Holy See, The country brief

Overview

The Holy See is the central government of the Catholic Church. The Vatican City State was established by treaty in 1929, providing the Holy See with a small territorial base and consequent recognition as an independent sovereign entity in international law. The Holy See and the Catholic Church are invested with separate international juristic status, but it is the Holy See which acts as the supreme organ of government of the Church. The Hague Convention of 1954 protects all Vatican territory as world cultural heritage.

Under the terms of the Apostolic Constitution (Pastor Bonus) of 1988, the Pope is assisted in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office by the Roman Curia, a complex of dicasteries (ie ministries) and institutes. The dicasteries include the Secretariat of State, Congregations, Tribunals, Councils and Offices, namely the Apostolic Camera. The economic, financial and administrative affairs of the Holy See and Vatican City State are managed and overseen by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (in effect the Central Bank); the Secretariat for the Economy which reports to a Council for the Economy; and the office of the Auditor-General.  The Holy See has offices that deal with virtually all matters concerning the central government of the Church, from political questions and diplomacy to the liturgy and appointment of bishops. The Secretariat of State is presided over by the Cardinal Secretary of State (His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin). It administers both the 'General Affairs' Section of the Holy See as well as its 'Relations with States' Section, the latter under the direction of its own Secretary, in effect the Vatican Foreign Minister, His Excellency Archbishop Paul Gallagher. Archbishop Gallagher was Papal Nuncio (Ambassador) to Australia between 2012 and 2014. 

The Holy See conducts diplomatic relations through its Secretariat of State and a network of diplomatic posts (known as Nunciatures), and maintains formal diplomatic relations with 181 countries. The Holy See has a unique role and standing in international affairs, and plays an important role in a number of multilateral fora. It is a party to a number of international instruments (including a series of international human rights treaties) and enjoys membership of various United Nations subsidiary bodies, specialised agencies and international intergovernmental organisations. The Holy See gained full UN membership rights, except for voting  in 2004. It is active in UN debates, in particular on social and humanitarian issues but increasingly on global governance and development and peacekeeping and conflict prevention.

Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Pope (His Holiness Pope Francis I) in March 2013. The Holy See's National Day is fixed by tradition to coincide with the commencement of the Pontificate of the reigning Pope.

Bilateral relationship

Australia and the Holy See have had diplomatic relations since 1973, and apostolic relations from 1914. The 40th and 100th anniversaries, respectively, of these relationships were celebrated concurrently in Rome and Australia in 2014.

The Holy See has maintained an Apostolic Nunciature (Embassy) in Canberra since 1973.

Since 2008, Australia has had a resident Ambassador to the Holy See. This appointment has allowed Australia to expand dialogue with the Holy See on human rights, political and religious freedom, global governance and development, inter-faith dialogue, global and regional security including arms control, peacekeeping and conflict prevention, and refugees and anti-people smuggling.

Canonisation of Blessed Mary MacKillop

On 17 October 2010 Mary MacKillop was canonised as Saint Mary of the Cross, creating Australia's first Saint. The ceremony took place in St Peter's Square in Vatican City and was presided over by Benedict XVI. It is estimated that some 10,000 other Australians attended the canonisation.

High-level contact

In Australia

Three Popes have visited Australia . Benedict XVI visited in 2008 for the Sydney World Youth Day. Holy See Foreign Minister Dominique Mamberti visited Australia in November 2014, the first such visit to Australia by a Vatican Foreign Minister.

World Youth Day in Sydney

World Youth Day (WYD) 2008 was held in Sydney  and was a significant event for Australia. Several hundred thousand people participated in WYD activities, including international pilgrims from over 170 nations. Two thousand media were accredited for WYD and WYD events were watched live by an estimated international TV audience of more than a hundred million and an internet audience of roughly equal size.

In Rome

Benedict XVI opened the Australian Catholic Church's pilgrimage centre in Rome, Domus Australia, on 20 October 2011.

Former Governor-General, the Hon Sir William Deane AC KBE, attended Pope Francis’s investiture mass in March 2013 and the former Minister for Education, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, represented the Government at the canonisations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in April 2014.


Last Updated: 4 August 2014