BY MARK GREAVES THE VATICAN'S foreign minister hit back at The Economist last week after the Londonbased magazine questioned the diplomatic status of the Holy See.
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States, accused The Economist of having a "reductionist" view of the Holy See's mission.
He dismissed the magazine's call for the Vatican to renounce its "special diplomatic status" and become the world's biggest non-governmental organisation. The Economist said that the position of the Holy See in global affairs was ambiguous because it represented not only a separate sovereign state but also a religion.
It suggested that the Vatican could strengthen its own authority by giving up its "special diplomatic status" and classifying itself as an NGO.
Archbishop Mamberti said the argument exposed a misunderstanding of the Holy See's mission.
This mission, the archbishop added, is "not sectarian or linked to special interests, but is universal and inclusive of all the dimensions of man and humanity". If the Holy See decided to call itself an NGO instead of a sovereign state it would have to close down embassies, dismantle its diplomatic corps and cancel its membership of various international organisations, including the United Nations.
Currently, the Holy See has permanent "observer status at the United Nations, which means it has a voice at the general assembly but is not allowed to vote.
The Vatican adopted the status voluntarily so there would be no danger of compromising its neutrality.
An article in The Econo mist in July entitled "God's ambassadors" said that the Holy See had a "specific political agenda" in its dealings with the rest of the world.
"It wants international status for Jerusalem. It recognises Taiwan as China. Listing the keystones of foreign policy, Cardinal Tauran stressed the "right to life at all stages of biological development' ," the article said.
It concluded: "Instead of claiming to practise a form of inter-governmental diplomacy, the Vatican] could renounce its special diplomatic status and call itself what it is the biggest non-governmental organisation in the world." But Archbishop Mamberti, in an interview with Avvenire, the Italian bishops' conference newspaper, rejected the idea as "not acceptable".
He said that the Holy See's international status was independent of "the criterion of territorial sovereignty".
This situation had been accepted. the archbishop added, by all of the countries who maintain diplomatic relations with the Holy See about 180 and by the UN.
The archbishop continued: "Behind the invitation to reduce [the Holy See] to a non-governmental organisa tion apart from a lack of understanding of the Holy See's juridical status there is probably also a reductionist vision of its mission. which is not sectarian or linked to special interests. but is universal and inclusive of all the dimensions of man and humanity.
"In carrying out its international role, the Holy See is always at the service of the comprehensive salvation of man, according to Christ's commandment.
"It comes as no surprise that there are some who seek to diminish the resonance of its voice." Francis Campbell, Britain's ambassador to the Holy See, told The Catholic Herald that the Vatican's status did not need to be defended.
"The Vatican is a very valuable part of our overseas diplomatic network, as has been proved time and time again," he said.
He explained that the Vatican was especially important during times of international crisis, and pointed to its role as a mediator between German conspirators and the British government during the Second World War.
"Confusion arises in people's minds because of its dual function. You have a territorial state, but it also happens to be the headquarters of a global religious movement," the ambassador said.
If the Vatican became an NGO, Mr Campbell said. so could any country in the world, since it met all the criteria of a traditional state.
He added that the Vatican should not be deprived of its sovereignty and its rightful international status simply because it is small.
"If you begin to question sovereignty on the basis of the size of territory, then where do you stop?he said.
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