Pope Francis’ Simplicity vs. Cardinal Bertone’s Elegance: Let’s Clear This Up Once and For All

IS POPE FRANCIS UPSET because Cardinal Bertone is moving into a larger residence in Vatican City?

According to The Independent, sources claim that Pope Francis is “furious” that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, retiring from his position as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, is creating a lavish home for his retirement.

The insinuation is that Pope Francis–who has repeatedly called for a “poorer church” and who has chosen to live in the Domus Sancta Marthae, a “simple guest house”, rather than the “sumptuous” Apostolic Palace–is unhappy with Cardinal Bertone’s choice of a retirement home.

But according to Cardinal Bertone himself, he and the Pope are in harmony, and Pope Francis has phoned him personally to express “his solidarity and disappointment at the attacks directed at me over the apartment.”

Cardinal Bertone further disputes reports that his retirement digs will be 7,500 square feet–insisting that it is only half that size.  He explains that it is usual for apartments in Vatican City to be large; and the space will be shared with three religious sisters, who will help with maintaining the residence and administrative tasks.

Asked about the veracity of the reports, Father Federico Lombardi S.J., head of the Vatican Information Service, has declined to comment.

*     *     *     *     *

 But I’ll comment!  I have read the incendiary reports with some bemusement.

Here’s the thing:  I’ve been there.

  • I’ve toured the Vatican Gardens and have walked past the two residences, which stand behind St. Peter’s Basilica.
INSIDE THE DOMUS SANCTA MARTHAE with Fr. Wojciech Giertych and Dan Kidd, former president of Guest House
  • I’ve visited the Domus Sancta Marthae (and have written about that experience here).  There, we enjoyed a lively conversation with then-resident Fr. Wojciech Giertych, O.P., theologian of the papal household.
  • I’ve even been inside the apartment reserved for the Vatican Secretary of State,inside the Governatorato, which houses the government of the Vatican City-State.  I was there with a delegation from Guest House in 2006, just before departing president Cardinal Edmund Szoka left the post.  
    INSIDE THE GOVERNATORATO with Cardinal Szoka

    All the furniture except for the altar and chapel furnishings had already been removed, as Cardinal Szoka prepared for his return to the Archdiocese of Detroit, where he would spend his retirement; but he welcomed us and celebrated Mass for our group in the chapel.  With us for Mass were the three smiling sisters who had cared for his affairs during his tenure.

 And I have a few observations regarding the controversies generated by the media regarding disparate living conditions at the Vatican:

Pope Francis “lives” at the Domus Sancta Marthae.  That’s become a favorite meme of the media, who like to take jabs at bishops who live seemingly more affluent lifestyles.

But most frequently, the Pope “meets” heads of state and dignitaries inside the walls of the Apostolic Palace,  which is available for his use (and which is, by the way, full of such unglamorous spaces as administrative offices for the Swiss Guard and others, libraries, storage rooms, and a few rooms dedicated for use by the Holy Father, such as a private chapel).  The Pope also celebrates Mass and prays at St. Peter’s Basilica and other Rome churches and, most especially, at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore–so in a certain sense, all of those spaces belong to him, too.  And regardless of where he has his own soft bed, he has full command of the resources of the Vatican Libraries and Vatican Museums, just as have other popes before him.

It’s simply unhelpful to contrast this pope’s sleeping space with, say, Pope Benedict’s sleeping space at the Mater Ecclesiae.  It’s also inappropriate to judge the mixed-use, business/personal, offices/residences/private chapels in Vatican City by the standards of the American suburbs.

There’s an old slogan, “We all put our pants on the same way.”  Similarly, there is a truth regarding humans and how we sleep:  in one spot, probably in a bed, sometimes rolling over, sometimes not.  And Pope Francis, like the popes before him, has sufficient space to do what he needs to get done–whether that space is within his own residence, or elsewhere in Vatican City, in Rome, or around the world.

Oh, and there’s one other factor I’d like to point out which might end the whole kerfuffle:  POPE FRANCIS AND CARDINAL BERTONE WILL BE NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBORS.  (Domus Sancta Marthae is No. 57 on this map of Vatican City; the Palazzo San Carlo, where Cardinal Bertone will occupy one floor, is No. 55.)



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  • This may just be the hacker in me, but I never buy a computer from a man in a suit, because I understand the concept of a “suit tax” (that you are going to pay more for stuff from people in suits, that in fact, the entire purpose of a suit is to get you to be comfortable paying more).

  • Mary E.

    Good job clearing up the confusion surrounding this subject, Kathy. The map of Vatican City is a nice touch.

  • James M

    I don’t think anything was “cleared
    up” at all. The Casa Santa Marta is a fairly basic guest house. Bertone is
    converting two apartments into one with a substantial roof terrace – and I too am
    familiar with both buildings. Why does a retired cardinal need three nuns as
    servants to attend to his domestic needs? That is extravagant. This renovation
    smacks of arrogance.

    So Bertone says the Pope does not mind? He would say that.
    He said there were no irregularities with the IOR too but the Pope admitted he
    is being investigated.

    Comparing Benedict’s living arrangements is perfectly legitimate
    – it is “inappropriate” to try and muzzle those who make such very obvious

  • davend

    This article is pretty confusing. It seems you’re arguing (correct me if I’m wrong) that there’s not really a big differential between the living conditions of the Pope and Cdl. Bertone [?], but not actually disputing the fact that Bertone’s retirement apartment is inappropriately palatial. (It’s not like he’s simply taking over something that already exists, in effect–he’s creating something new. Over 3,000 square feet is a lot of space. And over 7,500 sq ft is a LOT of space)

    Or are you saying that it’s indeed palatial, but that the Pope isn’t necessarily upset about that fact?

  • MoonRiver

    No you haven’t cleared anything up. Bertone still looks the arrogant, pompous ass he clearly is. Should be fed to the lions. Bloody disgrace and you are worse in trying, not successfully, at making excuses. Shame on you.

    • fredx2

      You have strong opinions but have not backed them up with anything factual. As a result your comment is unpersuasive and appears to be the product of intense emotion rather than sober thought

  • Civility

    Cardinal Bertone was an is an impious idiot. That is perhaps the reason why Pope-Emeritus Benedict selected him as his Secretary of State. Bertone has long been known as an ignoramus and a social blunderer.

    • fredx2

      Funny, he says the same things about you

  • Anne F.

    The good Cardinal is retired and does not need three Nuns to wait on him nor very large living quarters. He or you cannot compare his retirement to the duties of the Pope.

  • pbecke

    In what way do having the use of offices, libraries, etc, necessary for his work, detract from Francis’ relatively ascetical life-style? And, rightly or wrongly, I suspect that Bertone interpreted Francis’ disappointment at the criticisms of his actions as criticisms of the journalists, when, I suspect, he actually meant, that Bertone should have incurred the criticism.

    It has been said that the first words attributed to Francis after his election, ‘All right. The carnival’s over now’, were apocryphal. But the funny thing is – it seems to me – that no explanation of such words are necessary. Anyway, the show is still on the road to some extent, apparently.

  • Bob332

    Bertone was and still is a DISGRACE . He and Sudano are nothing more than Capo’s using the cover of the title Cardinal. Bertone & Sudano are nothing more than strong arm thugs.

    • fredx2

      Yes, I saw them beating up a homeless man just the other day.

      • Bob332

        No, they just beat the hell out of the church which is just as bad!

  • Rev. Dr. G. D. Hodge

    Bertone is responsible for much damage to the Church and to human life. He is an offense to human dignity and to all those who love God and people. He is, in a sense, evil. Period.