Pope Considering Secretariat of State Overhaul

NEWS ANALYSIS: Pope could appoint a current papal nuncio as his new secretary of state.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state (photo: Wikipedia)

VATICAN CITY — A top official who works at the Secretariat of State says Pope Francis is thinking about streamlining it by combining part of this office with another Vatican government body.

According to the source — who requested anonymity in an April 6 interview with Catholic News Agency — the Pope is considering simplifying the Curia by combining a part of the Secretariat of State’s first section with the Vatican city state’s administration. The first section deals with the management of the Church around the world.

Luigi Sandri, a Church observer and historian of the Vatican Councils, remarked in an April 6 interview, “a re-thinking of the Secretariat of State would perfectly follow Pope Francis’ line of considering himself as the bishop of Rome.”

One consequence of these types of changes is that they would enhance Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello’s power.

A former observer to the United Nations in Geneva and a former Vatican ambassador to Italy, Bertello is now president of the Vatican city state’s administration. He is considered one of the strongest contenders for the position of secretary of state, especially if reports are true about him playing a key role in moving some Curia votes to Francis during the conclave.

But the timing for the leadership change at the most powerful Vatican congregation appears to be set for the fall.

A Salesian priest who serves in the Roman Curia explained in an April 6 conversation, “Cardinal Bertone probably won’t leave his post before September.”

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the current secretary of state, is expected to continue his duties until at least early May, since he is scheduled to ordain new papal ambassador Msgr. Ettore Balestrero as a bishop on April 27 in St. Peter’s Basilica.

As Msgr. Balestrero explained in a late-March conversation with Catholic News Agency, Pope Francis decided that new nuncios will always be ordained bishops by the secretary of state.

The speculation about who will take the reigns as the next secretary of state began shortly after Pope Francis’ election. Cardinal Bertone, who was appointed to the post by Pope Benedict XVI, is aged 78, three years older than the customary retirement age for all Catholic bishops.

Cardinal Bertello does appear to be in the pole position to become Cardinal Bertone’s successor, but another solution being suggested is that the Pope could appoint a current papal nuncio as his new secretary of state.

This would satisfy the so-called circle of diplomats, cardinals and monsignors in the Curia, who maintained that Cardinal Bertone was unfit for the position because he had no diplomatic experience. This arrangement would also meet the need for a significant change in the Vatican’s “engine room” after the Vatileaks scandal.

There are three other contenders widely considered to be in the running for the position of secretary of state: Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the former papal nuncio to Brazil and the current secretary of the Congregation for Bishops; Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the nuncio to France and formerly the nuncio to Canada; and Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who previously served in the Secretariat of State.