Pope appoints veteran Vatican diplomat as secretary of state
Appointment of Italian archbishop Pietro Parolin suggests papal reform of Curia will be more constructive than destructive
Vatican secretary of state Msgr Pietro Parolin is credited with having skilfully handled complex issues such as nuclear disarmament as well as Holy See dialogue with China, North Korea and Iran. Photograph: Reuters/Kham
Pope Francis has given a strong indication of the direction of his pontificate when making arguably his most important appointment to date, naming experienced Vatican diplomat Italian archbishop Pietro Parolin (58) as his new secretary of state or de facto prime minister.
Those who had expected the innovative Francis to appoint a radical troubleshooter to this key post may be a little disappointed. Concern among the cardinals about Holy See governance was a key factor in prompting the election of a Latin American outsider to the papacy last March. In a context where reform of the Roman Curia represents one of his first priorities, many had expected Francis to pick another outsider as his top adviser.
In the end, the pope appears to have opted for a subtle compromise. In appointing an experienced Italian like Parolin, Francis appears to be acknowledging that he may need “insider” help when it comes to reforming the Curia. Furthermore, the appointment of a career diplomat would suggest that Francis’s “reform” of the Curia will be more constructive than destructive, not so much a traumatic total overhaul as a lick-and-spit renovation job.
Currently papal nuncio to Venezuela, Archbishop Parolin brings a wealth of diplomatic experience to the job. A former number three official in the Vatican foreign office, he is credited with having skilfully handled complex issues such as nuclear disarmament as well as Holy See dialogue with China, North Korea and Iran.
Furthermore, in his four years in the Hugo Chavez dominated Venezuela, he flew well below the radar, preferring behind the scenes diplomacy to outright confrontation with the charismatic Chavez. It is possible that Parolin’s pragmatic and understated interpretation of his role as nuncio in the Chavez Venezuela, a country obviously well known to Argentine Francis, was something which won the pope’s approval.
The appointment of Archbishop Parolin signals the end of the reign of his predecessor, controversial Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (78), who is well past the normal Vatican retirement age of 75.