Vatican: Diplomacy in Overdrive

April 25, 2022

The possibility of a meeting between the Holy Father and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the possible revision of the secret accord signed in 2018 between the Vatican and China, the rise of anti-Catholic acts in France, the shortage of workers at the Secretariat of State… The number two man in the Vatican takes stock of the diplomacy of the smallest state in the world.

At the Terza Loggia - the place where the offices of the Secretariat of State are located - they are not idle... This is what emerges from a long exclusive interview granted to journalists by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and published on April 7, 2022. The Secretary of State of the Holy See takes stock of the Vatican's diplomatic activity which is spreading out in all directions, in an increasingly chaotic world: enough to make your head spin...

The Vatican's number two man begins by defending the nuanced position of the Holy See in the Ukrainian drama. Where many Western media denounce a certain irenicism in relation to Russia, Cardinal Parolin highlights the mediation function of the micro-State, with the aim of reaching the only possible outcome: a negotiated solution, which would allow the more effective application of the Minsk agreements.

And the head of Vatican diplomacy confirms that talks are underway for a possible meeting between the Roman pontiff and the leader of the Russian Orthodox, Patriarch Kirill: “we are continuing this preparation,” specified the high prelate who explains that the search for the moment consists of finding a place of  “neutral ground,” which may be Jerusalem, according to some Vatican sources.

The ambivalent relations between the Holy See and China was also on the agenda of the interview granted by the Secretary of State, since the secret provisional agreement signed in 2018, then renewed in 2020, expires next October.

An agreement against which many Catholic voices are being raised, seeing in it an unconditional surrender of the Church into the hands of Xi Jinping, the current master of the Middle Kingdom.

“We are contemplating what to do,” explains the cardinal who mentions, without saying more, “possibly the need to clarify or review certain points.”

The rise of anti-Catholic acts, in the world, but also in France, worries the high prelate, as shown by a recent report from the Ministry of the Interior revealing an exponential increase in desecrations of churches in France:

“It is unfortunately a very present phenomenon in France, and on this subject, even the causes of the Notre-Dame fire are not very clear. The number of attacks indicates that religious intolerance is increasing… We can no longer neglect the question of radicalization.”

Cardinal Parolin summarizes the reform of the Curia as follows: “Paul VI had resolved the problem of the vertical coordination of the Curia, by establishing that everything would pass through the Secretariat of State. Now, the Secretariat of State is seeing the diminishment of some of its powers, but its task boils down to more direct assistance to the Pope in the exercise of his Petrine ministry.”

In the eyes of the high prelate, this reform should not be the tree that hides the forest, because there is another more worrying problem that the Secretariat of State – and the Curia in general – must face: the lack of human resources, i.e., the lack of priests.

Thus, when we speak to him about fourteen nunciatures currently vacant in the world, the cardinal recognizes: “the crisis is more widespread; it is a crisis which is at the level of priestly and religious vocations, a pool which the diplomacy of the Holy Seat has always had the habit of tapping. In this respect, from year to year, it is more and more difficult to find new candidates for the Ecclesiastical Academy (which trains future nuncios).”

A common sense reflection which one hopes would go further into the profound reasons for the current crisis in the Church. This lack of personnel could quickly go from overdrive to overheating: a concern that is not utopian, given the crisis that is spreading via the German synodal path.