Pope Names Cardinal to No. 2 Post

Times Staff Writer

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday made his most important change yet in the Vatican hierarchy, placing in the church’s No. 2 spot a conservative cardinal who once tried to lead a boycott of the controversial novel “The Da Vinci Code.”

The Vatican announced the appointment of Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa as secretary of state, a position roughly equivalent to that of prime minister.

He will succeed Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served in the post for 15 years and became especially powerful as the health of the late Pope John Paul II deteriorated.


Bertone, 71, is known to be close to Benedict in both theology and conservative beliefs, reinforcing the traditional direction of the Roman Catholic leadership under this pope. Bertone worked as a top aide to Benedict when the future pope, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the office that enforces church doctrine.

Unlike Sodano, Bertone comes not from the Holy See’s diplomatic corps but from a career that has included work as a diocesan priest, educator and drafter of church policy documents. The job of secretary of state includes overseeing the Vatican’s relations with other countries, coordinating the writing of papal documents and crafting political policies. He is the pope’s right-hand man.

Bertone, a member of the Salesian order with a doctorate in church law, is probably best known outside the Vatican for leading the charge against “The Da Vinci Code,” the blockbuster novel by Dan Brown that many church officials find offensive because, among other things, it questions the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Bertone was the first senior Vatican official to speak out against the novel, when 15 months ago he called on bookstores not to sell it and good Catholics not to read it. The novel, which even then had already sold many millions of copies, was a “sack of lies,” he said.

“What would have happened if a book like this had been written, full of lies, on the Buddha or Muhammad or even, for example, if a novel had been published that manipulated the history of the Holocaust?” he said at the time.

Bertone also had a key role in one of the more bizarre episodes in recent church history. In 2002, he was assigned to handle the case of Emmanuel Milingo, an archbishop from Zambia who embarrassed the Vatican by marrying a South Korean woman in a ceremony led by the Unification Church’s Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Bertone was able to persuade Milingo to return to the fold.


In Genoa, where Bertone has served as archbishop since late 2002, he established a special board of doctors and of priests who are exorcists to work with what he said was an overwhelming number of Italians seeking exorcisms. His was one of a small number of dioceses to formally bring doctors into the process of screening candidates for exorcism.

Bertone will assume the new post Sept. 15. Sodano, at 78, is three years past normal retirement age for senior Vatican officials.