Home > Archives > 09 - 2008 > Italians in the minority
from issue no. 09 - 2008

Italians in the minority

The long wave of internationalization is also sweeping through Vatican diplomacy. Now most of the apostolic nuncios no longer come from Italy. Meanwhile the number of papal representatives in Africa is increasing

by Gianni Cardinale

Benedict XVI with priests from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, Sala dei Papi, 9 June 2008 [© Osservatore Romano]

Benedict XVI with priests from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, Sala dei Papi, 9 June 2008 [© Osservatore Romano]

The internationalization of the staff of the Holy See is now affecting papal diplomacy, which in the not so distant past was still an “ecclesiastical reservation” of Italy’s. With the latest appointments of three new apostolic nuncios (on 19 June that of the Argentinian Luis Mariano Montemayor to Senegal, on August 2 that of the Nigerian Jude Thaddeus Okolo to the Central African Republic, on 8 September that of the German Martin Krebs to Guinea), non-Italians have exceeded Italians among the 104 papal representatives around the world: 53 to 51. At the start of this year Italian nuncios were still in the majority (50 out of 96) even if with a lower percentage than in the past (in 1961 48 nuncios out of 58, 83%, came from Italy; in 1978 they were 55 out of 75, 73%; at the end of 1999 there were 56 out of 102, 55%). It may be that in the appointments of new papal representatives foreseen for this year in various nunciatures (Austria, Ethiopia, Portugal, Syria) the Italians will regain some position, but in the long run the process of internationalization, which accelerated under John Paul II (in 1978 six out of nine candidates who entered the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy were still Italian, but already by 1980 they were only five out of nineteen) has become numerically inexorable. For some time now Italians have been a minority among the new recruits coming out of the pontifical diplomacy school (last year there were just three out of thirteen, this year one out of six).
Currently, after Italy, the countries from which most nuncios come are Spain (seven), India and the United States (six each), France and Poland (five each), the Philippines (four) and Switzerland (three). With the appointment of Montemayor, then, the Latin American Church once again has an ecclesiastic among the papal representatives spread around the world. It was since 17 December 2005, when the resignation of Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo of Colombia as nuncio to the United States was accepted, that there has been no “ambassador” of the Pope coming from the subcontinent, though it has about half the world’s Catholic population.
As for the Italians, the regions most represented in papal diplomacy are Lombardy (eight nuncios), the Veneto (seven), Campania (six), Piedmont and Puglia (five each), Sicily (four) and the Marche (three). The fact remains that the nuncios to countries ecclesiastically and/or politically important such as Italy, France, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Israel-Jerusalem and Palestine, Nigeria, Russia are still Italian.
One may note, finally, the increased weight of Africa in papal diplomacy. Perhaps it is a reflection of the fact that the Black Continent is registering a rapid growth in the number of the faithful and vocations. Okolo is, in fact, the third nuncio from Africa. Until 1998 there had never been one. Not only that, within the last two-year span the Holy See has opened two new nunciatures. Last year in Burkina Faso (before then the papal representative was resident in the Ivory Coast), this year in Liberia (detaching it from the office in Guinea). Not to mention that since 2007 the Chief of Protocol of the Vatican Secretariat of State is for the first time an African: the Nigerian Monsignor Fortunatus Nwachukwu. Finally a curiosity: the only African country that grants automatic deanship to “ambassadors” of the Pope is the Ivory Coast. Until a few months ago Rwanda did so also, but no longer.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português