Preview: SSPX’s Bishop Fellay Talks Exclusively to the National Catholic Register


Coming soon in a lengthy exclusive interview with the National Catholic Register, the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X gives an overview of current talks between the Society and the Holy See, his views on Pope Francis, and what he sees as the “catastrophic” state of the Church today. Look out for the full interview soon on

Pope’s Plan Adds to International Pressure for Syrian Solution


Pope Francis is leading widespread global opposition to Western military action in Syria, proposing a six-point plan in preparation for peace in the country as well as calling for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting. The pontiff’s popularity and proactive approach, which stands in contrast to his predecessor whose influence in foreign affairs was hobbled by personnel problems in the Vatican, is making it harder for the Obama administration and other pro-intervention governments to win the support of their electorates.

pope4The Pope’s efforts, described as the Vatican’s largest peace initiative in 30 years, have been largely driven by Syria’s bishops, whose flocks were protected by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and now fear the threat of rising Islamist persecution. At least two Catholic priests and two Orthodox bishops are being held captive by rebel forces in Syria, and it is feared that an escalation of the conflict will place their lives in further danger.

In the six months since his election, Pope Francis has mounted a concerted campaign for peace in Syria and the Middle East. His position, promoted by the Holy See on the world stage, has been a persistent call for “encounter and dialogue,” which he sees as the “only option” for Syria.After the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus and the threat of escalation, the Pope stepped up his calls for peace. On Sept. 4, he wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the G-20 leaders meeting in St. Petersburg, urging them “to lay aside the futile pursuit” of a military solution to the conflict and instead renew their commitment to dialogue and negotiation.He also made a veiled criticism of Putin, President Obama and regional leaders accused of arming the two sides in the conflict, saying it was “regrettable that, from the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding.”The following day, the Holy See summoned all the Rome-based ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to a meeting to be fully briefed on the Vatican’s position – one that has been carefully devised in close consultation with the patriarchs and bishops of Syria. In a rare move, the Holy See presented them with a detailed six-point program in preparation for a possible peace plan. The three-page “non paper,” or aide-memoire, obtained by LIGNET through diplomatic sources, focuses on “following general principles.” These include re-launching dialogue and reconciliation, avoiding division of the country into zones, and maintaining its territorial integrity.The Holy See asks that there be a “place for everyone” in a new Syria, in particular for minorities such as Christians. It says Alawites, Assad’s minority ruling sect, must also have guarantees or they may be forced to emigrate or risk their own lives by remaining in the country. “Such a risk would make it more difficult to reach a compromise with them,” the Holy See says, and it argues that all minorities must be involved in preparing any new Syrian constitution or laws.

The document proposes establishment of a ministry dedicated to minorities, insists on the concept of “citizenship with equal dignity,” and emphasizes the importance of respecting human rights and religious freedom. It also stresses that members of the opposition must “distance themselves from extremist groups, isolate them and reject terrorism openly and clearly.”

The last of the six points underlines the importance of ensuring “all necessary cooperation and assistance for the immense task of reconstruction in the country.”

“Absolute priority must be given to ending the violence,” the Holy See says, adding that the “joint effort of the international community is essential.” Furthermore, it stresses the importance of respecting humanitarian law and argues that one “cannot remain passive” in the face of continuing violations of it. “The use of chemical weapons must be stopped and condemned with particular determination,” it says.

The document is particularly strong on humanitarian assistance, saying the situation is “extremely grave” and that it is foreseeable by the end of the year that half of Syria’s population will need assistance. To allow aid to reach all parts of the country, the Vatican plan calls for a ceasefire, even a partial one, and guaranteed safety for aid workers.

Recalling that the Roman Catholic Church is “at the forefront in providing humanitarian aid,” the Holy See also appeals for “solidarity and cooperation” on the part of all governments in the region and nongovernmental organizations.

The document ends by stressing the urgency of the cessation of violence, avoiding a possible “sectarian degeneration” of the conflict. It reiterates the need for dialogue and negotiation and underlines that the focus must be “on the good of the people, not the seeking of positions of power or other unilateral aims.”

On Sept. 7, Muslims and Christians around the world heeded Pope Francis’ call for a day of prayer and fasting which culminated in a peace vigil in Rome.

Francis told the large crowd in St. Peter’s Square that war was “always a defeat for humanity,” that it is caused by “idols, by selfishness, by our own interests,” and that only the cross of Christ will bring “reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue.”

Countless churches across the world took part in the day of prayer, leading the Vatican’s spokesman to describe it as the Roman Catholic Church’s largest peace campaign in at least 30 years.


Diplomats in Rome have been surprised and impressed by the Holy See’s determination in promoting the church’s concerns about the escalating conflict in Syria. Those who attended last week’s briefing of diplomats were also surprised by the detail of the “non paper,” which they saw as an effort by the Holy See to restart the Geneva II negotiations. Those talks, aimed at ending the Syrian conflict and organizing a transition period and post-war reconstruction, stalled earlier this year as the United States was unable to persuade the Syrian opposition to take part.

“The briefing showed us that the Vatican means business; it’s not just rhetoric or platitudes,” one ambassador said. Many noted the high level representation of diplomats attending – 71 countries in all – and see it as a testament to the Holy See’s increasing influence on the world stage under Pope Francis. One diplomat told LIGNET that the Argentine pontiff has such a popular following worldwide that governments in favor of military strikes on Syria “will probably find it very hard to face their electorates if it goes ahead.” 

Despite being the world’s smallest state, the Holy See has the world’s oldest diplomatic service and permanent observer status at the United Nations. And as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, the Pope continues to be an internationally respected figure on moral issues. 

Under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican’s relevance on the international stage declined as the former pontiff was forced to focus on internal troubles. He also may have been ill-served in global diplomacy by his deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was a canon law expert and not a Vatican diplomat – unusual for that position.

Francis’ forceful stance on Syria is said to mark an end to that impasse. 


Although it is not rare for a Pope to call for world peace, Pope Francis’ determination to avert an escalation of the conflict in Syria and bring about a lasting peace is being heralded as a new era for the Holy See on the world stage, one in which the church’s contributions on moral and ethical issues are more widely heeded. It marks a return to the kind of global presence Pope John Paul II showed, and which sometimes proved effective, most notably with regard to Soviet communism. 

Although doubts remain about the effectiveness on policy of papal pleas for peace, on this conflict, where global public opinion is mostly opposed to a Western military strike, the Pope’s pronouncements and actions are resonating with many, and governments are beginning to take notice. One can expect the Pope to keep up the pressure until the situation improves. 

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11 September 2013

A Look at Archbishop Parolin’s Diplomatic Record


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has chosen an accomplished Italian Vatican diplomat as the new Vatican secretary of state, replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who is stepping down on account of his age.

402px-Pietro_parolinArchbishop Pietro Parolin, who currently serves as the Pope’s representative to Venezuela, will become what is considered to be the closest equivalent of a Vatican “prime minister,” presiding over the running of the Curia, the Holy See’s diplomatic service and relations with states.

At just 58 years of age, he will be the youngest secretary of state since Eugenio Pacelli, who was appointed in 1930 at the age of 53 and later became Pope Pius XII. Archbishop Parolin will take over from Cardinal Bertone on Oct. 15.

In a statement released by the Vatican Aug. 31, Archbishop Parolin expressed his “deep and affectionate gratitude to the Holy Father” for the “unmerited trust” he had shown in him.

He assured the Pope of his “willingness and complete availability to work with him and under his guidance for the greater glory of God, the good of the Holy Church and the progress and peace of humanity, that humanity might find reasons to live and to hope.”

Archbishop Parolin said he felt “very strongly the grace of this call” and “the full weight of the responsibility placed upon me.”

“This call entrusts to me a difficult and challenging mission, before which my powers are weak and my abilities poor,” he said. “For this reason, I entrust myself to the merciful love of the Lord, from whom nothing and no one can ever separate me, and to the prayers of all.”

Archbishop Parolin, whose episcopal motto is “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35), also thanked those who have helped him and will assist him in his new position.

He said he was sorry to leave Venezuela, where he has been stationed since 2009, and paid tribute to his family, friends, Benedict XVI, Cardinal Bertone and others to whom he owes “a great debt.”

“It is with trepidation that I place myself in this new service to the Gospel, to the Church and to Pope Francis,” he said, but added he would do so “with trust and serenity — disposed — as the Holy Father has asked us from the beginning — to walk, to build and to profess.” He ended his statement invoking Our Lady of Monte Berico, Guadalupe and Coromoto, to give him the courage to “walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s cross.”


A Credentialed Diplomat

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Parolin after a lengthy period of reflection and widespread consultation with cardinals whom he trusts, such as Honduran Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, John Paul II’s long-serving secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and Cardinal Bertone.

The Vatican diplomat is well regarded in Rome. He earned respect within the Vatican principally as undersecretary for relations with states between 2002 and 2009. Although the post is regarded as the Holy See’s “deputy foreign minister,” it has considerable influence.

During that time, he became known for cementing ties between the Holy See and Vietnam that laid the foundations for advances in religious freedom in the communist state. He improved relations with China, helping to re-establish direct contact with Beijing in 2005, and tried to keep relations on track in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics. He visited China twice, and his time as undersecretary was said to mark a real turning point in Church relations with Beijing.

Further, he has earned a reputation for being well connected yet humble, with an unassuming, modest personality. He was responsible for advancing negotiations with Israel to fulfill the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, on tax and property rights for the Church, even though the agreement is still yet to be signed. He was personally at the forefront of Vatican efforts to approve and implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As undersecretary, he was also involved in handling sensitive relations with Iran. Diplomatic sources say he was largely responsible, while working closely with the British Embassy to the Holy See, for the liberation of 15 British navy personnel captured by Iranian forces in the Arabian Gulf in April 2007. He is also credited with playing a key role in Vatican efforts to revive dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The Holy See diplomat took further interest in combatting human trafficking, promoting and protecting religious freedom and safeguarding the environment.

During his time as undersecretary, the Holy See also worked to resolve tensions in a variety of trouble spots, from East Timor to the conflict between Ecuador and Peru over rights to the Amazonian territories along their disputed borders. The Vatican also pushed international efforts to ban cluster bombs and helped resolve a serious institutional crisis that had broken out in Zaire.

His subsequent time as apostolic nuncio to Venezuela, during the presidency of Hugo Chavez, was never easy. In 2010, Chavez ordered a review of Venezuela’s ties with the Vatican amid tensions between his government and the country’s bishops. It is said to be partly because of Archbishop Parolin’s skilfull diplomacy that relations did not deteriorate further before Chavez’s death on March 5 this year.

“He is a man of patient dialogue, an exemplary priest, formed also in the great diplomatic tradition of the Holy See,” said Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Sant’Egidio Community, adding that Archbishop Parolin “appears to have a personality best suited” to work with the Pope in his upcoming tasks. The lay community, which worked closely with Msgr. Parolin in the 2000s, said his appointment is “a sign of the pastoral style Pope Francis is impressing on the governance of the Church.”


His Earlier Years

Pietro Parolin was born in 1955 in Schiavon, Vicenza, in northern Italy, to a devout Catholic family. He experienced tragedy at the age of 10, when his father died in a car crash, leaving his widowed mother to bring up Pietro and his two siblings. He entered the seminary at the age of 14 and studied during the social turbulence of the late 1960s.

He was ordained on April 27, 1980, after which he took up graduate studies in canon law. Though he appeared to be headed for service on a diocesan tribunal dealing with family pastoral care, his career took a turn when he was summoned to work for the Holy See instead.

In 1986, at the age of 36, he graduated from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Holy See’s institute for training diplomats, and then he entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service. He served in the nunciatures of Nigeria and Mexico; the former gave him valuable experience with Christian-Muslim relations, while the latter post gave him a chance to work on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Mexico.

In 1992, he was called back to Rome to work as an official in the Secretariat of State. While there, he was country director for Spain, Andorra, Italy and San Marino before being appointed undersecretary to relations with states in 2002. He speaks Italian, English, French and Spanish.


The Task Ahead

Archbishop Parolin’s personality is likely to fit harmoniously with that of the Holy Father, and he is said to share the same concerns as Pope Francis with regards to “careerism” in the Roman Curia.


Courtesy of Amy Roth Sandrolini

His diplomatic skills and relative youth, meanwhile, have stirred up expectations that he will be a proactive and dynamic secretary of state. This is particularly important given criticisms in recent years of poor communications and a perceived lack of direction coming from the Secretariat of State.

The big question is whether he will make the Holy See’s most important dicastery a force for evangelization. As pope, Benedict XVI would frequently remind the Holy See’s diplomatic corps that they were priests first, diplomats second. For Archbishop Parolin, serving the Holy See has always been a way to exercise his priestly spirituality while at the same time taking a realist view of global diplomacy. His administrative competence and linguistic abilities are also expected to improve the Church’s image and, in turn, have a positive impact on evangelization.

Cardinal Bertone had a difficult seven years as secretary of state, especially during the Vatileaks scandal, which prompted him to offer Benedict XVI his resignation and which the former pontiff refused to accept. He was neither a diplomat nor a linguist, and many felt he was out of his depth. But when he addressed the Italian media Sept. 1, he said he took a “positive view” of his time as secretary of state.

“Of course, there were problems, especially in the last two years,” he said, and he blamed “a mix of crows and vipers.” But he added, “This shouldn’t overshadow what I believe to be a positive assessment.”

“I’ve always given everything,” he said. “Certainly I have had my faults, and if I think back now, I would have acted differently. But this does not mean I haven’t tried to serve the Church.”

Cardinal Bertone, who turns 79 in December, has some scheduled pastoral duties to complete before he steps down, including a pilgrimage to Fatima on Oct. 12, shortly before the transition takes place.

On Oct. 15, Pope Francis will receive in audience superiors and officials of the Secretariat of State “in order publicly to thank Cardinal Bertone for his faithful and generous service to the Holy See and to introduce them to the new secretary of state,” the Vatican said.

Pope Francis confirmed Aug. 31 the positions of Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu as sostituto for general affairs at the Vatican (the Vatican’s chief of staff), Archbishop Dominique Mamberti as secretary for relations with states (the Vatican’s foreign minister), Archbishop Georg Gänswein, as prefect of the pontifical household, Msgr. Peter Wells as assessor for general affairs, and Msgr. Antoine Camilleri as undersecretary for relations with states.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

This article appeared in the National Catholic Register, 3 September 2013

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