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Both men have learned quickly that their respective new roles go well beyond the internal discussions over church doctrine that marked their old positions. Bertone came on the job just three days after the Pope's controversial speech in Germany about faith and violence that angered many Muslims. The new Secretary of State hit the ground running, orchestrating what, by Vatican standards, was a swift response that included conciliatory public statements, a quickly organized meeting with ambassadors from Muslim countries and, ultimately, the success of November's trip to Turkey, where the Pope surprised his critics with a moving prayer together with an imam in Istanbul's Blue Mosque. "Words have great value," says Bertone. "But sometimes gestures can have such an enormous emotional impact that words might not be able to achieve."
Yet, not all of late has gone smoothly in Rome. The low point was the Pope's botched appointment last month of the new Archbishop of Warsaw, who had to immediately resign after revelations that he had been an informant for the Polish communist regime. There are also broader complaints inside the Curia that other appointments, and key documents, have being delayed. "We're still waiting on important changes," says a senior Vatican official. "Benedict is turning out to be more cautious than we had thought, and so far Bertone hasn't managed to really get things moving."
For a poor farmer's son to have risen to the top of the Vatican hierarchy, Bertone must have had to develop steel under his outward affability. Vatican insiders note that in the new job--for which part of his task is to fend off those who want to derail the Pope's agenda--that thick skin may count more than Bertone's good humor. A Vatican official who has worked with the Cardinal in the past says, "I've never seen him betray his principles--but he's had to do everything just short of it." Adds the official: "He knows how to operate within the structure of the Holy See. He has the skills of a politician."
Still, Vatican watchers say it remains an open question if the Benedict-Bertone team--which may have been effective in imposing orthodoxy on wayward theologians when the pair ran the doctrinal office--has the worldly vision and institutional muscle to impose their will on the 1.1 billion--strong universal church.