Friday, February 01, 2013

The US and the Vatican

by Edd Doerr (

This letter was published in the National Catholic Reporter on Feb 1, 2013 ----

"Why send a Catholic?"

"Since the Reagan administration formalized diplomatic relations with the Holy See, all of our ambassadors have been Catholic. Doesn't this seem to conflict with the US Constitution's  ban
on religious tests for public office? We do not send Jewish envoys to Israel, Hindus to India, Muslims to Egypt, or Buddhists to Sri Lanka. How about a non-Catholic envoy to the Holy See?

"Edd Doerr, Silver Spring, Md"

Well, someone is sure to ask if the US should have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. (The Vatican is a 106 acre artificial state in Rome which has  relations only with Italy; the Holy See is the entity that has diplomatic relations with nearly all countries and is simply the HQ of the Roman Catholic Church.) On Feb 9, 1984, I testified against US diplomatic relations with the Holy See at a congressional hearing on behalf of Americans for Religious Liberty, the Unitarian Universalist Association. the Council for Secular Humanism, the American Ethical Union and the American Humanist Association. My oral and written testimony, from the Congressional Record, is reprinted in my 2006 book Here I Stand. The church-state separation side lost in Congress. After Reagan opened  formal relations with the Holy See in 1984 I was one of the many plaintiffs in a Supreme Court challenge to the arrangement. We lost on grounds of lack of "standing to sue" and foreign policy considerations. Later, as president of the AHA, I helped get the International Humanist and Ethical Union to support the "See Change" campaign by Catholics for Choice and other liberal Catholic groups to get the UN to terminate the Holy See's unique status as the only religious organization that has permanent observer status at the UN General Assembly, which it uses to block international efforts to deal with family planning and overpopulation.

Background: From 756 to 1870 the Papal States in central Italy was a recognized state, a badly governed theocracy. It was absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy in 1870 with the approval of the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants. Though no longer a state, the Holy See nonetheless concluded dubious treaties, called concordats, with a number of nations, such as Colombia. In 1927 the Mussolini dictatorship created the 106 acre Vatican City (Citta del Vaticano) independence for political reasons. The Holy See in 1933 concluded a concordat with Germany's Nazi government, the first treaty the Nazis achieved and allowed (authorized?) the German  Catholic Center Party to vote with the Nazis to grant Hitler plenary power.

After WW II President Truman considered extending US diplomatic relations to the Holy See, but this met with widespread opposition and fizzled. During WW II Roosevelt had a "personal" representative at the Vatican, but, after all, we were in the midst of a war. Reagan resurrected the idea.

So the Holy See remains the only church with which the US has formal diplomatic relations. I am of the opinion still that this violates the First Amendment, discriminates against all other religions and lifestances, and is actually an insult to Catholics and all other Americans. But, like a fishhook in one's finger, it is easier to get in than get out.

Meanwhile, all Americans who value religious freedom and church-state separation must, MUST, work together to stop or reverse the erosion of church-state separation being pushed through diversion of public funds to church-related private schools, fundamentalist infiltration of public schools, restrictions on reproductive choice, and related matters.


Don Wharton said...

I love the creativity that you bring to the church/state issue. Who else would have imagined getting this letter published in the National Catholic Reporter? The detailed grasp of history is also an important part of your effectiveness.

Edd.Doerr said...

Don, you ain't seen nuthin yet. I'll soon post a review of an Australian book.