Pope Francis and the Holy See

St. Peter's Square in the Vatican
St. Peter's Square in the Vatican

From the point of view of International Law, the Holy See - or Apostolic See - consists of the person of the Supreme Pontiff, the Pope, in his capacity as head of the Catholic Church.

The Holy See is a subject of International Law, endowed with autonomy and independence: as such it enjoys the native right to enter into relations with other international subjects and to participate in diplomatic activity.

In the field of diplomacy and international relations, the body that helps the Pope carry out this mission is the Secretariat of State, from which all the Pontifical Representations scattered throughout the world depend directly. These latter take the name of Apostolic Nunciatures and are diplomatic representations - real embassies - permanently established in States.

In particular, the Pope maintains diplomatic relations with those countries in which the Catholic Church is in some way present. Diplomatic relations are one of the ways in which the Roman Pontiff carries out his task of governing and serving the Universal Church: in the context of the legitimate independence between State and Church, they are an opportunity to promote mutual contact and mutual understanding, for the protection and promotion of peace, respect, and brotherhood.

In the history of diplomacy, the Holy See was the first ever to open stable diplomatic representations: from the 5th century AD, the Roman Popes had the custom of sending their own Ambassador, with the name Apocrisarius or Responsalis, to the imperial court of Constantinople. Later on, with the general spread of modern diplomacy in the Renaissance era, the Holy See's first permanent legations were exchanged with the Holy Roman Empire (1513) and the Kingdom of Portugal (1514).

The Holy See currently maintains diplomatic relations with 189 countries around the world, plus the European Union. It also has its own Permanent Representative to 25 International Governmental Organizations and 7 International Non-Governmental Organizations.