Francis’ next task: selecting a Secretary of State

posted at 12:52 pm on March 18, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

(VATICAN CITY) With delegations from countries around the world arriving in Rome to attend the papal installation Mass tomorrow, attention has now turned to the nominal liaison for diplomacy — but for different reasons.  The election of Pope Francis as pontiff puts an outsider at the head of the Roman Catholic Church, but the choice of Secretary of State will give a large indication of how far Francis will go in reforming the Curia, the bureaucracies of the Vatican.  The Washington Post’s Jason Horowitz reports that cardinals have urged a robust effort:

In his first days since emerging from last week’s secret Sistine Chapel election as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis has charmed the faithful with his humility, won over the press with his warmth and made history as the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope.

But just as important, Francis has indicated an intention to reform a Vatican government that is widely acknowledged as a den of dysfunction and theater of Italian-accented turf wars. Some cardinals have even suggested that back-stabbing in the papal court helped drive Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, into retirement.

As Francis, 76, goes about staffing the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that governs the church, the focus among Vatican officials has shifted from the election of the pope who reigns to his appointment of the secretary of state who governs. With the entrenched forces of the Curia weakened by the election’s result, some cardinals are calling for the avuncular Argentine to finish the job by appointing a reformist second-in-command.

“We’ll see in his appointments how serious he is about tackling this stuff,” said John Thavis, a keen church observer and author of “The Vatican Diaries.” “If the secretary of state is one of these same old guys, the curial cardinals are going to feel reassured.”

CBS explains the importance of the position:

The Secretariat of State is arguably the second most important office in the Vatican. The secretary is responsible for both the Church’s external relations with other countries, and the internal relations between the various offices of the Church. The secretary of state decides who gets to see the Pope, vets and suggests names for papal appointments at the Vatican and in Vatican embassies around the world, oversees the Vatican newspaper and press office, and generally keeps tabs on everything and anything that happens regarding the pope and the Church.

The Secretariat of State is divided into two sections: Section for General Affairs, also called the First Section and the Section for Relations with States, or the Second Section.

The First Section is run by the Substitute, a kind of vice-Secretary of State. His office is responsible for helping to write and translate papal documents and speeches and is divided into language groups. Any correspondence that comes in for the pope is dealt with by the First Section. It also handles Vatican publications and protocol.

The Second Section, or Section for Relations with States, is headed by an archbishop who has a role similar to a foreign minister or the U.S. Secretary of State. It deals with relations with other governments and the United Nations as well as working with the Congregation for Bishops in the nomination of bishops and creation of new dioceses. The Secretary for Relations with States often serves as the Vatican’s representative abroad, in place of the pope or secretary of state.

During papal transitions, heads of departments offer their resignation, and usually the new Pope asks them to stay around.  On Saturday, the press office confirmed that Francis had done so — but with a caveat that the positions may well be temporary.  For that matter, so may be the current organizational structure, which bears more resemblance to a royal court than a modern state or corporation.  Horowitz’s report includes this tidbit from Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington:

Before and after the pope’s election, Wuerl said, cardinals have talked about providing the pontiff with more perspective from local churches around the world through papal meetings with leaders of bishops’ conferences. Other cardinals have talked of establishing a system similar to a presidential cabinet rather than a royal court. Wuerl said cardinals expressed interest in holding an annual meeting in Rome to air local issues and having department heads report to the pope and not the secretary of state.

“So you will bypass a lot of the need for what has become a thorn in the side of many today,” Wuerl said. “And that is what is described as Curia engagement in the local church.”

Some of my contacts here say the problem isn’t corruption or malice as some media reports paint it, but inefficiency and organizational obstructions to the mission of evangelization.  The Vatican, these sources say, suffer from the same problems of all entrenched bureaucracies, so reform will probably be aimed and streamlining and creating more responsive units within the Curia. To provide that kind of reform, Francis will have to appoint a cardinal familiar enough with the Vatican to understand its issues without being bound to its current structure.  That will be a very delicate balance to strike, especially for those within the Curia who have every reason to worry about how reform will impact them.

In other news, Joe Biden has landed in Rome and met with the American ambassador to Italy, David Thorne, according to the pool report from Yahoo! reporter Olivier Knox. There will be no meeting between Biden and Pope Francis, however:

The VP will not have a one-on-one meeting with the Pope Tuesday — he’ll attend the mass and take part in the receiving line. Your pooler is advised that the line is closed press but that Vatican TV might show some of it.

The “receiving line” does not refer to the Eucharist during Mass, but in the diplomatic greeting line afterward.  In fact, Pope Francis won’t distribute communion during the Mass, as the press office explained; in the interest of efficiency, 500 priests will serve as ministers of the Eucharist.  This might disappoint some Americans who wondered whether Pope Francis might balk at offering communion to some pro-abortion politicians, as he advised in a joint letter while Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina.  The diplomatic reception line will take place in front of the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, and only Vatican TV will have direct access to it.

More news from the briefing today, which focused almost entirely on the arrangements for the Mass of the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the more-or-less official name for tomorrow’s ceremony:

  • One hundred and thirty-two delegations have already arrived for the Mass tomorrow, which starts at 9:30 am local time.  They are expecting more arrivals today and tonight.  That includes 31 heads of state and six sovereigns, 11 heads of government (they count Biden among them), as well as many prominent political figures and “celebrities.”
  • The Pope had lunch with Argentina president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner today.  He also met with the current Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone at 10 am this morning, to settle the last arrangements for the Mass tomorrow morning.  Later, he will meet with the Jesuit General, Fr. Adolfo Nicholás.
  • The press office laid out the arrangements for tomorrow’s Mass — where people would be sitting. There will be around 1200 priests and seminarians, hundreds of bishops, and representatives from other religious communities — including Jewish and Muslim representatives.
  • Francis will arrive in the Popemobile or the jeep (they are not sure which yet), leaving at 8:50 and driving through the square as much as possible for as many people to see him as possible.
  • The Inauguration (or Initiation) of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome takes place in the very place where St. Peter met his martyrdom. Piazza San Pietro was the site of Nero’s Circus at that time.  Peter was buried on the site where the Basilica now stands.  Fr. Thomas Rosica said, “This is holy ground.”
  • Thirty-three delegations from Christian churches around the world will meet with Francis on Wednesday, along with delegations from interfaith efforts.
  • The press office released the papal coat of arms and motto today.  It’s the same coat of arms he used as cardinal in Argentina (see below).
  • Motto: Miserando atque eligendo. “Having had mercy, he called him.” From the Gospel of Matthew.

francis-coatofarms

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