VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis on Saturday made the most significant appointment of his pontificate so far, naming a veteran diplomat as his secretary of state, Vatican prime minister and chief aide - a role often called the "deputy pope".
Archbishop Pietro Parolin's appointment ends the era of Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone, who was widely blamed for failing to prevent ethical and financial scandals that marked the eight-year reign of former Pope Benedict, who resigned in February.
Parolin, a 58-year-old Italian, is currently the Vatican's nuncio (ambassador) in Venezuela and was the Vatican's deputy foreign minister for seven years until 2009.
The pope's choice of his secretary of state is important because he sets the tone for the Vatican's central administration, known as the Curia, as well as the Vatican's diplomatic missions around the world.
Bertone, 79, who was secretary of state for nearly all of Benedict's pontificate, was widely accused of not keeping a close enough watch on the Curia, some of whose members have been accused of corruption and cronyism.
One of the most damaging scandals to hit the Vatican under Bertone was "Vatileaks", when Benedict's butler stole sensitive documents alleging corruption from the pope's desk and leaked them to the media.