VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI today, Oct. 19, named Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò his new ambassador to the United States.

A veteran Holy See diplomat with almost four decades of experience, he succeeds Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who died in July after a short illness.

Archbishop Viganò,70, has a doctorate in canon law and civil law. For the past two years, he has served as deputy to the cardinal president of the commission governing Vatican City, before resigning on Sept. 3.

As apostolic nuncio in one of the most important and delicate posts in Vatican diplomacy, the archbishop will be responsible not only for diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States, but also — like every other nuncio — for advising the Holy See on suitable candidates to be appointed bishops.

In an Oct. 19 statement, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed Archbishop Viganò’s appointment as “yet another sign of the great solicitude with which our Holy Father holds our nation and the Catholic community in the United States of America.”

“On behalf of the bishops of the United States of America, I take the occasion of this correspondence to welcome you warmly to our nation as apostolic nuncio of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and to offer you the prayerful support of your brother bishops as you begin your important mission,” Archbishop Dolan said.

The president of the USCCB said U.S. bishops knew, from meeting the new nuncio in Rome, that Archbishop Vigano has “a special appreciation” of the United States, and he said the Church in the United States would benefit from his training in both canon law and civil law. ”They will enable you to see the intricacies involved in representing the Holy Father in both the Church and diplomatic worlds, especially now as they are lived out in America’s democratic society,” he said.

The new nuncio is reputed to be an accomplished administrator. During his tenure on the governing commission, where he was in charge of Vatican services such as its police, observatory, museums, post office and tourist information service, he introduced a number of working practices aimed at increasing efficiency.

In an Oct. 19 interview with Catholic News Service, the archbishop said being nuncio in the United States is an “important, vast and delicate” task and that he was grateful to Pope Benedict for entrusting him with the mission. Being a nuncio is “a call to know this people, this country and come to love them,” he said. “For me to take the place of someone who was so loved, so committed, makes it an even greater challenge.”

The archbishop said he hoped to join the U.S. bishops for their annual general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 14-16 and to learn from them, especially in view of the upcoming presidential elections.

According to the website Vatican Insider, Pope Benedict is said to have carefully chosen Archbishop Viganò back in August because he recognized the need “for a person of great value” in one of the most important and delicate nunciatures and in view of the 2012 presidential race. But the appointment is reported to have been delayed because of internal wranglings within the Roman Curia.

Born in Varese, a northern Italian town close to the Swiss border, Carlo Viganò was ordained a priest in 1968 for the Diocese of Pavia. He entered the Vatican’s diplomatic service in 1973 and served at Vatican embassies in Iraq and Great Britain before working in the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1978-1989.

From 1989 to 1992, he served as the Vatican’s permanent observer at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, before being appointed by Pope John Paul II as an archbishop and nuncio to Nigeria. He returned to Rome and the Secretariat of State in 1998, where he helped coordinate Vatican diplomats around the world.

The new nuncio, who speaks Italian, French, Spanish and English, was sent as an envoy to Iraq in 1999 to try to pave the way for a visit by John Paul II during his Jubilee Year pilgrimage to the Holy Land. However, his efforts were unsuccessful due to a no-fly zone being enforced over the country at the time.

In November 2010, the archbishop represented the Holy See at a meeting of Interpol, the international cooperative organization for police agencies. In his speech, he highlighted how globalization brings enrichment and opportunity, but also poverty and hunger that can lead to “disparate forms of violence.”

With his appointment, Archbishop Viganò becomes the 14th papal delegate to the United States since a Holy See diplomatic presence was established in Washington in 1893. He will be the fifth bishop to serve as the Vatican’s emissary to both the U.S. government and Church since bilateral relations were formally established in 1984.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Vatican-U.S. Representatives

Apostolate Delegates

The Holy See did not have official ties with the United States prior to 1984, and its mission was headed by an apostolic delegate without the rank of ambassador.

Cardinal Francesco Satolli (1893-1896)

Cardinal Sebastiano Martinelli (1896-1902)

Cardinal Diomede Falconio (1902-1911)

Cardinal Giovanni Bonzano (1912-1922)

Cardinal Pietro Fumasoni Biondi (1922-1933)

Cardinal Amleto Giovanni Cicognani (1933-1959)

Cardinal Egidio Vagnozzi (1959-1967)

Cardinal Luigi Raimondi (1967-1973)

Archbishop Jean Jadot (1973-1980)

Cardinal Pio Laghi (1980-1984)

Apostolic Pro-Nuncio

The Holy See and the Vatican established full diplomatic relations in 1984, leading to the creation of the title of apostolic pro-nuncio to the United States. The title was pro-nuncio because, at the time, the Vatican gave the title of nuncio only to its ambassadors who were dean of the diplomatic corps to a country.

Cardinal Pio Laghi (1984-1990)

Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan (1990-1998)

Apostolic Nuncio

In 1990 and 1991, the Holy See began to use the title of nuncio instead of pro-nuncio for its ambassadors who were not the deans of a country’s ambassadorial corps, but it retained the pro-nuncio title for all those already appointed.

Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo Higuera (1998-2005)

Archbishop Pietro Sambi (2005-2011)

Archbishop Carlo Viganò (appointed Oct. 19, 2011)