At a time of heightened religious sensitivity, This author looks into the work of the diplomatic service of the Holy See, outlining how it can use its unique position and vast sphere of influence for the better
With origins that can be traced back to the very first centuries of the Catholic Church, the diplomatic service of the Holy See is considered to be the oldest in the world; strangely, it is also one of the least known. Early popes simply dispatched legates (or envoys) to represent them at important Church councils or for other matters, but by the fifteenth century these legates had become more permanent. During the sixteenth century they became officially known as ‘apostolic nuncios’ (papal ambassadors), and an exchange of representatives thus began taking place between those countries with established ‘nunciatures’ (papal embassies) and the Holy See.
Today the Holy See has formal diplomatic relations with 176 nations as well as the United Nations (where it enjoys Permanent Observer status) and other international agencies and secretariats. Its ambassadors are also automatically recognised as deans of the diplomatic corps wherever they are accredited, as affirmed in 1961 by the Vienna Diplomatic Convention.
What really singles the Holy See out, in this context, is its access to a vast network of missionaries, prelates and lay Catholics throughout the world, making it a valuable global ‘listening post’. As a result, Vatican diplomats are themselves very well informed and in a unique position to mediate disputes, prevent conflicts and ultimately save lives. Usually these achievements take place behind closed doors and rarely make the headlines. Even within the Church, few know, for example, that in 1978 the Holy See diplomats, led by John Paul II, prevented the ‘Beagle conflict’ – a border dispute between Argentina and Chile over three small islands at the tip of South America – from escalating into war.
Likewise, little is known about Archbishop Pablo Puente Buces, a former apostolic nuncio, and his significant role in bringing an end to the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war by reaching out to various militia groups and heads of Islamic political parties. Similar peace efforts were made by other Holy See diplomats in Eastern Congo and Mozambique. Most recently, the papal nuncio to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, has played a vital role in marshalling resources after the country was hit by a catastrophic earthquake.
Often the Pope’s ambassadors – who number about 100 worldwide – put their own lives at risk in the course of their work. The apostolic nuncio to Burundi, Archbishop Michael Courtney, was gunned down in 2003 after campaigning for peace in the troubled country; and similar heroism was shown by Archbishop Fernando Filoni, apostolic nuncio in Baghdad during the Iraq War, who remained in his post throughout the hostilities.
Such readiness for personal self-sacrifice derives from a Vatican diplomat’s training. Schooled at the Ecclesiastical Academy, the Holy See’s ancient college for diplomats, candidates are taught to be priests first and diplomats second, which instills in them a sense of serving not just the interests of the Vatican but of their flocks – and ultimately the world as a whole.
A Holy See diplomat is also trained to be discreet. Pope John XXIII, apostolic nuncio to France during the Second World War, believed that a papal ambassador should always be ‘obedient and silent...always self-effacing and remain in the shadow.’
‘To know how to obey, to know how to be quiet, to speak when necessary, with measured words and with reserve, that is the role of the diplomat of the Holy See, and it is also that of Saint Joseph,’ he said.
The effectiveness of Holy See diplomacy can also be attributed to the fact that it represents both a sovereign state and a faith with privileged status, vital in this age of heightened religious sensitivity, as an interlocutor with the two other Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Islam.
Evidence of this role was seen shortly before Easter 2007, when Iran captured 15 British military personnel who were allegedly trespassing in Iranian waters. The UK government had few options: it couldn’t rely on the UN, the EU or many of its close allies to mediate the dispute because of ongoing differences over Iran’s nuclear programme. That left the Holy See as the only viable neutral mediator. Britain’s embassy officials and high-ranking Holy See diplomats therefore persuaded Pope Benedict XVI to send a letter to Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, appealing for the captives’ release.
The then Iranian Ambassador to the Holy See, Mohammed Javad Faridzadeh, recalled in an interview that his embassy received the Pope’s letter ‘with great happiness’ and immediately sent it to Iran in acknowledgment of the ‘spiritual importance the Vatican has throughout the world.’ Hours later, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad freed the captives, calling their release an Easter ‘gift’ to Britain – phraseology almost identical to that used in the Pope’s letter, which called for an ‘Easter gesture of good will.’
Aside from the Holy See’s independent standing, nuncios enjoy other advantages over their secular counterparts. As talent scouts, looking for new bishops in the countries they serve, they are close to the Church in their locality and consequently ‘nearer to the ground’ than members of other diplomatic corps. They also tend to occupy a generally privileged place within a nation’s political establishment, given their direct links with Catholics from the grassroots to the highest levels of religion and politics.
Yet many outsiders make the mistake of confusing the Holy See with Vatican City State, viewing it as merely 0.2 square miles of land in Rome. ‘They just don’t see the global reach,’ says one Rome diplomat accredited to the Holy See. ‘They think you’re dealing with San Marino. They don’t realise the flow of information.’
Alongside nuncios, Vatican diplomats stationed in Rome and other major arenas of international diplomacy can play a vital and significant role. As the Holy See’s Under-Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Pietro Parolin served as the Vatican’s ‘deputy foreign minister’ until last year. Although much of his work remains concealed, he was known to have been influential in advancing religious freedom in Vietnam, leading to last year’s historic meeting between the Vietnamese president and the Pope. Archbishop Parolin also made progress in relations with China, striking a delicate balance between ‘prophetic diplomacy’ and statecraft.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran was for a time the Holy See’s ‘foreign minister’ and now serves as President of the Vatican’s Political Council for Interreligious Dialogue. This new position has allowed him to help foster peace, particularly between Islam and Christianity, around the world. Last year, he made a trip to India following deadly battles waged by Hindus against Christians in the north of the country; some saw his visit as a major contributing factor to the restoration of peace and the aversion of future conflict.
More controversially, Vatican diplomats have also been at the forefront of lobbying, most notably at the UN during the 1990s, against proposed international statutes that would allow abortion. Kishore Jayabalan, who served as a Holy See official at UN headquarters in New York, considers the contribution made by the Holy See during that period to have been vital. The Holy See’s mission to promote human dignity, he believes, ‘is the most important thing, and that doesn’t matter if you’re President of the European Commission or you live in a shack and run a stand in a shanty town – you have the same God given dignity. Who else says that at the UN? People say it in terms of principle but who stands up to defend that?’
Vatican diplomacy does have its weaknesses, though. ‘Some of the best diplomats I’ve met are in the Vatican service,’ says one Rome diplomat. ‘But like any diplomatic service, it has its “stars” and it has others. You’ve got this global infrastructure and all this access to global information, but I couldn’t say that they all make the best use of it. Often it’s the absence of processing – sometimes the information just isn’t processed in sufficient time.’
Another disadvantage is that Holy See diplomacy can be constrained by the fear of retribution from local Catholic populations; whereas for diplomats of other countries, whose diasporas are likely to be much smaller, the danger is not so great.
Still, these weaknesses are minor when compared to the advantages conferred by the Holy See’s unique position and vast sphere of influence. In the 1970s, Henry Cabot Lodge, Special Presidential Envoy to the Vatican, asked a Muslim diplomat at the Holy See why his government thought it was worthwhile to maintain such a big mission at ‘a place which did not seem to concern him very much.’
The diplomat replied: ‘We don’t want to miss anything
"The Position of the Holy See & Vatican State
in International Relations"
University of Detriot-Mercy School Law Review, Published in 2006
by Kurt Martens, Assist. Prof. School of Canon Law,
Catholic University of America, USA
SPECIAL ARTICLES ON VATICAN DIPLOMACY
Speaking on May 11 to the Vatican diplomatic corps, Pope Benedict XVI said that he hoped to establish diplomatic ties with nations that are not yet represented at the Holy See.
In his first discourse to the diplomatic corps, the Pope did not refer directly to any specific international problems, or mention any particular countries except his own. Pope Benedict remarked that his native Germany had suffered through "war and the separation among brothers belonging to the same nation because of devastating and inhuman ideologies which, masked by dreams and illusions, brought down the yoke of oppression upon men and women."
The Pope thanked the assembled ambassadors for their diplomatic efforts, and for the gestures of support they had made after the death of Pope John Paul II and his own election. He mentioned that he was also grateful for the support offered by "the nations with whom the Holy See does not yet have diplomatic relations," and looked forward to strengthening ties with those countries. Although he did not list those nations, the Pontiff obviously was alluding to countries such as Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and especially China.
Paying tribute to the international diplomatic efforts of his predecessor, John Paul II, Pope Benedict said that the Holy See would continue to act in "defense of the cause of peace." He welcomed the involvement of all nations in efforts to "overcome the temptations toward clashes between cultures, ethnic groups, and different worlds."
In defending peace, the Holy Father continued, "the Church never ceases to proclaim and defend fundamental human rights." These rights-- including "the right of every human person to life, food, housing, work, health care, the protection of the family, and the promotion of development"-- are still violated in many countries, he said, and the Church will continue to denounce those violations.
Finally, the Pope told the diplomats that the Catholic Church does not seek any special status from secular governments. Rather, the Church asks only "the legitimate conditions of freedom for her mission," and promises cooperation with all civil authorities in promoting the common good. After the Pope's discourse, each of the envoys accredited to the Holy See came forward to meet briefly with the Pontiff, exchanging a few words. As dean of the Vatican diplomatic corps, Giovanni Galassi of San Marino addressed the Pope for the group, saying that the world's leaders should appreciate the Vatican's work for "a new peaceful coexistence" as an alternative to "ideologies of power." The Vatican currently maintains full diplomatic relations with 174 countries. The Vatican diplomatic corps also includes special representatives of the Order of Malta, the Russian federation, and the Palestinian National authority. Three international bodies are also represented: the UN, the UN Commission on Human Rights, and the Arab League.
The number of ambassadors accredited to the Holy See nearly doubled during the pontificate of John Paul II. In 1978 there were only 92 countries with full diplomatic representation at the Vatican.
By resolution of the College's Board of Governors, Archbishop Migliore was awarded the College's highest honor, the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion for his years of service to the Church in the Holy See's Diplomatic Corps.
Since being ordained in 1977, his Excellency, the Most Reverend Celestino Migliore, has been a member of the Vatican Diplomatic Corps. During the past 25 years, he has served in the Holy See’s missions in Angola, Egypt, and Poland, and has represented the Holy See in various European capitals.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Migliore as Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations (U.N.), where he is the voice of the Church. He brings Her teachings to bear on matters such as international trafficking in persons, population control and family life, and immigration and asylum.
Thomas Aquinas College is most grateful to Archbishop Migliore for taking time out of his busy schedule to preside over the College’s 2006 Commencement ceremonies and for graciously agreeing to be interviewed by Director of College Relations Mrs. Anne Forsyth.
Q: One hears the terms “Vatican” and “Holy See” often used interchangeably. But there are differences between the two. Would you please distinguish the two for us?
A: In 1929, the Vatican State was created by an agreement between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy. A decision was made to establish Vatican City in order to assure the Pope a basis for his absolute independence and autonomy from any earthly power. The Vatican is intended to ensure indepen-dence for the action of the Holy See, thanks to a territorial sovereignty reduced to its minimal ex-pression. However, it is the Holy See that is the juridical interlo-cutor within the international community. The Holy See is the Pope, together with all the bodies of the Roman Curia through which he governs the Catholic Church. The Holy See is a sovereign juridical person because it is the supreme organ of the Catholic Church. Its attribute as a sove-reign subject is recognized in international law.
Q: How does one become a member of the Holy See’s diplomatic service?
A: Generally it comes about through the Secretariat of State that contacts bishops of various dioceses, bearing in mind the needs of the representations in different continents and countries of the world. The bishops, in turn, propose a suitable candidate for this service. These candidates are then interviewed and trained at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome where they share a communal life and study.
Q: For a number of years you were a visiting professor at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, teaching ecclesiastical diplomacy. What kinds of classes have you taught there and what kind of training does one receive in preparation for diplomatic work in the service of the Church?
A: For more than 300 years, the Holy See has had its own diplomatic institute at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where formation of future “diplomatic agents” of the Holy See study for a minimum of two years.
These candidates enter after having been ordained priests. Therefore, all of them already possess a degree in theology. Many also possess another degree in various disciplines, specifically in Canon Law.
The academic curriculum consists of two years of specialized studies: ecclesiastical diplomacy, international law, monographs on international organizations and on techniques of negotiations; the history of ecclesiastical diplomacy, diplomatic styles, courses on great modern cultural and theological strains; and economic and social questions.
At the same time, they take courses in information technology and languages. Each student, at the end of the curriculum, has to possess a working knowledge of at least two languages in addition to his mother tongue. The major languages studied are: English, French, Spanish, and German, and increasingly, Arabic and the languages of Eastern Europe and Asia.
Q: Is your rank as Apostolic Nuncio equivalent to that of an Ambassador?
A: Correct. This equivalence is found in Art. 14 of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. There it states that the heads of diplomatic missions are the ambassadors or nuncios accredited to Heads of State.
Q: Why does the Holy See have “permanent observer” status at the United Nations rather than “full member” status? What are the privileges and/or disadvantages of “permanent observer” status?
A: Having the status of a Permanent Observer at the U.N., the Holy See has the right to speak, to take the floor, to participate in shaping the consensus through negotiation. The Permanent Observer does not have the right to vote-—which is proper to Member States—nor do we have the right to bring forward candidates for various positions. But we do have the right to speak—and this, in and of itself, is important. Inevitably, voting and full membership would entail direct participation in questions of a political nature, or in military and economic issues which go beyond its objectives.
Q: What are the primary concerns of the Holy See with respect to international relations?
A: The diplomacy of the Holy See involves some basic values. I believe that this diplomacy has its own specific characteristics. First, it has a moral aspect, which means we are always mindful that we are called to promote the moral and ethical aspects of issues. Second, it is a diplomacy of unity. It has no natural boundaries because it is universal and concerns all peoples of the world. Third, it has a humanitarian perspective, that is, it is a diplomacy which always sides with people, not with a given parliament or particular administration.
Q: How does the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See make its voice heard at the U. N.?
A: I would like to categorize the activity of the Holy See at the U.N. on three levels.
First, it makes contributions to the international debate on current issues: development, peace, security, eradication of poverty, access to education and health, rights of the children, women’s issues, right to life, and religious rights. Through democratic debate, we have an opportunity to shed the light of Catholic social thought—recently summarized in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church—on these issues.
Second, the Holy See contributes to the building of a consensus. As an Observer, the Holy See is admitted to negotiations on resolutions, declarations, conventions, treaties. This is an important facet of the Holy See’s activity, because conventions and treaties, once adopted, form international law. Besides, international treaties now tend to regulate not only the reciprocal obligations between states, but they deal more and more with rights of the individuals (rights of the child, women’s rights, right to life, religious rights).
Furthermore, resolutions, declarations, and plans of action, though they belong to the so-called “soft law” with a merely advisory value, are extremely important. Nowadays, national parliaments, when legislating, keep an eye on the international soft law. Scholars, non-governmental organizations, and national courts do the same. In view of the impact of international law and its influence on domestic policies, we are convinced that we, too, can promote our views on relevant social, civil, cultural, and developmental issues through our contribution to the negotiations within the U.N.
Third, the Holy See gives voice to those who have no voice. This is perhaps a poetic way to phrase it. But I would like to point out that this is the most challenging, interesting, sometimes difficult, but always gratifying side of my daily activity. I am referring to dioceses, associations, religious congregations, and individuals who turn to us, confident that we can help them to meet with and present to the right offices and persons their views and requests, which are usually humanitarian in nature. And I have to say that our interlocutors always give much attention and oftentimes operative consideration to the issues we present to them.
-- Qtrly Newsletter, Summer 2006