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Politics of Vatican City

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vatican City
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Vatican City
Vatican City
This article is part of a series on
Vatican City

The politics of Vatican City take place in a framework of a theocratic absolute elective monarchy, in which the Pope, religiously speaking, the leader of the Catholic Church and Bishop of Rome, exercises ex officio supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power over the Vatican City[1] (an entity distinct from the Holy See), a rare case of non-hereditary monarchy.

The pope is elected in the Conclave, composed of all the cardinal electors (now limited to all the cardinals below the age of 80), after the death or resignation of the previous Pope. The Conclave is held in the Sistine Chapel, where all the electors are locked in (Latin cum clave) until the election for which a two-thirds majority is required. The faithful can follow the results of the polls (usually two in the morning and two in the evening, until election) by a chimney-top, visible from St. Peter's Square: in a stove attached to the chimney are burnt the voting papers, and additives make the resulting smoke black (fumata nera) in case of no election, white (fumata bianca) when the new pope is finally elected. The Dean of the Sacred College (Cardinale Decano) will then ask the freshly elected pope to choose his pastoral name, and as soon as the pope is dressed with the white cassock, the Senior Cardinal-Deacon (Cardinale Protodiacono) appears on the major balcony of St. Peter's façade to introduce the new pope[2] with the famous Latin sentence Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus papam.(I announce to you a great joy: We have a Pope). 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 Catholic Church. It is therefore quite distinct from the Vatican City state, which was created in 1929, through the Lateran treaties between the Holy See and Italy. As the "central government" of the 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. It has formal diplomatic relations with 179 nations.[3] The State of Vatican City, for its part, is recognized under international law as a sovereign territory. Unlike the Holy See, it does not receive or send diplomatic representatives, and the Holy See acts on its behalf in international affairs.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Vatican City Explained
  • ✪ The Vatican will not yet intervene in Venezuela - ENN 2019-02-13


Vatican City: capitol of the Catholic Church, home to the pope, owner of impressive collections of art and history all contained within the borders of the world's smallest country: conveniently circumnavigateable on foot in only 40 minutes. Just how did the world end up with this tiny nation? The short answer is: because Mussolini and the long answer is fiendishly complicated so here's a simplified medium version: The popes used to rule a country called the Papal States that covered much of modern day Italy. It was during this 1,000+ year reign that the Popes constructed St. Peter's Basilica the largest church in the world -- and also built a wall around the base of a hill known as Vatican upon which St. Peter's Stood. But the Kingdom of Italy next door thought Rome would be an awesome capital for their country and so conquered the Papal States. His nation destroyed the Pope hid behind the walls of Vatican and conflictingly refused to acknowledge that the Kingdom of Italy existed, while simultaneously complaining about being a prisoner of the Kingdom of Italy -- which according to him didn't exist. Rather than risk religious civil war by getting rid of the pope the Kingdom of Italy decided to wait him out assuming he'd eventually give up -- but religion is nothing if not obstinate -- and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 popes and sixty years later nothing had changed. Which brings us to Benito Mussolini the then prime minister of Italy who was tired of listing to the Pope complain to Italian Catholics about his self-imposed imprisonment so Mussolini thought he could score some political points by striking a deal which looked like this: 1) Italy gave the land of Vatican to the Pope. and… 2) Italy gave the Pope a bunch of apology money In return 1) The Pope acknowledged that Italy existed and and… 2) The Pope promised to remain neutral in politics and wars. On the off chance that, you know, Mussolini thought this might be a thing. The deal was signed and a new country, Vatican City was born. And today the tiny nation on a hill has all the things you'd expect of a country: its own government that makes its own laws that are enforced by its own police, who put people who break them in its own jail. It also has its own bank and prints its own stamps and issues its own license plates, though only its citizens can drive within its borders presumably because of terrible, terrible parking -- and as the true mark of any self-respecting nation: it has its own top-level domain: .VA But, despite all these national trappings Vatican City is not really like any other country. Hold on to your fancy hat, because it's about to get weird: To understand the Vatican: there are two people and two things that you need to know about: the famous pope, the incredibly confusing Holy See, The Country of Vatican City and along with that the almost completely unknown King of Vatican City. But first the Pope: who gets a throne to sit upon and from which he acts as the Bishop for all the Catholics in Rome. Actually all Bishops in the Catholic Church get their own thrones but because the Bishop of Rome is also the Pope his thrown is special and has it's own special name: The Holy See. Every time a Pope dies or retires there is a sort of game of thrones to see which of the bishops will next get to occupy the Holy See. So while Popes come and go the throne is eternal. As such the name The Holy See not only refers to the throne but also all the rules that make the Catholic Church the Catholic Church. When Mussolini crafted that aforementioned deal, technically he gave the land of Vatican City to The Holy See -- which, believe it or not, is a legal corporate person in international law. Basically every time you hear the words The Holy See think Catholic Church, Inc of which the Pope is the CEO. Now back to the King. The King of Vatican City has absolute, unchecked power within the country's borders and his presence makes Vatican City one of only six remanning absolute monarchies in the world, including Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Swaziland. The King's absolute power is why Vatican City can't join the European Union because only democracies are allowed. Through Vatican City does, strictly speaking, have a legislative brach of government -- staffed by cardinals, appointed by the pope -- the King of Vatican City can overrule their decisions and at any time for any reason. So why do you never hear about the King of Vatican City? Because though King and Pope are two different roles, they just happen to be occupied by the same person at the same time -- which has the funny consequence that, because the Pope is elected and the King is all-powerful but they're the same guy it makes Vatican City the world's only elected, non-hereditary absolute monarchy. It's this dual-role that makes untangling Vatican City so difficult because the Pope, depending on the situation either acts as The King of the country of Vatican City or the Pope of the Holy See. Got it? No? OK, here's an analogy: Imagine if a powerful international company, say Grey Industries, had a CEO who convinced the United States to give one of its islands to the Company which then made the island into a new country -- Greytropolis -- with an absolute monarchy as its government and the law that the King of Greytropolis is, by definition, the CEO of Grey Industries. It's pretty obvious at that point that the CEO should move his corporate headquarters to the new nation -- so that the laws of the country can benefit the company and the company's global reach can benefit the country. As for the man in the middle sometimes it's good to the the CEO and sometimes it's good to be the king. That is essentially Vatican City. But if you're still confused, don't worry even other countries can't keep it straight. For example the United Nations has The Holy See the corporation as a member but not Vatican City the actual country. And The Holy See gives passports to Vatican City citizens that other countries accept even though those passports come from a company, not a country. And speaking of Vatican City citizens, they are perhaps the strangest consequence of the Pope's dual role as religious leader and monarch. While other countries mint new citizens with the ever popular process of human reproduction Vatican City does not. No one in Vatican City is born a citizen -- and that's not just because, within a rounding error, there are no female Vaticans. The only way to become a citizen is for the King of Vatican City to appoint you as one. And the King only appoints you a citizen if you work for the Pope -- who is also the King. And because the King is all-powerful your citizenship is at his whim. If you quit your job for the Pope, the King -- who is also the pope -- will revoke your citizenship. These rules mean that Vatican City doesn't have a real permanent population to speak of: there are only about 500 full citizens -- which is fewer people that live in single skyscrapers in many countries -- and all these citizens work for The Holy See as either Cardinals or Diplomats or the Pope's bodyguards or other Catholic-related jobs. So it's best to think of Vatican City as a kind of Sovereign Corporate Headquarters that grants temporary citizenship to its managers rather than a real city-state like Singapore: which has a self-reproducing population of citizens engaged in a variety of economic activities both of which Vatican City lacks. But in the end, the reason the world cares about Vatican City is not because of the citizens within its walls but because of the billion members of its church outside those walls.


Administration of Vatican City

Vatican City flag
Vatican City flag

As with almost all monarchies, the executive, legislative and judicial power of government reside in the crown, in this case in the office of the Bishop of Rome (the pope). However, as with many monarchies, the pope exercises this power through other organs which act on his behalf and in his name.

The pope commonly delegates the internal administration of Vatican City to various bodies and officials. However, according to the Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, "The Supreme Pontiff, sovereign of Vatican City State, has the fullness of legislative, executive, and judicial powers"[4] for Vatican City.

The pope delegates legislative authority for the state to the unicameral Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State. This commission was established in 1939 by Pope Pius XII. It consists of seven Cardinals appointed by the pope for five-year terms. Laws passed by the Commission must be approved by the pope through the Secretariat of State prior to being published and taking effect.

The President of the Pontifical Commission is also the President of the Governorate of Vatican City, to whom the pope delegates executive authority for the state. The president is assisted by a Secretary General and a Vice Secretary General. Each of these officers is appointed by the pope for a five-year term. Actions of the President must be approved by the Commission. Various departments and offices report to the Governorate, handling such issues as communications, internal security, fire protection, and the Vatican Museums. The Corpo della Gendarmeria is the state's security and police force, not the Pontifical Swiss Guard, which is an organ of the Holy See, not Vatican City.


Palace of the Governorate of Vatican City State
Palace of the Governorate of Vatican City State
Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
Sovereign Pope Francis 13 March 2013
President of the Governorate Giuseppe Bertello 1 October 2011

The Pope is ex officio sovereign of the Vatican City State since 1929. He delegates executive authority to the President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, who is ex officio President of the Governorate and head of government of Vatican. The president is appointed by the Pope for a five-year term, but may be removed at any time by the pope. The president reports all important matters to the Secretariat of State, the Pope's chief everyday advisory body, which is consulted on all matters, even if they belong to the specific competence of the Commission for Vatican City State or, for instance, that of the Congregation for Catholic Education. The Secretariat of State is not thereby considered to hold responsibility for such matters, and the Cardinal Secretary of State is not seen as heading the Vatican City State or the various departments of the Roman Curia, other than the Secretariat of State itself.

Vatican City is a member of CEPT, Eutelsat, International Grains Council, Intelsat, ITU and UPU.

Vatican City does not have direct diplomatic relations with other states. Its foreign relations are managed by the Holy See. See Holy See – Relationship with the Vatican City and other territories.


A unicameral Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, appointed by the Pope, operates as legislative branch, proposing law and policy to the Pope.[5] Prior to taking effect, laws and policies passed by the commission must be approved by the Supreme Pontiff, through the Secretariat of State,[6] and be published in the Italian-language supplement of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis that deals with Vatican City State matters.

The "Councillors of the State" give their consultation in the drafting of legislation.[7] They may be consulted either alone or collegially.[8]


Seal of Vatican City State
Seal of Vatican City State

Vatican City has a legal system distinct from that of Italy. The pope's judicial authority is exercised through the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, as he by law serves also as the President of the Cassation Court of Vatican City (i.e. the highest court of appeal)[9]

The population of the state is a few hundred. Each day outsiders come there to work. 18 million people visit there each year.

In one year its courts tried 640 civil cases and 226 penal cases.[10]

The penal cases are usually for minor crimes such as pickpocketing.[11] If such crimes are committed in Saint Peter's Square, the perpetrators may be arrested and tried by the Italian authorities, since that area is normally patrolled by Italian police.[12]

Under the terms of article 22 of the Lateran Treaty,[13] Italy will, at the request of the Holy See, punish individuals for crimes committed within Vatican City and will itself proceed against the person who committed the offence, if that person takes refuge in Italian territory. Persons accused of crimes recognized as such both in Italy and in Vatican City that are committed in Italian territory will be handed over to the Italian authorities if they take refuge in Vatican City or in buildings that under the treaty enjoy immunity.[13][14]

Vatican City has no prison system, apart from a few detention cells for pre-trial detention.[15][11] People convicted of committing crimes in the Vatican serve terms in Italian prisons (Polizia Penitenziaria), with costs covered by the Vatican.[16]

2013 "gay lobby" comment

In 2013 Pope Francis criticized the Vatican for having a "gay lobby" in remarks during a meeting held in private with some of the Catholic religious from Latin America, and he was said to have promised to see what could be done to address the issue.[17] In July 2013, he responded directly to journalists' questions. He notably drew a distinction between the problem of lobbying and the sexual orientation of people: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" "The problem", he said, "is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."[18][19]

See also


  1. ^ Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, Art. 1, No. 1
  2. ^ Ap. Const. Universi Dominici Gregis n. 89
  3. ^ ZENIT news agency, "179 states have full diplomatic relations with the Holy See" Archived 16 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, Art. 1, § 1
  5. ^ Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, Art. 3 §1
  6. ^ Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, Art. 4 §3
  7. ^ Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, Art. 13 §1
  8. ^ Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, Art. 13 §2
  9. ^ "Legge che approva l'ordinamento giudiziario dello Stato della Città del Vaticano (Suppl. 12)" (PDF). Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS) 79. Holy See. 1987. p. 45–.
  10. ^ Alessandro Speciale, "The Vatican Tribunal as a model of efficiency" in
  11. ^ a b Nadeau, Barbie. "Pope's butler arrested over Vatican documents leak." CNN. 26 May 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  12. ^ Carol Glatz, "Man seriously injured after setting self on fire in St. Peter's Square" in Catholic News Service, 19 December 2013 at the Library of Congress Web Archives (archived 5 February 2014)
  13. ^ a b "INTER SANCTAM SEDEM ET ITALIAE REGNUM CONVENTIONES*  INITAE DIE 11 FEBRUARII 1929" (in Italian). Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  14. ^ Shea, Alison. "Researching the Law of the Vatican City State". Hauser Global Law School Program. New York University School of Law. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  15. ^ How Does Vatican City Deal With Criminals? [[Slate (magazine)|]]. 30 May 2012. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
  16. ^ "Is the Vatican a Rogue State?" Spiegel Online. 19 January 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  17. ^ "Pope Francis 'confirms Vatican gay lobby and corruption'". BBC News. 12 June 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  18. ^ Lizzie Davis (29 July 2013). "Pope Francis signals openness towards gay priests". The Guardian.
  19. ^ "Pope Francis: Who am I to judge gay people?". BBC News. 29 July 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
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