Saturday, April 10, 2010


Many of the calls to arrest the Pope when he visits Britain are being bolstered by the fact that the Pope is not the Head of State of a member state of the United Nations (though that didn't stop them from arresting Pinochet). These people question the Vatican City-State's claim to sovereignty because it was simply granted by Mussolini and, they say, unilateral recognition by one other state does not a state make, even if it was the state previously in control of all the territory of the new state.

This is an oversimplification, of course, as the Papal States existed for over a thousand years before the events of the late-19th and early-20th century, and the Popes in the (relatively) brief period of Italian occupation never gave up their claims to sovereignty and, it could be argued historically, functioned as an effective government "in exile" (albeit, internal exile) that whole time, and so had the right to negotiate as a head of state when it came to the terms of ending that occupation in 1929.

However, all that being said, the issue is muddled by the fact that when having diplomatic relations with foreign states (and being an observer at the UN)...the Popes have insisted on acting under the auspices of "the Holy See" rather than "The Vatican State" other words, as the papacy, rather than as the civil government of the city-state.

And this makes sense in many ways, of course, because neither governments nor the Church really care that much about diplomacy regarding the Vatican State in itself (so tiny as to be insignificant), but rather with the "federal" governing apparatus of the Catholic Church as a whole.

But, at the same time, this constant acting diplomatically under the auspices of "the Holy See" rather than "the Vatican State" undermines the state's claim to sovereignty, and the freedom from coercion the Pope is supposed to gain as a Head of State. Certainly, in the past, the Holy See was a sovereign subject of international law in itself, and diplomatically immune, regardless of statehood. But that was in a world where there was some vestige of Christendom. Now there is not.

It may be time, then, to subtly switch over. If the Pope is serious about renouncing his temporal claims, then it seems only logical to limit them to the state of which he is actually the head, and to engage in temporal diplomacy with other states (and the UN) from that position. A mere technicality, perhaps, but one that could have real important consequences as this recent issues demonstrates. It may be time to stop doing temporal diplomacy under the heading "the Holy See" (which is not a temporal office) and to start doing it as "the Vatican State." Or, at the very least, to have a separate seat at the UN and separate embassies in foreign countries for "The Vatican State" (even if they were largely just nominal, even if they shared office space with "the Holy See"). That way, even if special status for "the Holy See" is revoked, the Vatican State remains unquestioned.

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