U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: The Holy See, July 1998
Official Name: The Holy See
Geography and People
Area (Vatican City): 0.439 sq. km.
Ethnic groups: Italian, Swiss.
Languages: Italian, Latin, French.
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.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Almost all of Vatican City's 458 citizens live inside the Vatican's walls. The
Vatican includes high dignitaries, priests, nuns, and guards as well as
approximately 3,000 lay workers who comprise the majority of the workers.
The Holy See's diplomatic history began in the 4th 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 Emmanuel
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
resolving the dispute:
A treaty recognizing the independence and sovereignty of the Holy See and
creating the State of the Vatican City;
A concordat defining the relations between the government and the church within
A financial convention providing the Holy See with compensation for its losses
A revised concordat, altering the terms of church-state relations, was signed in
GOVERNMENT AND INSTITUTIONS
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 5 centuries. Elected on October 16,
1978, he succeeded John Paul I, whose reign was limited by his untimely death to
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 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 166 nations, including the
United States. Libya, Guyana, and Angola established diplomatic relations in
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
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. The legal system is
based on canon, or ecclesiastical, law; if canon law is not applicable, the laws
of the city of Rome apply. 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 semi-official newspaper, published daily in
Italian and weekly in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French (plus a
monthly edition in Polish). It is published by Catholic laymen but carries
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, 6 congregations, 3
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 equivalent of a prime
minister. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary of the Section for Relations
With States of the Secretariat of State is 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
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 John Paul II
Secretary of State (Prime Minister)-- Angelo Cardinal Sodano
Deputy Secretary of State -- Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re
Secretary of Section for Relations With States (Foreign Minister) -- Archbishop
Apostolic Nuncio (equivalent to ambassador) to the United States -- Archbishop
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. 690-0189).
The Holy See conducts an active diplomacy. As noted, it maintains formal
diplomatic relations with 166 nations; 69 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 179
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 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 1997,
the Holy See became a member of the World Trade Organization.
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.
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. 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 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 United States values the Holy See's
significant contributions to international peace and human rights.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador -- Corinne "Lindy" C. Boggs
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: ( 396) 46741-3428).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel
Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends
that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular
Information Sheetsexist for all countries and
include information on immigration practices, currency regulations,
health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country.
Public Announcements are issued as a means to
disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other
relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant
risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this
information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs
at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000.
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available
on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov
and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program
to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation
to VT100. The login is travel and the
password is info (Note: Lower case is required).
The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau
of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning
a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling
abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services
at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays,
Passport Services information can be obtained
by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per
minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday
($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778).
Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668
Travelers can check the latest health information with
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta,
Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives 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-95-8280) is available from the 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. (for this
country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing
in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling
in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy
upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy
Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family
members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
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
magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country
Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published
annually 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. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government
Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To
order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by
the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of
trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov)
and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more
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