VATICAN CITY, JUNE 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican secretary of state who, beginning Sept. 15 will be Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is “the Pope’s first collaborator in the governance of the universal Church.”
This is the description made of the holder of this office in the Vatican’s Web page, which presents the history and organization of the Secretariat of State.
“The Secretariat of State,” says the apostolic constitution “Pastor Bonus,” “provides close assistance to the Supreme Pontiff in the exercise of his supreme office.”
The origins of the Secretariat of State go back to the 15th century. The apostolic constitution “Non Debet Reprehensibile” of 1487 established the Secretaria Apostolica comprising 24 apostolic secretaries, one of whom bore the title Secretarius Domesticus and held a position of pre-eminence.
Pope Leo X established another position, the Secretarius Intimus, to assist the cardinal who had control of the affairs of state and to attend to correspondence in languages other than Latin, chiefly with the apostolic nuncios (who at that time were evolving into permanent diplomatic representatives).
From these beginnings, the Secretariat of State developed, especially at the time of the Council of Trent.
For a long time, the Secretarius Intimus, also called Secretarius Papae or Secretarius Maior, was almost always a prelate, often endowed with episcopal rank.
It was only at the beginning of the pontificate of Innocent X that someone already a cardinal and not a member of the Pope’s family was called to this high office. Pope Innocent XII definitively abolished the office of cardinal nephew, and the powers of that office were assigned to the cardinal secretary of state alone.
In 1814, Pope Pius VII established the Sacred Congregation for the Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, expanding the Congregation Super Negotiis Ecclesiasticis Regni Galliarum established by Pope Pius VI in 1793.
With the apostolic constitution “Sapienti Consilio” of 1908, Pope Pius X divided the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs in the form fixed by the Code of Canon Law of 1917 (Canon 263) and he specified the duties of each of the three sections: the first was concerned essentially with extraordinary affairs, while the second attended to the ordinary affairs, and the third, until then an independent body (the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs), had the duty of preparing and dispatching pontifical briefs.
With the apostolic constitution “Regimini Ecclesiae Universae” of 1967, Pope Paul VI reformed the Roman Curia, implementing the desire expressed by the bishops in the Second Vatican Council.
This gave a new face to the Secretariat of State, suppressing the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs, formerly the third section, and transforming the former first section, the Sacred Congregation for the Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, into a body distinct from the Secretariat of State, though closely related to it, which was to be known as the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church.
On June 28, 1988, Pope John Paul II promulgated “Pastor Bonus,” which introduced a reform of the Roman Curia and divided the Secretariat of State into two sections: the Section for General Affairs and the Section for Relations with States, which incorporated the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church.
This guaranteed both unity of purpose and the specificity required in the service which the Secretariat of State is called to offer a pope.
The Section for General Affairs or the First Section is responsible for handling matters regarding the everyday service of the Supreme Pontiff, both in caring for the universal Church and in dealing with the dicasteries of the Roman Curia.
It attends to the preparation of whatever documents the Holy Father entrusts to it. It enacts the provisions for appointments within the Roman Curia and keeps custody of the Lead Seal and the Fisherman’s Ring.
It regulates the duties and activity of the Holy See’s representatives, especially in relation to the local Churches. It attends to all that concerns the embassies accredited to the Holy See.
It supervises the Holy See’s official communication agencies and is responsible for publishing the Acta Apostolicae Sedis and the Annuario Pontificio.
The First Section of the Secretariat of State is headed by an archbishop, the substitute for general affairs, (currently Archbishop Leonardo Sandri) assisted by a prelate, the assessor for general affairs. The position of the substitute first appeared in the hierarchical listing of the Secretariat of State in 1814.
The Section for Relations with States or Second Section has the specific duty of attending to matters which involve civil governments.
It has responsibility:
— for the Holy See’s diplomatic relations with states, including the establishment of concordats or similar agreements;
— for the Holy See’s presence in international organizations and conferences;
— in special circumstances, by order of the Supreme Pontiff and in consultation with the competent dicasteries of the Curia, provides for appointments to particular Churches, and for their establishment or modification;
— in close collaboration with the Congregation for Bishops, it attends to the appointment of bishops in countries which have entered into treaties or agreements with the Holy See in accordance with the norms of international law.
The Second Section is headed by an archbishop, the secretary for relations with states (who until Sept. 15 is Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo), aided by a prelate, the undersecretary for relations with states, and assisted by cardinals and bishops.