Today the Vatican announced that Archbishop Pietro Parolin, nuncio to Venezuela and long-time Vatican diplomat, has been appointed as the new Secretary of State. The 58-year-old Parolin will succeed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has held the position since 2006.
From 2002 to 2009, Archbishop Parolin, a native of Northern Italy, served in the Secretariat of State as the Undersecretary for Relations with States, working first under Cardinal Angelo Sodano and then under Sodano’s successor, Cardinal Bertone.
The naming of the new Secretary of State is one of the most significant moves of Pope Francis’ young papacy; while the position traditionally heads up both internal curial affairs and international relations for the Vatican, operating as the Vatican’s “prime minister,” the announcement in April that the Holy Father had selected eight “super cardinals” to advise him on Church governance raises questions about what exactly the role of the Secretary of State will be under Pope Francis.
Writing yesterday as the rumors began to spread that Parolin would be appointed, John Allen described two things he believes the decision indicates about Francis’ intentions for reform at the Vatican:
First, it suggests that though Francis is trying to engineer a reform in the Vatican, he doesn’t mean to start from scratch. Instead, Parolin would represent a sort of “reboot” — an effort to restore the Vatican’s operating system to a time when it was perceived to work effectively.
He’s a consummate insider, yet one not associated with the most notorious breakdowns in management that occurred on the watch of Benedict XVI’s Secretary of State, 78-year-old Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Those episodes included a 2009 controversy involving the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, as well as the Vatican leaks scandal. Taken together, they stoked dissatisfaction among senior churchmen around the world and helped set the stage for electing a Latin American outsider to the papacy.
The option for an Italian likewise would seem to confirm that Francis does not intend to completely upend the Vatican’s traditional culture.
On another front, the choice also suggests Francis does not want the church’s diplomatic capacity to dim while he deals with internal challenges.
Immediately, Parolin would become the church’s primary spokesman on pressing international concerns such as the current crises in both Syria and Egypt. He has background in the region, among other things having represented the Vatican at the 2007 Annapolis Conference on the Middle East convened by the Bush administration.
Vatican Radio has the text of Archbishop Parolin’s statement upon the announcement of his new position:
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 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 asked us at 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, August 31, 2013