Pope Francis faces key decision on new Vatican secretary of state

Pope Francis gestures as he delivers his Angelus prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, March 17, 2013. AP

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.

Pope Francis has been lauded so far for his simplicity and warmth in public, but if his pontificate is to avoid the pitfalls of Benedict's, he'll have to pick the right men for a few key positions underneath him.

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.

The Vatican announced on Saturday that Pope Francis had officially asked all Vatican officials to maintain their current positions, but put them on notice that it might only be temporary. He was to decide later whether to confirm them or name someone else after a period of "reflection, prayer and dialogue."

Benedict XVI waited a full year to appoint Bertone as his secretary of state. Bertone, who Benedict had worked with at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was a man whom Benedict personally trusted, but he did not have diplomatic experience.

It would not be unheard of for Pope Francis to choose a trusted advisor or secretary who was not already part of the office of Secretariat of State; perhaps a nuncio (the Vatican's version of an ambassador) currently serving in another country, who could at least give the impression of real change.

However, given that the pope himself has never worked in an official capacity at the Vatican, many believe he will opt for someone more comfortable in the corridors of the Curia -- someone familiar with what took place under the previous papacy -- in order to bring an experienced hand to help him clean up the mess revealed by Vatileaks.

Here are some potential candidates:

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri: An Argentine of Italian heritage like Pope Francis, Cardinal Sandri is most well known for having announced the death of Pope John Paul II to the crowds in St. Peter's Square in 2005, when he was substitute for general affairs in the Secretariat of State. Sandri has extensive experience at the Vatican, and the benefit of having been transferred out of the Secretariat of State in 2007, before Vatileaks spilled the Church's dirty laundry out into the public's gaze.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni: Cardinal Filoni, an Italian, also served as substitute in the Secretariat of State, following Cardinal Sandri. He has a long and distinguished international diplomatic career, including a stint as Papal Nuncio in Iraq when he famously refused to leave the Catholic community there during the war. He also served for 10 years in Hong Kong and is familiar with the political and religious situations in China and Asia.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco: Cardinal Bagnasco is currently the president of the Italian Bishops' Conference and widely recognized as an upright and highly capable administrator. In his role as head of the Italian bishops, he has managed to navigate the deep waters of Italian ecclesiastical politics, present a united front and avoid any embarrassments. This familiarity with Italian territory would stand him in good stead for the larger role of secretary of state.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti: Archbishop Mamberti was Secretary for Relations with States under Benedict XVI. Born in Morocco, he has had a distinguished diplomatic career in South America, Africa, the Middle East and at the United Nations. As representative for the Secretariat of State, he traveled to Cuba in 2010 and met with President Raul Castro to mark 75 years of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Holy See.

Archbishop Giovanni Becciu: Archbishop Becciu was named substitute under Benedict XVI in 2010 and so worked closely with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone during the last phase of Benedict's pontificate, which was overshadowed by the Vatileaks scandal. Becciu gave an interview to the L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, saying of the scandal: "It is regrettable that the Vatican should have such a distorted image. But it should be cause for reflection and renewed commitment to a life which is marked by the Gospel. " His experience with the difficult days of the pope emeritus' papacy -- if not seen purely as baggage -- could be a plus in the new pope's efforts to clean up the Curia, in addition to his distinguished international diplomatic career.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.