US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The silent reform? Out with Bertone, in with Parolin

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

It took about six months, but Pope Francis has finally, quietly, replaced the main engineer of Pope Benedict's failed papacy, now-former Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. Bertone, once the powerful undersecretary to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger under Pope John Paul II, now can go quietly into retirement. The problems that blew up under his watch--the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying Lefebvrist bishop and the "Vatileaks" scandal--will take a bit longer to resolve. On the former, Pope Francis has shown little interest in acquiesing to Lefebvrite demands about the liturgy and religious freedom; as for Vatileaks, the pope has yet to release the report produced under Pope Benedict about the machinations that led to it (and most likely will not).

As John Allen at NCR notes, Francis' replacement of Bertone lacks the hallmarks of a "shock and awe" reform campaign; Bertone's replacement, Pietro Parolin, is an Italian who has spent his entire career in the diplomatic corps--not exactly the definition of an outsider. At the same time, Parolin, as nuncio to Venezuela, is likely a known quantity to Francis, and shares (we must presume) what many Catholics hope is the pope's reforming agenda.

Parolin's appointment, however, is also a sign that whatever reforms the pope does have in mind will be coming slowly and methodically. While Pope Francis has made a bit of a splash on the international scene with conciliatory comments about gay and lesbian people, an easy and welcoming manner, pastoral preaching, and a winning trip to Brazil for World Youth Day, his inside moves have been cautious and thoughtful, even understated to those outside looking in. At the same time, I don't think his moves to clean up the Vatican Bank, create an advisory panel of world cardinals, or even to remain living at the St. Martha hotel should be underestimated. Francis is up to something, but it may be years before we can discern, practically speaking, the direction in which he wants to lead the church.