by Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Several changes were announced for U.S. members of the Vatican diplomatic corps March 19, including news that U.S. Msgr. Paul Russell, current head of the Vatican nunciature in Taiwan, was named an archbishop and nuncio to Turkey and Turkmenistan.
The same day, Pope Francis personally ordained to the episcopacy Archbishop Peter B. Wells, a priest of the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the new nuncio to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia.
Also March 19, Pope Francis appointed U.S. Archbishop Michael W. Banach, 53, to be nuncio to Senegal and apostolic delegate in Mauritania. The native of Worcester, Massachusetts, had been nuncio to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands since 2013.
Archbishop-designate Russell was born in Greenfield, Mass., May 2, 1959, but raised in Alpena, Michigan. He attended St. John’s Seminary in Boston and was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston in 1987. After working in a parish, he became personal secretary to Cardinal Bernard F. Law, then-archbishop of Boston.
He was sent to Rome to study at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Vatican school for diplomats, and after earning a degree in canon law, he entered the Vatican diplomatic service in 1997. He served at the Vatican and at nunciatures in Ethiopia, Turkey, Switzerland and Nigeria before being named head of the Vatican diplomatic mission in Taiwan in 2008.
While the Vatican continues to have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it has not sent an ambassador to Taiwan in more than 30 years. The embassy is headed by a charge d’affaires, which is the position Archbishop-designate Russell held.
The government of mainland China consistently has said the Vatican must break diplomatic relations with Taiwan if it wants to improve relations with the communist country. Vatican officials have said they are willing to move the embassy to Beijing as soon as China indicates it is serious about restoring diplomatic relations with the Vatican.