italian Popular Party, and later a Christian Democrat.
After entering the Salesian novitiate and being ordained priest, he received a doctorate in canon law with a thesis on “The Governance of the Church in the Thought of Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758).”
His thesis adviser was the well-known canonist Alfons Stickler — today a 96-year-old cardinal, who once “reprimanded him because he spent little time in the library.”
“I never wished to dedicate myself exclusively to studies,” Cardinal Bertone said. “I always tried to carry out pastoral activity among young people with the preaching of retreats and courses in preparation for marriage, as well as among the laity committed in the social and political realm.”
The cardinal told 30 Giorni that in those years, whenever he could, he preferred to go to Rome’s soccer stadium to cheer on Juventus, his favorite team.
In 1976 he was appointed dean of the faculty of canon law of the Salesian University in Rome; he was vice rector from 1987 to 1989, when he was appointed rector, a post he held until 1991. He collaborated in the final phase of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
He was appointed consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1984. In 1988 he was appointed to a group of experts that assisted Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, in the negotiations with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
“It was an exhausting but very interesting experience, though the outcome was not positive,” said Cardinal Bertone. “Especially after the historic audience granted by Benedict XVI last year to Monsignor Bernard Fellay, I am convinced that, if on the side of Lefebvre’s followers there is a will to return to full communion with the Holy See, it won’t be difficult to find the appropriate ways to obtain this result.”
On Aug. 1, 1991, Pope John Paul II appointed him archbishop of Vercelli, the oldest episcopal see in Piedmont.
In June 1995 the same Pope asked him to return to Rome to be secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose prefect was Cardinal Ratzinger.
He held this post for seven years, during which this Vatican body published key documents, such as the “Dominus Iesus” declaration, the rules for the examination of doctrines, the norms on the most serious offenses reserved to the congregation, and the doctrinal note on some questions relative to the commitment and conduct of Catholics in public life.
He also received from the Bishop of Rome important personal commissions, such as the publication of the third secret of Fatima.
The cardinal assured that from his conversations with Sister Lucia of Fatima he can confirm that everything has now been revealed on the apparitions.
“The only aspect that could be developed relates to the fact that Sister Lucia requested that the prayer of the rosary be made a liturgical prayer. But this has nothing to do” with the secrets, said Cardinal Bertone.
Another personal commission of John Paul II was to assist the former Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo of Lusaka, Zambia, in August 2001, when he decided to return to the Catholic Church after his civil marriage within the Moon sect.
“I only wish to say that his return after his first elopement filled me with joy and that I am very sad today by this second fall. I hope and pray that he will finally take up his post again in the Catholic Church. I have entrusted this to the intercession of the servant of God, Pope John Paul II,” said the cardinal.
Later, as archbishop of Genoa, he was not opposed to the building of mosques and criticized the Italian minister who ridiculed the Muslims after the publication in Western newspapers of cartoons caricaturing Mohammed.
Benedict XVI proposed the position of Vatican secretary of State to the cardinal in December, but the cardinal asked for time to “pause and pray,” after which he accepted.
The new Vatican secretary of state speaks French, German, Spanish and Portuguese. Although he reads English, he does not speak it.
“It’s my weak point,” he acknowledged. “I mentioned it immediately to the Holy Father when he proposed I serve him as secretary of state.
“He encouraged me, revealing that important personalities, such as the great Chancellor Helmut Kohl, do not speak English. Moreover, there are very good interpreters in the Holy See’s service.”