(Also Published in Far Eastern Law Review, Volume XLIV, December 2013, FEU Publishing)
2. The City-State
3. The Government
4. Executive Department
a. The Office of the Pope
b. Election of Pope
c. Powers of the Pope
d. Doctrine of Papal Authority
5. Legislative Department
6. Judicial Department
7. International Relations
The Vatican is a dagger in the heart of Italy.
The Pope, in a time proof-fabric,
was the keystone of the arch.
- Maurice Andrieux
In February 28, 2013, then-Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would step down from the papacy due to his advanced age (L’Osservatore Romano, 2013). He was the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 (Saunders, 2005), and the first to resign on his own initiative since Celestine V in 1294 (Alpert, 2013).
In the wake of Benedict XVI’s resignation, the papal conclave was convened in order to elect the Vatican’s – and the Roman Catholic Church’s – new leader. On March 13, the whole world watched in anticipation as the conclave elected Argentina’s Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope, who then selected the name Francis (RTE News, 2013). Not only the solemn and arduous process of electing a Pope, which was last witnessed in 2005, was once more put to the fore, but also the intricacies of Vatican’s monarchical government, which is unique in this day and age.
The Vatican government holds a number of contradictory elements such as the presence of all the trappings of an aristocratic republic. It does have, after all, a sovereign pontiff, elected by the cardinals of the Sacred College who then surrender every right of counsel and control into the hands of the leader they have chosen from among themselves (Andrieux, 1968).
The Vatican and what moves its affairs and conduct, both within and beyond its walls, has captured the interests and imaginations of many, leading the city-state to be as much of a mystery as those which the Church holds sacred. This article gives us a glimpse of the unfamiliar government that is the Vatican City-state.
Vatican City, with its land area of only about 100 acres (approx. 0.2 square miles) and its 1,740-strong bureaucracy, is widely known as “the smallest state in the world” (Rome.info, 2003), both as to land area and population. In spite of its size, the Vatican is nevertheless dubbed as one of the most controversial and powerful entities in the world. It helped the Western Bloc in the Cold War and has always taken a leading role at international conferences. It has diplomatic ties with dozens of countries ranging from the United States and most of Central and Eastern Europe to Israel and Jordan. Vatican City is the administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church, which has nearly one billion people rallying under its banner (World & I, p. 20).
It was not always this way, however. There was a time when the Holy See held sway over a much larger territory. From c. 500 until 1870, a period spanning more than a thousand years, the popes – or, perhaps more appropriately, the Holy See – have long ruled over a large segment of the Italian peninsula known as the Papal States. The rationale was always the same back then as it is now: the popes had to be independent of any temporal government.
With the unification of Italy in 1870, the papacy’s temporal power was abolished by the new Italian state. Many saw it as a fortunate development that relieved the church of the distracting problems and responsibility of trying to govern a large state. The pope at that time, Pope Pius IX, nevertheless insisted that the head of the Catholic Church still needs “a small corner of the earth where (he is) master... [s]o long as (he) do(es) not have this little corner of earth, (he) shall not be able to exercise in their fullness (his) spiritual functions.” After being despoiled of the Papal States, Pius IX and his successors “retreated” into the Vatican. The Italian government found it expedient to leave the pope alone (Whitehead, 1997).
It turned out that the Catholic Church never quite recognized the arrangement; subsequent popes felt that they were but "prisoners" in the Vatican (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2012). These woes were put to an amicable end by the Lateran Treaty, a concordat between Italy and the Holy See which recognized the sovereignty of the latter in the state of Vatican City (Lateran Treaty, Art. 3). Thus, in 1929, Vatican City as the world now knows it was born.
In the case of The Holy See vs. Rosario (G.R. No. 1011949, December 1, 1994), the Supreme Court of the Philippines through the pen of Justice Camilo D. Quiason has noted that a number of commentators on international law are of the view that the Lateran Treaty which established the statehood of Vatican City in fact created two international persons: the Holy See and the Vatican City-state. This is partly correct, for only the entity called “the Vatican City-state” was created by the Lateran Treaty in 1929. The Holy See predates the Vatican by a considerable span of time, and has long been recognized just as much a political force by the rest of the civilized world as it is an ecclesiastical one. Nevertheless, both entities can be aptly described as sui generis in their own rights.
The Holy See is the Diocese of Rome, with the Pope as its bishop, which comprises the Roman Catholic Church's central governing body. The Holy See, through its administrative arm known as the Roman Curia, is empowered by canon law to speak on behalf of the entire Church in diplomatic matters (Code of Canon Law, Canons 360-361). Even though the Holy See fails to fulfill the four essential requisites for an entity to be deemed a state, the family of nations has long recognized it as possessed of full legal personality (Araujo and Lucal, 2004, p. 16).
The Vatican City-state is the entity governing the territory of Vatican City. It possesses its own distinct personality under international law and, as such, can enter into international agreements on its own. However, it is the Holy See which internationally represents the Vatican City-state, and in turn, the Catholic Church itself (Holy See Mission, 2002).
The Vatican currently houses the only absolute monarchy in the entire continent of Europe: the papacy (Catholic-pages, 2007). The Vatican is in essence a monarchical-sacerdotal state: the Pope is the "monarch", the sovereign head of state, and senior members of the church hierarchy, all appointed by the Pope, act as the governing body (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2013).As with other monarchies, the Pope exercises his vast powers through the different organs which act on his behalf and in his name.
The Pope has supreme executive, legislative, and judicial powers over both the Vatican and the Church, although said powers are exercised by other entities within the city-state. Legislative power is vested in the so-called Pontifical Commission, a body of cardinals appointed by the Pope for a five-year period. Executive power is in the hands of the President of the Pontifical Commission, assisted by the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary. Foreign relations are entrusted to the Secretariat of State of the Holy See and diplomatic service.
The Office of the Pope is ex-officio sovereign of the Vatican City State. The Pope delegates executive powers to the President of the Pontifical Commission who, in this context, assumes the title of “President of the Governorate” (Vatican City website, 2013) The President is appointed by the Pope for a five-year term, with the latter reserving the right to remove the former at any time; otherwise, the term of the President ends during a Sede Vacante, or the period after the death or resignation of the Pope. However, the holder of the title president prior to the death or resignation of the Pope becomes a member of a commission, with the former Cardinal Secretary of the State and the Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, that handles some of the functions of the head of state until a new Pope is chosen by the papal conclave (Pope John Paul II, 1996).
The Office of the Pope
The Pope being the absolute master of men and their possessions, exercises a searching, yet mild and gentle despotism over his worldly realm. The traditional home of the Pope had been the Vatican, the great complex, born so magnificently of the whims of twenty pontiffs, with nothing of its size and kind to match it in the world. (Andrieux, 1968)
There was no more absolute sovereign than the Pope. His authority was limitless. In his person he united temporal power over the States of the Church and the spiritual power throughout the Catholic world, and so his wish was law, both secular and religious. (Andrieux, 1968)
Election of Pope
By virtue of Canon 335 of the Code of Canon Law which mandates popes to update laws governing what is to be done when there are vacancies in the Holy See, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Constitution entitled Universi Dominici Gregis (Of the Lord's Whole Flock) in 1996.Universi Dominici Gregis provides the following rules of procedure for papal elections:
1. When an incumbent pope dies or resigns, the Cardinal Camerlengo acts as the temporary administrator of the Apostolic See. Upon obtaining information that the pope has died or has resigned, the Dean of the Sacred College shall inform all Cardinals and convoke them. Only those Cardinals who are not yet 80 years old by the time of Sede Vacante will be able to take part in the papal elections, and the maximum number of Cardinal-electors shall be 120.
2. During a Sede Vacante, the Sacred College of Cardinals is tasked with governing the church and preparing for the papal elections.
3. Once in the Vatican, the Cardinal-electors will have to wait for fifteen days for those who are, as of yet, absent.Once twenty days have elapsed, conclave pushes through with or without the absent Cardinals. If a Cardinal arrives while conclave is underway, they are allowed to take part in the election at the stage which it has reached.
4. Conclave is commenced and conducted within the walls of the Sistine Chapel, in total secrecy. Anyone unwise enough to violate the secrecy of conclave by whatever means are excommunicated.
5. Two or three ballots are given to each Cardinal-elector. The ballot contains in its upper half the words "Eligo in summum Pontificem (I choose as supreme pontiff)", and in its lower half, a space for writing a name. After writing one name on the ballot, the Cardinal-elector will fold the ballot twice.
6. Each Cardinal-elector, in order of preference, holds up his ballot and carries it to the altar. The cardinal recites an oath, “I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected”, and then drops the ballot to a receptacle in the altar.
7. Once all the Cardinal-electors have cast their ballots, the receptacle is shaken several times, and then, all the ballots are taken out and placed in another receptacle. If the total number of ballots does not correspond with the number of Cardinal-electors, the ballots are burned and another vote is taken at once. Black smoke would then be seen rising up the Sistine Chapel’s chimney.
8. If the total number of ballots corresponds with the number of Cardinal-electors, the ballots are thus opened.
9. The total number of votes is added up. If no one has obtained the requisite two-thirds vote, the Cardinal-electors vote again, with the previously used ballots being burned. Black smoke would likewise be seen rising up the Sistine Chapel’s chimney in this case.
10. If someone has received two-thirds of the votes, white smoke would then be seen from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney. The Catholic Church has chosen its new leader.
The Doctrine on Papal Authority
Here is the summary of the doctrine promulgated by the Vatican concerning the Papal authority in the de Ecclesia Christi, the Constitution of the Church of Christ, Session IV, 18 July 1870:
1. The Pope is the head of all the Church, the father and teacher of all Christians: Jesus Christ has entrusted to him full power to govern the Universal Church.
2. His power is immediate and binds all, pastors and laymen, to hierarchical subordination and to true obedience as regards faith and behavior, discipline and the government of the Church, with the object of maintaining unity of communion and of profession of faith.
3. His power, far from being prejudicial to the ordinary and immediate jurisdiction of bishops, recognizes and confirms their authority.
4. From this primary arises the right to freely correspond with the pastors and faithful, to instruct them and direct them; no human power can justly oppose this right, or subject to the approval of the state the execution of measures prescribed by the Holy See.
5. As head of the Church, the Pope is also sovereign judge in ecclesiastical matters; all may appeal to him and none can revise or annul his judgment (de Ragnau, 1913).
Powers of the Pope
As bishop of the Holy See and head of the Catholic Church, the Pope carries the duty of presiding over every aspect of the Church – both as an institution and as a body comprised of the world’s Catholics. In order to fulfill this duty, the Pope is necessarily vested with the following powers:
1. By virtue of being the supreme teacher of the Church, the Pope is possessed of the power to lay down what is to be believed by the Catholic faithful. Instances of this power in action are when the Pope sets forth creeds as explicit professions of faith, prescribes books for religious instruction and prohibits publications injurious to faith and morals, directs Catholic missions worldwide, and interprets the natural law, among others.
2. The Pope may prescribe the means by which worship is made. Within this power lies the pope’s authority to canonize a saint, to introduce a new liturgical service or to change the existing rite, and to dispense the Church's treasury.
3. The Pope can legislate for the whole Church, with or without the help of a general council, and has full authority to interpret, revise, and abrogate both his own legislation and those enacted by his predecessors.
4. The Pope wields supreme judicial authority over the Catholic faithful, such power bound to no earthly superior, with its basis in Jesus’ words to Peter, viz.: "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, it shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19)
5. The Pope exercises appointing power over all public offices of the church, including bishoprics and dioceses. As with other instances of the power to appoint wielded in other states, such power as used by the Pope also necessarily carries the authority to accept resignation and the power to fire for cause. Related to this is the Pope’s power to approve new religious orders.
6. The Pope is empowered to alienate church lands when there is just cause for such alienation.
7. Lastly, the Pope has the right to tax the clergy and the faithful for ecclesiastical purposes (Joyce, 1911).
The Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State is a unicameral body appointed by the Pope and operates as the legislature, proposing laws and policies to the Pope (Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, Art. 3, Sec. 1). Before laws and policies take effect, they must be approved by the Pope, through the Secretariat of State (Ibid., Art. 4, Sec. 3), and be published in the Italian- language supplement of Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Acts of the Apostolic See), the official gazette of the Holy See (1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 9).
The Vatican City State has a distinct legal system from that of its neighboring state, the Government of Italy. Nonetheless, the Vatican may request that a serious crime be tried in the Italian Judicial System (Nadeu, 2012).
The Judicial System of Vatican consists of:
• A sole judge (Giudice Unico)with limited jurisdiction
• A tribunal (tribunale) with four (4) members
• A Court of Appeal (Corte d’Appello) with four (4) members
• A Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione) with three (3) members (Dalla Torre,2009)
The sole judge has to be a citizen of the Vatican City and he can at the same time serve as a member of the tribunal. The tribunal itself consists of a president and three other judges (however, cases are heard in a curia of three judges). A promoter of justice (Promotore di Giustizia) serves as attorney both at the tribunal and at the court of the sole judge. The members of the tribunal, the sole judge and the promoter of justice are all lay jurists and are appointed by the pope.
The Court of Appeal consists of the president and three other judges (similar to the tribunal, cases are heard in a curia of three judges). The members of the Court of Appeal, both clerics and lay persons, are appointed by the Pope for a term of five years.
The Supreme Court consists of its president, who is by law the Cardinal Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and two other cardinals, who are appointed by the president on a yearly basis and also have to be member of the Signatura. The Signatura is the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church (apart from the Pope himself, who as the supreme ecclesiastical judge is the final point of appeal for any ecclesiastical judgment) (Code of Canon Law, Canon 1442).
All courts have their seat at the Palazzo del Tribunale at Piazza Santa Marta behind Saint Peter's Basilica. Justice is exercised in the name of the Supreme Pontiff which is the Pope.
Andrieux (1969), made criticisms on how the criminal justice in Vatican is being carried out by the government, he said it in this wise:
There were so many branches and the distribution of responsibility was so tangled, that a man might come before several courts on the same charge.... It was always possible, too, to be pardoned by one court, or by several, and still be kept indefinitely in prison.
There was no penal code, only a very contradictory collection of bandi, or decrees, as issued by the Secretaries of State.
The Vatican has a special cell for short-term incarceration (Nadeau, 2012) but it has no facility for long-term incarcerations because it has no prison system (Spiegel Online, 2007). People convicted of committing crimes in the Vatican serve terms in Italian prisons (Polizia Penitenziaria), with costs covered by the Vatican (Spiegel Online, 2007).
Since the end of the Cold War, the Vatican has been engaged in a very different type of political battle. Such began at the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and continued at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing (Royal, 1997). The Vatican has been adamant in espousing and protecting morality before a world that sees such values as irrelevant, gaining support from pro-life and religious organizations in the process. Some states consider this stance one in poor form, as was the case in the Cairo Conference where other delegates expressed exasperation at the Vatican’s stand of “the primacy of parental rights over adolescents in access to reproductive health care and services” (Kissling, 1999).
Today, the Holy See maintains active participation in the following international organizations: the Council of Europe (as observer), the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Interpol, the International Organization for Migration, the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, the International Trade Union Confederation, the Organization of American States (as observer), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Schengen Convention (as de facto member), the United Nations (as observer), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Union Latina (as observer), the World Tourism Organization (as observer), the Universal Postal Union, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Trade Organization (as observer) (CIA, 2013).
The Holy See also maintains the so-called “nunciatures” for purposes of fostering diplomatic relations with other states, being in constant contact with local churches, and facilitating dialogue with civil authorities, especially regarding freedom of religion and conscience. The Holy See is engaged in diplomatic relations with the governments of 174 states, the most recent state to have forged ties with it being Djibouti (Sodano, 2001).
The Vatican’s importance thus lies in the fact that it is the small independent territory where the Pope resides and from which he teaches rules and sanctifies as the “earthly” head of the Catholic Church. It is the geographical base of the Holy See, the Pope’s Church as Bishop of Rome. This very small plot of land came to be recognized as independent and in the political sense because the popes have always insisted that the head of the Catholic Church can never be subject to any temporal ruler or government. It would be a serious mistake, however, to think of the Vatican only in terms of political power or finances or of the efficient administration of church’s business. The fact that it is small, independent state is perhaps the least important thing about Vatican. All these factors enter in, of course, because Christendom remains very much influential in the world.
Still the Catholic Church is primarily concerned with the business of saving souls; the church claims to speak and act for their master Jesus Christ, no less. Much of what goes on inside the Vatican, therefore, as well as how the Vatican relates to the world at large remains inseparable from its teaching and spiritual missions aiming at the sanctification and salvation of men and women as what their doctrine professes.
1983 Code of Canon Law
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Often recalcitrant, but always principled.