What Is A Secretary of State?

I see Pope Francis has a new head for State, effective mid-October. Pietro Parolin is the man.

Pius XII went from the position into the Chair of Peter in 1939, but the last time before that was in the 1600’s when the position was known as the “Cardinal Nephew.” (Make of that what you will.)

The RNS piece included this tidbit, which doesn’t surprise me:

Traditionally, the Secretary of State post had been given to Vatican diplomats, but Benedict chose to appoint canon law-trained Bertone, who had been working with him when he was the Vatican’s chief doctrinal watchdog.

Canon lawyer? Really? I wasn’t aware of that. So Cardinal Bertone was a political friend, and not purely a ministerial appointment, let alone a diplomatic one.

John Mack’s comment on the Syria thread illuminates this somewhat. John Kerry, I am sure, has been a diligent and loyal party politician. But he’s no diplomat. A Secretary of State has to be a diplomat, unless Pope Benedict and President Obama have completely changed the rules on us.

Granted that since the late 1960’s, the Vatican post has also been a kind of head-of-government, overseeing and coordinating the curia. So maybe the Pope Emeritus only gets half marks instead of Mr Obama’s big red zero.

There is a reason why people are effective in a career: they prove over decades they have the gifts and talents to accomplish the job. Those people should be appointed to vital positions. Not sycophants. Not friends. In fact, it might be that appointing people who are not one’s friends might be a productive way to continue a fearless and searching discernment on important issues. Imagine: mulling over different viewpoints before making decisions. Just think of where that might lead us.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to What Is A Secretary of State?

  1. Liam says:

    Well, the job of US Secretary of State has two components: political heavyweight and foreign diplomacy. FWIW, many SoS’s in the past 70 years (well, since Truman appointed Byrnes; don’t forget, though, the precedent Wilson made when he appointed Bryan in a Ministry of All Talents approach that was a disaster) have had little or no foreign diplomatic experience before their service. What *other* countries seeking influence with the US want in that context is someone who is a … political heavyweight within the Beltway.

    Anyway, the term “secretary of state” has the meaning given to it in the respective countries it’s used in. In Britain, it’s a more generic term – there are various SoS’s for this or that.

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