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Francis names veteran diplomat as 'deputy pope'

Pope Francis has named a Vatican diplomat as his secretary of state, replacing an increasingly divisive figure within the Catholic church's hierarchy. This comes as Francis seeks to overhaul the church's government.

The Vatican announced on Saturday that an Italian archbishop, Pietro Parolin (pictured above, c.), will take up the post of secretary of state, Vatican prime minister and chief aide on October 15. The role is often called the "deputy pope."

Parolin, 58, is currently the papal nuncio (ambassador) to Venezuela. Before that, he was the Vatican's deputy foreign minister for seven years until 2009.

He has also been an envoy to Mexico and Nigeria.

"In the true spirit of Vatican diplomacy, Parolin has always been realistic, carefully studying contexts and problems that need to be solved and searching for possible solutions," Vatican expert Giannia Valente wrote in a profile on the Vatican Insider website.

"In the face of the regional conflicts which continue to rock the world ... and the risk of new global clashes between old and new superpowers, the Holy See will once again be well placed to offer its wisdom and foresight in order to promote peace," he added.

In a statement, Parolin pledged that he would give Francis his "complete availability to work with him and under his guidance for the greater glory of God, the good of the holy church and progress and peace".

Corruption claims

Parolin is to replace Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has held the position since his appointment by Francis' predecessor Benedict XVI in 2006.

The 78-year-old Bertone has been widely accused of not properly supervising the Curia - the Vatican's central administration - which has been hit by accusations of corruption and cronyism on the part of some of its members.

Leaks by Benedict XVI's butler last year also revealed infighting between supporters and opponents of Bertone within the Vatican. He had been expected to retire soon.

Church law requires cardinals holding high posts in the Curia to offer their resignation when they turn 75. Benedict had kept Bertone on in the position, reportedly to the ire of some within the administration.

The pope's choice of secretary of state sets the tone for the Curia, and for the Vatican's diplomatic missions throughout the world.

Francis is looking to revamp the church's government in a bid to prevent a repeat of the ethical and financial scandals that marked the eight years in office of Benedict, who resigned in February.

tj/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)