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Best Man for the Job: An Analysis of the New Secretary of State

2ParolinEver 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 apostolico_pietro_parolinmany 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.

Planning committee of the Forum of Catholic NGOs. Parolin at the center with leaders from different types of Catholic organizations.

Planning committee of the Forum of Catholic NGOs. Parolin at the center with leaders from different types of Catholic organizations.

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About Kevin Ahern

Kevin Glauber Ahern, PhD is an assistant professor of religious studies at Manhattan College. He defended his doctoral dissertation in Theological Ethics from Boston College in 2013. His dissertation was entitled “Structures of Grace: Catholic NGOs and the Church’s Mission in a Globalized World.” From 2003 to 2007, Kevin Ahern served as the President of the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS-Pax Romana), an international network of students in over eighty countries. He continues to be active on the boards of several national and international networks, including he Catholic Common Ground Initiative, the board of directors of America Press and as a Vice-President of the ICMICA-Pax Romana, He has edited the Radical Bible and Visions of Hope: Emerging Theologians and the Future of the Church, both with Orbis Books. When not teaching, writing, or going to international meetings, Kevin enjoys hiking, Cape Cod, and spending time with his wife. Follow him on twitter at @kevin_ahern

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Best Man for the Job: An Analysis of the New Secretary of State

  1. Read this the first time and very impressed with Pietro Parolin. Looks like he’s a well rounded person with a grasp of the challenges of the church throughout the world, with the many cultures, social and political situations it must contend with. Look forward to his end of the first year report.

    Posted by Chris Nunez | September 2, 2013, 11:53 am

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  1. Pingback: Papal Transition 2013 | Daily Theology - September 19, 2013

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