Sea of confusion

  • Date / 30 November 2005

According to the New York Times on September 21, the US Justice Department has told a Texas court that it must dismiss a lawsuit accusing Pope Benedict XVI of helping cover up several instances of sexual molestation by a seminarian. An assistant US attorney said the suit should be dismissed because the pope enjoys immunity as “head of State of the Holy See” and the suit would be “incompatible with the United States’ foreign policy interests.”

Oh, my, again confusion over the identities of the Holy See and Vatican City, confusion that is surely intentional.

Vatican City is a sovereign microstate (about 43 hectares) inside Rome. It came into existence in 1929 as a result of a deal between Mussolini and the Holy See. But while Vatican City is a statelet, it does not have diplomatic relations with other States. The Holy See, however, is not a State but is the administrative machinery of the Catholic Church. However, the Holy See pretends to be a State when convenient, enjoys permanent observer status at the UN General Assembly (as no other religious body does) which it uses to impede progress on women’s rights, reproductive rights, and population problems, and maintains diplomatic ties to over 150 countries, including the US. This confusion of Holy See and Vatican is deliberate and deleterious to the interests of religious liberty and the best interests of every country.

As a member of the General Assembly of the International Humanist and Ethical Union several years ago I urged, along with the UK’s Keith Porteous Wood, the IHEU to support the See Change project led by Catholics for a Free Choice to get the Holy See expelled from the UN. Today that project is supported by nearly 1,000 organizations around the world (including the IHEU), representing a wide spectrum of religions and lifestances. I also testified at the US congressional hearings on President Reagan’s proposal in 1984 to have the US grant diplomatic recognition to the Holy See, the church qua church, and not Vatican City. After Reagan got his way I was one of a number of plaintiffs in an unsuccessful effort to get the US Supreme Court to declare the arrangement unconstitutional.

Edd Doerr is immediate past President of the American Humanist Association and President of Americans for Religious Liberty

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