The Catholic Church is the oldest institution in the western world, and with more than one billion members worldwide, it is the largest Christian church. Its history spans almost 2,000 years and is rooted in the Church's Canon of Scripture and Tradition. At the head of the church is the Pope, who Catholics believe is the successor to Saint Peter whom Christ appointed as the first head of His church. The Pope, according to the religion's doctrine, can speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals. The Catholic Church practises closed communion and only baptised members of the church are permitted to receive the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
Pope Francis names Vatican secretary of state
Current secretary of state for Holy See was divisive figure who was mired in scandals
Associated Press in Rome
Pope Francis yesterday tapped a veteran Vatican diplomat to be his top aide, replacing the Holy See's secretary of state who in recent years increasingly became a divisive figure in a church hierarchy mired in embarrassing scandal and financial probes.
The Vatican announced that Archbishop Pietro Parolin, 58, an Italian and former deputy foreign minister at the Vatican, on October 15 would assume the post held since 2006 by Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
The cardinal will remain in the position until then, giving Parolin, currently serving as papal envoy to Venezuela, time to prepare for his new duties as the Vatican's No 2 official.
Benedict, who retired as pontiff this year, had relied heavily on Bertone as one of the few advisers in his inner circle. Bertone, a Genoa archbishop, had served the German pope for many years at the Vatican.
A scandal during the latter years of Benedict's papacy involving the theft of papal documents and embarrassing revelations of alleged corruption and power plays at the Vatican was widely seen as aiming to discredit Bertone.
Most of the documents, leaked by Benedict's butler to an Italian journalist, were of interest only to Italians, a reflection of centuries of dominance and intrigue by Italians in the Vatican.
The purloined papal papers concerned relations between Italy and the Vatican, and a few local scandals and personalities.
The main aim of the disclosures apparently was to make Bertone seem incompetent, unable to control the curia and unable to protect Benedict, a theologian with little apparent skill for navigating the political manoeuvring around him.
Pope Francis will hold a special audience on October 15, the Vatican said, "in order publicly to thank Cardinal Bertone for his faithful and generous service to the Holy See".
Parolin, when deputy foreign minister, shuttled between Rome and Hanoi in a partly successful bid to improve decades of thorny relations between the Vatican and the communist leadership of Vietnam.
In 2009, Parolin told reporters in Hanoi that the Holy See and Vietnam had created a "good basis" for eventually establishing diplomatic relations.
The incoming No 2, a native of northeastern Italy, began his diplomatic career at the Vatican in 1986, and served in papal missions in Nigeria and Mexico. He was posted to Venezuela as papal nuncio in 2009.
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 the progress and peace" so humanity might find "reasons to live and hope".