The Vatican in World Politics
by Avro Manhattan
The Vatican in World Politics
by Avro Manhattan
A Look Inside the Beast
But the diplomatic machinery of the Vatican would be of little value if the Pope had to rely upon it alone. What gives the Vatican its tremendous power is not its diplomacy as such, but the fact that behind its diplomacy stands the Church, with all its manifold world-embracing activities.
The Vatican as a diplomatic centre is but one aspect of the Catholic Church. Vatican diplomacy is so influential and can exert such great power in the diplomatic-political field because it has at its disposal the tremendous machinery of a spiritual organization with ramifications in every country of the planet. In other words, the Vatican, as a political power, employs the Catholic Church as a religious institution to assist the attainment of its goals. These goals in turn, are sought mainly to further the spiritual interests of the Catholic Church.
The double role of the members of the Catholic Hierarchy automatically reacts upon those innumerable religious, cultural, social, and finally political, organizations connected with the Catholic Church, which, although tied to the Church primarily on religious grounds, can at given moments be made either directly or indirectly to serve political ends. Because of the great importance of the religious machinery of the Catholic Church to the political structure, it is essential that we should examine its hierarchical administrative-religious form, how it is made to function, who are its rulers, what various organizations it comprises, in what fields they exert their influence, and last, but not least, with what spirit it is imbued and how it deals with important issues affecting our contemporary society.
The Catholic Church is a tremendous organization with world-wide ramifications, and so it needs some form of central machinery, independent of its nature or immediate and final purpose, to enable it to centralize and co-ordinate its multifarious activities. This central machinery is housed almost entirely in the precincts of the Vatican, and its various components form the Government of the Catholic Church.
The executive of the Catholic Church is, roughly speaking, divided into three: the Secretary of State, the College of Cardinals, and the Congregations. But all are unconditionally subordinated to and dependent upon the absolute will of the pivot on which the whole Catholic Church, whether as a religious institution or as a political power, revolves----the Pope. He is the absolute Head in religious, moral, ethical, administrative, diplomatic, and political matters; he is the only source of power; his decisions must be carried out, for in the Catholic Church and the Vatican his will is law; is the last absolute monarch in the world, the power of no political dictator being comparable to the unlimited power of the Pope in all matters. He need account to no human being for his actions, his only judge being God. Second to the Pope is the Secretary of State, who has jurisdiction in the administration of the Catholic Church. The Secretary of State of the Vatican would correspond in the modern civil Government to a combination of the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. His department is the most important and powerful in all the Vatican administration, and all other departments, even if purely religious, must submit to the decisions of the Secretary of State. He can exert a personal influence possessed by no other member of the Church. He is responsible in the Curia to no one but the Pope.
The Secretary of State is the political Head of the Vatican. It is through him that the Pope carries out his political activities throughout the world. Because of his important role he is in the closest contact with the Pope, whom he sees at least every morning and very often several times a day, to discuss and decide on all questions connected with the activities of the Vatican as a political power.
Every week the Cardinal Secretary of State receives all the representatives accredited to the Holy See and interviews everyone who comes to the Vatican to give information. He is responsible for every letter sent out, for the appointment of every nuncio. Officials of the Curia are appointed on his recommendation. The Pope is very dependent on his Secretary of State, and no one is so closely identified with his absolute power. In the diplomatic and administrative Government of the Vatican the Secretary of State has three main departments.
The first is the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, by which all important political and diplomatic matters are settled. It is a committee of cardinals, and its status can be compared with that of a Cabinet in a modern Government. The second is the Secretary of Ordinary Affairs, or "II Sostituto," as he is sometimes called. He deals, as an Under-Secretary of State, with matters relating to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, current political events, the dispatch of Vatican agents.
Like many other nations, the Vatican has a code department, and a special section of this second department is engaged in the preparation and examination of dossiers, the examination of claims for decorations, medals, titles, etc. At the outbreak of the Second World War this work required the full-time attention of no less than six editors, ten stenographers, and seven archivists. The third is the Chancellery of Briefs, the old Secretariat of Briefs which was absorbed into the Department of State in 1908, the Secretariat of Briefs to Princes, and the Secretariat of Latin Letters. A Brief is commonly used to confer an honor or to announce special tax. "Briefs to Princes" to-day are Briefs to kings, presidents, premiers, and even bishops and persons of minor importance. When not dealing with religious, but with diplomatic or political matters, a Brief is but a sheet of paper carried by the nuncio or by an envoy. It carries the signature of the Pope. The task of the Secretariat of Latin Letters is to correct the Pope's missives---i.e. encyclicals.
The office of the Secretary of State dates from the Renaissance. In an illuminating document, written in 1602 by Pope Sixtus V, the qualities necessary for a Secretary of State are enumerated:
The Prime Minister of the Vatican must know everything. He must have read everything, understood everything, but he must say nothing. He must know even the pieces played in the theater, because of the documentation they contain of distant lands. [sic] The origin of the Secretariat is to be traced to the "Camera secreta" of the Popes of the Middle Ages, who already often had most delicate diplomatic relations with the various Powers. Their special correspondence was written as well as expedited by notaries equivalent to the members of a Cabinet in a modern European Government. Such correspondence was not given the publicity of "Bills," but was known only to the "Camera secreta."
In the fifteenth century this "Camera secreta" became an indispensable instrument of the Pope. The Briefs became a model of diplomacy. A new functionary, the "Secretarius Domesticus," was responsible for them. Leo X divided the work between the "Secretarius Domesticus," whose task became the framing of official communications, and "il Segretario del Papa," the Pope's private secretary, whose work was essentially political and who was charged with instructions to the Pope's political agents throughout Europe, the nuncios. Originally, this secretary had little influence, but with the passing of years he became all-powerful. According to the Constitution of Pius IX, in 1847, before the disappearance of the Papal State, the Secretary was "a real premier." With the creation of the New Vatican State the importance of the role of the Secretary of State increased enormously, and, as already said, his influence throughout the Curia, and indeed throughout the whole Catholic world, became second only to that of the Pope himself.
The Sacred College of Cardinals comes next in importance to the Secretariat of State in the diplomatic-political sphere, but before it in the purely religious field. That does not mean, of course, that the cardinals, the main pillars of the Catholic Church as a religious institution, are unimportant in the direction of diplomatic and political matters. Far from it - they are responsible instruments of the first magnitude in the shaping and execution of the general policy of the Vatican.
The primary function of the members of the Sacred College of Cardinals is to act as a type of Privy Council to the Pope. The cardinalate comes down directly from the ecclesiastical organization of ancient Rome; the Holy See gave the title of cardinals to the canons of its churches (the word is derived from cardo, meaning pivot or hinge). To this day the cardinals are, in fact, what their name implies.
During the Middle Ages, Papal nominations were subjected to the approval of the Sacred College. But this procedure brought serious embarrassment to the Church, and in 1517 Julius II abolished it. Since that date all promotions, nominations, etc. depend on the absolute will of the Pope. The cardinals have their titular Church in Rome. They are "Princes of the Church" and, to-day, still deal with the few kings that remain on a footing of equality, as their "dear cousins." Even republics like the French reserve for cardinals a place above that of ambassadors, and in international etiquette they still retain their position of princes of the blood.
The cardinals have played very important political roles in the past, and continue to do so. In modern times they have produced significant reactions from various Catholic and non-Catholic nations which regard with great interest their "representation" in the Sacred College, knowing the power and influence the cardinals exert on the attitude of the Church towards religious, diplomatic, and political problems in all countries of the world. Members of the Sacred College of Cardinals cannot exceed seventy in number. They are divided into two: those cardinals who direct Catholic affairs in their local metropolitan areas, and those who are settled in Rome and whose task is that of advising the Pope. As we have already seen, the most important cardinal is the Secretary of State.
Up to the outbreak of the Second World War there were two main difficulties which a nation had to overcome before one of its nationals could receive the "red cap." One was the tradition that the number of cardinals must not exceed 70; the other was the tradition that the majority should be Italians. The second custom, however, is being gradually discarded. In 1846, for instance, there were only 8 non-Italian cardinals, but Pius IX, in his 32-years reign, created 183 cardinals, of whom 51 were foreigners, and in 1878 there were 25 living non-Italian cardinals. In 1903 the number remained unchanged, with 1 American and 29 Italians. In 1914 there were 32 Italians and 25 foreigners, 3 of whom were American.
In 1939 there were 32 Italian and 32 foreign cardinals, of whom four came from the United States of America.
With the dawn of peace (1945) Pope Pius XII continued along the course his predecessors had undertaken, and in February 1946 he took the unprecedented step of creating 32 new cardinals at a single ceremony, the largest nomination of this kind that Rome had seen for well over three hundred years. Of these, significantly enough, only 4 were Italians. Of the remainder, 3 were German, 3 French, 3 Spanish, 1 Armenian, 1 English, 1 Cuban, 1 Hungarian, 1 Dutch, 1 Polish, 1 Chinese, 1 Australian, 1 Canadian, 4 North American, and the remaining 6 Latin-American. It was the first time that the Church had invested a Chinese with the robes of a cardinal (Bishop Tien, Vicar Apostolic of Tsing Tao), and the first time it had conferred such an honor on an Australian (Archbishop Gilroy, of Sydney). But in addition to the breaking of the unwritten rule (a preponderant number of Italians), and to the bringing into the Curia of the first Australian and the first Chinese, Pius XII made another ominous move: the creation of a number of cardinals whose main purpose was obviously to strengthen the influence of the Church in the Anglo-Saxon countries (4 in the United States of America, 1 in Britain, 1 in Canada, and 1 in Australia), while the appointment of 4 cardinals in the United States of America and 6 in South America showed unmistakably that the Church was more determined than ever to spread its hold over the American continent.
In addition to acting as the electors of new Popes, and as Councillors to the Holy See, the cardinals are in theory and in practice the absolute rulers of the Churches in their charge in the various countries of the world, having only one authority above them whom they must blindly obey in furthering the welfare of the universal Catholic Church - the Pope. They owe him blind obedience, not only in religious, but, when necessary, in social and political matters as well, and although in theory they may pursue a quasi-independent line in political issues, in reality they must obey the Pope through his Secretary of State, who is himself a cardinal.
And so the cardinals, as well as forming the foundations on which the Catholic Hierarchy is erected, are also the pillars of the Catholic Church as a political institution. Whether posted in the various countries of the world (as a rule as primates) or resident at the Vatican, where they usually are heads or members of the various Ministries, they are the religious, administrative, and political pillars of the Catholic Church. The activities of the Catholic Church are many and invade numerous spheres. It has been necessary, therefore, as with any other great administration, to separate them into individual yet coordinated departments, which the Vatican calls Congregations. Hence the word "Congregation," in this sense, must not be confused with its ordinary meaning of the members of a church. In this case the Congregations are the equivalent of the Ministries of an ordinary civil Government.
The Roman Congregations came into being about the sixteenth century, after the Reformation, when the Catholic Church, to resist its enemies, had to reorganize itself on more up-to-date lines. Ever since, the Roman Congregations have worked for the Pope in all his delicate activities. They are the central and administrative power of the Catholic Church, and in certain respects do not differ a great deal from the machinery of a modern State, with its various administrative branches of government. In the same way as any Ministry in a civil Government is headed by a Minister, each Roman Congregation has at its head a prefect. This prefect is a cardinal appointed by the Pope, or in some cases the Pope himself acts as prefect. In addition to the Cardinal Prefect, the Pope often appoints other cardinals to direct the officials and employees, who are usually ecclesiastics, but in some cases laymen of distinction.
It would be useful to examine briefly the history and purpose of the Ministerial Departments of the Catholic Church, for each has a set task to perform and deals with specific matters which, very often, affect millions of Catholics all over the world. It is often through the work of these Ministries that the Catholic Church exerts influence and pressure on its members. Most of the Congregations are of an essentially religious character, but for that very reason they are powerful factors which the Catholic Church does not hesitate to employ in order to bring religious and moral pressure on the individual Catholic and on collective sections of the Catholic populations of the world. The Central Government of the Catholic Church is divided into three main groups, each closely related to the others, and under one direction. They are: the Sacred Congregations, the Tribunals, and the Offices. We shall glance at each one, contenting ourselves with barely mentioning some of the, but studying in more detail those which are closely related to that aspect of the Catholic Church which is being studied in this book. We shall start with the less important.