15 October 2020, The Tablet

New papal ambassador meets Pope Francis

New papal ambassador meets Pope Francis

Archbishop Gugerotti, pictured here in Ukraine.
Mikhail Sokolov/Tass/PA

Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the new papal ambassador to Great Britain, has met Pope Francis as he prepares to start work in London. 

Archbishop Gugerotti was received by Francis during a private audience in the Vatican on 15 October. The papal envoy, know as an apostolic nuncio, was appointed to his position by the Pope on 4 July and up until recently was serving as Vatican ambassador to Ukraine. Apostolic nuncios have traditionally presented their diplomatic credentials to the Queen by travelling to Buckingham Palace in a horse-drawn carriage, although Covid-19 restrictions mean Archbishop Gugerotti is unlikely to do this for some time.

The lack of the ceremonial event will not prevent him from starting his role, and the 65-year-old Italian diplomat has plenty in his in-tray. 

On 10 November, the UK’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will publish its final and overarching report into the Catholic Church. His predecessor, Archbishop Edward Adams, was criticised for not giving evidence to the inquiry but as a Holy See ambassador, he had diplomatic immunity and could not be compelled to give evidence. 

The inquiry wanted information about the apostolic nunciature’s handling of abuse at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s school, particularly on the case of Laurence Soper, the former abbot who skipped bail while under suspicion for abuse. It later emerged that the Vatican financial authorities provided crucial information which led to the arrest and conviction for Soper for child abuse offences.

As papal ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Archbishop Gugerotti will represent the Holy See to government authorities in England, Wales and Scotland, while also playing a crucial role in the selection of bishops. 

Two days before the inquiry’s report is published, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, will turn 75, the age he is required by Church law to submit his resignation to the Pope. However, given that Cardinal Nichols is held in high regard by both Francis and the Roman Curia, it is likely he will be asked to stay on in post until a successor is found. 

It is Archbishop Gugerotti who is tasked with compiling a shortlist of three candidates who could succeed the cardinal along with a detailed report into the local church. Alongside Westminster, the new nuncio will also be required to find a new Archbishop of Cardiff after Archbishop George Stack turns 75 next year. 

Rome sources describe Archbishop Gugerotti as an Anglophile and someone with ideas and energy. The post of Vatican ambassador to Britain has traditionally been a final appointment before retirement, although this changed when Archbishop Antonio Mennini was appointed at the age of 63 to the role. 

Born in Verona, Archbishop Gugerotti is a patristics scholar and expert on the Eastern churches who has taught at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and worked at the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

He is not a career diplomat, but in 2001 Pope John Paul II named him the papal representative to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The archbishop’s appointment to the complex and delicate posting of Ukraine signalled his diplomatic expertise. He also took over that position from Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, who had been openly critical of Pope Francis. 

Following the reformation, formal diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See resumed in 1914 and a Vatican “Apostolic Delegation” to Great Britain was established on 21 November 1938. It wasn’t until 1982, however, that the delegation was promoted to a full nunciature with the papal ambassador today based at a residence in Parkside, Wimbledon, South West London. 

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