For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Geography and People
Area: total of 0.44 sq. km. (109 acres).
Ethnic groups: Italian, Swiss, other.
Religion: Roman Catholic.
Languages: Italian, Latin, French, various others.
Work force: 3,000 lay workers (reside outside the Vatican).
Type: Papacy; ecclesiastical governmental and administrative capital of the Roman Catholic Church
Independence: Sovereign entity since medieval times (Lateran Pacts confirming independence and sovereignty of The Holy See signed with Italy on February 11, 1929.)
Suffrage: Limited to Cardinals less than 80 years old.
Budget: Revenues (2005) $247 million; expenditures (2005) $243 million Worldwide banking and financial activities. This unique, noncommercial economy is also supported financially by contributions (known as Peter's Pence) from Roman Catholics throughout the world. The incomes and living standards of lay workers are comparable to those of counterparts who work in the city of Rome.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Almost all of Vatican City's 790 citizens live inside the Vatican's walls. The Vatican includes high-ranking dignitaries, priests, nuns, and guards as well as about 3,000 lay workers who comprise the majority of the work force.
The Holy See's diplomatic history began in the fourth century, but the boundaries of the papacy's temporal power have shifted over the centuries. From the 8th century through the middle of the 19th century, the Popes held sway over the Papal States, which included a broad band of territory across central Italy. In 1860, after prolonged civil and regional unrest, Victor Emmanuel's army seized the Papal States, leaving only Rome and surrounding coastal regions under papal control.
In 1870, Victor Emmanuel captured Rome itself and declared it the new capital of Italy, ending papal claims to temporal power. Pope Pius IX and his successors disputed the legitimacy of these acts and proclaimed themselves to be "prisoners" in the Vatican. Finally, in 1929, the Italian Government and the Holy See signed three agreements resolving the dispute:
A revised concordat, altering the terms of church-state relations, was signed in 1984.
GOVERNMENT AND INSTITUTIONS
The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power over the Holy See and the State of the Vatican City. Pope Benedict XVI, former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, was elected and invested on April 19 and formally inaugurated on April 24, 2005.
The term "Holy See" refers to the composite of the authority, jurisdiction, and sovereignty vested in the Pope and his advisers to direct the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. As the "central government" of the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy See 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. The Holy See has formal diplomatic relations with 174 nations, including the United States and many predominantly Muslim countries. The Holy See also maintains relations of a special nature with the Russian Federation and the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine.
Created in 1929 to provide a territorial identity for the Holy See in Rome, the State of Vatican City is a recognized national territory under international law. The Holy See enters into international agreements and receives and sends diplomatic representatives.
Administration of Vatican City State
The Pope delegates the internal administration of the Vatican City to the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City. Vatican City maintains the Swiss Guards, a voluntary military force, as well as a modern security corps. It has its own post office, commissary, bank, railway station, electrical generating plant, television center and publishing house. The Vatican also issues its own coins, stamps and internet domain (.va). Vatican Radio, the official radio station, has a significant audience in Europe. L'Osservatore Romano is the semi-official newspaper, published daily in Italian, and weekly in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French (plus a monthly edition in Polish).
Administration of the Holy See
The Pope exercises his authority through the Roman Curia. The Roman Curia consists of the Secretariat of State, nine Congregations, three Tribunals, 11 Pontifical Councils, and a complex of offices that administer church affairs at the highest level. The Secretariat of State, under the Cardinal Secretary of State, directs and coordinates the Curia. On September 15, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as Secretary of State (a role equivalent to that of prime minister) and appointed Archbishop Dominique Mamberti as Secretary for Relations with States (equivalent to foreign minister).
Among the most active of the major Curial institutions are the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees church doctrine; the Congregation for Bishops, which coordinates the appointment of bishops worldwide; the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which oversees all missionary activities; and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which deals with international peace and social issues.
Three tribunals are responsible for judicial power. The Apostolic Penitentiary deals with matters of conscience; the Roman Rota is responsible for appeals, including annulments of marriage; and the Apostolic Signatura is the final court of appeal.
The Prefecture for Economic Affairs coordinates the finances of the Holy See departments and supervises the administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, an investment fund dating back to the Lateran Pacts. A committee of 15 cardinals, chaired by the Secretary of State, has final oversight authority over all financial matters of the Holy See, including those of the Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican bank.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Pope Benedict XVI
Secretary of State (Prime Minister)—Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Sostituto --Archbishop Leonardo Sandri
Secretary of Section for Relations with States (Foreign Minister)-- Archbishop Dominique Mamberti
Apostolic Nuncio (equivalent to Ambassador) to the United States--Archbishop Pietro Sambi
The Holy See maintains an Apostolic Nunciature, the equivalent of an embassy, in the U.S. at 3339 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008, (202) 333-7121.
The North American College in Rome, owned and operated by the U.S. Catholic hierarchy for training American priests, handles requests for papal audiences. The address is Casa Santa Maria dell'Umilta, Via dell'Umilta 30, 00187, Rome, Italy (tel. 39-06-690-0189).
The Holy See conducts an active diplomacy. As noted, it maintains formal diplomatic relations with 174 nations; 68 of these maintain permanent resident diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See in Rome. The rest have missions located outside Italy with dual accreditation. The Holy See maintains 106 permanent diplomatic missions to nation-states. Furthermore, the Holy See has two separate permanent diplomatic missions: one to the European Union, another to the Russian Federation.
The Holy See is especially active in international organizations. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with the European Union (EU) in Brussels, it is a permanent observer of the United Nations Organization (UN), Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, African Union (AU), World Tourist Organization (WToO), World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO), World Food Program (WFP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP), United Nations Center for Human Settlements (UNCHS), Latin Union (LU), International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The Holy See is also an observer on an informal basis of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva (WMO), United Nations Committee of Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), International Maritime Organization (IMO), African Asian Legal Consultative Committee (AALCC) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The Holy See is a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), International Telecommunication Satellite Organization (ITSO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Grains Council (IGC), International Committee for Military Medicine (ICMM), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
In 1971, the Holy See announced the decision to adhere to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to "give its moral support to the principles that form the base of the treaty itself." The Holy See is also a participating state in the OSCE and a guest of honor to the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE.
Furthermore, the Holy See has a delegate to the Arab League (AL) in Cairo.
U.S. - HOLY SEE RELATIONS
The United States maintained consular relations with the Papal States from 1797 to 1870 and diplomatic relations with the Pope, in his capacity as head of the Papal States, from 1848 to 1868, though not at the ambassadorial level. These relations lapsed with the loss of all papal territories in 1870.
From 1870 to 1984, the United States did not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Several presidents, however, designated personal envoys to visit the Holy See periodically for discussions of international humanitarian and political issues. Myron C. Taylor was the first of these representatives, serving from 1939 to 1950. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan also appointed personal envoys to the Pope.
The United States and the Holy See announced the establishment of diplomatic relations on January 10, 1984. On March 7, 1984, the Senate confirmed William A. Wilson as the first U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Ambassador Wilson had been President Reagan's personal envoy to the Pope since 1981. The Holy See named Archbishop Pio Laghi as the first Apostolic Nuncio (equivalent to ambassador) of the Holy See to the U.S.
Establishment of diplomatic relations has bolstered the frequent contact and consultation between the United States and the Holy See on many important international issues of mutual interest. The commitment to human dignity at the core of both the U.S. and Holy See approach to the world gives rise to a common agenda for action to promote religious freedom, justice, religious and ethnic tolerance, liberty, respect for women and children and for the rule of law. The relationship is best characterized as an active global partnership for human dignity.
Principal U.S. Embassy Official
The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is located in Rome in the Villa Domiziana, Via delle Terme Deciane 26, 00153 Rome, Italy, Tel: (396) 4674-3428.