Vatican Diplomacy: A Force to Be Reckoned With

Aims to Defend the Right of Religious Freedom of Every Believer

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 14, 2003 ( The Vatican’s action at the international level has never been as extensive as it is now.

With the agreement signed with the Arab Emirate of Qatar on Dec. 1, the Vatican now maintains diplomatic relations with 177 countries, including special ties with the Russian Federation and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The figure has doubled during John Paul II’s pontificate.

The Vatican still has no diplomatic relations with China (which severed ties with Rome in 1957), Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. The Hanoi government, nevertheless, holds annual meetings with Vatican representatives to resolve disputes over the exercise of freedom of worship.

The primary objective of relations established by the Vatican, through concordats or Church-state agreements, is to defend freedom of worship. In recognizing Catholics’ right to religious liberty, states feel obliged to acknowledge the principle of religious liberty in general. The Vatican, in effect, has become the champion of all believers’ rights, not just of Catholics.

In this connection, the great diplomatic success of the Vatican took place in the 1960s. It came at the height of the Cold War, during the Helsinki proceedings and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The work of then Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, who would later become Vatican secretary of state, made possible the recognition of religious liberty as a principle in Communist countries dominated by the Soviet Union.

Witnessing the Vatican’s work over the past 15 years for the defense of peace and human rights in poor countries, some diplomats have suggested that the Vatican should become a member of the United Nations. Currently the Vatican is a permanent observer there, with a voice but no vote.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera on Nov. 26, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, did not reject the possibility that one day the Vatican might vote in the United Nations, if this is requested of it and «if it is useful.»

«It is an open question,» he said. For the Vatican to become a full U.N. member, the Security Council would have to approve and recommend its membership to the General Assembly.

In addition to its U.N. status, the Vatican participates in other international organizations, such as the Arab League (as a delegate), the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States, and the Organization for African Unity.

Jean Gueguinou, France’s new ambassador to UNESCO, and former ambassador to the Vatican, told the daily Le Monde on Dec. 26 that it is possible to think that the Vatican’s action irritates some in the international realm because of the values it promotes. However, he said, «increasingly more countries try in any way possible to maintain relations with the Vatican and to receive the Pope.»

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