Pope Francis Faces Key Decision on New Vatican Secretary of State
This story was written by Delia Gallagher, CBS News Vatican consultant and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine.
VATICAN CITY - One of the most important decisions Pope Francis will have to make at the beginning of his papacy is who will be his secretary of state. The scandals and leaks that plagued Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate were, in part, blamed on the poor administration of those who surrounded him, and in particular on his secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone.
The Vatileaks scandal raised serious questions about the mismanagement of property and money by the Institute for Works of Religion -- more commonly known as the Vatican bank. The leaked documents from Pope Benedict's own desk also revealed a lack of communication between offices, and suggested backroom power plays and infighting among senior Vatican officials.
As Benedict stepped down and all eyes focused on the process of replacing him, many cardinals and others in the Catholic Diaspora looked to Rome with calls for transparency and a clean-up of the Vatican's managing bureaucracy, the Roman Curia.
The secretariat of state is arguably the second most important office in the Vatican. The secretary is responsible for both the Church's external relations with other countries, and the internal relations between the various offices of the Church. The secretary of state decides who gets to see the pope, vets and suggests names for papal appointments at the Vatican and in Vatican embassies around the world, oversees the Vatican newspaper and press office, and generally keeps tabs on everything and anything that happens regarding the pope and the Church.
The secretariat of state is divided into two sections: Section for General Affairs, also called the First Section and the Section for Relations with States, or the Second Section.
The First Section is run by the Substitute, a kind of vice-secretary of state. His office is responsible for helping to write and translate papal documents and speeches and is divided into language groups. Any correspondence that comes in for the pope is dealt with by the First Section. It also handles Vatican publications and protocol.
The Second Section, or Section for Relations with States, is headed by an archbishop who has a role similar to a foreign minister or the U.S. secretary of state. It deals with relations with other governments and the United Nations as well as working with the Congregation for Bishops in the nomination of bishops and creation of new dioceses. The secretary for relations with states often serves as the Vatican's representative abroad, in place of the pope or secretary of state.
It is common practice for a new pope to temporarily re-instate the heads of Vatican offices in the initial weeks and months of his pontificate in order to give himself time to make new appointments.