Papal Secretariate of State
An office of the Roman Curia, through which the pope transacts diplomatic negotiations with secular governments and directs ordinary and extraordinary ecclesiastical affairs.
The Secretariate is governed by the Cardinal Secretary of State and is composed of three sections.
The first section concerns itself with matters to be submitted to the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs.
The second section deals with ordinary affairs and grants certain insignia, decorations.
The third section expedites Apostolic Briefs.
The Secretary of State receives the diplomatic representatives of secular governments and confers with them on matters pertaining to the Church and their respective states.
In the name of the pope, he signs treaties, pacts, and concordats with secular powers.
All public communications of the pope on such matters emanate from the office of the Secretary of State.
His is the highest post of confidence in the government of the papacy.
The office expires with the death of the pontiff.
Historically, the Secretariate of State was vaguely outlined in a cabinet of Apostolic Notaries, who were called secretaries as early as the 14th century.
This cabinet grew in diplomatic importance especially during the pontificate of Martin V (1417 to 1431).
Distinct outlines of the present secretariate are easily traceable in the office of domestic or private secretary of the popes in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The accusation of nepotism as raised in connection with the history of the secretariate loses its force in view of the twofold consideration, namely, first that the pope in carrying on diplomatic relations needed a confidant, which need could obviously be met best in those turbulent times by the appointment of a near relative to the post of secretary, and secondly that the etiquette of the times demanded that the pope be represented at solemn functions and at the reception of diplomatic officials by a cardinal relative (cardinalis nepos).
Among famous Secretaries of State may be mentioned Cardinal Consalvi (1757 to 1824), Cardinal Antonelli (1806 to 1876), Cardinal Rampolla (1843 to 1913), and Merry del Vel (born 1865).
New Catholic Dictionary