Christianity Knowledge Base

The coat of arms of the Holy See

The Holy See (Latin: Sancta Sedes, lit. "holy seat") is the episcopal see of Rome. The incumbent of this see is the Bishop of Rome, more commonly referred to as the Pope. The term Holy See, as used in canon law, also refers to the Pope and the Roman Curia—in effect, the central government of the Roman Catholic Church—and is the sense more widely used today in the 21st Century.

The Holy See is also called the "Apostolic See", although this name properly refers to any see founded by the Apostles and especially to the three original patriarchal sees of Rome (St. Peter and Paul), Alexandria (St. Mark) and Antioch (St. Peter). Later Constantinople, allegedly founded by St. Andrew, and Jerusalem, restored after its period as a pagan city, were also numbered among the patriarchal sees. The five sees were ranked in descending order of precedence: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem.

Aside from Rome, the archiepiscopal See of Mainz, which was also of electoral and primatial rank, is the only other see referred to as the "Holy See," although this usage is rather less common.

Organization of the Holy See[]

The Pope governs the Church through the Roman Curia. The Roman Curia consists of the Secretariat of State (Vatican), nine Congregations, three Tribunals, 11 Pontifical Councils, and a complex of offices that administer church affairs at the highest level. The Secretariat of State, under the Cardinal Secretary of State, directs and coordinates the Curia. The current incumbent, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, is the Holy See's equivalent of a prime minister. Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Secretary of the Section for Relations With States of the Secretariat of State acts as the Holy See's foreign minister. Sodano and Lajolo served in their respective roles under Pope John Paul II and were then reappointed to those same roles by Pope Benedict XVI.

Among the most active of the major Curial institutions are the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees church doctrine; the Congregation for Bishops, which coordinates the appointment of bishops worldwide; the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which oversees all missionary activities; and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which deals with international peace and social issues.

Three tribunals are responsible for judicial power. The Sacra Rota is responsible for normal appeals, including annulments of marriage, with the Apostolic Signatura being the administrative court of appeal and highest ecclesiastical court. The Apostolic Penitentiary is different from those two and, instead of dealing with contentious cases, issues absolutions, dispensations, and indulgences.

The Prefecture for Economic Affairs coordinates the finances of the Holy See departments and supervises the administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, an investment fund dating back to the Lateran Pacts. A committee of 15 cardinals, chaired by the Secretary of State, has final oversight authority over all financial matters of the Holy See, including those of the Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican bank. The Prefecture for the Pontifical Household is responsible for papal ceremonies and the daily work and life of the Pope.

Like any episcopal see, the Holy See does not dissolve upon the death or resignation of the reigning Pope. It instead operates under a different set of laws sede vacante. During this interregnum, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia (such as the prefects of congregations) cease to hold office immediately, the only exceptions being the Major Penitentiary, who continues his important role regarding absolutions and dispensations, and the Cardinal Camerlengo, who administers the temporalities (i.e., properties and finances) of the Holy See during this period. The government of the Holy See (and therefore of the Roman Catholic Church) then falls to the College of Cardinals. Canon law prohibits the College and the Camerlengo from introducing any innovations or novelties in the government of the Church during this period.

Diplomacy of the Holy See[]

Since medieval times the episcopal see of Rome has been recognized as a sovereign entity. The Holy See maintains formal diplomatic relations with 174 sovereign states, the European Union, and the Order of Malta; 69 of these maintain permanent resident diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See in Rome. The rest have missions with dual accreditation outside Italy, as the Holy See does not accept dual accreditation with an embassy located in Italy. It also has relations of a special nature with Russia (Mission with an Ambassador) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (Office with a Director). The Holy See maintains 179 permanent diplomatic missions abroad (106 of which are accredited to sovereign states). The diplomatic activities of the Holy See are performed by the Secretariat of State (headed by the Cardinal Secretary of State), through the Section for Relations with States.

The Holy See is the only European subject of international law to formally recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan). It is the longest lasting diplomatic ally of the ROC, having held official relations since 1942. Talks between the People's Republic of China and the Holy See on diplomatic recognition have been ongoing, with the main issue the treatment of Chinese Catholics. The PRC government controls a Chinese Catholic Association which does not recognize the authority of Rome and the PRC has officially banned an underground Catholic Church which does recognize the Holy See's authority.

International organizations[]

The Holy See is especially active in international organizations. The Holy See is a permanent observer in the United Nations, and in July, 2004, gained all the rights of full membership except voting. According to Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Holy See Permanent Observer, "We have no vote because this is our choice." He added that the Holy See considers that its current status "is a fundamental step that does not close any path for the future. The Holy See has the requirements defined by the UN statute to be a member state and, if in the future it wished to be so, this resolution would not impede it from requesting it."

The Holy See is also an observer on an informal basis of the following groups:

The Holy See is a member of the following groups:

In 1971, the Holy See announced the decision to adhere to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in order to "give its moral support to the principles that form the base of the treaty itself." It is also a guest of honour to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Furthermore, the Holy See has a delegate to the Arab League in Cairo (AL).

Relationship with the Vatican City[]

Although the Holy See is closely associated with the Vatican City, the independent territory over which the Holy See is sovereign, the two entities are separate and distinct. After the Italian takeover of the Papal States in 1870, there was some uncertainty among jurists as to whether the Holy See, without territorial sovereignty, could continue to act as an independent personality in international matters. The State of the Vatican City was created by the Lateran treaties in 1929 to "insure the absolute and visible independence of the Holy See" and "to guarantee to it an indisputable sovereignty in international affairs" (quotes from the treaty). Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Holy See's former Secretary for Relations with States, said that the Vatican City is a "miniscule support-state that guarantees the spiritual freedom of the Pope with the minimum territory". [1]

The Holy See, not the Vatican City, maintains diplomatic relations with states (such as with the United Kingdom), and participates in international organizations. Foreign embassies are accredited to the Holy See rather than to the Vatican City, and it is the Holy See that establishes treaties and concordats with other sovereign entities. When necessary, the Holy See will enter a treaty on behalf of the Vatican City.

See also[]

External links[]

This article was forked from Wikipedia on March 28, 2006.

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