Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Paul Gallagher as the Vatican's equivalent of a foreign minister.
His promotion makes him the third most senior man in the Vatican after Pope Francis and the Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the most senior British Catholic of the modern era.
Archbishop Gallagher, who is fluent in four languages, was promoted from being nuncio to Australia as part of a reshuffle that saw conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke, moved from his post heading the Vatican’s highest court, the Apolostic Signatura, to become Patron of the Sovereign Order of Malta, a ceremonial post.
Archbishop Gallagher’s predecessor, the French Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, takes over from Burke.
Burke has criticised Francis’ leadership, last week likening the Church to “a ship without a rudder”. After months of rumours a statement from the Vatican on Saturday confirmed that the 66-year-old American had been moved to Malta.
Liverpool-born Archbishop Gallagher, 60, is a seasoned diplomat and has served as a papal envoy in five continents.
He was educated at St Francis Xavier’s College and the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome.
Before being posted to Australia, Gallagher had served as the nuncio to Guatemala (2009-2012) and Burundi (2004-2009). In Burundi, he took over after his predecessor, Irish Archbishop Michael Courtney, was shot dead.
He has also spent five years as a Curia official in the Secretariat of State from 1995-2000. He had previously served in the Holy See’s missions in Tanzania, Uruguay, the Philippines, and as Observer at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Most recently he was apostolic nuncio in Australia, where he last year attracted controversy after claiming diplomatic immunity when asked to hand over Vatican documents to prosecutors investigating two paedophile priests.
Earlier this year the United Nations said it was “concerned” after the nuncio claimed immunity in response to requests for documents regarding Frs Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher – two of Australia’s worst priest-abusers.
A report by the UN Committee against Torture cited Archbishop Gallagher by name when it reported that the Holy See was still resisting the principle of mandatory reporting of allegations to civil authorities, and withholding information. After several months the archbishop agreed to turn over some of the documents.
Kevin McDonald, Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark, told The Tablet that he particularly remembered Archbishop Gallagher's spirituality. He added: “Archbishop Gallagher was a student at the English College in Rome during my time there. He is one of a small number of English priests who have completed the training programme for the diplomatic work of the Holy See. Since then, he has served the Church very effectively in the diplomatic missions to which he has been assigned. They have been very different and some have been very challenging. At the same time, he has kept his feet very firmly on the ground, keeping in close touch with his family, friends and diocese.”
Above: Archbishop Gallagher's promotion makes him the most senior Briton in the Vatican in modern times. Photo: the Australian Catholic Directory