Vatican furore over luxury flat for use of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Exposure of use of a stunning property as the retirement home for former key leader runs counter to the pope's demand for a simple life

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 8:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 9:08am


It sits on the roof of an old palazzo in the centre of Rome, surrounded by a broad terrace that affords breathtaking views across the city to the mountains.

The penthouse retreat of a Forbes-list billionaire? No. The flat in question is being created in the Vatican for the man who was its most senior official.

While Pope Francis has been exhorting his clergy to live lives as simple and frugal as his own, work has been going ahead on a luxurious retirement home for Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who stepped down as the Vatican's secretary of state last October.

Reports of an extensive renovation project began to circulate in April. But it was not until last week that Italian gossip magazine Chi published the first photograph of the work being carried out on top of the Palazzo San Carlo, just inside the walls of the Vatican.

In a message to the newsletters of his former dioceses, Bertone acknowledged that his intended new residence was spacious, but said an estimate 7,500 sqft was double the true figure.

The 79-year-old prelate wrote that it was normal for flats in the Vatican's old buildings to be large.

He added that the one on the roof of the Palazzo San Carlo "duly converted [at his own expense] was made available for my temporary use and, after me, someone else will use it".

Even at 3,750 sqft, however, the cardinal's new residence would be five times bigger than that of the pope, who lives in a one-bedroom suite in the nearby Casa Santa Marta.

Bertone's successor as secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has similarly modest accommodation in the same building, which serves as a hotel for visitors to the Vatican.

Until the arrival of Pope Francis, it was normal for the Catholic church's most senior officials to retire to extensive and well-appointed lodgings. But, according to several Italian media accounts, the new pontiff was furious when he discovered the purpose of the work being carried out just a few metres from his own simple quarters.

The daily La Repubblica linked his reaction to a sermon he gave shortly before Easter in which he railed against "unctuous, sumptuous, presumptuous" clerics who ought instead to be spurning purely human and material pleasures.

Bertone wrote that, on the contrary, he had received an "affectionate telephone call" from the pope just two days after the publication of the first report and that Francis had expressed "his solidarity and disappointment at the attacks directed at me over the apartment".

Asked to comment on the affair, the pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said: "I have nothing to say."

Work being carried out on the building has involved the erection of scaffolding four storeys high and surrounding the entire penthouse complex.

La Repubblica said the refurbishment involved merging two existing flats.

One was between 3,200 sqft and 4,300 sqft and previously assigned to the head of the Vatican gendarmerie, and another of around 2,200 sqft belonging to a deceased prelate.

In addition, the cardinal would have the use of, and views from, a terrace area covering a further 1,000 sqft.

La Repubblica said that Bertone would share the apartment with three nuns who would take care of the domestic work.