Saturday, August 31, 2013

For Parolin, The Keys to the Kingdom

The expected is now the reality – at Roman Noon this Saturday, the Pope named Archbishop Pietro Parolin as his Secretary of State on the retirement of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB.

There is, however, a hitch: while most Vatican appointments take immediate effect upon their announcement, the handover of Stato to Parolin won't occur until Tuesday, October 15th, to give the new holder of the Curia's oldest office sufficient time to return from his posting until now in Venezuela.

A similar transition period was provided for in 2006 as Cardinal Angelo Sodano made way for Bertone, but that one extended for a week shy of three months – not to mention that Benedict XVI's longtime top gun was only returning from Genoa. (It reportedly took even longer for Sodano to yield the Secretary's traditional apartment in the Apostolic Palace to his successor, leaving Bertone cooped up for months in St John's Tower in the Gardens.)

While today's move restores the custom of a distinguished Stato veteran at the first dicastery's helm, the last time a nuncio was launched into the top post from an assignment in the trenches came in 1929, when Eugenio Pacelli was recalled from Berlin to become Cardinal-Secretary to Pius XI. 

Of course, nine years later Pacelli was elected to succeed his mentor, taking the name Pius XII.

On his official rollout as Francis' principal on-site collaborator and the Holy See's top diplomat, Parolin released the following statement, here in a Vatican-issued translation:

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 [of his pontificate] – 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!” [God bless you!].

Caracas, 31 August 2013 
As he prepares to take the top post of a Curia likely to undergo a sweeping systematic reform over the coming months, one element of the incoming Secretary's biography particularly sticks out: as a student at the Gregorian, Parolin wrote his doctoral thesis in canon law on the Synod of Bishops, an organ which Francis has already gone on-record as looking to bulk up in terms of its clout and responsibilities.

*   *   *
Alongside the much-anticipated Stato nod, Papa Bergoglio issued his first round of confirmations for Curial officials in their posts this morning, keeping Bertone's four lead deputies in their current slots, as well as retaining Archbishop Georg Gänswein as prefect of the Papal Household.

By contrast, Bertone replaced his twin top lieutenants – the Sostituto (Curia chief of staff) and Secretary for Relations with States (foreign minister) – within a year of his appointment as SegStat. Beyond the task of arranging papal audiences and other large Vatican events, Gänswein likewise continues as private secretary to the now Pope-emeritus Benedict.

Normally a pro forma piece of a new Pope's first days in office, Francis held off on reconfirming his Curia in the immediate wake of his election, a Holy See statement saying at the time that he "desire[d] a certain period for reflection, prayer and dialogue before making appointments or definitive confirmations" of his officials. The 266th bishop of Rome will mark a half-year in office on September 13th.

In tandem with today's announcements, the pontiff met this morning with the top five officials of State: Bertone, the Sostituto and Foreign Secretary – Archbishops Angelo Becciu and Dominique Mamberti – and their respective deputies, the (Oklahoma-bornAssessore Msgr Peter Wells and the Undersecretary for Relations with States, Msgr Antoine Camilleri. Signaling a return to the appointment files after the summer slowdown, Francis also received the prefect of Bishops, the Quebecois Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

On a final note, conspicuously left off the confirmation list was Gänswein's deputy – formally termed the "Regent" – at the Papal Household, Msgr Leonardo Sapienza, a member of the Rogationist Fathers.

Often seen at Francis' side in lieu of his boss, the elision could indicate Sapienza's transition to another post in the short-term future.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Reports: For Stato, Peter Taps Pietro

Given this month's traditional quiet on the beat, lest anyone forgot, August has meant these pages' traditional hiatus... with a Pope rearing in the gate, however, indications are we're off to an early launch for what's looking to be a wild fall cycle.

According to multiple Italian reports this Friday, Pope Francis is tipped to name Archbishop Pietro Parolin – the 58 year-old nuncio to Venezuela, who served as the Vatican's "deputy foreign minister" from 2002-09 – as his Secretary of State, the formal announcement expected in some quarters "as soon as tomorrow."

Should the buzz pan out, Parolin would succeed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB – the formidable "Vice-Pope" of Benedict XVI – whose ascent to the post in 2006 without any experience in Vatican diplomacy caused apoplectic fits among the natives and created an enduring set of institutional grudges that arguably sabotaged Joseph Ratzinger's pontificate.

While no shortage of speculation on the nod has made the rounds over these last several months – with Parolin in pole position throughout – an even more crucial question has largely gone ignored: namely, what the function of the Secretariat of State will be in a Roman Curia reshaped by a widely expected Franciscan shake-up, a project likely to be launched in earnest come early October following the Pope's first formal summit with his "Super 8" group of cardinal-assistants hand-picked from around the globe.

Along these lines, it is telling that the choice has reputedly fallen to a decorated hand from State's Second Section – the part that deals with "Relations with States," as opposed to the First Section for "General Affairs," which has served as the Curia's de facto central nervous system since the Regimini reforms of Paul VI (himself a Stato chief) in 1967. At the same time, Parolin's quietly deft presence on Papa Bergoglio's home continent, and in what's been Latin America's most charged posting over recent years, cannot be discounted.

Even if handling a Curia in suspended animation would make for quite a high-wire challenge all its own, to be sure, Parolin is no stranger to sticky situations. As Undersecretary for Relations with States during a tumultuous decade on the geopolitical stage, the then-monsingor – fluent in at least four languages and a veteran of postings in Latin America, Africa and Europe – was the Holy See's prime handler of contentious ad extra issues and delicate negotiations with regimes ranging from China and Iran to, most prominently, Vietnam (left), where tensions between the church and the country's Communist government only flared following his departure from the Rome post. 

(Adding to the intrigue of recent months, Benedict quietly shipped off Parolin's successor as Undersecretary, Ettore Balestrero, to the Nunciature in Colombia as an archbishop in the wake of the German Pope's historic resignation – and, by extension, the "Vatileaks" fiasco that engulfed the final chapter of Papa Ratzinger's reign, a furore in which Balestrero had tangentially been implicated by some.)

Though the competence of the office has been refined over centuries of papal documents, at the heart of things, every Pope determines the role of his Secretary of State with an understanding that isn't spoken, but becomes clear over time. Accordingly, some reports have indicated Francis' prior leaning toward appointing the "coordinator" of his "crown council," the Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga SDB, as his SegStat, before eventually deciding to keep the "Great Elector" of the March Conclave in his current spot, a move which enables Rodriguez to continue his travels in the pontiff's shadow without the formal baggage of running a Vatican department.

Per Roman custom, any non-cardinal named to lead the principal dicastery would be placed in line to receive the first red hat given by Francis – at least, barring yet another new innovation by the ever protocol-changing pontiff.

Developing – more to come.


Wednesday, August 07, 2013

"When You Meet the Needy, Your Heart Grows Bigger" – For Argentine Feast, A Papal PSA

In an attempt to travel "by heart" back home to mark today's feast of San Cayetano – the 16th century Italian priest St Cajetan, revered in Argentina as a patron of the poor and unemployed – the Pope recorded a video message which is being aired repeatedly through the day both on Buenos Aires television and at the shrine in a capital neighborhood where tens of thousands have converged for the occasion.

Of course, as the cause of the poor, the role of work as key to human dignity and a firm reliance on traditional popular piety are all emphatic, repeated emphases of the Argentine pontiff, while the content is anything but new, the means of delivery is the story. (Intriguing as well, and not to be discounted, is the story that Cajetan – trained as a lawyer only to become a priest – left his work in the early Roman Curia to dedicate himself to a life of austerity and the care of the poor and sick.)

According to wire reports, in years past Cardinal Bergoglio would quietly slip into the line of devotees waiting to venerate the shrine's central image of the saint in the late-night hours on the feast and hear their stories. This time around, celebrations of Papa Francisco on this feast are said to have been as prevalent as those for Cayetano, himself.

Here's video of the message:

...and to follow along, an English translation prepared by AsiaNews:
Good evening.

Every year, after having travelled the length of the queue, I speak with you. This time, however, I have travelled the length of the queue in my heart. I am a little too far away to be able to share this beautiful moment with you. Right now, you are on pilgrimage towards the image of St Cajetan. Why? To meet with him, to meet with Jesus. But today, the theme of this pilgrimage - a theme chosen for you, selected from among many possibilities - today the theme is about another meeting, and says: "With Jesus and St Cajetan, let us reach out to those most in need."

This speaks of the people most in need, of those who need us to give them a hand, who need us to look them with love, to share their pain or their anxieties, their problems. What's important is that we don't just look at them from afar or help from afar. No, no! We must reach out to them. This is being Christian! This is what Jesus taught us: to reach out to the needy. Like Jesus who always reached out to the people. He went to meet them. Reaching out to those most in need.

Sometimes, I ask people, "Do you give alms." They say, "Yes, father." "And when you give alms, do you look into the eyes of people you are giving alms to?" "Ah, I do not know, I don't really think about it". "Then you have not reached out to those people. You just tossed them some charity and went away. When you give alms, do you touch their hands or just toss them the coins?". "No, I toss them the coins". "Then you have not touched them. And if you have not touched them, you have not reached out to them." What Jesus teaches us, first of all, is to reach out to each other, and in reaching out, helping one another.

We must be able to reach out to each other. We must build, create, construct a culture of encounter. How many differences, family troubles, always! Trouble in the neighborhood, trouble at work, trouble everywhere. And these differences do not help. The culture of encounter. Reaching out to encounter eachother. And the theme says, "Reaching out to those most in need", in short, with those who need me. With those who are going through a bad time, far worse than what I'm going through.

There is always someone who is having [it] worse, eh? Always! There is always someone. So, I think, "I'm going through a bad time, I line up to encounter San Cayetano and with Jesus and then go out to encounter others, because there is always someone who is having it worse than me." To these people, it is to these people that we have to reach out.

Thank you for listening, thank you for coming here today, thank you for everything you carry in your hearts. Jesus loves you very much! San Cayetano loves you very much! We ask only one thing: that you reach out! And that you go and seek out and encounter the most needy! But not alone, no. With Jesus and San Cayetano! Does this mean going to convince someone to become became Catholic? No, no, no! You are just reaching out to meet him, he is your brother! That is enough. You reach out to help them, the rest is done by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. Remember well: with San Cayetano, we need we encounter the neediest. With Jesus, we who are in need, we reach out to those who are even more in need. And maybe Jesus will show us the path to meet with those who need it most.

When you meet those most in need, your heart will begin to grow bigger, bigger and bigger! Because reaching out multiplies our capacity to love. An encounter with others makes our heart bigger. Take courage! "I don't know what to do on my own". No, no, no! With Jesus and San Cayetano! May God bless you and may this feast day of St Cajetan end well. And please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you.