The international legal status of the Vatican/Holy See complex
journal contributionposted on 2015-11-01, 00:00 authored by John MorssJohn Morss
This article offers a re-examination of the international legal status of what is here termed the Vatican/Holy See complex (VHS), focusing on claims to statehood. The problematic ‘effect’ of Vatican City, of the Holy See, of the papacy and of associated entities is interrogated at the level of international law, entering as little as possible into administrative or theological distinctions. The various grounds cited as supporting status amounting to statehood are argued to be inadequate. The continuing exchange of representatives with states by the VHS is missionary and hierarchical in character and is reflective neither of the reciprocity of peers nor of customary obligation going to law. Agreements entered into by the papacy with the Kingdom of Italy (the Lateran Pacts) in 1929, relating to the status of the geographical territory known as Vatican City, cannot be determinative of international status. Nor can membership of international agreements and organizations confer a status amounting to statehood. Events and practices since 1929 have not substantially altered international status as of 1870. The Roman Catholic Church is but one of many faith-based international movements, and since the eclipse of the papal state nearly one-and-a-half centuries ago, the status in international law of its temporal headquarters in Rome should not be privileged.