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( Latin inter , between; nuntius , messenger.)
The name given in the Roman Curia to a diplomatic agent who, though not belonging to the five highest classes of the papal diplomatic service ( legatus a latere , nuncio with full powers of a legatus a latere , legate, nuncio of the first class, and nuncio of the second class), is, nevertheless, chief of a legation ( chef de mission ). He may have several subordinates, and, on the other hand, his household may consist only of a private secretary. The nomination of internuncios follows no fixed rule; they have been, and still are, accredited indiscriminately to countries differing widely in ecclesiastical importance, e.g. Luxemburg, Chile, Holland, Brazil. Formerly the powers of an internuncio were necessarily extensive, owing to the lack of telegraph service and the slow postal deliveries; they are now almost entirely confined to routine work. In exceptional cases extraordinary powers are given to the internuncio, when important affairs are in question. As conditions in the various countries to which internuncios are ordinarily sent differ considerably, their general powers are regulated accordingly; in consequence, no general statement of the duties of an internuncio is possible.
Nor can the ecclesiastical dignity or position at court of the internuncio be determined with more exactitude. It is safe to say that they are always domestic prelates or titular archbishops. The simple prelature has always been the rule for the internuncios of Holland and Luxemburg, the last of whom was Mgr. Tarnassi. The internuncios accredited to South America in the last century were mostly titular archbishops. At present (summer of 1909), the only internuncios are those in Argentina and Chile, and both are titular archbishops. The earlier arrangement, that internuncios should bear the title of Apostolic delegate and envoy extraordinary, no longer obtains. The last case of the kind occurred in Portugal about the middle of the nineteenth century.
Internuncios, when promoted, are appointed nuncios ; in rare instances they become Apostolic delegates. Too much confidence must not be placed in earlier works on papal diplomacy, apropos of this office; according to the requirements of the moment, the Curia increases or diminishes both its scope and its powers.
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