Ever since the election of Pope Francis, I’ve been eagerly waiting to hear who would be named as the Vatican Secretary of State, a position in the church that manages the internal workings of the Vatican, the appointment of new bishops, and the church’s diplomatic relations. In my previous post as president of the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS-Pax Romana), I had the chance to meet and work with many of the rumored candidates.
Today, I am overjoyed to hear the strong rumors that Pope Francis will name Pietro Parolin, someone who I consider to be one of the best men to work in the Vatican as the Secretary of State. I had the chance to work with the Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin for several years on the coordination committee to plan the Forum of Catholic Inspired NGOs and was honored to be invited to attend his episcopal ordination by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s before he was sent to serve as the Vatican Ambassador (nuncio) to Venezuela, an important and very difficult post.
While a bit more reserved that the Holy Father, Archbishop Parolin has many of the same qualities that excite people about Pope Francis. He is kind, humble and willing to listen. More specifically, he brings several important qualities to the post.
First, he is Italian and can help to bridge some of the tensions between the Italian church and the global direction of Francis.
Second, Parolin is also a man of the global church. He has experience working with the church in Mexico, Nigeria and Venezuela. He knows multiple languages, follows international affairs closely and is not provincial. With Parolin, we should expect more development of the Church’s global social engagement in the UN, African Union, and other efforts for global social justice.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, he is a trained diplomat. Unlike his predecessor, Parolin is a trained diplomat from the very best tradition of Vatican diplomacy. Good diplomacy means having skills at critical thinking, dialogue and a humility. Many of our best popes (like John XXIII, Paul VI) were trained as diplomats. Some have rumored that it was because of his diplomatic openness and willing to dialogue that he was pushed out of the Vatican by the last secretary of state who did not display the same willingness.
His diplomatic skill was clearly evident in his work with the Forum of Catholic-Inspired NGOs. On the planning committee with him, I was impressed by his willingness and desire to bring together different voices from the church. Instead of showing favor to one group, like the New Ecclesial Movements, he sought to bring together the older Catholic action, lay movements, the NGOs associated with women religious and the new movements. He displayed a strong desire to improve the communion and dialogue between different groups in the church, including those who have been marginalized by some in the Vatican. He did not display animosity toward American women religious or the radical Catholic action movements, as I have seen with some others in the Vatican.
Fourth, he has experience of working with difficult people. The relationship between the Catholic Church and the past Chavez government has been a difficult and often contentious one. Parolin helped to navigate those waters, often from behind the scenes. This skill will be important to deal with both Vatican officials who are unwilling to reform the curia and moody international political leaders.
The appointment of Pietro Parolin is a great sign of hope for the global church. He will certainly help continue the church’s commitment to be involved in global civil society, play a role in negotiating difficult conflicts (Syria), help to reform the church’s governance, and work towards the reform and strengthen of international institutions (e.g, the United Nations).
As we continue to pray and work for peace in Syria, there is some good news that may be worthy of having a glass of Italian wine.