Cardinal Parolin discusses the future of Vatican diplomacy

Cardinal Pietro Parolin in Salerno, Italy, on Oct. 13, 2019 Cardinal Pietro Parolin in Salerno, Italy, on Oct. 13, 2019. | Pasquale Senatore/Shutterstock.

When it comes to diplomacy, the Holy See cannot pick and choose which challenges are the most urgent. Rather, it must simply address whatever issues need to be faced, from the wars in Yemen and Ukraine to defending Western Christians from the threats posed by new laws.

That is what Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in the fifth and final part of his interview with CNA. The Vatican Secretary of State also spoke about the priorities of pontifical diplomacy and how it might look in the future. (In Part 1 of the hourlong interview, he addressed the Vatican’s efforts to end the Ukraine war, in Part 2, the reform of the Roman Curia, in Part 3, relations with China, and in Part 4, the promotion of peace.)

To understand what the future of Vatican diplomacy will be, we must look back. Parolin, who served under John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, is a privileged witness to the evolution of the Holy See’s diplomatic work.

“I haven’t seen big changes in all these years,” he said. “Continuity remained. Each pope referred to the present heritage, although each pope also responded to the needs of his time. John Paul II, for example, was very much directed toward Europe and toward overcoming the blockade between the two sides — a situation that has unfortunately now returned. But basically, I have always worked on the same principles.”

Today, the Holy See faces significant challenges. But which is the biggest? Being present in the most challenging situations or resisting the secular ideologies being advanced within international organizations?

Parolin stressed that “the Holy See pays attention to all these scenarios, which I would not put in opposition. We try to have a look that embraces all the problems of today.”

But he admitted that there is “strong concern about the new rights because they carry within them a new anthropological vision that differs significantly, if not substantially, from the idea of the Christian proposal, especially in the sense of a conception of rights in an exclusively individualistic form.”

“Moreover, this new anthropology deprives the person of his three dimensions of the relationship with himself, relationship with God, and relationship with others,” he said.

The objective of the Holy See, Parolin added, is not to oppose trends. “On the contrary, we see the risk of destroying the human being, his dignity and substance, making him similar to a small island lost in the middle of the sea, where there is no possibility of relating to anyone,” he said.

Alongside this particular attention, there is also focus on concrete situations in which human dignity is denied and rejected. The problem of the so-called new rights occurs above all at the level of international organizations but also at the level of states. We must recognize these ongoing attempts at “ideological colonization,” as Pope Francis calls them.

The head of Vatican diplomacy was keen to clarify that the Church does not speak of these matters as “an ideological struggle,” but rather “deals with these issues because she cares and loves man, and defends the human person in her dignity and the most profound choices. So it is really about talking about rights, and then with love for man because we see the drifts that arise from these choices.”

Parolin did not go into further detail, but he emphasized that there is “a general unease in society, an inability to have relationships. They are drifts that arise from an anthropological vision where we focus exclusively on those which are personal desires.”

He also noted that topics such as gender ideology are included even in documents that have nothing to do with gender.

“From this point of view, I am sorry to say, the Holy See is not listened to,” he said. “Indeed, it creates annoyance. But we don’t work against someone. On the contrary, we look at the human being. Therefore, I believe that our task is also to be faithful to the message we must transmit, without being discouraged.”

The 67-year-old Italian cardinal underlined that “the Parable of the Sower shows us that the seed falls in the streets, on the thorns, on the road, but this does not discourage the sower, because he knows that sooner or later the seed will go into the good earth and produce fruit.”

“I believe that this is the Holy See’s attitude, always posing questions with respect and delicacy, but also with great clarity. We must say our point of view, even if it is not immediately accepted, even if it is not immediately understood, even if it is rejected and opposed.”

The cardinal also reflected on measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19, which at times risked infringing on the right to religious freedom.

More in Vatican

“I would say that there is a general tendency in some states, perhaps more in the West, to relegate religion to the private sector,” he commented. “Of course, we always speak of open persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, but there is also a tendency to limit their public presence, relegating them to the private sphere. This is the most general phenomenon.”

But, he added, “as regards COVID, I believe we all found ourselves faced with a very unprecedented situation, which made us react in no particular order, both the Church and the state.”

“And so, at times, we have not been able to act in the most correct way possible. I have heard many bishops who have highlighted the discriminatory aspects because certain premises cannot be opened and churches closed. These are choices that do not consider, among other things, people’s spiritual needs.”

Parolin concluded: “As I said, it was an unprecedented situation, and the first reactions are never the happiest. But I think everyone recognizes how the Church has tried to play her part, not by hindering the government’s work, but by supporting it, albeit with some criticisms, proving to be a reliable partner.”

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final part of CNA’s interview with Cardinal Parolin.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.