Archbishop Pietro Parolin

August 31, 2013, Saturday — New Vatican Secretary of State Named

Today the speculations turned out to be true.

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Pietro Parolin, 58, to be his Vatican Secretary of State, making Parolin the #2 man in the Vatican after the Pope himself. The appointment, announced this morning in Rome, will take effect on October 15.

Pope Francis this morning also confirmed that the other top officials of the Secretariat of State will remain in their jobs, including Italian Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the substitute, or top official for internal church affairs, and French Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s top official for foreign relations, as well as American Monsignor Peter Wells, the assessor, who has key responsibilities for day-to-day administration.

Francis also confirmed that German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the key aide to Pope Benedict XVI, will remain head of the papal household. 

Parolin has distinguished himself for his careful work with the Communist government of Vietnam. He has also worked for international nuclear disarmament, in the hope of avoiding the use of nuclear weapons in future wars so that human beings, and the human race, may be spared the terrible effects of radiation posioning and the genetic mutations which would accompany the use of such weapons.

So, Parolin is a tireless worker for peace, a true “peace-maker,” and a worthy choice for this high post.

Parolin is a man who, out of a profound Christian faith (rooted in his Catholic family upbringing and his parish formation as a child and youth in northern Italy), by means of careful, patient study, hard work and much prayer, has, in many difficult situations over a quarter century, worked efficaciously for the freedom of the Church and for peace among men.

And so Parolin is a particularly appropriate choice to be Vatican Secretary of State at this moment in history, a moment of great tension and of simmering war (for there is already war underway) in the Middle East (the situation in Syria in particular, but also in Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Gaza, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere).

In a statement released this morning, Parolin said “I feel the full weight of the responsibility placed upon me” and “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.”

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.”

Pope Francis, who came to know Parolin especially in recent years in South America, where Francis was an archbishop in Argentina and Parolin a papal nuncio in Venezuela, has now echoed and validated that seven-year-old judgment.

And so the first stage of Pope Francis’s pontificate — the six-month stage in which the government of the Secretariat of State remained in the hands of the man chosen by Pope Benedict, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78 — has come to an end.

We have now transitioned from the “old” to the “new.”

The government of the Church has shifted from that of Pope Benedict — the “scholar-Pope” who wrote eloquent, faith-filled books about Jesus and provided us with a searingly honest, profound critique of our modern secular culture and its possible dangers for humanity, but who entrusted the government of the Church to others — to that of Pope Francis, who has now called Parolin to his side as his chief advisor.

“Sentire cum ecclesia” (“Think with the Church” or “Think with the mind of the Church”)

What will characterize this new “Franciscan” regime, this new “era” of Pope Francis?

In essence, Francis wishes, and is working night and day, to purify the Church of self-interest, and re-focus the Church on her divinely-inspired mission, not on anything less that that, however important.

One might summarize the thrust of this appointment of Parolin in this way: to re-focus attention on the Church on her mission to a fallen humanity, while  firmly rejecting all forms of ecclesiastical “careerism” and misuse of Church office for worldly ends.

Unfortunately, as Pope Benedict often said quite publicly during his nearly eight years as Pope (2005-2013), “careerism” (we might also use the term “worldliness”) has crept into the Church and corrupted ecclesial life.

Groups and factions and “lobbies” of all types have formed in the Church, and have become powerful, and these groups have obscured the essential nature of the Church, which is not to be simply another human institution — though obviously the Church is, like other human institutions, made up of human beings in all their fallibility — another “NGO,” another philanthropic organization, another “self-referential” human society, as Pope Francis has repeatedly said in these months, but to be the one human institution with its source and origin entirely in Christ and its final destiny entirely in a transcendent realm, a realm or reality we call “the Kingdom,” or “the world to come.” Not this world, but another one…

It is the nature of the Church to be in the world, but not of the world.

We have too often slipped backwards, too often become trapped in this world, and forgotten the transcendent. This has occurred throughout our secularizing culture, but not only in that culture; it has occurred within the Church as well.

And this has been a profound corruption of the true nature of the Church.

Catholic men and women, cutting corners and compromising principles, have too often winked and nodded and smiled and embraced and slapped each other on the back and said “we know how things are, we are realists, we have to accept human reality” and in this way the Church has been betrayed, repeatedly, over and over again.

In cover-ups, for example.

In power plays.

In forgetfulness of our forefathers in the faith, and in the betrayal of our traditions.

All of this careerism and worldiness and compromise has had a devastating effect. It has destroyed the moral authority of the Church. It has caused such scandal in the world, to the world, as to cause all of us in the Church to shake our heads in shame.

We have become ashamed of our Church.

Benedict repeatedly denounced this, even before and then especially after becoming Pope, and labored mightily to restore “the vineyard of the Lord.”

And now Francis is also denouncing it, and attempting to prune and restore this “ruined vineyard.”

And it is for this purpose that he has chosen Parolin, a humble man, a believer, a peacemaker.

Church leaders must be, yes, “wise as serpents,” because the world is filled with serpents who would harm and devour the Church, and this is sufficient reason for Church members, and ministers, to study law, rhetoric, economics, science, sufficient reason to prepare Church leaders and apologists to be effective in the midst of the world.

But Church leaders must also be “as innocent as doves.” They must not fall into “serpent-like behavior,” they must not become worldly, however great and even understandable the temptation.

And so the Church is “semper reformanda” (“always in need of being reformed”).

This perennial need for reform is part of our tradition. “Nihil novum sub sole,” Ecclesiastes intoned. “There is nothing new under the sun.”

All of this we all know very well, for we have been down this road a hundred times, a thousand times, before in our history.

We know as Catholics that we must build barriers of devout practice against the temptations of human passion. We know as Catholics that human beings need systems of law to protect us from the abuses of power — in our civil society, and in the Church herself (canon law). We know as Catholics that we must have both institution and charism. We know as Catholics that we ought generally and in principle to submit our own wills to our superiors in Christ, but we also know with equal clarity that pious obedience can become an opportunity for the abuse, and abusive control, of the piously obedient by flawed, sinful superiors.

And so we know that we must speak truth in the Church, as well as outside of the Church, or we will degenerate into a group of “yes-men” and “yes-women” who accept small compromises, then middle-sized ones, then great ones, until small betrayals of the faith become great betrayals.

All of this is in the mind of Pope Francis — he said some of these things while on the airplane coming back from Brazil, in his famous press conference a month ago now. He said specifically that he appreciated subordinates who spoke truth to him.

The mission of the Church is to bear witness to Christ’s love in a fallen world, to a suffering humanity. It is also to live in accordance with the Beatitudes, to bind up wounds, to forgive sins, to find ways to peace in justice, to become “peacemakers” in every sphere of life.

In choosing Parolin, Pope Francis is making clear that he wishes, almost in the way of the old Jesuits, to draw upon all of the learning, all of the faith and all of the experience of the old Roman system (in which Parolin was trained), and to draw upon all of the experience in the Vatican’s highly (and rightly) respected diplomatic corps in order to bring that learning, faith and experience to bear on extremely delicate, dangerous political and social problems, problems of war and peace, problems of justice and injustice, problems of poverty and oppression, so that the Christian witness and message of the Church can shine forth in a troubled world which seems in danger of losing its way.

What is “out” under Francis, as this appointment makes clear, is any idea or suggestion that high Church office be exploited for personal interest of any sort, including for personal careers building a “current” or “lobby” of any kind whatsoever. The appointment means that service in the Church is service of the Church, not a vehicle for personal influence or financial gain.

Still higher office?
American journalist John Allen noted in a column today: “A mini-boom of speculation on the Internet back in 2006 had Parolin in line for an even higher position. A note about the papal prophecies of the medieval Abbot Malachy posted on the Wikipedia website speculated that Parolin might be the Petrus Romanus, or “Peter the Roman”, whom Abbot Malachy predicts will be the last pope before the end of the world. (“Pietro” means “Peter” in Italian.) Whether Parolin will ever be elected pope, and whether that triggers the apocalypse, obviously remains to be seen, but already this particular Peter is now a very big deal.”


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. abyssum says:

    @Pat Long

    As I understand it Pope Petrus Romanus will not preside over the end of the Church, but rather he will prepare the Church for the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ; the world will end, not the Church. The Church will be the “Heavenly Jerusalem” that the Prophets and the Evangelists have spoken of.

  2. Pat Long says:


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