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  U.S. Department of State, July 2000
Bureau of European Affairs

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Background Notes:
The Holy See

Official Name:
The Holy See (The State of the Vatican City)



Area (Vatican City): 0.439 sq. km. (109 acres).
Cities: Vatican City.
Terrain: low hill.
Climate: temperate, mild, rainy winters with hot, dry summers.


Population: 813.
Ethnic groups: Italian, Swiss, other.
Religion: Catholic.
Language: Latin.
Literacy: 100%.
Work force: About 3,000 lay workers (mostly resident outside the Vatican).


Type: Papacy; ecclesiastical governmental and administrative capital of the Roman Catholic Church.
Independence: Lateran Pacts regulating independence and sovereignty of the Holy See signed with Italy on February 11, 1929, and revised in 1984.
Suffrage: The Pope is elected for life by members of the College of Cardinals who are less than 80 years old.


Almost all of Vatican City's 813 citizens live inside the Vatican City walls. The Vatican includes Vatican government officials, Roman Catholic Church dignitaries, priests, nuns, and guards as well as approximately 3,000 lay workers who comprise the majority of the work force.

The Holy See's diplomatic history began in the fourth century, but the boundaries of the papacy's temporal power have shifted over the centuries. In the middle of the 19th century, the Popes ruled the Papal States, including a broad band of territory across central Italy. In 1860, after prolonged civil and regional unrest, Victor Emmanuel's army seized the Papal States, leaving only Rome and surrounding coastal regions under papal control.

In 1870, the forces of Victor Emmanuel captured Rome itself and declared it the new capital of Italy. Pope Pius IX and his successors disputed the legitimacy of these acts and proclaimed themselves to be "prisoners" in the Vatican. Finally, in 1929, the Italian Government and the Holy See signed three agreements resolving the dispute: a treaty recognizing the independence and sovereignty of the Holy See and creating the State of Vatican City; a concordat defining the relations between the government and the church within Italy; and a financial convention providing the Holy See with compensation for its losses in 1870. In 1984 a revised concordat, altering the terms of church-state relations, was signed.


The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power and sends and receives diplomatic representatives. The Holy See is recognized under international law and enters into international agreements. It has formal diplomatic relations with 172 nations, including the United States. The State of Vatican City was established in 1929 as a political and territorial entity to ensure the Holy See "absolute and visible independence and to guarantee it indisputable international sovereignty."

Administration of the Vatican

The Pope delegates the internal administration of Vatican City to the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City. The legal system is based on canon, or ecclesiastical, law, and the state has civil and criminal law codes. Vatican City maintains the Swiss Guards, a voluntary military force, as well as a modern security corps. It has its own post office, commissary, bank, railway station, electrical generating plant, and publishing house, and it administers a comprehensive health care and pension scheme for its employees. The Vatican operates a medical clinic, pharmacy, supermarket, clothing store, gas stations, and other services. The Vatican also issues its own coins, stamps, and passports. Radio Vatican, the official radio station, is one of the most influential in Europe. L'Osservatore Romano is the semi-official newspaper, published daily in Italian, and weekly in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French (plus a monthly edition in Polish). It is published by Catholic laymen but carries official information. There is an official Vatican website at www.vatican.va.

Administration of the Holy See

The Pope governs with the assistance of the Roman Curia and the Papal Civil Service. The Roman Curia consists of the Secretariat of State, six Congregations, three Tribunals, 12 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, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, is the Holy See equivalent of a prime minister. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary of the Section for Relations With States of the Secretariat of State, is the Holy See equivalent of a foreign minister.

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 Apostolic Penitentiary deals with matters of conscience; the Roman Rota is responsible for appeals, including annulments of marriage; and the Apostolic Signatura is the final court of appeal. Three other tribunals are responsible for civil and criminal matters within Vatican City.

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.

Papal Audiences

The North American College in Rome, owned and operated by the U.S. Catholic hierarchy for training American priests, handles requests for papal audiences. The address is Casa Santa Maria dell'Umiltą, Via dell'Umiltą 30, 00187, Rome, Italy (tel. +39-06-690-0189).

Principal Government Officials

Head of State--Pope John Paul II
Secretary of State (Prime Minister)--Cardinal Angelo Sodano
Deputy Secretary of State (Interior Minister)--Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re
Secretary of the Section for Relations With States (Foreign Minister)--Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran
Apostolic Nuncio (equivalent to ambassador) to the United States--Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo

The Holy See maintains an Apostolic Nuniciature, the equivalent of an embassy, in the U.S. at 3339 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel. (202) 333-7121.


The Holy See maintains formal diplomatic relations with 172 nations; 71 of these maintain permanent resident diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See in Rome. The rest have missions located outside Italy with dual accreditation. The Holy See maintains permanent diplomatic missions to 197 countries and international organizations.

The Holy See is especially active in international organizations. It has permanent observer status at the United Nations in New York, the Office of the United Nations in Geneva and specialized institutes, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris. The Holy See also has a member delegate at the International Atomic Energy Agency and at the UN Industrial Development Organization in Vienna. It maintains permanent observers at the Organization of American States in Washington, DC, and the Council of Europe. In addition, the Holy See has diplomatic relations with the European Union in Brussels. In 1997 the Holy See became a member of the World Trade Organization.

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." The Holy See also is a participating state in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.


The United States maintained consular relations with the Papal States from 1797 to 1870 and diplomatic relations with the Pope, in his capacity as head of the Papal States, from 1848 to 1868. These relations lapsed with the loss of all papal territories in 1870.

From 1870 to 1984, the United States did not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Until the establishment of formal relations, some U.S. presidents designated personal envoys who visited with the Holy See periodically for discussions on international humanitarian and political issues. Myron C. Taylor was the first of these representatives, serving from 1939 to 1950. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan also appointed personal envoys to the Pope. The United States and Holy See announced the establishment of diplomatic relations in January 1984. On March 7, 1984, the Senate confirmed William A. Wilson as the first U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Establishment of diplomatic relations has bolstered the frequent contact and consultation between the United States and the Holy See on many important international issues of mutual interest. The United States values the Holy See's significant contributions to international peace and human rights.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials (September 2000)

Ambassador--Corinne "Lindy" C. Boggs
Deputy Chief of Mission--Joseph Merante
Second Secretary--Mark J. Powell
Second Secretary--Gregory S. D'Elia
Ambassador's Special Assistant--Jennifer Dudley

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is located in the Villa Domiziana, Via delle Terme Deciane 26, 00153 Rome, Italy. Tel: (39) 06-4674-3428. Fax: (39) 06-575-8346. Within the United States: PSC 59, Box 66, APO AE 09624.


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are on the internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.

Passport information can be obtained by calling the National Passport Information Center's automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648). It also is available on the internet.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of Foreign Service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://1997-2001.state.gov.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.

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