VATICAN CITY — “That there is the Casa di Santa Marta, where Pope Francis lives. That down there is the monastery where Pope Ratzinger retired. And this right here is the Terrace of Scandals.”
I am strolling on the roof of the Palazzo San Carlo with the man who for eight years was the most powerful person in the Vatican after the pope: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s former secretary of state. For decades, he’s been one of the church’s most powerful officials — and he’s been suspected of playing a central role in some of the Curia’s most mysterious intrigues, including last year’s allegations that he mishandled millions of dollars through the Vatican Bank.
Sunlight gleams off the towering cupola of St. Peter’s, that Roman sunlight which already portends the arrival of spring. This terrace has for months been presumed to be part of Bertone’s lavish — and widely criticized — retirement complex: a 2500-square-foot luxury apartment with a view of the city. But the terrace is shared, and the supposed extravagance of the balcony can in fact be enjoyed by everybody in the building, without giving direct access to Bertone’s apartment. He gives a sly smile.
“A certain cardinal told me this would be a magnificent place to relax and meditate. But it was not up to me to decide,” he says. “Despite what has been written and said, it does not belong to me; it is for the use of all the building’s residents.”
Bertone lives here in an apartment on the third floor that for decades was the home of Camillo Cibin, the legendary head of security for John Paul II. The condominium resembles many others in the Vatican area. At first glance, Bertone’s home is not more than 1000 square feet, comprising two small secretarial rooms for his secretary, a living room, a long corridor, a private chapel, a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom and a small terrace filled with grapes, olives and jasmine. The room that serves as library and study is a whole other story. There is a glass cabinet where the cardinal keeps his treasured Fiats: little red models of the Ferrari Formula One, black-and-white scarves and Juventus soccer balls autographed by the players.
For years, Bertone chose to be silent in the face of all the accusations that came down on him. But now, 80 years old and no longer at the top of the Vatican hierarchy, he has decided to get a few things off of his chest — first, by showing his home, where those little models are perhaps the most valuable furnishings. As for the secrets and machinations that he has been accused of, he is “collecting material” for an upcoming writing project. The…