Several years ago I said on this blog that Pope Benedict views the world through the prism of Saint Peter while his Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, views the world through the prism of Caesar.  This latest news from Rome seems to lend some validity to my observation.  One has to wonder what motivates the Secretary of State to continue to manifest behavior that one can only describe as amounting to a power grab to control the CEI (The Italian Episcopal Conference).  What is the Secretary of State doing trying to buy hospitals in Italy?  One would think that he would have enough to do with his responsibility to maintain the Vatican’s relations with the governments of the world.


Bertone Has a Fever, He Wants the San Raffaele

And he’s putting 200 million euros on the table. But the purchase of the hospital of Fr. Verzé is threatening to turn into a boomerang for the cardinal secretary of state. His attempt to win control of the Catholic University is also failing

by Sandro Magister


ROME, July 15, 2011 – While Benedict XVI stays in the quiet of Castel Gandolfo, the Vatican secretariat of state is seeing one feverish day after another.

The fever was not only raised by the illicit episcopal ordinations in China. The secretariat of state is also racked with spasms in what it considers its back yard, Italy.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wants to create in Italy a Catholic hub of excellence in the field of health. By uniting under the control and leadership of the Vatican three cutting-edge hospitals: the Bambino Gesù, the Gemelli, and the San Raffaele.

The Bambino Gesù, a hospital that specializes in pediatrics with its center of operations in Rome, has already been under the control of the secretary of state since 2008, when he installed as its president a manager under strict obedience to him, Giuseppe Profiti, already in his favor as vice-president of another important hospital, the Galliera of Genoa, during the same years when Bertone was archbishop of that city, and therefore, by statute, also the president of that hospital.

But not the Gemelli and the San Raffaele. They do not depend in any way on the Vatican secretariat of state. For now.

The frenetic activity that Bertone is developing is aimed precisely at their takeover.

And the success or failure of the operation will be determined in the shortest of time, in a matter of days.


The general hospital Agostino Gemelli – famous all over the world because John Paul II recuperated there after his life was saved  following the terrible attack of 1981 – is the hospital and faculty of medicine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart.

Its takeover, then, passes through the control of the founding and organizational institute of this university: the Istituto Giuseppe Toniolo di Studi Superiori.

The Toniolo is made up of eleven members. About ten years ago it was headed by two career politicians, Emilio Colombo, a former prime minister of Italy, and Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, a former president of the republic. Their ecclesiastical patron was the Vatican secretary of state at the time, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, while their manager of reference was the administrative director of the Catholic University, Carlo Balestrero.

The turning point came between 2002 and 2003, with the appointment of Professor Lorenzo Ornaghi as chancellor of the Catholic University and with the appointment as president of the Toniolo of the archbishop of Milan, Dionigi Tettamanzi: this latter appointment was backed by John Paul II himself.

Thanks to this turning point and to the exit of Colombo and Scalfaro, de facto control of the Toniolo passed to the Italian episcopal conference, headed at the time by Cardinal Camillo Ruini. Other figures connected to him then joined the Toniolo, including, in 2004, the director at the time of the newspaper of the CEI, “Avvenire,” Dino Boffo. As administrative director of the university, Balestrero was replaced by Antonio Cicchetti, the creator of the Gemelli. Ornaghi was then confirmed as chancellor twice.

But the losers did not give up. A number of defamatory statements against Cicchetti, Ornaghi, and Boffo were sent anonymously to cardinals, bishops, civil authorities, journalists.

One of these false statements, against Boffo, was published on the front page of “il Giornale” on August 28, 2009, to great furor. And neither the secretariat of state directed by Cardinal Bertone nor the newspaper that it controls, “L’Osservatore Romano,” directed by Giovanni Maria Vian, did anything in defense of the defamed. On the contrary, during those same days Vian, in an interview with the most widely circulated Italian newspaper, “Corriere della Sera,” said that Boffo was a bad manager.

By striking at Boffo and “Avvenire,” it was evident that the ultimate target was the CEI of Ruini and of his successor, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco; and also their “project” of a Church highly present and active in society and culture.

That Cardinal Bertone wanted – and still wants – to be himself the leader of the Italian Church “in regard to relations with political institutions” is not a secret.

When on March 25, 2007, Bagnasco took office as president of the CEI, it was Bertone who wrote as much to him in black and white, in a public letter. Bertone hadn’t even notified the pope about the letter. He had written it entirely on his own, unconcerned about contradicting the pontifical document “Apostolos Suos” of 1998, which attributes not to the secretariat of state but to the episcopal conferences “relations with civil authorities, the defence of human life, of peace, and of human rights, also in order to ensure their protection in civil legislation, the promotion of social justice, the use of the means of social communication.”

In 2010, the offensive against the Toniolo developed in three letters addressed to Cardinal Tettamanzi and leaked to the press, signed by Professor Alberto Crespi, former dean of the faculty of law at the Catholic University. The letter accused the Toniolo of “bad management,” and among other things complained that it had been co-opted by Boffo instead of Professor Giovanni Maria Flick, a former president of the constitutional court and one of Cardinal Bertone’s trusted men.

In 2011, it was Bertone who took action personally. Last February 18, the secretary of state wrote to Cardinal Tettamanzi to reiterate his criticisms of him and ask him to resign from the presidency of the Toniolo, to let Flick take his place and to speed up the replacement of three other board members. All of this on the tightest of schedules, before the replacement of the archbishop of Milan, expected at the end of June.

Tettamanzi responded by sending a note to Benedict XVI, in which he rebutted point by point the accusations of bad management, highlighting instead the initiatives in support of the university adopted by its new administrative director, Enrico Fusi, and by the Toniolo.

On April 30, Benedict XVI received Tettamanzi in audience. He listened to him, had Bertone come in, and ordered that nothing be changed at the Toniolo until after the arrival in Milan of its new archbishop, who will be Cardinal Angelo Scola, notoriously disliked by Bertone.

But the secretary of state is not giving up, and – with Scola already appointed as archbishop of Milan, but not yet installed in his diocese – is again asking Tettamanzi to step aside, in the name of a necessary and urgent “renewal” that would also include the rewriting of the statutes of the Toniolo and of the Catholic University itself, with the attribution to the Vatican of supervisory powers that it does not have today.

Boffo, who in the meantime had become director general of TV 2000, the channel owned by the CEI, told journalists on July 7: “It seems to me that the logic of power struggles is repugnant to this pontificate, and so I hope that the rumors will be denied.”

But a “source close to the secretariat of state,” anonymous but very easy to identify, replied to him the following day, in “Corriere della Sera,” invoking the pontiff himself as support: “Cardinal Bertone identifies himself with the pope, it is Benedict XVI who wants change and transparency; anyone who distinguishes between the pontiff and the secretary of state either is in bad faith or has understood nothing.”

The facts say the opposite. In any case, Scola’s arrival in Milan on September 25 will write the last word on Bertone’s failed campaign to take over the Toniolo, and therefore the Gemelli hospital.


There is even more uncertainty over the outcome of the other campaign that has Bertone sweating it out, that of the takeover of the San Raffaele.

The San Raffaele is a massive, cutting-edge medical center, founded and headed in Milan by a priest, Luigi Maria Verzé, which does not, however, have anything in its statutes binding it to the Church, nor much that is Catholic in what it does.

Suffice it to say that artificial fertilization, which is condemned by the Church, is practiced there, and that in its highly modern laboratories experiments are conducted without any regard for the ethical criteria affirmed by the magisterium.

Not only that. In the connected Università Vita-Salute, dedicated to humanistic studies, philosophy, theology and scientific subjects are taught by professors who are in glaring contrast with the Catholic vision, from Emanuele Severino to Massimo Cacciari, from Roberta De Monticelli to Vito Mancuso, from Edoardo Boncinelli to Luca Cavalli-Sforza.

Fr. Verzé himself has repeatedly worried the Catholic hierarchy, with statements that could be taken as supporting euthanasia or the use of embryos.

This does not change the fact that the San Raffaele, initially viewed with strong suspicion by an archbishop of Milan like Giovanni Battista Montini, later met with agreement and favor above all from another archbishop, Carlo Maria Martini.

Now it is Cardinal Bertone who is focusing his attention on the San Raffaele. He has even thought of taking ownership of it.

The opportunity has been provided by the colossal debt, of almost a billion euros, that has led the San Raffaele to the brink of bankruptcy.

In recent months various ideas on how to rescue it were advanced. But these were withdrawn with the proposal, at the end of June, from Bertone and the IOR, the Institute of Works of Religion, the Vatican bank.

The IOR said that it was ready to provide 200 million euros immediately, while one billion over 3-5 years would be guaranteed by an international “charity” still shrouded in mystery (the financier George Soros has denied being part of the deal).

In exchange, Cardinal Bertone has demanded seats on the administrative board of the Mount Tabor Foundation, which governs the entire complex, of four of his proteges: Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, president of the IOR, Giuseppe Profiti, president of the Bambino Gesù hospital, Giovanni Maria Flick, an aspiring president, as has been seen, of the Toniolo Institute, and the Genoese industrialist Vittorio Malacalza.

Meeting with his most faithful companions on July 7, Fr. Verzé said he was prepared to accept the Vatican rescue offer and the addition of the four Bertone proteges to the foundation’s board. Also joining the board with them would be Massimo Clementi, dean of the faculty of medicine and surgery at the Università Vita-Salute, and Professor Maurizio Pini, of the Università Bocconi, as a representative of the “charity.” The new arrivals would keep Fr. Verzé in his role as honorary president. But he insists that he wants more, to maintain all his powers and to raise the number of board members from seven to nine in order to make room for two of his stalwarts, Gianna Maria Zoppei and Raffaella Voltolini.

The time for the rescue is very short. Everything will be decided in the next few days. But if the operation is already full of unknowns on the terrain of finance, it is even more so in what should be most at heart for the Church authorities.

In fact, if the Holy See became the owner of the San Raffaele, it could not accept the continuation there of teachings and practices that are contrary to the Catholic magisterium.

Incredibly, however, it turns out that Cardinal Bertone did not weigh this problem or discuss it with his closest associates before hazarding the takeover of the San Raffaele.

Only in the most recent days has the question been brought for the first time to the attention of the secretary of state.

What he conceived of as an “epochal revolution” thus threatens, if not stopped in time, to turn into a costly and disastrous boomerang.

Because rebuilding from the ground up, on Catholic foundations, a complex like the San Raffaele, which has never been Catholic, is simply an impossible undertaking.


For more information on the San Raffaele, here are the three installments of the in-depth investigation conducted by Maurizio Crippa and Nicoletta Tiliacos published in “il Foglio on January 21, 22, and 24:

> La ricca famiglia di don Verzé. 1

> La ricca famiglia di don Verzé. 2

> La ricca famiglia di don Verzé. 3


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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