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The Holy See (Latin: Sancta Sedes Episcopalis or Latin: Sancta Sedes) is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome (who is commonly known as the Pope), and is the preeminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church. As such, diplomatically, and in other spheres the Holy See acts and speaks for the whole Catholic Church. It is also recognized by other subjects of international law as a sovereign entity, headed by the Pope, with which diplomatic relations can be maintained.
Although it is often referred to by the ambiguous term "the Vatican", the Holy See is not the same as the Vatican City State, which came into existence only in 1929, while the Holy See dates back to early Christian times. Ambassadors are officially accredited not to the Vatican City State but to "the Holy See", and papal representatives to states and international organizations are recognized as representing the Holy See, not the Vatican City State.
While all episcopal sees are "holy", the expression "the Holy See" (without further specification) is normally used in international relations, as a metonym, (as well as in the canon law of the Catholic Church) to refer to the See of Rome viewed as the central government of the Catholic Church.
The Pope governs the Catholic Church through the Roman Curia. The Roman Curia consists of a complex of offices that administer church affairs at the highest level, including the Secretariat of State, nine Congregations, three Tribunals, eleven Pontifical Councils, and seven Pontifical Commissions. The Secretariat of State, under the Cardinal Secretary of State, directs and coordinates the Curia. The current incumbent, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is the See's equivalent of a prime minister. Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary of the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State, acts as the Holy See's minister of foreign affairs. Bertone and Mamberti were named in their respective roles by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2006.
The Secretariat of State is the only body of the Curia that is situated within Vatican City. The others are in buildings in different parts of Rome that have extraterritorial rights similar to those of embassies.
Among the most active of the major Curial institutions are the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees the Catholic Church's doctrine; the Congregation for Bishops, which coordinates the appointment of bishops worldwide; the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which oversees all missionary activities; and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which deals with international peace and social issues.
Three tribunals are responsible for judicial power. The Sacra Rota is responsible for normal appeals, including decrees of nullity for marriages, with the Apostolic Signatura being the administrative court of appeal and highest ecclesiastical court. The Apostolic Penitentiary is different from those two and, instead of dealing with contentious cases, issues absolutions, dispensations, and indulgences.
The Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See coordinates the finances of the Holy See departments and supervises the administration of all offices, whatever be their degree of autonomy, that manage these finances. The most important of these is the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.
The Holy See does not dissolve upon a Pope's death or resignation. It instead operates under a different set of laws sede vacante. During this interregnum, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia (such as the prefects of congregations) cease immediately to hold office, the only exceptions being the Major Penitentiary, who continues his important role regarding absolutions and dispensations, and the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, who administers the temporalities (i.e., properties and finances) of the See of St. Peter during this period. The government of the See, and therefore of the Catholic Church, then falls to the College of Cardinals. Canon law prohibits the College and the Camerlengo from introducing any innovations or novelties in the government of the Church during this period.
Status in international law
The Holy See has been recognized, both in state practice and in the writing of modern legal scholars, as a subject of public international law, with rights and duties analogous to those of States. Although the Holy See, as distinct from the Vatican City State, does not fulfil the long-established criteria in international law of statehood; having a permanent population, a defined territory, a stable government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states, its possession of full legal personality in international law is proved by the fact that it maintains diplomatic relations with 177 states, that it is a member-state in various intergovernmental international organizations, and that it is: "respected by the international community of sovereign States and treated as a subject of international law having the capacity to engage in diplomatic relations and to enter into binding agreements with one, several, or many states under international law that are largely geared to establish and preserving peace in the world."
Since medieval times the episcopal see of Rome has been recognized as a sovereign entity. The Holy See (not the State of Vatican City) maintains formal diplomatic relations with 177 sovereign states, the European Union, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta; 69 of the diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See are situated in Rome. The Holy See formed full diplomatic relations with Russia in 2009. and maintains special relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (Office with a Director). The Holy See maintains 180 permanent diplomatic missions abroad, of which 74 are non-residential, so that many of its 106 concrete missions are accredited to two or more countries or international organizations. The diplomatic activities of the Holy See are directed by the Secretariat of State (headed by the Cardinal Secretary of State), through the Section for Relations with States. There are 16 internationally-recognized states with which the Holy See does not have relations.  The Holy See is the only European subject of international law that has diplomatic relations with Republic of China (Taiwan).
The Holy See is a member of various International organizations and groups including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Telecommunication Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Holy See is also a permanent observer in various international organizations, including the United Nations General Assembly, the Council of Europe, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Relationship with the Vatican City and other territories
Although the Holy See is closely associated with the Vatican City, the independent territory over which the Holy See is sovereign, the two entities are separate and distinct. After the Italian takeover of the Papal States in 1870, the Holy See had no territorial sovereignty. In spite of some uncertainty among jurists as to whether it could continue to act as an independent personality in international matters, the Holy See continued in fact to exercise the right to send and receive diplomatic representatives, maintaining relations with states that included the major powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary. Where, in accordance with the decision of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the Nuncio was not only a member of the Diplomatic Corps but its Dean, this arrangement continued to be accepted by the other ambassadors. In the course of the 59 years during which the Holy See held no territorial sovereignty, the number of states that had diplomatic relations with it, which had been reduced to 16, actually increased to 29.
The State of the Vatican City was created by the Lateran Treaty in 1929 to "ensure the absolute and visible independence of the Holy See" and "to guarantee to it an indisputable sovereignty in international affairs" (quotations from the treaty). Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Holy See's former Secretary for Relations with States, said that the Vatican City is a "minuscule support-state that guarantees the spiritual freedom of the Pope with the minimum territory".
The Holy See, not the Vatican City, maintains diplomatic relations with states and participates in international organizations. Foreign embassies are accredited to the Holy See, not to the Vatican City, and it is the Holy See that establishes treaties and concordats with other sovereign entities. When necessary, the Holy See will enter a treaty on behalf of the Vatican City.
Under the terms of the Lateran Treaty, the Holy See has extraterritorial authority over 23 sites in Rome and five Italian sites outside of Rome, including the Pontifical Palace at Castel Gandolfo. The same authority is extended under international law over the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See in a foreign country.
The terms "Holy See" and "Apostolic See"
Every episcopal see is considered holy. In Greek, the adjective "holy" or "sacred" (ἱερά) is constantly applied to all such sees as a matter of course. In the West, the adjective is not commonly added, but it does form part of an official title of two sees: as well as Rome, the Bishopric of Mainz (the former Archbishopric of Mainz), which was also of electoral and primatial rank, bears the title of "the Holy See of Mainz" (Latin: Sancta Sedes Moguntina).
The term "see" comes from the Latin word "sedes", meaning "seat", which refers to the Episcopal throne (cathedra). The term "Apostolic See" can refer to any see founded by one of the Apostles, but, when used with the definite article, it is used in the Catholic Church to refer specifically to the see of the Bishop of Rome, whom that Church sees as successor of Saint Peter, the chief of the apostles.
- ↑ The Holy See's sovereignty has been recognized explicitly in many international agreements and is particularly emphasized in article 2 of the Lateran Treaty of 11 February 1929, in which "Italy recognizes the sovereignty of the Holy See in the international field as an inherent attribute of its nature, in conformity with its tradition, and the requirements of its mission in the world."
- ↑ Code of Canon Law, canon 361, Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 48
- ↑ The criteria for statehood where first authoritatively enunciated at the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States, signed on 26 December 1933.
- ↑ Robert Araujo and John Lucal, Papal Diplomacy and the Quest for Peace, the Vatican and International Organizations from the early years to the League of Nations, Sapienza Press (2004), ISBN 1-932589-01-5, p. 16. See also James Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law, (1979) p. 154.
- ↑ Holy See Press Office
- ↑ "Holy See and Botswana Establish Relations". Zenit News Agency. 2008-11-04. http://www.zenit.org/article-24154?l=english. Retrieved 2008-11-05.
- ↑ http://www.euronews.net/2009/12/04/russia-and-the-vatican-boost-diplomatic-ties/
- ↑ Afghanistan, Bhutan, Brunei, Comoros, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mauritania, Myanmar, North Korea, Oman, the People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tuvalu and Vietnam. See: "Mission Impossible: Eject the Holy See from the United Nations". www.chiesa:News, analysis, and documents on the Catholic Church, by Sandro Magister. 2007-08-21. http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/162301?eng=y. Retrieved 2007-10-03.
- ↑ Lecture by Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, 16 February 2006
- ↑ Lecture by Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, 22 April 2002
- ↑ Bilateral and Multilateral Relations of the Holy See
- La Due, William J. The Chair of Saint Peter: A History of the Papacy. (ISBN 1-57075-249-4)
- Heribert Franz Koeck, Die völkerrechtliche Stellung des Heiligen Stuhls. Dargestellt an seinen Beziehungen zu Staaten und internationalen Organisationen, Berlin 1975
- Heribert Franz Koeck, Holy See, in: Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Bd. 2, Oxford etc. 1995
- The Holy See Website
- YouTube Vatican Channel
- Primacy of the Apostolic See
- CIA World Factbook on Holy See
- Between Venus and Mars, the Church of Rome Chooses Both—The Holy See’s geopolitics analyzed in the light of the dominant doctrines
- The Holy See in the course of time, from an Orthodox perspective
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