In recent decades, the nunciature has no longer been headed by a nuncio. Rather, its head is a lower-ranked diplomat, a chargé d'affairs. The most recent chargé d'affairs in Taiwan was Monsignor Paul Fitzpatrick Russell, a U.S. citizen who is 57 and who hails from Greenfield, Mass.
On March 19 the Holy See announced that Msgr. Russell had been appointed apostolic nuncio to Turkey and Turkmenistan.
The appointment leaves a vacancy in Taiwan. The fact that he has been moved to a new post may signal some developments in Holy See – mainland Chinese relations. This could mean that the Holy See wants to leave the post vacant, while in the process of normalizing relations with People's Republic of China.
Pope Francis has showed great interest in restoring relations with mainland China, and it is no secret that one of his dreams would be a visit to Beijing.
Under Xi, the Holy See's relations with mainland China improved at a diplomatic level. It is noteworthy that Pope Francis has been the first Pope allowed to fly through the country's airspace, during his flights to South Korea and the Philippines.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, recently said that relations with mainland China "have been and are part of a long path with different phases. This path is not concluded yet, and we will finalize it according to God's will."
Cardinal Parolin told the Italian magazine San Francesco Rivista that mainland China-Holy See relations "are living a positive phase, as there had been signals from both side that there is the wish to keep on talking in order to find together solutions to the problems of the presence of the Catholic Church in that huge country."
The cardinal granted that "perspectives are promising." He hoped that "the blossom will flourish and bear good fruits, for the good of the same China and of all the world." The interview was published May 4 on the occasion of the translation of the San Francesco Rivista into Mandarin Chinese.
In order to harvest the fruits of this diplomatic thaw, it is possible that the nunciature in Taiwan will be left without a high-ranking papal representative for a time.
This does not mean that the nunciature will be closed. A source familiar with the Chinese environment notes the possibility that the Vatican may decrease the rank of the nunciature to China to that of an inter-nunciature, which is not considered a diplomatic delegation. The news outlet China Post predicted this outcome some months ago.
Surprisingly, the inter-nunciature model can be compared to U.S.-Holy See relations before both states stablished full diplomatic relations in 1984.