Archbishop Mennini ‘has a reputation as someone who is going places’

Pope Benedict XVI’s choice of Italian Archbishop Antonio Mennini as the new apostolic nuncio to Britain has been warmly welcomed here in Rome.

The 63-year-old archbishop, who will leave his current post as apostolic nuncio to the Russian Federation early next year, is “famous” for the good work he did there, according to one Vatican official. “He’s easy to work with and is able to do great work.”

Another described his appointment as “very significant” for both the Church and the government. “He comes to the position with tremendous ecclesiastical and political skill and this makes it a really strong appointment,” he said. “He has a reputation of someone who’s going places.”

The Holy Father’s recent visit to Britain is said to have been an important factor in choosing Archbishop Mennini who is seen as highly capable on thorny matters relating to Church and state. He’s well regarded for the way he handled the very delicate relationship with Moscow, where he is credited for improving relations “dramatically” with the Russian Orthodox.

Archbishop Mennini has been the Pope’s representative to Russia since 2002, with Uzbekistan added later. He previously served as nuncio to Bulgaria and also worked in Turkey and Uganda after entering the diplomatic corps in 1981.

Although he has no experience of Catholic-Anglican relations, most of his predecessors didn’t either, but his eight years of dealing with a church closely linked to the state is expected to put him in good stead.

It’s too early to say how he will deal with a nuncio’s other important role: that of recommending names to Rome for episcopal appointment. He was involved in only a few appointments in Russia – notably Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow in 2007, and in 2003, Bishop Cyryl Klimowicz of St Joseph in Irkutsk – geographically the largest diocese in the world. But he’ll be continuing his contacts with a recently overhauled Congregation for Bishops, now with a new prefect and secretary.

Born to a father who was a senior lay official in the Vatican, the archbishop is regarded as a “key Vatican insider”. He will be the first Italian to hold the position since 1997 and only the second since 1973.