U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: The Holy See, September 1995 
Bureau of Public Affairs 
September 1995 
Official Name: The Holy See 
Geography and People 
Area (Vatican City): 0.439 sq. km. 
(109 acres). 
Population: 400. 
Ethnic groups: Italian, Swiss. 
Languages: Italian, Latin, French. 
Literacy: 100%. 
Work force: 3,000 lay workers (reside outside the Vatican). 
Type: Papacy; ecclesiastical governmental and administrative capital of 
the Roman Catholic Church. 
Independence: Lateran Pacts regulating independence and sovereignty of 
the Holy See signed with Italy on February 11, 1929. 
Suffrage: College of Cardinals elects Pope for life. 
Almost all of Vatican City's 400 citizens live inside the Vatican's 
walls. In addition to the approximately 3,000 lay workers who comprise 
the majority of the work force, the Vatican's employment ranks also 
include high dignitaries, priests, nuns, and guards. Although official 
acts of the Holy See are drawn up in Latin, Italian is generally used. 
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. In the middle of the 19th century, the Popes held sway over 
the Papal States, including a broad band of territory across central 
Italy. In 1860, after prolonged civil and regional unrest, Victor 
Immanuel's army seized the Papal States, leaving only Rome and 
surrounding coastal regions under papal control. 
In 1871, Victor captured Rome itself. The following year Victor entered 
the city and declared it the new capital of Italy, ending papal claims 
to temporal power. Pope Pius 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 regarding the dispute: 
--  A treaty recognizing the independence and sovereignty of the Holy 
See and creating the State of the Vatican City; 
--  A concordat fixing the relations between the government and the 
church within Italy; and 
--  A financial convention providing the Holy See with compensation for 
its losses in 1870. 
A revised concordat, altering the terms of church-state relations, was 
signed in 1984. 
The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power 
over the Holy See and the State of the Vatican City. Pope John Paul II, 
born in Poland, is the first non-Italian Pope in nearly five centuries. 
Elected on October 16, 1978, he succeeded John Paul I, whose reign 
lasted only 34 days. 
The term "Holy See" refers to the composite of the authority, 
jurisdiction, and sovereignty vested in the Pope and his advisers to 
direct the world-wide 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 157 nations, including the 
United States. 
Vatican City is the base of the Holy See. Created in 1929 to administer 
properties belonging to the Holy See in Rome, the State of the Vatican 
City is recognized under international law and enters into international 
agreements. Unlike the Holy See, it does not receive or send diplomatic 
Administration of the Vatican City 
The Pope delegates the internal administration of the Vatican City to 
the Pontifical Commission for the State of the Vatican City, headed by 
the Cardinal Secretary of State. The legal system is based on canon, or 
ecclesiastical law; if canon law is not applicable,  the laws of the 
city of Rome are invoked. The 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, and publishing house. The Vatican also issues its own 
coins, stamps, and passports. Radio Vatican, the official radio station, 
is one of the most influential in Europe. L'Osservatore Romano is the 
semiofficial 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 rules the Holy See through the Roman Curia and the Papal Civil 
Service. The Roman Curia consists of the Secretariat of State, nine 
Congregations (equivalent to Ministries), three Tribunals, 12 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. The current incumbent, Angelo 
Cardinal Sodano, is the Holy See's second-ranking official and is the 
equivalent of a prime minister. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary 
of the Section for Relations With States of the Secretariat of State is, 
in effect, the Vatican's 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 
Principal Government Officials 
Head of State--Pope John Paul II 
Secretary of State--Angelo Cardinal Sodano 
Deputy Secretary of State--Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re 
Secretary of Section for Relations With States of the Secretariat of 
State--Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran 
Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States--Archbishop Augustino 
The Holy See maintains an Apostolic Nunciature in the U.S. at 3339 
Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-333-7121). 
Papal Audiences 
The North American College in Rome, owned and operated by the U.S. 
Catholic hierarchy for training American priests, handles all requests 
for papal audiences. The address is Casa Santa Maria dell'Umilta, Via 
dell'Umilta 30, 00187, Rome, Italy (tel. 678-9184). 
The Holy See conducts an active diplomacy. As noted, it maintains formal 
diplomatic relations with 157 nations; 67 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 also maintains 91 permanent diplomatic missions abroad. 
The Holy See is especially active in international organizations. It has 
permanent observer status at the United Nations in New York; the Office 
of the United Nations in Geneva and specialized institutes; the UN Food 
and Agriculture Organization in Rome; and the UN Educational, 
Scientific, and Cultural Organization in Paris. The Holy See also has a 
member delegate at the International Atomic Energy Agency and at the UN 
Industrial Development Organization in Vienna. It also maintains 
permanent observers at the Organization of American States in 
Washington, DC, and the Council of Europe. In addition, the Holy See has 
diplomatic relations with the European Union in Brussels. 
In 1971, the Holy See announced the decision to adhere to the nuclear 
Non-Proliferation Treaty 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 Organization for Security and 
Cooperation in Europe. 
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. These relations 
lapsed with the final loss of all papal territories in 1870. 
From 1870 to 1984, the United States did not have diplomatic relations 
with the Holy See. Several recent 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  
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 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 Apostolic Pro-
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 United States 
values the Holy See's significant contributions to international peace 
and human rights. 
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials 
Ambassador--Raymond L. Flynn 
Deputy Chief of Mission--Louis J. Nigro 
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. 39-6-
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides 
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are 
issued when the Department of State recommends that Americans avoid 
travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all 
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency 
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security 
information, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. 
embassies and consulates in the subject country. They can be obtained by 
telephone at (202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the 
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a 
modem with standard settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications 
on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are available 
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, D.C. 20402 (202) 783-3238. 
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be 
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
While planning a trip, travelers can check the latest information on 
health requirements and conditions with the U.S. Centers for Disease 
Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 
provides telephonic or fax information on the most recent health 
advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on 
food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet 
entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication 
number CDC-94-8280, price $7.00) is available from the Superintendent of 
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. 
(202) 512-1800. 
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and 
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to 
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's 
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (see "Principal Government 
Officials" listing in this publication). 
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to 
register with the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" 
listing in this publication). Such information might assist family 
members in making contact en route in case of an emergency. 
Further Electronic Information: 
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB 
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful 
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to 
anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications software, and 
telephone line. 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy 
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, 
the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press 
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. 
DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the Internet: 
Gopher:  dosfan.lib.uic.edu 
URL:  gopher://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ 
WWW:  http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/dosfan.html 
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis 
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of 
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Priced at 
$80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and 
Macintosh compatible) and are available from the Superintendent of 
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh, 
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250. 
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy 
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government 
Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS 
information, call (202) 512-1530. 
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, 
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet 
(gopher. stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 
482-1986 for more information. 
Background Notes Series  --  Published by the United States Department 
of State  --  Bureau of Public Affairs  --  Office of Public 
Communication  --  Washington, DC  --  Series Editor:  Marilyn J. 
The Holy See  --  Department of State Publication 8258  --  September 
This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without 
permission; citation of this source is appreciated.  For sale by the 
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, DC  20402. 
Return to Europe Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage