As expected, Pope Francis today named Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin as his new secretary of state. The move is important primarily because it brings diplomacy front and center to a position that for the last seven years was held by a non-diplomat.
Archbishop Parolin, 58, is known around the Vatican as super-skilled in foreign affairs, having served in Vatican embassies (called nunciatures) in Mexico, Nigeria and, most recently, in Venezuela as apostolic nuncio. He is a graduate of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Vatican’s diplomatic school, where students are hand-picked.
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.
Parolin replaces Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78, a man who was Pope Benedict’s number two at the doctrinal congregation and who came to the Secretariat of State with zero diplomatic training. Many hold Bertone responsible for the series of missteps, miscommunications and leaks that marred Benedict’s final years in office.
Bertone, in the eyes of his critics, acted more as czar than diplomat-in-chief, in part because traditionally the secretary of state has coordinated the work of the Roman Curia and internal church affairs as well as foreign affairs. The big question mark that remains after today’s announcement is whether Pope Francis intends to maintain that dual role, or whether the position could be redefined and refocused in the Curia reform envisioned by the new pope.
Here is the Vatican’s announcement, followed by a brief statement by Archbishop Parolin, who takes office Oct. 15:
RESIGNATION OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE AND APPOINTMENT OF THE NEW SECRETARY OF STATE
The Holy Father has accepted, in keeping with Can. 354 of the Code of Canon Law, the resignation of His Eminence, Card. Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, asking him, however, to remain in office until 15 October, 2013, with all the faculties proper to the office.
At the same time, the Holy Father has nominated Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela, as the new Secretary of State. He shall take possession of his office on 15 October, 2013.
On that occasion, His Holiness shall receive in audience Superiors and Officials of the Secretariat of State, in order publically to thank Cardinal Bertone for his faithful and generous service to the Holy See, and to introduce them to the new Secretary of State.
STATEMENT BY ARCHBISHOP PIETRO PAROLIN ON THE OCCASION OF HIS APPOINTMENT AS SECRETARY OF STATE
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.
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.”
And, as they say in Venezuela, “¡Que Dios les bendiga!”.
Caracas, 31 agosto 2013