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Pope Francis appoints new Vatican Secretary of State

By on Saturday, 31 August 2013

Archbishop Pietro Parolin (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Pietro Parolin (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Pietro Parolin as his Secretary of State.

The 58-year-old Italian archbishop replaces Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who served as Vatican Secretary of State under Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Parolin has served as Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela since 2009.

In a statement following the announcement today, Archbishop Parolin said: “At this moment, in which my appointment as Secretary of State is made public I desire to express deep and affectionate gratitude to the Holy Father, Francis, for the unmerited trust he is showing me, and to make known to him once again my willingness and complete availability to work with him and under his guidance for the greater glory of God, the good of the Holy Church, and the progress and peace of humanity, that humanity might find reasons to live and to hope.”

He continued: “I feel very strongly the grace of this call, which is yet another and the latest of God’s surprises in my life. Above all, I feel the full weight of the responsibility placed upon me: this call entrusts to me a difficult and challenging mission, before which my powers are weak and my abilities poor. For this reason, I entrust myself to the merciful love of the Lord, from whom nothing and no one can ever separate me, and to the prayers of all. I thank all those who have shown and who, starting now, will show me understanding, as well as for any and all manner of help that anyone might desire to offer me in my new undertaking.

“My thoughts go to my family and to all the persons who have been part of my life: in the parishes into which I was born and in which I served; in the dear Diocese of Vicenza; at Rome; in the countries in which I have worked – from Nigeria, to Mexico, and most recently in Venezuela, which I am sorry to leave. I think also of Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, who ordained me bishop, I think of the Secretariat of State, which was my home for many years, of His Eminence, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, of the other Superiors, colleagues and collaborators and of the whole Roman Curia, as well as of all those who represent the Holy Father and the Holy See diplomatically around the world. I owe a great debt to them all.

“It is with trepidation that I place myself in this new service to the Gospel, to the Church and to Pope Francis, but also with trust and serenity – disposed – as the Holy Father has asked us from the beginning – to walk, to build and to profess. May our Lady, whom I like to invoke under her titles as Our Lady of Monte Berico, Guadalupe and Coromoto, give us, ‘The courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward.”

National Catholic Reporter’s correspondent, John Allen said that “nothing says more about where a pope wants to go than the people he chooses to help get him there.”

He continued: “pride of place in that mix generally goes to the Secretary of State, by tradition a pope’s ‘Prime Minister.’”

Allen described Archbishop Parolin as “a veteran Vatican diplomat.” He said: “By naming a consummate insider, Francis appears to want to “reboot” the Vatican’s operating system back to a point when it was perceived to operate efficiently, rather than scrapping it entirely.”

Commenting on Parolin’s suitability for his new role, Allen said: “Over the years, the former number three official in the Vatican’s diplomatic service has come to be seen as one of the “best and brightest” of his generation of ecclesiastical leaders. Admirers regard Parolin as hard-working, well informed, and gifted with the capacity to see issues from multiple points of view.

“In 2006, Inside the Vatican magazine named Parolin one of its Top Ten people of the year, citing his work on nuclear disarmament, dialogue with Iran and North Korea, and the fight against human trafficking. The magazine called Parolin “one of the church’s most tireless and effective diplomats.”

“The pick has been keenly anticipated, given that frustration with perceived breakdowns in governance under Bertone was part of what led the cardinals in March to elect a Latin American outsider to the papacy, handing him a clear reform mandate. Parolin now profiles as a key figure in that effort.

“At the same time, longtime Vatican-watchers caution that Parolin may not wield quite the same power as his immediate predecessors, Bertone under Benedict and Cardinal Angelo Sodano under John Paul II.”

Catholic commentator John Thavis said the appointment of Archbishop Parolin as the new secretary of state brought “diplomacy front and centre to a position that for the last eight years was held by a non-diplomat.”

Thavis added that Archbishop Parolin has strong experience of untying “diplomatic knots.” He said: “From 2002 to 2009, Parolin worked at the Secretariat of State’s headquarters at the Vatican, serving as the undersecretary for relations with states, a kind of deputy foreign minister. Although not a high-profile job, it was one of the most important at the Vatican; among other things, he was assigned to help untie diplomatic knots in China, Vietnam and Israel.

“When U.S. Embassy personnel needed to discuss important diplomatic affairs with the Vatican, more often than not they went to see Parolin. That included some less-than-agreeable meetings when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, a move sharply criticized by the Vatican.

“Parolin was also helpful to journalists covering the Vatican – on background, of course. He could brief reporters on just about any global issue in about five minutes, and he seemed to understand that the media’s accuracy improved when it had more information. He was known as a realist and a pragmatist.”