Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former Vatican Secretary of State, has said he knew Benedict XVI was planning to resign “at least seven months” in advance – and that it was “not at all easy” to keep it a secret.
The cardinal made the revelation in a candid interview in which he offered a staunch defence of his record and his lifestyle – much criticised in the Italian press – since stepping down.
Asked if he was surprised by Benedict XVI’s resignation, the cardinal said: “I had guessed it, but put it out my thoughts. I knew long in advance, at least seven months before. And I had many doubts. We debated the topic at length after it seemed already decided. I told him: Holy Father, you must bestow upon us the third volume on Jesus of Nazareth and the encyclical of faith, before you sign things over to Pope Francis.”
The cardinal added that it was “not at all easy to keep this secret. The pope meditated and reflected deeply with God about this choice.”
Speaking to the Huffington Post, the cardinal also defended the size of his apartment, his relations with the two popes and his record in overseeing the Vatican bank.
The cardinal said he saw Benedict XVI “every so often – we speak on the phone, he invites me to lunch”. He added: “I pray for him and he is constantly asking about my life and initiatives, mainly the cultural and religious ones.”
He said his relationship with Pope Francis was very positive. “When this apartment was first criticised, he called me up and said, ‘Look, I do not have anything against you going to live on the third floor of Palazzo San Carlo.’ It needs to be said that there was a pre-existing project here in the building to build a terrace, which was not my idea.” The terrace, which has views across Rome, is intended for everyone who lived in the building, and is not for his personal use, he said.
The cardinal denied mishandling funds during his stewardship of the Vatican bank. He said he acted in line with the committee that oversaw the bank and was not a “puppeteer or despot”. Every decision he made, he said, was “in accordance with the Holy Father”.
Cardinal Bertone also defended arrangements for his 80th birthday in December. The cardinal was criticised in the Italian press for enjoying a feast involving expensive wine and truffles.
He said: “I’ll only tell you that it was a dinner organised by the Associazione degli alpini di Vercelli, my old diocese, without DOC wine and without truffles, but with an excellent tartufata: a kind of pastry with a sprinkling of chocolate on top. To me it does not seem an excessive luxury for celebrating an 80th birthday, or don’t you think so?”