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Background note: Holy See.

Official Name: Holy See



Note: The Holy See is the universal government of the Catholic Church and operates from Vatican City State, a sovereign, independent territory of 0.44 square kilometers (0.17 square miles). The Pope is the ruler of both Vatican City State and the Holy See. The Holy See, as the supreme body of government of the Catholic Church, is a sovereign juridical entity under international law.

Geography and People

Area: Total of 0.44 sq. km. (109 acres).

Population (April 2009): Approximately 800 (citizens and residents).

Ethnic groups: Italian, Swiss, other.

Religion: Catholic.

Languages: Italian, Latin, French, various others.

Literacy: 100%.

Work force: 3,000 lay workers (reside outside the Vatican).


Type: Papacy; ecclesiastical, governmental, and administrative capital of the Catholic Church.

Independence: Sovereign entity since medieval times (Lateran Pacts creating Vatican City State and confirming independence and sovereignty of the Holy See signed with Italy on February 11, 1929).

Suffrage: Voting for new Popes is limited to Cardinals less than 80 years old.


Budget: Revenues (2009; latest year for which figures are available)--250 million [euro] (approx. $314.4 million); expenditures (2008)--254 million [euro] (approx. $319.6 million).

Industries: Printing; production of coins, medals, postage stamps, a small amount of mosaics, and staff uniforms. This unique, noncommercial economy is also supported financially by contributions (known as Peter's Pence) from Catholics throughout the world, by worldwide banking and financial activities, the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees from admissions to museums, and the sale of publications. The incomes and living standards of lay workers are comparable to those of counterparts who work in the city of Rome.


The population of Vatican City includes high-ranking Catholic Church officials, priests, women religious, and Swiss Guards. The Vatican's workforce includes about 3,000 lay (non-clerical) workers who live outside Vatican City State.

The Holy See's diplomatic history began in the fourth century, but the boundaries of the papacy's temporal power have shifted over the centuries. From the 8th century through the middle of the 19th century, Popes ruled over the Papal States, which included a broad band of territory across central Italy. In 1860, after prolonged civil and regional unrest, Victor Emmanuel's army seized the Papal States, leaving only Rome and surrounding coastal regions under papal control.

In 1870, Victor Emmanuel captured Rome itself and declared it the new capital of Italy, ending papal claims to temporal power. Pope Pius IX and his successors disputed the legitimacy of these acts and proclaimed themselves to be "prisoners" in the Vatican. Finally, in 1929, the Italian Government and the Holy See signed three agreements resolving the dispute: a treaty recognizing the independence and sovereignty of the Holy See and creating Vatican City State; a Concordat defining the relations between the government and the church within Italy; and a financial convention providing the Holy See with compensation for its losses in 1870. A revised Concordat, altering the terms of church- state relations, was signed in 1984.


The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power over the Holy See and Vatican City State. Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, was elected on April 19, 2005 and formally inaugurated on April 24.

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. As the "central government" of the Catholic Church, the Holy See has a legal status that allows it to enter into treaties as the juridical equal of a state and to send and receive diplomatic representatives. The Holy See has formal diplomatic relations with 176 nations, including the United States and some predominantly Muslim countries.

Created in 1929 to provide a territorial identity for the Holy See in Rome, Vatican City State is a recognized national territory under international law. The Holy See enters into international agreements and receives and sends diplomatic representatives.

Administration of Vatican City State

The Pope delegates the internal administration of Vatican City State to a Pontifical Commission. Vatican City State Gendarmerie are responsible for security. The Vatican has its own post office, commissary, bank, helicopter airfield, and electrical generating plant. The Vatican also issues its own coins and stamps and has its own Internet domain (.va).

Administration of the Holy See

The Pope exercises his authority through the Roman Curia and the Papal Civil Service. The Roman Curia consists of the Secretariat of State, nine Congregations, three Tribunals, 12 Pontifical Councils, and a complex of offices that administer Church affairs at the highest level. The Secretariat of State, under the Cardinal Secretary of State, directs and coordinates the Curia. On September 15, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as Secretary of State (a role equivalent to that of prime minister) and appointed Archbishop Dominique Mamberti as Secretary for Relations with States (equivalent to foreign minister).

Among the most active of the major Curial institutions are the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees Church 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 Apostolic Penitentiary deals with matters of conscience; the Roman Rota is responsible for appeals, including annulments of marriage; and the Apostolic Signatura is the final court of appeal.

The Prefecture for Economic Affairs coordinates the finances of the Holy See departments and supervises the administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, an investment fund formed in 1967 from separate funds dating back to the time of the Lateran Pacts. A committee of 15 cardinals, chaired by the Secretary of State, has final oversight authority over all financial matters of the Holy See, including those of the Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican bank.

The Swiss Guard is a small military force of about 120 Swiss nationals. It shares security responsibilities with the Vatican City State Gendarmerie and falls under the authority of the Secretary of State.

Media and Communications

Vatican Radio, the official radio station, broadcasts in 40 languages to all continents. L'Osservatore Romano is the semi-official newspaper, published daily in Italian, and weekly in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French (plus a monthly edition in Polish). There is also a weekly version published in Italian, as well as a weekly version in Malayalam (a language of India). Linked to the Osservatore Romano is a small publishing house, "Tipografia Vaticana." The Vatican also runs a TV production company that provides a live feed of papal events.

Principal Government Officials

Holy See:

Head of State--Pope Benedict XVI

Secretary of State (Prime Minister)--Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Deputy Secretary of State (Chief of Staff)--Archbishop Fernando Filoni

Secretary for Relations with States (Foreign Minister)--Archbishop Dominique Mamberti

Apostolic Nuncio (equivalent to Ambassador) to the United States--Archbisho p Pietro Sambi

The Holy See maintains an Apostolic Nunciature, the equivalent of an embassy, in the U.S. at 3339 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008, (202) 333-7121,

Vatican City State:

Head of State--Pope Benedict XVI

President of the Vatican City State Commission--Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo

Papal Audiences

Requests for admission to papal audiences are handled by the U.S. Bishops Office for U.S. Visitors to the Vatican. The address is Casa Santa Maria dell'Umilta, Via dell'Umilta 30, 00187, Rome, Italy (tel. 39-06-690-0189),


The Holy See conducts active diplomacy. It maintains formal diplomatic relations with 176 nations that are members of the United Nations. The Vatican also has relations with Taiwan, the Cook Islands, and the Sovereign Order of Malta. It has a "special" relationship with the European Union. Seventy-eight of these maintain permanent diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See and resident in Rome. The rest have missions located outside Italy with dual accreditation. The Holy See maintains 106 permanent diplomatic missions to nation-states. Further, the Holy See has a separate permanent diplomatic mission to the European Union in Brussels. The Holy See also maintains relations of a special nature with the Palestine Liberation Organization and has a delegate to the Arab League in Cairo.

The Holy See is especially active in international organizations. The Holy See is a permanent observer in the following international organizations: United Nations (UN), Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, African Union (AU), World Tourist Organization (WToO), World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO), World Food Program (WFP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP), United Nations Center for Human Settlements (UNCHS), Latin Union (LU), International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Holy See is also an observer on an informal basis of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva (WMO), United Nations Committee of Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), International Maritime Organization (IMO), African Asian Legal Consultative Committee (AALCC) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The Holy See is a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), International Telecommunication Satellite Organization (ITSO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Grains Council (IGC), International Committee for Military Medicine (ICMM), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). In addition, Vatican City State is a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Universal Postal Union (UPU).

In 1971, the Holy See announced the decision to adhere to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to "give its moral support to the principles that form the base of the treaty itself." The Holy See is also a participating state in the OSCE and a guest of honor to the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE.


The United States maintained consular relations with the Papal States from 1797 to 1870 and diplomatic relations with the Pope, in his capacity as head of the Papal States, from 1848 to 1868, though not at the ambassadorial level. These relations lapsed with the loss of all papal territories in 1870.

From 1870 to 1984, the United States did not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Several presidents, however, designated personal envoys to visit the Holy See periodically for discussions of international humanitarian and political issues. Myron C. Taylor was the first of these representatives, serving from 1939 to 1950. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan also appointed personal envoys to the Pope.

The United States and the Holy See announced the establishment of diplomatic relations on January 10, 1984. On March 7, 1984, the Senate confirmed William A. Wilson as the first U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Ambassador Wilson had been President Reagan's personal envoy to the Pope since 1981. The Holy See named Archbishop Pio Laghi as the first Apostolic Nuncio (equivalent to ambassador) of the Holy See to the U.S.

The U.S.-Holy See relationship is best characterized as an active global partnership on a wide range of global issues. There is frequent contact and cooperation between the United States and the Holy See on many important international issues of mutual interest, including human rights and human dignity, inter-religious understanding, peace and nonproliferation, development, and environmental protection.

Holy See priorities for 2011 include freedom of religion and protection of Christian minorities where they are threatened; the re-evangelization of traditionally-Catholic countries in Europe; inter-religious dialogue; aid for developing nations; protection of the environment; peaceful resolution of conflicts, particularly in the Middle East; defense of the traditional family; and nuclear nonproliferation.

Principal U.S. Embassy Official

Ambassador--Miguel H. Diaz

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is located in Rome in the Villa Domiziana, Via delle Terme Deciane 26, 00153 Rome, Italy, tel: (396) 4674-3428.


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings. Country Specific Information exists for all countries and includes information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at For additional information on international travel, see

The Department of State encourages all U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4-USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778); TDD/TTY: 1-888-874-7793. Passport information is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. You may speak with a representative Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) and a web site at el/default.aspx give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. The CDC publication "Health Information for International Travel" can be found at

Further Electronic Information

Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
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Publication:Background Notes
Article Type:Country overview
Geographic Code:4EXVA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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