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Pope Francis replaces much-criticized top aide

The Vatican announces that Archbishop Pietro Parolin will take office as Vatican secretary of state, replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

August 31, 2013|By Tom Kington
  • Pietro Parolin, pictured in 2007, has been named the Vatican's new secretary of state.
Pietro Parolin, pictured in 2007, has been named the Vatican's new… (Julian Abram Wainwright…)

ROME — Pope Francis has taken a key step in reshuffling the Vatican's bureaucracy by replacing his much-criticized top aide with a career Vatican diplomat who has seen service on three continents.

The Vatican said Saturday that Archbishop Pietro Parolin, 58, currently nuncio in Venezuela, will take office as Vatican secretary of state, the pope's prime minister, on Oct. 15, replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78.

Bertone, appointed in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI, had been due to step down, and the pope, by choosing Parolin as his replacement, will please Vatican diplomats who had complained that Bertone blocked their access and concentrated power in Rome in the hands of a group of handpicked prelates from his native Liguria.

Parolin brings to the task a reputation as a good administrator and linguist, compared with Bertone, who lacked diplomatic experience and was promoted to the job after working as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's right-hand man at the Vatican's doctrinal office before Ratzinger was elected pope.

Parolin, born in Schiavon near Vicenza in Italy, was the son of a farming equipment salesman. He has been a priest since 1980 and was ordained bishop by Benedict in 2009.

Besides serving in the Vatican's embassies in Nigeria and Mexico, Parolin has worked on relations with Vietnam and China, and was the Vatican's deputy foreign minister from 2002 to 2009.

He also represented the Vatican at international conferences on climate change, human trafficking and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During Bertone's term as secretary of state, the Vatican was at the center of a series of scandals, including the appointment by Benedict in 2007 of a Polish archbishop who was later found to be a former Communist spy. The appointment was reversed.

In 2009, Benedict lifted the excommunication of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, only to later say he would have had a more accurate idea of Williamson's views if an Internet search had been done.

That year, a group of senior churchmen, including Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, visited Benedict at his summer retreat to demand that he fire Bertone. Benedict refused.

Bertone was again in the spotlight last year over the leaking of Benedict's private correspondence by his butler, Paolo Gabriele. The letters suggested that Bertone was behind the transfer to the United States of Carlo Maria Vigano, a Vatican administrator who was reportedly battling corruption.

This year has seen the resignation of the Vatican bank's director and deputy director, both considered close to Bertone, after the arrest of Vatican official Msgr. Nunzio Scarano on suspicion of trying to smuggle $26 million into Italy as part of a tax scam.

Parolin is unlikely to have the same power that Bertone did, as Francis plans to convene a board of eight cardinals to advise him on reforming the Vatican's secretive bureaucracy.

Francis has also set up a commission to advise him on how to reform the Vatican bank and another for advice on transparency and accounting principles.

Kington is a special correspondent.

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