The Bilderberg Group is meeting in Turin this week, and Cardinal Pietro Parolin will be present. Cardinal Parolin is the Vatican’s Secretary of State, arguably the most senior official in the Vatican and the nearest thing the Holy See has to a prime minister.

The Bilderberg Group is viewed by conspiracy theorists as something of a shadow world government, but a quick look at the list of participants, published on its website, reveals something a lot less threatening. While there are many famous names there from the worlds of banking, academia, journalism and politics, few are people who currently hold the levers of power in national governments.

But the cardinal’s presence is certainly worthy of comment, especially as he has not been invited before and will be the only religious figure present. The Church is deeply committed to dialogue, but, as often happens, has difficulty in finding the right partners for dialogue, particularly with the sort of people who will be well represented at Bilderberg.

One hopes that His Eminence, in the various meetings and on their fringes, will find people who wish to talk to him about the Church’s social teaching, for example. Other matters that may be aired will be environmental issues, on which the Church has something to say, and, one hopes, life issues as well.

On this latter topic, as recent events in Ireland and in Britain have shown, the Church is struggling to get a hearing. One certainly hopes that pro-life activists, who are so committed to the cause, will not be disheartened, and that Cardinal Parolin will be putting the case for the sanctity of life in the Bilderberg Group – after all, it is an essential part of any true human ecology.

The cardinal is extremely well travelled, though most of his trips don’t make the newspapers beyond the countries he visits. His knowledge of the world will surely be of interest to the other participants in the meeting. Cardinal Parolin has been to Russia, and the Vatican has been at pains to keep channels open with the ecclesial and secular powers there. This last fact may help the Holy See with its latest tricky interlocutor, the new Italian government, which is also eager to repair relations with Russia, though otherwise out of sympathy with the Vatican especially on the question of migration.

This latter issue is close to Pope Francis’s heart, and it is perhaps the treatment of migrants that will be at the forefront of the cardinal’s personal agenda in Turin. Several influential Italians will be present, though not a single member of the new Italian government.

His participation in the Bilderberg meeting will certainly raise the cardinal’s profile internationally, but none of the people taking part will have a vote in the next papal election. On that front, his other travels count for far more: wherever he goes, Cardinal Parolin always meets local cardinals, and must now be about the only member of the Sacred College who is known to all the other widely scattered members.


Alexander Lucie-Smith is a Catholic priest, doctor of moral theology and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald. On Twitter he is @ALucieSmith