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Politics of the Vatican City

The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power over the Holy See and the State of the Vatican City, a rare case of elective non-hereditary monarchy.

The Roman Curia de facto constitutes the government of the State and the administrative complex of organs and charges of the Church.

The Pope is elected by the Conclave, composed by all the Cardinals (now limited to all the Cardinals below the age of 80), after the death of the previous Pope. The Conclave is held in the Sistine Chapel, where all the electors (and eligible) are closed in clausura until the election for which a certain majority is required. The faithfuls can follow the results of the polls (usually one in the morning and one in the evening, until election) by a chimney-top, visible from St.Peter's square: in the chimney are burnt the voting papers, and additives make the resulting smoke black (fumata nera) in case of no election, white (fumata bianca) when the new Pope is finally elected. The Dean of the Sacred College (Cardinale Decano) will then ask the freshly elected Pope to choose his pastoral name, and as soon the Pope is dressed with the white habit,the Archdeacon(Cardinale Protodiacono) appears on the major balcony of St.Peter's fašade to introduce the new Pope with the famous latin sentence Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum:habemus papam.(I announce to you a great joy:We have a Pope).

Pope John Paul II, born in Poland, is the first non-Italian Pope in nearly five centuries. Elected on October 16, 1978, he succeeded Pope John Paul I, whose reign was limited by his untimely death to only 34 days.

The term "Holy See" refers to the composite of the authority, jurisdiction, and sovereignty vested in the Pope and his advisers to direct the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. As the "central government" of the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy See has a legal personality that allows it to enter into treaties as the juridical equal of a state and to send and receive diplomatic representatives. The Holy See has formal diplomatic relations with 166 nations, including the United States. Libya, Guyana, and Angola established diplomatic relations in 1997.

As formally re-defined in 1929, after the Concordato between Vatican and Italy, to administer properties belonging to the Holy See in Rome, the State of the Vatican City is recognized under international law and enters into international agreements. Unlike the Holy See, it does not receive or send diplomatic representatives.

Administration of the Vatican City
The Pope delegates the internal administration of the Vatican City to the Pontifical Commission for the State of the Vatican City. The legal system is based on canon, or ecclesiastical, law; if canon law is not applicable, the laws of the city of Rome apply. The Vatican City maintains the Swiss Guards, a voluntary military force, as well as a modern security corps (famous for its uniforms, traditionally said to have been designed by Michelangelo). It has its own post office, commissary, bank, railway station, electrical generating plant, and publishing house. The Vatican also issues its own coins, stamps, and passports. Radio Vatican, the official radio station, is one of the most influential in Europe and has a worldwide coverage. L'Osservatore Romano is the 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.

Administration of the Holy See
The Pope rules the Holy See through 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, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, is the Holy See's equivalent of a prime minister. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary of the Section for Relations With States of the Secretariat of State is the Vatican's 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.

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'Umilta, Via dell'Umilta 30, 00187, Rome, Italy (tel. 690-0189).

Admittance to audiences is completely free of charge and only depends on number of requests. Reservations can also be personally booked and obtained directly in St. Peter's Square (Prefettura pontificia - Porta Sant'Anna, bronze portal, right columns).

Invitations can be reserved for free from Prefettura Pontificia via fax too at (0039) 06-6988.5863 (address to "Prefettura della Casa Pontificia - Citta' del Vaticano" and ask for confirmation at (0039) 06-6988.3017); you can also try to directly phone at same number. Prefettura's offices are open on every working day (monday to friday) 09:00 to 13:00 local time (GMT+1). Invitation "tickets" can be then obtained the day before the audience or in the early morning of the same day of the audience, at Prefettura (no queues; obviously most principal languages are spoken).

Although it is known that some commerce has been made about these "tickets", it has to be recalled that no one has ever had any special authorisation or contract with Vatican State to "sell" tickets or otherwise gain any other advantage than a grateful smile for helping in practical delivery. What here above refers to "public audiences", held on every Wednesday at Sala Nervi (Aula Paolo VI); for private audiences, which would eventually need to be justified by crucial reasons, contact local embassy (Nunziatura apostolica).


Please consider that Vatican City, with all its pertinences, is a holy place; some behaviour prudence is welcomed, like for instance:

During ceremonies, silence is required unless for choral prayers. Disturbing people will be accompanied out of the territory of Vatican State; in case of serious offence, troublemakers will be taken by Italian police and might be asked to abandon Italy.


Country name:
conventional long form: The Holy See (State of the Vatican City)
conventional short form: Holy See (Vatican City)
local long form: Santa Sede (Stato della Citta del Vaticano)
local short form: Santa Sede (Citta del Vaticano)

Data code: VT

Government type: monarchical-sacerdotal state - a non-hereditary elective monarchy

Capital: Vatican City

Independence: 11 February 1929 (from Italy)

National holiday: Installation Day of the Pope (John Paul II), 22 October (1978)

Constitution: Apostolic Constitution of 1967 (effective 1 March 1968)

Legal system: NA

Suffrage: limited to cardinals less than 80 years old

Executive branch:
chief of state: Pope JOHN PAUL II (since 16 October, 1978)
head of government: Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo SODANO (since 2 December, 1990)
cabinet: Pontifical Commission appointed by the pope
elections: pope elected for life by the College of Cardinals; election last held 16 October 1978 (next to be held after the death of the current pope); secretary of state appointed by the pope
election results: Karol Wojtyla elected pope

Legislative branch: unicameral Pontifical Commission

Judicial branch: Raffaello Funghini, Dean of the Sacred Roman Rota (an ecclesiastical court) was appointed president of the court of appeal of Vatican City State in December 2003; many judicial functions are normally handled by Italy

Political parties and leaders: none

Political pressure groups and leaders: none (exclusive of influence exercised by church officers)

International organization participation: IAEA, ICFTU, Intelsat, IOM (observer), ITU, NAM (guest), OAS (observer), OPCW, OSCE, UN (observer), UNCTAD, UNHCR, UPU, WIPO, WToO (observer)

Flag description: two vertical bands of yellow (hoist side) and white with the crossed keys of Saint Peter and the papal miter centered in the white band


See also : Vatican City