A letter written in 1997 by Apostolic Nuncio Luciano Storero has recently surfaced and has elicited outrage against the Vatican regarding its, by now, undeniable complicity in the widespread rape and molestation of children by Catholic priests. The missive, which the Vatican defends as “deeply misunderstood” stated that “mandatory reporting” of cases of child rape by clergy gave rose to “serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.” The mandatory reporting was a recommended solution by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee to the systemic sexual abuse crisis within the Roman Catholic Church. What Storero’s reservations refer to are specific tenets within Canon Law that demand absolute confidentiality.
The fact that mandatory reporting is even being debated among supposedly civilized company is disgraceful. Since when has the rape and torture of children not demanded immediate reporting to the proper authorities? Any other organization that shields its criminals from the law as shamelessly as the Roman Catholic Church has would have had its leaders taken to court by now.
The special treatment that the Catholic Church or, more accurately, the Vatican enjoys stems from its claim to state sovereignty. As the absolute monarch of 108.7 acres in the Italian city of Rome, the successor of Saint Peter boasts immunity from prosecution. This is the same privilege that is bestowed upon foreign ambassadors by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. But as Geoffrey Robertson, member of the Queen’s Counsel, writes in The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse, there is good reason to be skeptical of the Vatican’s claim to statehood.
The Vatican State as a Bully Pulpit
The Vatican state was unilaterally declared after a deal by Pope Pius XI with the fascist dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, in 1929. This deal, the Lateran Treaty, and the Church’s Concordat with the Nazis were unveiled at a lavish ceremony in Rome. The Vatican newspaper announced, “Italy has been given back to God and God to Italy.” Pius XI hailed Mussolini as “a man sent by providence” and promptly told all Italian Catholics to vote for him. Mussolini won 98.33% of the vote. These overtly sinister roots of the seat of the Vicar of Christ are not often taught in Catholic schools.
Since then, the Catholic Church has abused its position as the only world religion that has its own country, officially. As the only non-member state with permanent observer status in the United Nations, the Holy See has consistently led the charge, despite its lack of right to vote, against initiatives towards the equal rights of women and LGBT and the reduction of AIDS cases via the distribution of condoms.
Mirroring the Catholic Church in the Philippines’ current hijacking of the RH Bill proceedings, the Vatican has invariably attempted to derail the UN’s own reproductive health programs. In 1995, during the UN conference on population and development in Cairo, the Holy See said that reproductive health meant ‘abortion,’ which they call a “heinous evil,” as well as ‘tolerance of homosexuality,’ another “heinous evil.” In the Beijing conference on women that same year, the Vatican lobbied its Catholic allies as well as Muslim states to oppose any consensus text that included words and phrases such as “gender equality,” “unwanted pregnancy,” “reproductive rights,” and even “lifestyle.” It also tried to ban the NGO, Catholics for a Free Choice to attend.
Questioning Vatican Statehood
The Vatican has regularly taken advantage of its perceived statehood in order to propound its own fundamentalist dogmas and to bully other majority Catholic nations into enacting the Holy See’s own agenda. This circumvents its inability to vote in the UN. Despite its pretensions to statehood, however, Robertson argues that the Vatican does not satisfy international law regarding official state recognition. The Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States has four requirements in order for states to be recognized in the international community and they are as follows.
1. A Permanent Population
The Vatican has no nationals or residents to call its own. It is mainly home to the bureaucracy of the Roman Catholic Church. There are no permanent residents and “citizenship” is mainly authorization to remain in the Vatican until their status or employment expires. To cross from Rome into Vatican City, the only requirement is to have one’s baggages checked.
Citizenship may be extended to “the wife [in a sexist presumption that all diplomats will be male], children, parents, brothers, and sisters.” However, sons must leave Vatican City at the age of 25 and daughters must leave when they marry (another sexist provision, as Robertson opines). Unlike any other nation on Earth, citizenship cannot be acquired by birth. There are no “Vaticanians” born and there is no national community to speak of.
2. A Defined Territory
“‘Vatican City’ cannot properly be regarded as a territory at all,” writes Robertson. This is because all that Vatican City contains is a large palace, a few attached buildings, and a vast garden. It is not even a city since it is entirely within another city, Rome.
Real estate within the Vatican cannot be sold unless with papal permission. While, all of the basic services necessary for the upkeep of the Vatican (electricity, water, gas, and sewage) are run by the Italian government and its Italian citizens.
The government of the Vatican, the Holy See, does not even enforce its own supposed territory. With one of the highest crime rates in the world, the Vatican has its criminals apprehended by foreigners, the carabinieri (the Italian police). It is strange how a state can insist on its sovereignty when it cannot even exercise jurisdiction over its plot of land.
The Holy See (comprised of the Supreme Pontiff and the Curia) is arguably the government of the Vatican. However, seeing as how it itself does not have territory and the Vatican has no population, this argument is rather tenuous. The Holy See governs the Catholic Church and the Vatican exists not for Vatican nationals but for Catholics all over the world, who are themselves citizens of their respective nations. The Curia operates the Vatican’s international affairs in the Italian city of Rome while defense and policing, as well as medical services, are provided for by the Italian government (which is supposed to be a foreign state). This defies the requirement of the Montevideo Convention for states to have some independence in conducting international affairs.
The Holy See cannot even punish crimes against its own leader. After Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II and was arrested by Italian police, he was held in Italian prison and was tried in Italian courts. Agca’s defense tried to argue that he had been unlawfully extradited to a foreign state. This plea was rejected, a fact that flies in the face of Vatican statehood claims.
4. Capacity to Enter into Relations with Other States
In order to be involved in diplomatic relations, consular relations are a necessary implication. Consuls are mainly concerned with the welfare of their nationals in foreign countries. However, if you are ever injured or attacked in Vatican City, do not expect help from your nation’s ambassador to the Vatican because they do not offer consular services. The envoy to Italy will take up this role.
Interactions by states with the Holy See are mostly involved with religious matters, such as arranging audiences with the pope. As the headquarters of a religion and not of a nation-state, the Vatican functions in the international community in a capacity unlike any other state.
Simply put, as both Professor Gillian Triggs of the University of Sydney Law School and Robertson agree on, “Vatican City does not meet the criteria for statehood.”
This discussion of The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse is continued in Part 2.