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.

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 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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