VATICAN CITY : Pope Francis on Saturday appointed a senior Vatican diplomat as his Secretary of State, ousting powerful and highly divisive cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as he looks to overhaul the Church's government.
His replacement for what is widely considered the "number two" position at the Vatican, Italian cleric Pietro Parolin, is currently the envoy to Venezuela and has worked on improving ties with communist China.
"The Holy Father has accepted... the resignation of His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone," the Vatican said in a statement, adding however that Bertone had been asked to stay at his post on until October 15.
At 58, Parolin is seen as relatively young for top Vatican office and observers say he could give the Church a higher profile on the world stage.
He was previously a Vatican envoy to Mexico and Nigeria and has worked on sensitive issues for the Church, including diplomatic relations with Israel.
"In the true spirit of Vatican diplomacy, Parolin has always been realistic, carefully studying contexts and problems that need to be solved and searching for possible solutions," Vatican expert Gianni Valente wrote in a profile on the Vatican Insider website.
"In the face of the regional conflicts which continue to rock the world... and the risk of new global clashes between old and new superpowers, the Holy See will once again be well placed to offer its wisdom and foresight in order to promote peace," he said.
Bertone has held the post since 2006 when he was named by the pope's predecessor Benedict XVI and has proved a highly controversial figure in the hierarchy.
Leaks by Benedict XVI's butler last year revealed infighting between pro- and anti-Bertone factions inside the Vatican corridors of power.
Critics say he has made poor choices in a series of key Vatican appointments and has shown favouritism.
Francis has circumvented the Secretariat of State, effectively the central administration of the Roman Catholic Church, on key decisions in recent months.
It is traditional for new popes to replace top officials appointed by their predecessor and Bertone was already over the usual age of retirement of 75 for senior Church figures.