Cardinal Secretary of State

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The Cardinal Secretary of State presides over the Vatican Secretariat of State, which is the oldest and most important dicastery of the Roman Curia. As one of the senior offices in the Roman Catholic Church, the Secretary is required to be a cardinal. If the office is vacant, a non-cardinal may serve as Pro-Secretary of State, exercising the powers of the Secretary of State until a suitable replacement is found or the Pro-Secretary is made a cardinal in a subsequent consistory.

The Cardinal Secretary is regarded as being in charge of the political and diplomatic activities of the Holy See. Since Vatican City is administered by the Holy See, the Cardinal Secretary of State is also referred to as being the Vatican's "prime minister".

The Cardinal Secretary's term ends sede vacante. During this period, the former Secretary acts as a member of a commission with the Cardinal Camerlengo and the former President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, which exercises some of the functions of the head of state of the Vatican City until a new Pope is elected. Once the new Pope is chosen, the former Secretary's role in the commission likewise expires, though he can be (and usually is) re-appointed as Secretary of State.


The office traces its origins to that of secretary intimus, created by Pope Leo X in the early 16th century to handle correspondence with the diplomatic missions of the Holy See, which were just beginning to become permanent postings instead of missions sent on particular occasions. At this stage the secretary was a fairly minor functionary, the Vatican administration being led by the Cardinal Nephew, the Pope's confidant ususally taken from his family.

The imprudence of Pope Julius III in entrusting the office of Cardinal Nephew to Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte, a teenaged, illegitimate, virtually illiterate street urchin whom his brother had adopted a few years earlier, led to an upgrading of the Secretary's job, as the incumbent had to take over the duties the Cardinal Nephew was unfit for. By the time of Pope Innocent X the Secretary of State was always himself a Cardinal, and Pope Innocent XII abolished the office of Cardinal Nephew in 1692. From then onwards the Secretary of State has been the most important of the officials of the Holy See.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI's apostolic constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae further enhanced the powers of the Secretary, placing him over all the other departments of the Roman Curia. In 1973 Paul further broadened the Secretaryship by abolishing the ancient office of Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church and merging its functions into those of the Secretary.

Cardinal Secretaries of State since 1878

  1. Alessandro Cardinal Franchi (March-July 1878)
  2. Lorenzo Cardinal Nina (1878-1880)
  3. Lodovico Cardinal Jacobini (1880-1887)
  4. Mariano Cardinal Rampolla (1887-1903)
  5. Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1903-1914)
  6. Domenico Cardinal Ferrata (Sept-Oct 1914)
  7. Pietro Cardinal Gasparri (1914-1930)
  8. Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli (1930-1939) elected Pope
  9. Luigi Cardinal Maglione (1939-1944)
  10. Domenico Cardinal Tardini (1958-1961) [1]
  11. Amleto Giovanni Cardinal Cicognani (1961-1969)
  12. Jean-Marie Cardinal Villot (1969-1979)
  13. Agostino Cardinal Casaroli (1979-1990)
  14. Angelo Cardinal Sodano (1991-)


^  Pope Pius XII, having been the Secretary of State under Pope Pius XI, did not name a Secretary after the death of Cardinal Maglione in 1944. Beneath his direct supervision, the duties were divided between two protonotaries apostolic, Domenico Tardini and Giovanni Battista Montini, who in 1952 were both named Pro-Secretary of State, for Extraordinary and Ordinary affairs respectively. In 1954 Montini (the future Pope Paul VI) left the Roman Curia to become Archbishop of Milan, but only under Pope John XXIII was Tardini named a Cardinal and full Secretary.

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