The Catholic Church at the United Nations: Church or State?

Ever since it was informally accepted into the United Nations in 1964, questions have been raised about the Holy See’s status and role at the UN. As the UN became more influential in international policymaking, and the Holy See stepped up its opposition to the global expansion of reproductive health services, the questions have become more pertinent and pointed. Many, especially those working for internationally focused nongovernmental organizations who have seen first-hand the impact of the Holy See’s role at the UN, now feel that the Holy See should not continue in its exalted place at the UN’s table. This paper reflects on the the Holy See’s questionable denomination as a state, the process that led it to be accepted into the UN, and how it has used its status to impose its minority views on entire populations, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

But it’s not just NGOs that have questioned the nature of the Holy See’s statehood. Pope John Paul II, speaking with Vladimir Putin in 2003, said, “Look out the window. What kind of state do I have here? You can see my whole state right from this window.” The pope acknowledged that it requires some effort to square the current reality of the Holy See, the government of a territorial holding known as Vatican City, with the common understanding of what a state is. In fact, over the centuries many have tried to answer the question: What kind of a state is the Holy See, if it is a state at all?

The Catholic church’s long history is undeniable. But how did the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic
church, come to enjoy unique access to UN proceedings— a position held by no other religion—that gives it a voice at international conferences and in the General Assembly on some of the most sensitive issues of our time? Read the report.

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