Cardinal Parolin in ambush

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

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Is Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, the true candidate of the Bergoglian left[1]? We recall that in 2013, cardinals who called themselves  “Group of Saint-Gall” and who brought to power Jorge Bergoglio, used a maneuver which consisted in putting forward the name of Cardinal Scherer, Archbishop of Sao Paulo, to more efficaciously advance their true papabile, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Likewise, today, behind the figure of Cardinal Tagle, Filipino, 66 years old, Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, but suffering from depression and relatively insignificant, or behind the figure of Cardinal Hollerich, 65 years old, a jesuit, Archbishop of Luxembourg, Recorder of the Synod of the Bishop for a synodal Church, but loudly heterodox, in reality behind them stands Cardinal Parolin.

The heir to Cardinal Silvestrini

Ordained in 1980 for the diocese of Vicence, in Venetia, he joined the diplomatic corps of the Holy See as soon as 1986 when Cardinal Casaroli was Secretary of State and Achille Silvestrini was Secretary of the Section for Relations with States (the equivalent to a minister of Foreign affairs), and for decades leader of liberal Rome. Hard worker, Pietro Parolin immediately acquired, under the direction of his mentor Silvestrini, a wide knowledge of the highest level in the Curia and also of the chancelleries worldwide. He served in a variety of nunciatures, before returning to Rome in 1992, as Cardinal Sodano became Secretary of State. He was appointed Under-Secretary for relations with States, under Jean-Louis Tauran who had succeeded Silvestrini, and stood out by his expertise with sensitive negotiations (Mexico, Vietnam). But, Cardinal Bertone who became Benedict XVI’s Secretary of State withdraw the support he had given him and replaced him with one of his faithful, Ettore Balestero. Parolin was then sent to the most difficult post, the nunciature in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. It is actually a very criticized Venezuelan prelate, Mgr Edgar Peña Parra, very close to the pope, who later will become his first collaborator as Substitute for General Affairs, in 2018, to replace Giovanni Becciu who had become Cardinal and Prefect for the Cause of Saints.

It is said that the wise attitude of Pietro Parolin in Caracas, dealing with Hugo Chavez, was very  much appreciated by Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires. As Pope, with little persuasion from Cardinals Silvestrini and Tauran, Bergoglio agreed to call in August 2013 the experienced and liberal diplomat to replace Cardinal Bertone who had been responsible for Parolin’s exile. Parolin’s experience in Latin America seemed valuable to the Pope who, compelled by peronism, saw the United States and their largely conservative Church as his bête noire. The election of Trump in 2016 came as a cruel news for the Pope and his Secretary of State, and even more cruel the recent election of the Argentinian Trump, Javier Milei who has  sometimes labelled Francis a “demon”.

If the election of Jorge Bergoglio to the Sovereign Pontificate had appeared like the start of a new era, it represented in fact the return of an old world after a long period of wojtylo-ratzinguerian “restoration”. Pietro Parolin, spiritual son of Cardinal Silvestrini, admirer of Cardinal Casaroli’s Ostpolitik, was the figure of this revival of old topics.

The thorn in Parolin’s flesh: the agreement with China

Precisely, Parolin’s big handicap is the disastrous agreement of the Holy See with China. Much more professional than Bertone, his predecessor, Parolin has nonetheless stupefied the world with the irenicism of the agreement that he made with the People’s Republic of China, on 22 September 2018, an agreement which terms remain secret.

The situation of Catholicism in China is supremely complex: strong opposition to the heroic clandestine Church vis a vis the State controlled Church; but within this Church, positions are often unclear. Under John Paul II, already, though appointed by the Patriotic Association, some of the bishops had secretly asked Rome for their recognition.

Pope Francis and cardinal Parolin have thus organized direct negotiations with Beijing lead on the Roman side by Mgr Celli. Furthermore, Cardinal McCarrick’s services were hired again. The former archbishop of Washington, put aside to do penance by Benedict XVI for his crimes as a sexual predator. Having already visited China several times, McCarrick received a mandate to start his visits again to “official” Catholics. All this did not prevent the persecutions against Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, particularly destruction of churches on a large scale.

The Parolin agreement of 2018, signed for two years and extended in 2020 and in 2022, conceded to the Chinese authority the “presentation” of bishops vested by Rome. In virtue of this agreement the seven last appointed “official” bishops have been re-integrated in the Roman communion, of those seven, two were married. Furthermore, the clandestine bishops, unapproved by communist authorities, were set aside from the government of the dioceses. This lead to outraged critics, particularly from Cardinal Zen who accused Pietro Parolin, “man of little faith”, of “selling the Catholic Church to the communist government”, but also, recently, critics from Cardinal Müller: “You cannot strike deals with the devil”[2]. Indeed, it is important to consider the fact that this pact allows communist, persecutor of the Church, to appoint bishops.

Pietro Parolin has actually admitted last July that this policy was taking the Holy See into accepting hard to swallow situations: “for the good of the diocese and dialogue” but contrary to the agreements, Rome had recognized the unilateral nomination by the Patriotic Association of Joseph Shen Bin as the head of the Shanghai diocese[3]. In reality, this way of doing things – that is, the news of the nomination and consecration of a bishop is given by Chinese ecclesial authorities, then later it is endorsed by Rome and published by the Vatican news room – is the usual process.

Cardinal Zen pointed out that the State Secretary had quoted the letter of Benedict XVI to the Church in China of 27 May 2007, who said: “The solution to the present issues cannot be found in a permanent conflict with legitimate civil authorities.” Parolin, too glad that pope Ratzinger recognized the legitimacy of the communist authorities, truncated the rest of the sentence: “Yet it is not acceptable to surrender to the will of the civil authorities when they infer in affairs concerning faith and the discipline of the Church.” In this affair, Cardinal Zen invited the person responsible for this “unbelievable betrayal” to offer his resignation.

The globalist cardinal

A lot was said on the participation of the second ranked personage in the Church to a gathering of a club with views perfectly estranged to the social doctrine of the Church: we are talking about the yearly conference, behind closed doors, of the Bilderberg Group in Turin, Italy, which took place from June 7 to June 10, 2018. The program of the conference included topics such the study of the concerning rise of populisms. This group was founded in 1954 by David Rockefeller, and is today an effective relay to globalist ideology. Its members and invitees, about a hundred people, are co-opted among personalities with influence in diplomacy, business, politics, media, most of them completely out in terms of their “humanist” support. The total secrecy of the debates – the participants are behind closed doors for two days like in a conclave – spurs the imagination as to what takes place. But according to the Vatican News Room, the Vatican Secretary of State had only been in attendance “for a short time – about an hour and forty five minutes”, during which he had given a speech “on the social doctrine of the Church.” In short, Parolin was teaching the capital-globalist elite…

In continuity with showing an openness to topics dear to globalists, but alway with the same prudence, Parolin had received on 5 April 2019, for over an hour, LGBT high-level activists, including about fifty lawyers, magistrates, politicians, all campaigning actively for the decriminalization of homosexuality. The key player of this delegation was the criminology Professor emeritus in Buenos Aires, Raúl Zaffaroni, a long time friend of Jorge Bergoglio, and known for his very liberal positions, his commitment to the legal recognition of homosexual “marriages”, and to the decriminalization of abortion. The Secretary of State had stated that the Church condemned “all violence against anyone”, which was not a very strong statement, making at the same time, since he received the group, a powerful symbolic gesture. It is definitely less terrible than the luncheon given by the pope to transgender women, but it is all the same significant in terms of “openness”. This is Parolin at his best.

A complex relation with pope Francis

Pietro Parolin was a member of the group of cardinals who worked on the reform of the Curia, which was supposed to give less power to the Secretariat of State. Everything was decided on the side of finances. Pietro Parolin has skillfully maneuvered to counteract the efficient cleanup started by Cardinal Pell of the financial bodies of the Holy See and of the State of the City of the Vatican. In theory, the Pell reform was taking away an important part of the control exercised by the Secretary of State. In reality, Pietro Parolin worked to exclude the Secretariat of State from the audit organized for the whole of financial entities of the Vatican, which torpedoed the thorough review organized by Pell.

As a result, Cardinal Parolin found himself directly under scrutiny in 2019, when came to light a suspicious transaction lead by the Secretariat of State in 2012: the investment of about 200 million euros in a high-end London building with a mortgage on it. It had been purchased at an overestimated price with funds collected from the faithful’s yearly contribution, then sold with a heavy loss. A relatively classic situation where ecclesiastics, thinking of themselves as financial experts, prove to be extremely naive. The main responsibility rested on Pietro Parolin’s first collaborator, Angelo Becciu, who had become in the mean time Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Eventually, Becciu was forced to resign, lost all the rights that came with his position as cardinal and was referred to the Vatican Courts along with other high-ranked Roman civil servants such as Swiss René Brülhart, former President of the Financial Information Authority (ASIF), the financial gendarme of Vatican City, as well as Mgr Carlino, a longtime private secretary to Angelo Becciu, and Mgr Crasso, former manager of assets reserved to the Secretariat of State. Their lawyers went heavy on their allegations that Parolin was aware of their activities.

Did Parolin then fall from grace? These accusations of malversations or gross imprudence had for a consequence at the end of 2020 for the Secretariat of State to have the management of its assets and large investment portfolio removed from its responsibilities. Yet, whatever the implication of Cardinal Parolin, this affair is so complex in itself and in the manner completely atypical – Bergoglian – in which the pope himself pursued it, that it does not constitute a real danger for the Cardinal Secretary of State at a next conclave.

Furthermore, despite the participation of Parolin’s diplomatic staff in international discussions on climate, he was excluded from the process of writing the papal exhortation Laudate Deum. In addition, it is Cardinal Zuppi, supported by the powerful Sant’Egidio Community, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, who has been put in charge to implement the efforts of the pope to obtain a peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia. Thus, the cardinal of Bologna who in the past has already assumed important diplomatic missions, is considered as a sort of second Secretariat of State.

But to be less in proximity with the pope might come to be an advantage for Pietro Parolin when comes the time to find a successor for Francis and that, necessarily, a reaction will occur against the despotism as decried by the Curia and the Cardinals.

In this kind of speculations, his uncertain state of health – Parolin was cured of a cancer – would compensate for his “young” age (69 years old) among electors who, since the interminable pontificate of John Paul II, want to keep some control by seeking papabili that would have a short reign (Cardinal Ricard had revealed that the age of Cardinal Bergoglio was one of the argument in his favor put forward by his supporters, during the 2013 Conclave).

A return to an unmitigated Council: Amoris laetita et Traditionis custodes

The speech given on 14 November, 2017, in Washington, D.C., at the Catholic University of America, as he received an honorary degree, says a lot about Parolin’s ecclesiology. He gave a long magisterial address, fifty five minute long, in Italian, to the glory of Vatican II, resembling a manifesto, and in which he placed himself with insistence in the wake of Pope Francis who was fully implementing the intentions of the Council[4].

For Pietro Parolin, the Second Vatican Council is fons et origo of the Church today and of tomorrow. There, the Fathers adopted a new paradigm, one of a Church which has certainly always be Catholic, but who has become global, cleared from its coincidence with Europe. From there comes diverse consequences, such as the introduction of local languages in the liturgy and the legitimation of local theology. The adjective global attached to the Church, being used with a similar ambiguity to the one of the adjective ecumenical to qualify the Vatican II Council, ecumenical council because general and/or because it brought triumphant the promotion of unity with separated Christians.

Pietro Parolin quoted Mgr Doré who said that after Vatican II nothing will be like before. In the same way that the Church had gone at its origin from Judeo christianity to Pagan Christianity, it brought the same type of change during Vatican II, as radical a change. An “irreversible” process, hammered the cardinal, which underlined that among the far reached novelties of Vatican II highlighted by Pope Francis, was the introduction to synodality which “balances” the anteconciliar monarchical organization.

But, next to the “communication” aspect of synodality, for him the essential of the present pontificate is in the harmonization produced by Amoris lætitia. There was a contradiction: Vatican II had adopted a liberal ecclesiology (ecumenism, religious liberty) but, Paul VI, with Humane vitæ, had kept a traditional moral on marriage. Amoris lætitia erased this hiatus by also bringing moral towards a liberal stand. We see that Pietro Parolin has set protective measures around this liberal stand by inscribing on 7 June 2017, to the Acta Apostolicæ Sedis, under the title of “authentic magisterium”, the word of praise sent by the Pope to Argentinian bishops for their ultraliberal interpretation of Amoris Lætitia.

This defense of the new lex credendi, in its plenitude, manifests itself, as it should, in the defense of the new lex orandi, the reformed liturgy following the Council. In this, Cardinal Parolin played a key role, as Secretary of State, in the elaboration of Traditionis custodes. We recall that the first step had been the inquiry organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dated 7 March 2020, from the bishops of the world, in order to assess the application of Summorum Pontificum. Certainly, the results could be interpreted as an approbation of Summorum Pontificum, but what was in view was actually its abrogation. During the Assemblies of the Congregation which discussed the topic, some of the speakers who participated were very hostile to the usus antiquior such as Cardinal Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, the virulent Cardinal Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops, Cardinal Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education (responsible for seminaries), and then, Cardinal Parolin, who apparently had commented at one of the gatherings on the appellation often given to the Tridentine mass “mass of all times”: “We must put an end to this mass for ever!”

A timely shift to a median way

A very high secrecy was imposed on the members of the October Assembly of the Synod on Synodality, and it was surprisingly observed. We do know that Cardinal Parolin spoke there in a noted intervention, “very frank” and “very strong”, which has impressed the assembly but which content has not been revealed. Some say he “defended the doctrine” that is to be placed in the heart of the synodality. Andrea Gagliarducci wrote in Il Foglio of 20 October in an ironic tone: “It is yet unlikely that Parolin spoke like a warrior.” It seems most likely that his speech advocated for a median way, in harmony with Francis’ idea who wants to keep its distance from the German synodal Way. We can actually understand the heavy Roman synodal machine as a process of transaction between Rome and the German Church, or rather between “radical” Bergoglians (Hollerich) close to Germany, and the realistic Bergoglians (Parolin), the latter expressing the line of the Sovereign Pontiff.

As a matter of fact, this speech has proven to be a preparation of the minds to the publication of a letter sent to the Secretariat of State to Miss Beate Gilles on 23 October, Secretary general of the German bishops, in which Parolin recalled that the doctrine of the Church keeps priestly ordination for men only, and that with judging of the subjective responsibility of those involved, the objective morality of sexual relations between persons of the same sex has been “evaluated  […] in a precise and sure manner.”

The public interventions of the Secretary of State should from now on repeat in a “conservative”way and, in case of grave sickness of the pope or vacant See, he could quite naturally occupy the front of the stage, as it happened to Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005.

When it comes down to it, Parolin offers the institutional version of Bergoglianism, the one that offers an openness as large as can be without putting too much the institution in peril. Jacopo Scaramuzzi in La Repubblica of 25 October ranked the prominent cardinals, among which the papabili, in five groups. If we leave to the side the outsiders coming from faraway lands and often hard to classified, four well characterized groups remain:

  • Iron Bergoglians, the most “progressive” (Luis Tagle, Jean-Claude Hollerich).
  • “Institutional” Bergoglians, more realistic, among them Pietro Parolin (with Marc Ouellet, Arthur Roche). We believe Cardinal Becciu should be added. He clientele remains large and he is no more, no less “on the left” than Parolin.
  • The cardinals we could classified as center left liberals (Scaramuzzi calls them “Mediterraneans”), such as Mateo Zuppi of Bologna, Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille;
  • And for the conservatives (Peter Erdö of Budapest, Robert Sarah, Gerhard Müller, Raymond Burke, the Dutch Willem Ejik, the American Timothy Dolan).

If a vote was carried out today, what would it show? No one can say. But after the bulldozer like authoritarianism of the present pontificate, Parolin’s meticulous professionalism could appear as acceptable to the cohorts of cardinals seeking a papabile with openness, yet presenting minimum risks. In other words, with maximum risks for the Church.

Father Claude Barthe

[1] In this article we have borrowed some of the considerations of Daniel Hamiche found in a Res Novæ article published on May 1st, 2019, The Parolin “hypothesis”: L’« hypothèse » Parolin.

[2] Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Vatican confidential: A Candid Conversation with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Sophia Institute Press, 2023.

[3] Parolin: Pope appoints Shanghai bishop for good of diocese and dialogue – Vatican News.

[4] Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin – YouTube.