(Crux) Later this month, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, departs for a four-day trip to Moscow during which he’ll meet both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, thereby turning a neat double-play – advancing both the Vatican’s geopolitical agenda, as well as its desire for closer relations with the world’s 225-300 million Orthodox Christians.
For those with eyes to see, the trip is additional confirmation that there’s no single figure in Pope Francis’s Vatican today more trusted, or more powerful, than the 62-year-old Parolin, the son of a hardware store manager and an elementary school teacher from the northern Italian province of Vicenza.
In the beginning, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
When Pope Francis was elected in March 2013, the expectation inside the Vatican was for sweeping reform, beginning with cutting the all-powerful Secretariat of State down to size. Traditionally, the division of power in Rome was understood as quasi-President/Prime Minister structure, with the pope as the head of state and the Cardinal Secretary of State as the head of government.
However, if your judgment was that the Vatican’s bureaucracy had become sclerotic and dysfunctional – which was the view of not a few cardinals heading into that conclave – then the Secretariat of State was probably where you lodged the lion’s share of the blame. [More]