The Vatican as a state? Non Italians confused.

Pope Benedict XVI certainly knows Latin, so he would know the meaning of the term: persona non grata, because that’s certainly seems to be the case with him regarding his forthcoming visit to the United Kingdom.

But apart from the issues of child abuse, gay rights, contraception etc. that are beleaguering the Catholic Church there is another one which is particularly linked to Italian history. A letter written by British luminaries states:

“We reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican,”

The fact is that the Vatican is a quirk of Italian history. Often in the anglosphere media whatever the Pope states is said is from ‘Rome’ but that’s not strictly correct. While Vatican City is within the metropolitan area of Rome it is a separate entity from it and from Italy as well. People visiting St. Peter Basilica may not realise that once they enter Saint Peter’s Square they have actually left Italy and are in a different country.

Check Vatican City’s website: You can even see that it even has its own country code ‘va’ and not ‘it’ if it was in Italy.

So how this came into being?  When the Catholic Church started, it was outlawed (when followers were fed to lions or killed in the usual horrible ways that ancient Romans seems to be very inventive about).  So any church or anything connected to the Church was privately owned by followers.  Once Constantine made the church legal, and the popularity of Christianity grew, this trend continued.  Other donations soon followed, and the Church held all of these lands as a private landowner.

As the Roman empire fell, the Italian peninsula was invaded by a variety of hordes. For instance the Lombards (where the name Lombardy comes from) the Byzantines invaded from the south.  But the Byzantines based in Constantinople (now Istanbul) couldn’t hold to the territory very well and the biggest landowner, the Church, began by default to take on much of the ruling authority that Byzantines were unable to project to the area around the city of Rome.  So while technically the people around there were under the Byzantine empire it was really the Bishop of Rome who called the shots.

Anyway lots of argy bargy occurred between the Pope, the Byzantines and the Lombards over time.  A number of Popes were able to play their ‘religious authority’ card to ensure that a number of potential invaders would not pillage the areas which were under their de facto control.  In 781, Charlemagne codified the regions over which the Pope would be temporal sovereign.  At its greatest extent, in the 18th century, the Papal States included most of Central Italy.    Napoleon messed the place a bit, but crunch time arrived when nationalist movements (Garibaldi etc.) wanted to unite Italy.  On September 10, 1870, the Piedmontese declared war on the Papal States, and its Army, commanded by General Raffaele Cadorna, crossed the frontier of the then remaining papal territory on 11 September and advanced slowly toward Rome. The Piedmontese reached the Aurelian Walls on 19 September and placed Rome under a state of siege. Although the pope’s tiny army was incapable of defending the city, Pius IX ordered it to put up at least a token resistance to emphasize that Italy was acquiring Rome by force and not consent.  The Army entered Rome through a  Breach of Porta Pia,  an episode still evoked by Italians nowadays as they bemoan the insidious and pernicious influence of the Vatican in Italian domestic affairs.  The city was captured on September 20, 1870.

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But did the Pope and subsequent Popes agreed to be under Italian rule?  Not at all.  Strategically they maintained control of the immediate area around St. Peters.  They also went into some sort of sulk stating that they were Prisoners in the Vatican (some prison!).  They confined themselves to the Apostolic Palace and adjacent buildings in the loop of the ancient fortifications known as the Leonine City, on Vatican Hill. From there it maintained a number of features pertaining to sovereignty, such as diplomatic relations, since in canon law these were inherent in the papacy.

It was in fact Mussolini that made a formal pact with Pope Pius IX to settle the situation with the Lateran Treaty.  A political treaty recognizing the full sovereignty of the Holy See in the State of Vatican City, which was thereby established, thus in effect a separate state where the Pope was sovereign.

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So I can understand why many in a very secular non-Catholic state like the United Kingdom are miffed when the Pope arrives under the guise of a head of state.  But instead of doing what head of states usually do when visiting another country such as discussing trade, going to lunches, laying wreaths, inspecting parades etc. they offer a Mass.  There are those such as Australian lawyer Geoffrey Robertson believes that Vatican City is in fact not a state.  In an article last Saturday in The Guardian, Terry Eagleton writes that In fact, Robertson argues that  the Vatican’s claim to statehood is bogus. He believes that the treaty between Mussolini and the Holy See  has no basis in international law. The Vatican has no permanent population, which is a legal requirement of being a state. In fact, since almost all its inhabitants are celibate, it cannot propagate citizens at all other than by unfortunate accident. It is not really a territory, has no jurisdiction over crimes committed in its precincts and depends for all its essential services on the neighbouring nation of Italy.

Perhaps the Pope should stick to visiting places like the Philippines and Brazil.  And while they are at it couldn’t he move in places like those?  Italy would benefit politically from having the Pope as far as possible.

1 Comment

Filed under Politics and Current Affairs

One response to “The Vatican as a state? Non Italians confused.

  1. accidentalaussie

    richhillenjr wrote:

    2010/09/18 at 6:16 am

    I am neither opposed or condemn the Catholic Church despite being Catholic or former Catholic or whatever I am. I do know for a fact that my mother goes to church almost very day and she is a very happy grateful representative of the Catholic Church.

    Igor wrote:

    2010/04/15 at 3:47 pm

    This will always be an ‘all or nothing’ debate. Liberation theology, people will aregue, does not outweigh the sins of the church hierarchy.

    The actions of the Catholic church can never really be reconciled. In Italy on one hand church leaders have conspired with the mafia (entrenching both their powerbases to mutual benefit), while individual priests have risked their lives by holding open air masses in the Aspromonte condemning organised crime.

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