A conversation with Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Substitute of the Secretariat of State
The Pope’s stolen papers
Bitterness and sorrow at what has happened in the past few days in the
Vatican but also determination and trust in coping with a situation which, quite
frankly, is difficult: these are the sentiments that can be perceived in the
Substitute of the Secretariat of State — Archbishop Angelo Becciu, who, because
of his office, works every day in close contact with the Pope — in an interview
with L’Osservatore Romano on the subject that is attracting the
attention of vast numbers of the media across the world: namely, the arrest, on
23 May, of Paolo Gabriele, Benedict XVI’s aiutante di camera
(“gentleman of the chamber”), for having been found to possess a large number of
private documents belonging to the Pope. What can be said of the state of mind
of those who work in the Holy See? “With the people I have met in the past few
hours”, the Archbishop answered, “we looked each other in the eye and I saw
dismay and anxiety, but I also noted the determination to continue their silent
and faithful service to the Pope”; an attitude breathed every day in the life of
the Holy See’s offices and in the small Vatican world, but which obviously does
not make news in the media storm unleashed after the serious and, in many ways,
disconcerting events of the past few days. In this context, the Substitute
weighs his words carefully to emphasize “the positive outcome” of the
investigation, even though the outcome was regrettable. Reactions across the
world, moreover, which on the one hand are justified, on the other “are worrying
and disconcerting because of the manner in which the information was obtained
which has given rise to speculation that has nothing whatsoever to do with
Would it have been possible to give a quicker and fuller response?
There has been, there is and there will be strict respect for the individuals
and procedures, as prescribed by the Vatican laws. As soon as the event had been
ascertained, on 25 May the Holy See Press Office disseminated the news, although
it came as a shock to all and is causing some dismay. Moreover, the
How did Benedict XVI feel?
sad. Because, given what it has been possible to ascertain so far, someone
close to him seems to be responsible for conduct that is unjustifiable from
every point of view. Of course, sorrow for the person involved is what the Pope
feels most deeply. Yet the fact remains that he has suffered a brutal act:
Benedict XVI has seen published papers stolen from his house, letters that were
not merely private correspondence but indeed information, reflections,
expressions of conscience and even outbursts which he only received by virtue of
his ministry. For this reason the Pontiff is particularly saddened, also because
of the violence suffered by those who wrote these letters or writings addressed
Can you express an opinion on what happened?
I consider the publication of the stolen letters an immoral act of unheard-of
gravity. Above all, I repeat, because it was not only a violation, already very
serious in itself, of the confidentiality to which anyone would be entitled, as
rather a vile offence to the relationship of trust between Benedict XVI and
anyone who turns to him, even in conscience, to protest. Let us reason: the Pope
was not merely robbed of letters. Violence has been done to the consciences of
those who turn to him as Vicar of Christ, an assault has been made on the
ministry of the Successor of the Apostle Peter. In many of the documents
published we are facing a context we presume to be of total trust. When a
Catholic speaks to the Roman Pontiff, he is duty bound to open himself as if he
were before God, partly because he feels that he is guaranteed absolute
There was a desire to justify the publication of the documents on the
grounds of criteria for the Church’s purification, transparency and reform.
Sophisms do not go very far. My parents not only taught me not to steal but
also never to accept stolen goods from others. I consider these to be simple
principles — perhaps to some people too simple — but it is certain that someone
who loses sight of them, easily loses him- or herself and also brings others to
ruin. There can be no renewal that tramples on the moral law, even on the basis
of the principle that the end justifies the means, a principle which, among
other things, is not Christian.
And what answer should be given to those who claim the right to report an
I think in these days, on the part of journalists, that in addition to their
duty to explain what is happening, there should be an ethical shock, namely, the
courage to take a clear step back from the initiative of a colleague whom I do
not hesitate to call criminal. A little intellectual honesty and respect for the
most elementary professional ethics would not hurt the sphere of information.
According to various comments, the papers published reveal a murky world
within the Church and in particular within the Holy See.
Behind certain articles I seem to see an underlying hypocrisy. On the one
hand the central government of the Church is accused of being absolutist and
monarchical, and on the other, people are scandalized because a few write to the
Pope expressing ideas or even complaints about the organization of this same
government. Many of the documents published do not reveal conflicts or revenge
but rather that freedom of thought which, on the contrary, the Church is accused
of not permitting. In short, we are not mummies; rather, different viewpoints or
even contrasting evaluations are normal. If someone feels misunderstood he has
every right to turn to the Pope. What is shocking about this? Obedience does not
mean renouncing the right to have an opinion of one’s own, but expressing one’s
opinions sincerely and fully, in order to adapt to the superior’s decision. And
not out of interest but out of adherence to the Church that Christ desired.
These are fundamental elements of the Catholic viewpoint.
Struggle, poison, suspicion: is the Vatican really like this?
I do not perceive this milieu and it is regrettable that the Vatican should
have such a distorted image. But it must be food for thought and stimulate all
of us to do our utmost to make a life more deeply impressed by the Gospel shine
In a word, what can be said to Catholics and to those who are nonetheless
looking at the Church with interest?
I have spoken of Benedict XVI’s sorrow but I must say that the Pope is not lacking in the serenity that leads him to govern the Church with determination and clear-sightedness. The World Meeting of Families is about to open in Milan. These will be days of festivity where it will be possible to breath the joy of being Church. Let us make our own the Gospel parable of which Benedict XVI reminded us a few days ago: the wind blows against the house but it will not collapse. The Lord sustains it and no storms will be able to demolish it.
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