Archbishop-designate Bettencourt served as assistant personal secretary to Pope Benedict XVI and continued as Pope Francis' secretary when the new Pope was elected in March 2013. He was honoured in his hometown, Velas, Portugal in 2015. Photo from RTP Acores (

Pope names Ottawa priest Apostolic Nuncio

  • February 26, 2018

OTTAWA – Msgr. Jose Bettencourt, an Ottawa priest who has served as Head of Protocol in the Vatican since 2012, has been named an Apostolic Nuncio and appointed as nuncio to Armenia.

Pope Francis — who also named him titular Archbishop of Cittanova, an ancient see in Calabria in southwest Italy — will ordain Archbishop-elect Bettencourt to the episcopate on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph.

“I am really excited with my new service to the Church,” Bettencourt said in an email.  “First, and foremost, I am a priest like any other who has been asked to render a particular kind of service to the Church — as a diplomat.”

He compared it to a chaplaincy in the military or at a university, and described it as “a service to the people no matter what race, creed or colour — yet remaining faithful to the Catholic Church.”

“A nuncio collaborates with the local Church, at times giving a voice to those without a voice, suffice it to consider the Church’s role in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo amongst others,” Bettencourt said. “He concerns himself with the unity of the Church and its particular role and contribution to society, health care, education and social outreach.”

The March 19 Feast of St. Joseph has a special meaning for Pope Francis, Bettencourt said, noting it will be the fifth anniversary of his inauguration to the papacy. Pope Francis has a special devotion to St. Joseph, who is also Patron of Canada, he said.  “He keeps a statue of St. Joseph on his commode — a ‘sleeping St. Joseph,’ under which he places intentions written on pieces of paper that have been entrusted to his prayer.”

“St. Joseph’s prayers were always answered in his sleep,” Bettencourt said. “Pope Francis holds the model of St. Joseph to us also as a model for the bishops he ordains.”

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast welcomed the announcement.

“I was thrilled for him; this is the key type of service that he has been training for in the Church,” the archbishop said. 

As Head of Protocol, Bettencourt had been in charge of the diplomatic practices concerning the Holy See’s relationships with other states. He welcomed visiting heads of state and presidents and dealt with diplomats and ambassadors accredited to the Vatican. He speaks English, French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish. 

Born in Velas, in the Portuguese Azores, on May 23, 1962, Bettencourt emigrated with his parents to Ottawa where he attended elementary and secondary school.  He attended the Portuguese-language Parish of Senhor Santo Cristo.  His widowed mother and brother and his family live in Ottawa.

He studied theology at Dominican University College and Saint Paul University while preparing for the priesthood at St. Paul’s Seminary. He was ordained in 1993.

After serving in Ottawa parishes, he went on to get a doctorate in Canon Law at the Gregorian University in Rome.  He was seconded to the Vatican’s diplomatic service and began diplomatic studies at the Pontifical Ecclesiastic Academy. He served as secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during a civil war, then returned to Rome to serve in the Secretariat of State section for Relation with States in 2002.

Pope Benedict named him a Prelate of the Papal ante chamber in 2007, and named him a Prelate of Honour in 2010.

The archbishop said Bettencourt has remained close to his family and to the diocese, even though he has been away so long. “He is the soul of discretion when it comes to his diplomatic service; still it is clear that he observes and understands the complexity of the Church’s relation to the wider world,” he said. “Wherever he serves, that country, I believe, will come to treasure his presence among them.”

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