“Vaticanistas” saying new Vatican Secretary of State about to be named

The appointment of a new Vatican Secretary of State is imminent, according to multiple Italian media reports. Archbishop Pietro Parolin is regarded as the Pope’s most likely choice for the key spot.

The appointment of a new Secretary of State, replacing the outgoing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, would be the most important step in Pope Francis’ plan to bring change to the Vatican. The Secretariat of State exercises enormous power, supervising other offices of the Roman Curia as well as handling foreign-policy issues.

Before the March conclave that elected Pope Francis, many cardinals spoke openly about the need for change at the Secretariat of State. The tenure of Cardinal Bertone has been marred by infighting, gaffes, and scandal. Appointed as Secretary of State in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI—who remained steadfastly loyal to him despite rising criticism—Cardinal Bertone is now 78 years old, and is expected to step down as the Vatican resumes normal operations after the summer lull.

According to Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa, the resignation of Cardinal Bertone and the appointment of Archbishop Parolin as his successor could come as soon as Saturday, August 31.

Archbishop Parolin, who has been active in Vatican diplomacy since 1986, is currently the apostolic nuncio in Venezuela. He was undersecretary of State—in effect, the Vatican’s deputy foreign minister—from 2002 to 2009. During that time he was involved in sensitive negotiations with China, Israel, and Vietnam, among other countries. His appointment to Venezuela in 2009 was an indication of confidence in his diplomatic abilities, since the Venezuelan bishops were engaged in heated disputes with the country’s strongman, the late Hugo Chavez.

A relatively young (58) prelate who is fluent in several languages, Archbishop Parolin could reassure some denizens of the Secretary of State. Unlike Cardinal Bertone, who had no previous diplomatic experience, Archbishop Parolin is well acquainted with the workings of the Secretariat of State. At the same time, because he left Rome for Caracas in 2009, he was not caught up in the internal disputes that have rocked the Vatican’s most powerful offices.

The appointment of a new Secretary of State could be only the first major sign of change in the workings of the Vatican. Pope Francis may also take steps to re-define the role of the Secretariat, curtailing its broad powers.

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