Vatican Diary / Another Venetian at the top, after more than three centuries
Similarities and differences between the only two Venetian secretaries of state in history: Pietro Parolin and the cardinal nephew of Alexander VIII. Both at the center of proposals of reform of the curia, but on opposite banks
by SANDRO MAGISTER
VATICAN CITY, September 2, 2013 – In commenting on the announcement of the appointment of Archbishop Pietro Parolin as the new Vatican secretary of state, almost no one has noted that this is a matter of the first Venetian to occupy the important position for more than three centuries.
And yet the analogy with the present is of a certain interest.
The first, and until now the last, churchman of the Italian northeast to become the closest collaborator of the bishop of Rome in the governance of the universal Church was in fact Giambattista (or Giovanni Battista) Rubini, born in Venice in 1642 and secretary of state from October of 1689 to the summer of 1691. Rubini was also bishop of Vicenza, Parolin’s diocese of origin, from 1684 to 1702.
But the analogy with the present seems to end here, limiting itself to the purely geographical aspect.
Rubini, in fact, was appointed secretary of state, and made a cardinal, by Alexander VIII – whose secular name was Pietro Ottoboni – who promoted him immediately after being elected pontiff on October 6, 1689, in conclave. Well then, Alexander VIII – a Venetian himself, born in Venice to Marco and Vittoria Tornielli – was the brother of Cristina Ottoboni, the grandmother (or mother according to other sources) of Rubini.
In short, this is a classic case of nepotism.
“The pontificate of Alexander VIII,” writes the Enciclopedia dei Papi published by Treccani,” saw a vigorous rebirth of nepotism. It is even possible to affirm that Alexander VIII was the last great nepotist pontiff.”
But Rubini kept the prestigious position for just two years. Precisely the duration of the pontificate of his uncle, who died on February 1, 1691. The successor Innocent XII, Antonio Pignatelli of Puglia, elected the following July 12, immediately replaced him with the Roman cardinal Fabrizio Spada.
Innocent XII took up an implacable fight against nepotism, culminating in the bull ‘Romanum decet pontificem’ of June 22, 1692, a fight also conducted – again as stated in Treccani – with the intention “of defending the honor of the Roman curia, eliminating at the root those abuses which most easily could give weight to anti-Catholic and anti-Roman polemics.”
Returning to our day, therefore, if there is in the facts the geographical analogy between the only two Venetian secretaries of state in history, the other may perhaps be stronger that links, under the banner of a widely sought reform of the curia, the pope named Francis who today calls to his side the vicentino Parolin with the distant predecessor Innocent XII, who instead immediately unburdened himself of the bishop of Vicenza whom he had inherited as secretary of state.
The announcement of the resignation of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the appointment of Archbishop Pietro Parolin as secretary of state was made on Saturday, August 31, in a statement:
And with a declaration of the newly elect:
On the same day, all of the other officials of the secretariat of state and of the pontifical household were confirmed in their respective roles:
Anyone who might want an original visiting card of Parolin can read the account that he drafted in March of 2007 on his return from a special mission to Vietnam, in his capacity as undersecretary of foreign affairs of the Holy See :
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.
Easter in Vietnam: An Extraordinary Account
The Vatican vice-minister of foreign affairs recounts his recent visit to the country, where the Catholic Church is flourishing in spite of the absence of freedom – as in the first centuries of Christianity
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, April 5, 2007 – Among the many dozens of Easter greetings that Benedict XVI will address to the world at the end of the “urbi et orbi” message for Resurrection Sunday, there will also be one in Vietnamese: “Mù’ng lé phuc sinh!”
Vietnam is one of the Asian countries where the Church is growing the most vigorously. There are more than six million Catholics there, and their numbers are expanding significantly. The level of religious practice is high (the photo shows a church in Hà Nôi). The seminaries are full, especially now that the communist regime has made it easier to enter them.
In effect, living as a Christian in a country like Vietnam requires great faith and strong courage. At the beginning of April, a Catholic priest, Nguyen Van Ly, was condemned to eight years in prison for propaganda against the communist party. Two men and two women were also condemned with him.
Fr. Van Ly, 60, has founded a movement for religious freedom and democracy: Block 8406. He previously spent twenty years in prison. He was arrested on February 19 by the police, who burst into the quarters of the bishop’s residence in Huê, where he was living.
In spite of the fact that Vietnam very recently entered the World Trade Organization, WTO, there is still underway – according to Human Rights Watch – “one of the worst repressions of peaceful dissidents in the past twenty years.” With Christians in particular under fire.
Nevertheless, there are also signs of a thaw on the part of the communist authorities. On January 25 of this year, for the first time, the prime minister of Vietnam, Nguyên Tân Dung, visited the Vatican and met with the pope and the heads of the secretariat of state. And in mid-March, a visit to Vietnam was made by an official delegation of the Holy See, headed by the undersecretary for relations with states – or vice foreign minister – Pietro Parolin.
The situation of religious freedom, the appointment of bishops, and diplomatic relations in Vietnam resembles that in China. But the difference is that the evolution underway is more promising. Religious freedom is receiving small concessions, the last of which was the authorization of the archdiocese of Hô Chi Minh City to open a center of assistance for those sick with AIDS. Preliminary negotiations have begun for the establishment of diplomatic ties with the Vatican. As for the bishops, their appointment is currently made by Rome from among a roster of three candidates, any of whom the communist authorities can veto.
But the most encouraging signs come from the Vietnamese Christian community. This much is clear in the sometimes emotional account that the head of the Vatican delegation, Pietro Parolin, wrote after his recent visit to the country. What follows is not the official report that he sent to Benedict XVI. But it traces the outlines of that report.
Parolin wrote this account for the international magazine “30 Days,” directed by Giulio Andreotti, which published it in the April issue:
“One saw in their eyes the joy of the faith…”
by Pietro Parolin
From March 5-11, 2007, a delegation from the Holy See visited Vietnam for the fourteenth time. The series of visits was inaugurated in 1989 by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray. Afterwards, the Holy See delegation has always been headed by the undersecretary for relations with states, first by Claudio M. Celli and then by Celestino Migliore. This was the second visit for me, following the one in 2004. In 2005, a Vietnamese delegation came to Rome, and in 2006, I was unable to go because of affairs that had arisen in the section for relations with states. On the latest visit, I was accompanied by Luis Mariano Montemayor, a nunciature advisor at the secretariat of state, and Barnabé Nguyên Van Phuong, from Vietnam, the office head for the congregation for the evangelization of peoples.
The agenda was very intense, subdivided between a “political” part and an “ecclesial” part, corresponding to the two aims of the visits, which is that of maintaining contacts with the Vietnamese authorities and meeting with the local Church.
In practice, the Holy See delegation undertook, for one week, the tasks that in other countries are entrusted to the papal legates, because there still is no papal representative in Vietnam.
We were met with the same cordial welcome as in 2004, with the advantage, in respect to that occasion, that we already knew many of our counterparts, and therefore sought to reinforce with them the bonds of respect, esteem, and trust that are highly prized in Vietnamese society and that facilitate dialogue, especially on thorny issues.
Our visit followed last January’s trip to the Vatican by prime minister Nguyên Tân Dung, who on that occasion met with Pope Benedict XVI and the officials of the secretariat of state. Perhaps it was that very circumstance that contributed to making the welcome toward us even more attentive and constructive. We saw this in many instances, from the way in which we were treated to the media coverage that our presence received.
The packed agenda of meetings with the Vietnamese authorities hinged upon the three working sessions with the committee for religious affairs, presided over by Nguyên The Doanh.
Then there were the courtesy visits to the prime minister of foreign affairs, Le Cong Phung, to the vice-president of the Vietnamese communist party’s commission for foreign affairs, Pham Xuan Son, and to the president of the national assembly’s committee for foreign affairs, Vu Mao.
During the visits to the provinces of Binh Dinh, Kontum, and Gia Lai, we also met with the presidents of the local popular committees, the agencies that govern the provinces into which the country is subdivided.
The working meetings dealt with questions concerning the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Vietnam – like, for example, the appointment of bishops and the construction or reconstruction of places of worship – and relations between Church and state.
It is well known that the religious policies of the Vietnamese government are contained in the statutes on religion and belief from June 18, 2004, and revolve around the two principles according to which believers – and thus also Catholics – are an integral part of the nation, and that the state should strive to respond to their legitimate demands. The delegation received information on this legislation, on the need to obtain increasingly more uniform application of this all over the country, and also on the willingness to improve this where necessary, keeping in consideration the suggestions that emerge from the experiences of the religious communities, so that religious freedom, which is a fundamental right of individuals and communities, may be ever more respected and translated into reality.
The meetings also dealt with diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Vietnam. Although no deadline has yet been set, I believe that a significant step forward has been made: the Vietnamese have communicated to us that the prime minister has instructed the competent agencies to examine the question, and have proposed that within the next few months we form a group of experts charged with studying the timing and concrete ways for beginning the process of establishing diplomatic relations.
We dedicated Thursday and Friday, March 8-9, to the last two dioceses that had not yet received a visit from the Holy See delegation: Quy Nhon and Kontum, in the center of the country, in the ecclesial province of Huê. These were intense days and, moreover, were more than a little tiring because of the schedule and the travel by car and airplane (a torrential rainstorm made us hold our breath at the moment of landing at the airport in Quy Nhon), but the ecclesial experience we had rewarded us beyond measure for the discomfort we suffered.
In Quy Nhon, we were welcomed by the vicar general and by almost all of the clergy of the diocese, together with the numerous faithful who crowded the cathedral decked with festive decorations (bishop Pierre Nguyên Soan was absent because he was recovering in the hospital). There we celebrated the Holy Mass, praying for the pope and for the Church in Vietnam.
From the city, which perches on the sea, we moved into the interior, to the parish of Goi Thi, which was the center for the spread of the Christian faith in the region and preserves the memory of the great French bishop and martyr Théodore Cuénot [1802-1861], apostolic vicar for eastern Cochinchina. We also went to venerate his shrine, the destination of continual pilgrimages, after a moment of prayer in the large and beautiful parish church, which was overflowing with people, most of them young adults, teens, and children, and after a visit to the Lovers of the Cross sisters in Quy Nhon.
It is difficult to express the emotions, the sentiments, the gratitude to the Lord, and the spiritual joy that is felt in such situations. In the public encounters, I constantly repeated that we were receiving much more than we had brought. In the relation that we would deliver to the Holy Father after the end of the voyage, I noted the difficulty of recounting these realities in writing, and partly for this reason I expressed the hope that the day will soon come when the pope can form his own impressions in person.
We had similar experiences in the diocese of Kontum, an ecclesiastical territory situated in the high central plains and inhabited mostly by ethnic minority mountain dwellers, the “Montagnards”. The Eucharist, concelebrated by the delegation with bishop Michel Hoâng Dúc Oanh and many priests, saw more than five thousand faithful gathered in the square outside the cathedral, on a tepid evening that was warm with faith, devotion, love for the pope, and Christian witness.
The following morning, we celebrated the Holy Mass in the church of Pleichuet, constructed on the model of an ordinary Montagnards’ home, with a very high straw roof. Most of the parishioners are neophytes. One saw in their eyes the joy of the faith and of belonging to the Catholic Church, which they expressed with their very colorful traditional customs, the sound of their instruments, and the dance movements that accompanied the various parts of the liturgy. At the end, we continued the meeting in a festive atmosphere, tasting the distinctive foods of the Montagnards and not refusing, even early in the morning, to sip the highly alcoholic beverage that they distill from rice. The rest of the morning was spent visiting various Church institutions in Pleiku – primary schools, boarding schools, centers for the handicapped, etc. – that express the attentiveness and effort of the Catholic Church toward these populations, who have faced and still face difficulties of various kinds and situations of disadvantage.
And then I cannot forget the meetings with the graduates of the major seminary and the Lovers of the Cross sisters in Hà Nôi, or the Holy Mass celebrated in the cathedral in the capital in the presence of archbishop Joseph Ngô Quang Kiêt – whom we had already met together with the president of the Vietnamese bishops’ conference, Paul Nguyên Van Hóa, bishop of Nha Trang, and with the most eminent cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Mân, archbishop of Hô Chí Minh City, who had come to Hà Nôi for the meeting. There was also the Mass in the parish of Ha Long (in the diocese of Hai Phòng, near China), before our sightseeing trip to the bay of the same name, which is one of the sites UNESCO has declared as world heritage centers for humanity.
On all these occasions, I was always profoundly struck by the way these people prayed – with comprehension, attention, and devotion, and at the same time with great involvement on the community level: children and adults, young and old, men and women singing and responding together. I was struck by their love, dedication, and faithfulness toward the bishop of Rome, sentiments that were continually demonstrated for us.
It is a courageous, dynamic Church, full of vitality, as shown in part by the numerous candidates for priesthood and the religious life.
It is a Church that works in favor of society and takes care of those in want and necessity, while it hopes to dedicate greater efforts in the areas of education and social welfare, in order to offer an increasingly more specific and effective contribution to the country and to all its inhabitants, regardless of whether they are believers or not, or whether they belong to this or that religious group.
It is a Church, finally, that is taking on awareness of the problems connected to the rapid industrialization of the country and to its tumultuous economic development (Vietnam, with a projected growth rate of 8.4 percent for 2007, has the second-fastest growing economy in the world), and that intends to prepare to respond to this new situation, in order to continue being salt and leaven, and enlightening all with the joyful proclamation of the Gospel.
The magazine for which the head of the Vatican delegation, Pietri Parolin, wrote his account:
Two good sources of information on the life of the Catholic Church in Vietnam and in the rest of Asia:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.