The Holy See and the U.N.GEORGE WEIGEL
This past November, in an interview with a leading Italian daily, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, said that he “would not exclude” the possibility of the Holy See becoming a full member of the United Nations, where it presently is a “permanent observer.”
It is important to
remember that the Holy See, not Vatican City State, exchanges diplomatic representation
with over 175 countries, holds permanent observer status at the U.N., and is represented
diplomatically at the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe, and the Organization of American States. What is the “Holy See”?
Here, some legal technicalities are unavoidable.
The “legal personality” of the Holy See does not depend on
the fact that Vatican City is an independent state. Diplomats are normally said
to be accredited to “the Vatican,” but this is journalistic shorthand for the
Holy See, for it’s to the Holy See that diplomats are in fact accredited. Indeed,
in the years between 1870 (when the Pope became the “prisoner of the Vatican”)
and the Lateran Treaty of 1929 (which created an independent Vatican City State),
the Holy See continued to send out nuncios and receive ambassadors. During those
fifty-nine years, the Holy See’s legal personality wasn’t changed by the fact
that the Pope no longer ruled a defined piece of territory; the Pope remained
the sovereign head of the Catholic Church, which is the essential element in the
These may seem utterly arcane matters,
of interest only to international lawyers and diplomats. In fact, though, what
is at stake here is the Church’s public witness on the international plane. How
is that witness to be exercised in the world of international diplomacy, and in
a way that communicates the Church’s distinct mission? Would the Church’s moral
voice be muted or confused as another “member” of a club of states?
The Church has a right to a place at the table where the “ought” question of the human future are being debated. How it sits at that table will inevitably color what it says and how it is heard. Cardinal Sodano has raised some very large questions indeed.
George Weigel "The Holy See and the U.N." The Catholic Difference. 2003
Reprinted with permission of George Weigel.
George Weigel's major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (Harper Collins, 1999) was published to international acclaim in 1999, and translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Slovenian, Russian, and German. The 2001 documentary film based on the book won numerous prizes. George Weigel is a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News, and his weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," is syndicated to more than fifty newspapers around the United States.
Copyright © 2003 George
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