As the Holy See is an active participant in international
diplomacy, it is only fitting at the outset of this web
site, to offer the visitor some brief reflections on the
Holy See’s diplomacy, with particular emphasis on its
representation at the United Nations.
the fourth century, and well before the constitution of the
Papal States, the Apostolic See has sent and received
diplomatic missions. On 11 February 1929 the Holy See
and Italy resolved the "Questione Romana" following the
cessation of the Papal States by signing the Lateran Treaty.
By means of this Treaty,
Vatican City State came into existence. Article 12 of
the Treaty notes that diplomatic relations with the Holy See
are governed by the rules of International Law. Years later,
the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961),
convened for the purpose of codifying diplomatic law, went
even further by formally recognizing the practice accepted
by any receiving State regarding the precedence of the
representative of the Holy See within the Diplomatic Corps
(Art. 16, §3).
Vatican City is the physical or
territorial base of the Holy See, almost a pedestal upon
which is posed a much larger and unique independent and
sovereign authority/rule: that of the Holy See. The State of
Vatican City itself also possesses a personality under
international law and, as such, enters into international
agreements. However, it is the Holy See which
internationally represents Vatican City State. In fact, when
the Holy See enters into agreements for Vatican City State,
it uses the formula: "acting on behalf and in the interest
of the State of Vatican City. " In October 1957, in order to
avoid uncertainty in its relations with the United Nations,
it was affirmed that relations are established between the
United Nations and the Holy See. And it is the Holy See
which is represented by the Delegations accredited by the
Secretariat of State to international organizations.
In the Listing of Country Names, published annually by
the United Nations, a note is added to the Holy See's entry,
stating that - in United Nations documents - the term "Holy
See" is to be used except in texts concerning the
International Telecommunications Union and the Universal
Postal Union, where the term "Vatican City State" is to be
used. States, then, do not entertain diplomatic relations
with Vatican City State, but with the Holy See.
The term "Holy
See" refers to the supreme authority of the Church, that
is the Pope as Bishop of Rome and head of the college of
Bishops. It is the central government of the Roman Catholic
Church. As such, the Holy See is an institution which, under
international law and in practice, has a legal personality
that allows it to enter into treaties as the juridical equal
of a State and to send and receive diplomatic
representatives. As noted above, it is the "Holy See" that
is present at United Nations Headquarters in New York and at
UN centers abroad, as well as at other international
organizations such as the European Community , the
Organization of American States, the African Unity, etc.
Currently, the Holy See maintains full diplomatic relations
with one hundred seventy-seven (177) countries out of the
one hundred ninety-three (193) member countries of the UN.
A question often asked is: "Why does the Holy See take
such an active part in the international forum? And why do
so many countries seek official contacts with the Holy See?"
Political support or material aid they will certainly not
expect. What they do seek is what the Holy See, by its very
nature and tradition, can offer: orientation and spiritual
inspiration that should animate the life of nations and
their mutual relationships.
The Holy See enjoys by its own choice
the status of Permanent Observer at the United Nations,
rather than of a full Member. This is due primarily to the
desire of the Holy See to maintain absolute neutrality in
specific political problems.
The representatives of the Holy See at the United Nations
and most of its agencies are Observers and participate in
their prospective activities all the same. When the United
Nations organizes world conferences on matters of universal
interest, the invitation is sent to all States or States
Members of the United Nations and States Members of U.N.
agencies, and therefore, also to the Holy See.
XVI's Statement to the U.N. General Assembly in 2008
Pope Benedict XVI's
Statement to the U.N. Staff in 2008
Pope John Paul II's Statement to the U.N. in 1995
Pope Paul VI's Statement to the U.N. in 1965 (French)