VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI made his most important change yet in the Vatican hierarchy yesterday, placing in the church's No. 2 position a conservative cardinal who once tried to lead a boycott of the novel The Da Vinci Code.
The Vatican announced the appointment of Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa as secretary of state, a position similar to that of prime minister. He will succeed Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 78, who held the post for 15 years and became especially powerful as the health of Pope John Paul II deteriorated.
Bertone, 71, is known to be close to Pope Benedict in theology and conservative beliefs, reinforcing the traditional direction of the Roman Catholic leadership under the pope. Bertone was a top aide to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when the future pope headed the office that enforces church doctrine.
He comes from a career that has included work as a diocese priest, educator and drafter of church policy documents, and not, like Sodano, from the Holy See's diplomatic corps.
The job of secretary of state includes overseeing the Vatican's relations with other countries and coordinating the writing of all papal documents and most other political policies. He is the pope's right-hand man.
Bertone, a member of the Salesian order with a doctorate in church law, is probably best known outside the Vatican for leading the charge against The Da Vinci Code, the best-selling novel by Dan Brown that many church officials find offensive because, among other things, it questions the divinity of Jesus Christ.