Liverpudlian Paul Gallagher, 60, currently working as ambassador to Australia, gains senior post after papal reshuffle
The Guardian, John Hooper in Rome, Sunday 9 November 2014
|Pope Francis has appointed Briton Paul Gallagher as foreign minister, a post regarded|
as a stepping stone to the papacy. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis has appointed the first Briton to be the Vatican’s foreign minister – a post regarded as a possible stepping stone to the papacy itself.
Paul Gallagher was promoted as part of a reshuffle at senior levels of the Vatican, which Francis used to sideline the main spokesman of a conservative faction at last month’s synod. The 60-year-old, from Liverpool, is currently the Vatican’s nuncio (ambassador) in Australia.
An acquaintance of Gallagher, speaking on condition of anonymity, described him as “a discreet man, but with a calm and engaging personality. He is not over-formal and really quite proactive.”
Gallagher, who holds the rank of archbishop, will head the Vatican section charged with overseeing its worldwide diplomacy.
Before being sent to Australia, Gallagher had served as the pope’s envoy in Guatemala and Burundi, both countries that had been torn apart by civil war. In Burundi, he took over from a predecessor who had been assassinated. Archbishop Michael Courtney, from Ireland, died of gunshot wounds after his car was attacked in 2003 as he was returning to the capital, Bujumbura.
Gallagher also spent five years as an official in the secretariat of state, the Vatican department that doubles as a form of interior ministry, looking after relationships with the various national churches, and as a foreign ministry. He is regarded as well versed in the often Byzantine ways of the Roman curia, the central administration of the Catholic church.
In Australia, where he has been the nuncio since 2012, he found himself at a focal point of the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic church: more than 100 Catholic priests have been charged with abuse-related offences there.
Last year, Gallagher was involved in a standoff with the Cunneen inquiry into cases of sex abuse in New South Wales. He at first claimed that documents sought by the inquiry were covered by diplomatic privilege, but surrendered them last December.
Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, told the Guardian: “We are delighted to see a British secretary for relations with states for the first time in history. Paul Gallagher is a very capable man, highly regarded here in Rome both by foreign diplomats and within the curia.
“He is a good linguist and a good diplomat – someone who has served in difficult and dangerous places. He has an impressive track record.”
The reshuffle that led to Gallagher’s promotion followed a two-week gathering of Roman Catholic leaders that ended in a setback for the pope after traditionalists blocked the endorsement of even a watered-down document proposing that gay men and women “be welcomed with respect and sensitivity” into the church.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American, came to be seen as the leading representative of the conservatives after an interview criticising an earlier and more radical draft. While the synod was still in session, Burke signalled to Buzzfeed that he was going to be dismissed from his job as prefect of the Segnatura Apostolica, the church’s supreme court. When asked who had told him, Burke replied: “Who do you think?”
A two-line statement from the Vatican confirmed that the 66-year-old American had been made patron of the Sovereign Order of Malta, a largely ceremonial post normally bestowed on retired cardinals or given as a second job.
Gallagher’s predecessor, the French prelate Dominique Mamberti, takes over Burke’s job and is expected to be made a cardinal.