Vatican: Religion or Polity? – Sandhya Jain

“The UN Secretary-General owes it to the international community to define the church as either a religion or a polity. If the Vatican is a state, it must end its presence as a religion in other countries; if it represents a faith denomination, it should participate in UN forums in exactly the same way as other religions and sects do – as a non-governmental organization. It must no longer be allowed the liberty to practice both religion and politics in other lands, particularly those with predominantly non-Christian populations.” – Sandhya Jain

Now that the scandal of the sex abuse of minor boys and girls and adult men and women in virtually every country with a church presence has touched the heart of the Vatican, singeing the present Pope himself for his alleged role in the protection of guilty priests, it may be appropriate to seek a review of the unique status the Roman Catholic Church enjoys at the United Nations. The Vatican slipped into the UN in the guise of the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church, and sits on that august body as a Non-member State Permanent Observer.

The UN Secretary-General owes it to the international community to define the church as either a religion or a polity. If the Vatican is a state, it must end its presence as a religion in other countries; if it represents a faith denomination, it should participate in UN forums in exactly the same way as other religions and sects do – as a non-governmental organization. It must no longer be allowed the liberty to practice both religion and politics in other lands, particularly those with predominantly non-Christian populations.

St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican CityNon-member State Permanent Observer status gives the Vatican some of the privileges of a state; it can speak and vote at UN conferences, a privilege denied to other religions and sects. As UN conferences operate on consensus, the power to disagree with an emerging consensus carries weight. It is pertinent that the Holy See was not invited to participate in the UN; it sought recognition as a state in international bodies; it got in though no vote was ever taken on its presence at the UN by the General Assembly.

The Holy See is definitionally a “non-territorial religious entity.” It does not meet the legal criteria for statehood as defined by the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”

The Holy See does not meet these criteria as it does not have a “permanent population,” as it is the governing body of Catholics worldwide and not a territory; for this reason it does not possess a defined territory. As late as 1985, it had diplomatic relations with only 53 countries; America established diplomatic ties with the Holy See only in 1984, possibly as part of its geo-strategic thrust against the then Soviet Bloc.

Further, the Holy See is defined by the church as the “supreme organ of government” of the Roman Catholic Church, but a government of a religion Vatican City Mapcannot be considered a state. Moreover, most state functions within Vatican City are actually carried out by Italy, which provides the police force and punishes crimes committed within Vatican City and provides all the civic amenities.

It is pertinent that other states that are theocracies, such as the Islamic kingdoms and nations, satisfy the international criteria for recognition as states. The mere fact of designating a particular religion as the official religion of the state cannot take away its statehood. But the Holy See is the government of a religion!

This is an oxymoron. Ironically, none of the major western countries where the Catholic Church has a sizeable presence, such as Italy, Germany, Britain, France, America, all European countries, Australia, the South American and African nations, are theocracies. In no country is the Catholic denomination the official state religion (Britain is Protestant). Yet, the dominant West, as part of its post-Second World War geo-strategy to oppose and vanquish Soviet Russia and the Communist Bloc, cleverly carved out Vatican City from Rome, for use at an appropriate time. Conversion of the rest of the world to Christianity (intra-Christian fights could wait) remained a top but covert agenda.

Mother TeresaThe plot unwound slowly. The myth of the ‘saint’ of the Calcutta slums, Teresa, was created by journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, and her persona built up by sustained propaganda all over the world, though there was no matching social service output on the ground. Teresa is on a fast track to sainthood though her negligible social work has been exposed by western journalists seeking accountability for the huge funds sent to India, and by writer Aroup Chatterjee (Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict). Sadly, it suited the Kolkata communists to have this fake messiah in their midst, and nothing was done to expose the truth that church leaders misuse foreign funds for conversion activities rather than genuine social work.

Poor converts neglected by church authorities after being torn from their civilisational moorings are now fighting back, like the victims of sex abuse. The Poor Christian Liberation Movement is demanding full participation for scheduled caste converts, a hundred year moratorium on conversions, and use of the million dollar western donations to improve the lives of the already converted.

Dalit ChristiansChallenging the “increasing corruption in Church organisations,” they have asked the UPA government to ensure transparency in the working of Christian NGOs that misuse foreign aid received for the welfare of the poor and downtrodden. While Christian schools, colleges, hospitals and other bodies mint money, the community gets little benefit. Poor converts want all Church bodies to earmark at least 50 percent of their income and profits for the uplift of the poor and downtrodden sections of the community.

Poor Christians are enraged at the Church’s move to push the government to include SC converts in the Hindu Scheduled Caste list, so that it does not have to cater to their social and economic uplift. The church prefers to ‘legalise’ caste in Indian Christianity; but this is untenable as caste is not recognised under Canon Law.

Despite so many taints, the Holy See is mysteriously honoured at the UN as a quasi-governmental entity. Pope John Paul II described the role of the Holy See in the UN as “spiritual … very different from that of the states, which are communities in the political and temporal sense.” The UN must treat all religions and religious denominations equally. The Roman Catholic Church must participate in the UN as an NGO, just as the World Council of Churches (apex Protestant body) does; it does not deserve its current privileged status. – Vijayvaani, New Delhi, 13 April 2010

Holy See at the United Nations

7 Responses

  1. […] decision to close its embassy in the Vatican for “economic reasons” has both stunned and infuriated the Holy See, especially since other […]

  2. A Shocking history report of the Church Abuses:
    Roman Catholic sex abuse cases by country link
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_sex_abuse_cases_by_country

    Now:
    Boys aged 10 and 11 guilty of attempted rape of girl, 8 in London,UK
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article7135190.ece

    Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials did not punish or even hold a trial within the Catholic church for a Wisconsin priest who may have molested as many as 200 deaf boys, according to The New York Times.
    The Times reports that despite warnings from “several” bishops to then-Cardinal Ratzinger about Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest at the St. John’s School For The Deaf in St. Francis, WI, the Vatican chose not to act and ultimately allowed Murphy to go unpunished before his death in 1998.

    Also Pope Benedict XVI has did sin against the people by hiding the Informations such as moving the abused Priests from one country to another to avoid a scandal.

    Also, people should know that Jeyapaul, A Catholic priest who has been criminally charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota six years ago is still working as Priest in India despite warnings to the Vatican from an American bishop that the priest continued to pose a risk to children.

  3. Times of India, Chennai, 3 May 2010
    Pope reins in Catholic order tied to child abuse.

    Rome: Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday took control of the Legionaries of Christ, a powerful and wealthy Roman Catholic religious order whose founder, a friend of Pope John Paul II, was found to have molested seminarians and fathered several children. The move constituted the most direct action on sexual abuse since the most recent scandals have engulfed the church and prompted criticisms of the pope’s own handling of such cases as an archbishop in Munich and as a cardinal who led the office reviewing many sexual abuse charges.

    In a statement on Saturday, the Vatican said that Benedict would appoint a special delegate to govern the Legionaries, an influential worldwide order that has been an important source of new priests in a church that has struggled with a shrinking priesthood in much of the developed world. It was founded in 1941 by a Mexican priest, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.

    Benedict also said he would appoint a special commission to examine the Legionaries’ constitution and open an investigation into its lay affiliate, Regnum Christi. The measures mean that the order would be governed directly from the Vatican. But the pope decided against dissolving the order or forcing out much of its leadership steps urged by many critics and victims’ advocates, who say they believe that the leaders must have known, or should have known, of the abuses.

    The fate of the Legionaries is the most closely watched case in the Catholic Church as it grapples with a sexual abuse crisis that has increased pressure on Benedict to demonstrate his commitment to confronting the issue. Some praised the Vatican decision, but others, including former Legionaries, said that appointing a delegate did not address the fundamental problems in the current leadership, which was put in place by Father Maciel. The Vatican statement was ambiguous about the role of the current leaders in Father Maciel’s deception, and also about their fate. – NYT NEWS SERVICE

  4. Times of India, 29 April 2010
    Vatican open to reviewing celibacy vow

    Vatican City: The vow of celibacy by the clergy may be open to review, the Vatican’s second highest ranking official has said.

    “It is not that it is untouchable,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said on Tuesday. “There are married priests in the Catholic as well as oriental church,” Bertone said. But clerical celibacy is a “positive and fruitful tradition”, the top Vatican official said adding, “It is the non-respect of celibacy that brings with it serious risks and that then has very painful consequences”.

    Bertone, however, said there was no link between celibacy and the sexual abuse incidents the Catholic Church has been besieged with. “There is no direct link between celibacy and the deviant behaviour of certain priests,” he said. “On the contrary, it is the failure to remain celibate that degrades the life of a priest, until he ceases to be an example, a gift, a spiritual guide for others.”

    The Catholic Church has been accused of being involved in a number of paedophilia cases in several countries. – IANS
    _____________________________________________________________________________________

    NB: The term celibacy in Catholic jargon does not mean sexual countenance. The Catholic Church celibacy rule (it is not a religious doctrine) only means that the priest must remain unmarried. He can have as much sex as he likes otherwise and from the beginning of Church history priests have taken advantage of this freedom.

    Married priests will not solve the child sex abuse problem either. This is a red herring being put out by the randy fathers in Rome.

    Child sex abusers in general are in a category all of their own. Many are married and almost all are heterosexual. So the argument that unmarried homosexual men are the cause of child molestation is simply wrong.

    Child sex abuse is more closely related to power games and sadism, both being an unfortunate characteristic of Christian priests down through the ages.

  5. The New Indian Express, Chennai, 24 April 2010
    US ABUSE VICTIM SUES POPE, SEEKS ACCESS TO SECRET FILES
    Washington

    The alleged victim of a US priest accused of being a serial paedophile is suing the Pope and the Vatican in an attempt to gain access to secret files containing internal investigations into sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

    “There is a painful and long history of the Vatican and the top officials … muffling and suppressing the truth and protecting themselves and their own reputation instead of protecting the children,” lawyer Jeff Anderson said at a press conference.

    “This suit demands further action by the Vatican and the removal of every single priest that has offended a single child and every single bishop and cardinal that has been complicit in those crimes.” Anderson, who has spent decades pursuing justice for victims of child sex abuse, said the case was “unprecedented” in its scope and demands.

    That case is currently before the Supreme Court to determine whether the Vatican, which claims sovereign immunity, can be sued in a US court.

    Meanwhile, the Vatican’s attorney said on Friday that a lawsuit against Pope Benedict XVI over sex abuse committed by a US priest was completely without merit.

    “While legitimate lawsuits have been filed by abuse victims, this is not one of them,” Jeffrey Lena said in a statement released by the Vatican. The action is an attempt at a “broader attack — this one dependent on re-characterising the Church as a worldwide ‘business enterprise’” carrying liability for crimes committed around the world, he charged.

    Belgian bishop’s turn to put in his papers Pope Benedict XVI on Friday accepted the resignation of Belgian Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who has admitted sexually abusing a boy, the Vatican said. His resignation was accepted under a canon law provision for “illness” or unspecified “other serious reasons,” the Vatican said in a communique. Vangheluwe, 73, who headed the Bruges diocese, was the first bishop directly implicated in sex abuse to resign since a wave of scandals began in November. – AFP

    BELGIAN BISHOP RESIGNS
    Vatican

    Belgian bishop’s turn to put in his papers Pope Benedict XVI on Friday accepted the resignation of Belgian Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who has admitted sexually abusing a boy, the Vatican said. His resignation was accepted under a canon law provision for “illness” or unspecified “other serious reasons,” the Vatican said in a communique. Vangheluwe, 73, who headed the Bruges diocese, was the first bishop directly implicated in sex abuse to resign since a wave of scandals began in November. – AFP

  6. Times of India, Chennai, 19 April 2010
    Errant priests’ secret children to sue church
    John Follain & Bojan Pancevski

    Rome/Vienna: When Pat Bond told her lover Henry Willenborg, a Franciscan priest, that she was pregnant, he urged her to have an abortion.

    Bond, who was 28, had a miscarriage and then became pregnant again. This time Willenborg’s superiors urged her to give up the child for adoption. Bond, from Missouri, kept the child but agreed to a vow of silence. In a signed contract with the Catholic Church, she undertook to keep the priest’s identity secret in exchange for financial support for her son, Nathan.

    In America, Britain, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy and Austria,women made pregnant by priests have signed such pledges in exchange for hush money from the church. Pope Benedict XVI refused to comment on the scandals on his flight to Malta for a weekend visit on Saturday, saying only that the church had been “wounded by our sins”. But he faces a new battle over the children of priests. Many former lovers and their offspring are preparing to mount lawsuits.

    Bond was 25 when she started a five-year relationship with Willenborg in 1983, after going to him for marriage counselling. He kissed her passionately as she left his parlour, then she left her husband.

    After Bond became pregnant by him for the second time in 1986, Willenborg’s order, the Order of Friars Minor, offered her $50,000 and a confidentiality contract. “They said: ‘Here, take this money, sign this contract and you’ll have support for your child’. I was very naive and I signed,” said Bond. She broke her promise of silence last year after the Franciscans refused to meet part of the cost of treatment for her son Nathan, then 22, who died in November from a brain tumour.

    When Willenborg’s liaisons with Bond, now 53, and another woman became public, the priest was suspended from his parish in Ashland, Wisconsin. He was treated for sex addiction, then returned to his pastoral duties. Catherine Schroeder, a St Louis lawyer for the Order of Friars Minor, declined to comment. Willenborg and the order failed to return calls and emails.

    Other cases are reaching the US courts. In Maryland, two children of the late Father Francis Ryan are suing their local archdiocese and a religious order for $10m after discovering through DNA tests that he was their father. – SUNDAY TIMES, LONDON

  7. The New Indian Express, Chennai, 16 April 2010
    HOLY SEE’S STATUS: IS VATICAN CITY A STATE OR THE HEADQUARTERS OF A RELIGIOUS CULT? – Kal Raustiala and Lara Stemple

    For decades the strange practice of treating the Catholic Church as a state has been bad for women’s equality, gay rights and reproductive freedom. The Holy See’s statehood allows it to promote its retrograde views on gender and sex in diplomatic settings and during treaty negotiations

    GIUSEPPE dalla Torre, a top Vatican legal adviser, declared in a pre-emptive strike last week that Pope Benedict XVI could not be sued in an American court. His statement -in response to allegations that the pope played a role in covering up, among other scandals, the sexual abuse of children at a Wisconsin school for the deaf — was unequivocal. “The pope is certainly a head of state, who has the same juridical status as all heads of state,” Dalla Torre said, which grants him immunity from foreign courts. But is the spiritual leader of the world’s Roman Catholics really a ‘head of state’ as well? Benedict XVI is the head the church’s governing body — known as the Holy See — which claims many of the privileges of a sovereign country. In recent decades the Holy See has welcomed ambassadors, signed international treaties and used its status to influence developments at the United Nations.
    That the Holy See is often treated as a state is deeply troubling, for several reasons. For one thing, the Catholic Church isn’t truly a sovereign nation; to allow it to play one on the inter national stage perverts the meaning of statehood.

    Moreover, the church’s claim to statehood gives it even more political influence than it would otherwise wield and g rants outsized power to only one of the world’s many religions. And its claim is particularly worrisome now that the church — embroiled in a disturbing scandal that has reached from Boston to Berlin — is claiming the sort of immunity enjoyed by prime ministers and presidents.

    How did this situation come about? The concept of sovereign statehood first developed in 17th century Europe, where the church was long treated as a quasi-state by Western powers. The Papal States existed within Italy for centuries. At their height, the Papal States comprised most of central Italy and parts of what is now southern France. But the church’s territorial holdings were lost in battles over time, and by the end of the 19th century the church was essentially landless. Then, in the late 1920s, Vatican City was carved out of Rome via a treaty with Italy. The Holy See and Vatican City are legally distinct, but Vatican City was created to give the Holy See a territorial home and thereby safeguard its independence.
    Despite opposition from many quarters, the US administration under Ronald Reagan initiated formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See in the 1980s. Today, nearly every country maintains diplomatic ties, and the Holy See is a ‘permanent observer state’ at the UN. This persists despite its lack of most of the key legal characteristics of statehood.

    It’s true that Vatican City runs a popular post office and mints its own currency. But international law requires that a ‘state’ have four attributes: territory, a permanent population, a functioning government and the ability to engage in international relations. The last requirement largely builds on the others: Whether a state can engage in international relations is decided by whether other states treat it like one.

    As to the question of territory, there exists only the small parcel of land known as Vatican City. But as any visitor knows, Vatican City is in the middle of Rome and is little more than half the size of the Mall in Washington, DC. In any event, the Holy See continues to claim that its international status is based on its religious authority, not its territorial enclave.

    To say that Vatican City possesses a permanent population of the sort envisioned by international law is even more of a stretch. Most residents are simply members of the church hierarchy, a body composed solely of men. They number less than the student bodies of many high schools — about 800. As to the Catholics of the world, they are already represented by the governments of other nations.

    Vatican City does have a functioning bureaucracy, and so has a government of sorts. Yet it is surely the most unusual gover nment of the world, given its minute size and lack of any standard government functions, such as the administration of justice, education of the young or provision of defence. It even relies on Italy for its water, police and firefighting services.

    For decades the practice of treating the Catholic Church as a state has been bad for women’s equality, gay rights and reproductive freedom. The Holy See’s fictive statehood allows it to promote its retrograde views on gender and sex in diplomatic settings and during treaty negotiations.

    Now, the unfolding sexual abuse scandal reveals another dark side of the Holy See’s claim to statehood: the extraordinary immunities claimed by the pope in the face of conspiracy accusations that span the globe.

    Pope Benedict XVI’s predecessor, John Paul II, recognised the tenuous claim to statehood. When Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Vatican City some years ago, he offered to invite the pope to Russia. Russian Orthodox leaders opposed the pontiff ’s visit, seeing it as an encroachment by Rome on their turf.

    Putin proposed a solution. As Putin later recalled, he told the pope: “I am ready to invite you as the head of state. I, as the head of state, invite you as the head of state.” The pope replied, “Look out the window. What kind of state do I have here? You can see my whole state right from this window.” – Los Angeles Times

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