All editors dream of printing an article that is so incisive that it becomes a talking point for the world's opinion formers. The editor of The Economist did just that last month when he published an piece ostensibly praising the Vatican diplomatic corps. The article lauded the bravery, efficiency and high-mindedness of "God's ambassadors". But there was a mighty sting in the tail: the commentary concluded that the Holy See ought to "renounce its special status and call itself what it is — the biggest non-governmen
tal organisation in the world". .
This might seem at first to be an innocuous suggestion. But if the Holy See renounced its status as a sovereign state and became an NGO, on a par with Oxfam or Save the Children, it would have to sack its 101 nuncios, close down its embassies, shut down its famous diplomatic training school, the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, and cancel its membership of international organisations such as the United Nations.
The Holy See is particularly sensitive to that last element, and has fought back consistently against the suggestion that it should give up its "permanent observer" status at the UN. This no doubt explains why Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States, has responded, personally and at length, to The Economist article. The archbishop points out that the idea of expelling the Holy See from the UN is not new. Indeed, "Catholics for a Free Choice", a sinister pro-abortion organisation, has petitioned for this for more than a decade. Archbishop Mamberti argues that "the campaign to eject the Holy See from the UN is not motivated by what the Holy See is, but by what it does". In other words, critics are not really troubled by the Holy See's unusual character, as both a religious body and a sovereign state, but rather are opposed to what the Church stands for.
As brilliant as it is, The Economist article contains its own refutation. It notes that Vatican ambassadors are so courageous that they are prepared to take "lethal risks for peace" and that in several instances they have averted wars. In a world already riven by conflict, what sense would it make to undo one of the most extensive and well-informed diplomatic networks in the world?