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October 1, 2012 4:16 AM   Subscribe

It’s a good story because of the Vatican’s proverbial secrecy and intrigue and because of its ambiguity between its role as an international political and economic power and its claim to spiritual and ethical leadership. Mix that with the pedophile priest scandals (none in the Vatican itself so far but plenty of accusations of cover-ups) and not surprisingly, there is good copy for all.

James Walston, who teaches at the American University in Rome, writes a blog which regularly provides illuminating insight into the confusing byways of Italian politics. This week he proved equally adept in untangling the story behind a trial opening in the Vatican, concluding that it will still be a trial worth following closely for what is said and for what is not said.


The BBC's veteran Vatican-watcher David Willey also has a helpful take on the mysterious leak.
posted by aqsakal (30 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of the things that became very clear as the molestation scandal unfolded is that the Church never stopped regarding istelf as a law unto itself; from evidence such as the Pope's description of police questioning priests as disrespectful to the sovereignty of the Vatican, it is clear that those who run the Church regard themselves very much as the heads of a state, accountable only to themselves. Both the molestation scandal and the banking scandals are exactly the sorts of things people get up to when they believe themselves to be above any laws.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:43 AM on October 1, 2012 [18 favorites]


epon... it'd be funnier if the whole culture surrounding the scandals wasn't so awful.
posted by efalk at 4:46 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"One of the things that became very clear as the molestation scandal unfolded is that the Church never stopped regarding istelf as a law unto itself; from evidence such as the Pope's description of police questioning priests as disrespectful to the sovereignty of the Vatican, it is clear that those who run the Church regard themselves very much as the heads of a state, accountable only to themselves. Both the molestation scandal and the banking scandals are exactly the sorts of things people get up to when they believe themselves to be above any laws."

Well, in a very real sense they aren't wrong, the Vatican always has been above any laws but their own.

The sovereignty of the Vatican does in fact predate international banking laws, meaningfully independant secular judiciary systems, and the concept of the state itself by at least four fold. Similarly cannon law predates any extant western system of civil law by at least a factor of two. The Vatican has been both de jure and de facto, with various notable exeptions, above the interference of civil law since before there was such a thing as any of the systems of civil law we have today.

Obviously this needs to change as, acting as a state, the Vatican has proven itself incapable of regulating a banking system capable of honestly interfacing with the rest of the world and should be treated either like a quasi-rogue state ala Swiss banking bullshit or, acting as an NGO, like a quasi-criminal enterprise ala the various banks complicit in Mexican cartel money laundering. Similarly, we should expect our governments to hold the Vatican accountable for the actions of its representatives by either treating it like a state and asking for a list of all of the associates it expects extraterritorial treatment for, and expelling all those complicit in criminal behavior while prosecuting those not on the list, or by treating it as an NGO and simply prosecuting all of those complicit in criminal activity.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:15 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Geoffrey Robertson (the well-known human rights lawyer) disputes the validity of the Vatican's claim to sovereignty, given that it does not meet the definitions of a sovereign state.
posted by acb at 6:47 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ambrose of Milan has a lot to answer for.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:52 AM on October 1, 2012


The Vatican can be a sovereign nation but that doesn't mean the Church has to be. Priests don't have diplomatic immunity, right?
posted by DU at 6:53 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


As I mentioned in a previous VC thread, since everyone that lives there is aware of the various scandals and is doing either cover-up or pushback, it's the only nation with a 100% crime rate.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:09 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


As I mentioned in a previous VC thread, since everyone that lives there is aware of the various scandals and is doing either cover-up or pushback, it's the only nation with a 100% crime rate.

I am skeptical that the entire Swiss Guard is actively covering up the crimes of the Vatican beyond its role in supporting the state just like any military or police force.
posted by Copronymus at 7:25 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am skeptical that the entire Swiss Guard is actively covering up the crimes of the Vatican beyond its role in supporting the state just like any military or police force.

Not to mention the officers and NCO's who have wives and children who live in the Vatican.
posted by Jahaza at 7:29 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


it is clear that those who run the Church regard themselves very much as the heads of a state

Since the Pope is a head of state, he'd be quite deluded if he didn't recognize himself as such.

the Pope's description of police questioning priests as disrespectful to the sovereignty of the Vatican

Cite?

Give that there's quite a paucity of Google results for the string "Pope police disrespectful" I'm thinking that's your gloss on something, rather than an actual opionion expressed by the Pope.
posted by Jahaza at 7:36 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The sovereignty of the Vatican does in fact predate international banking laws, meaningfully independant secular judiciary systems, and the concept of the state itself by at least four fold. Similarly cannon law predates any extant western system of civil law by at least a factor of two. The Vatican has been both de jure and de facto, with various notable exeptions, above the interference of civil law since before there was such a thing as any of the systems of civil law we have today.

Well, yes, perhaps, but perhaps not. They did built it on the corpus of Roman law and Greek philosophy though.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:47 AM on October 1, 2012


"Give that there's quite a paucity of Google results for the string "Pope police disrespectful" I'm thinking that's your gloss on something, rather than an actual opionion expressed by the Pope."

Jahaza, I think Pope Guilty was referencing this from the Wikileaks release. (WARNING WIKILEAKS MATERIEL) Here is a link to the State Department cable being referenced (WARNING WIKILEAKS MATERIEL). So, it is an American Diplomat's opinion of the Vatican's position and indeed not a sentiment ever publically expressed by the Pope.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:49 AM on October 1, 2012


And in regards to the 'concept of the state' you're going to have to define your terms somewhat more distinctly. After all Athenians and Spartans, (and Thebans, Phoencians, etc) were all regarding themselves as discrete political communities well before the Christian era.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:55 AM on October 1, 2012


Priests don't have diplomatic immunity, right?

The Vatican has tried to assert diplomatic immunity to priests. IMHO if the priests want to renounce their citizenship they can be deported as persona non grata. The problem will eventually solve itself once Vatican City is full of pedophiles.
posted by Talez at 7:55 AM on October 1, 2012


"Well, yes, perhaps, but perhaps not. They did built it on the corpus of Roman law and Greek philosophy though."

Roman Law is not an extant legal system, and has no direct connection to any that exist today aside from perhaps cannon law. While cannon law incorperated legal precidents and various concepts from Roman Law, and Greek philosophy prevaded just about anything written down at the time, it was founded primarily based on the result of the Council of Jerusalem, the Epistels of Paul, and the sayings of Jesus.

"And in regards to the 'concept of the state' you're going to have to define your terms somewhat more distinctly."

In 1648, Westphalian sovereignty became a thing.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:14 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well forgive me if I'm wrong here, but I'm not that sure that cannon law was too influential on either Common law jurisprudence being based in Germanic customary law, or Civil law jurisprudence which traces its origin to the Napoleonic code, which was constructed in 'perceptions' at least to be drawing upon Classical precedent. But was very much intended to be a revitalisation of the pax roma.

My point here is tangential, I'm a bit tired of people claiming things for the judeo-christian nexus for ideas that were much older and in many cases better understood. Aquinas would have had not much to say without Aristotle.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:35 AM on October 1, 2012


And as yet another aside, the political recognition of a 'state' does not preclude the notion of a state being a political reality. FFS we live in a world where Macedonia has to call itself the 'Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia' in formal situations. I went to school with a bunch of Macedonians, they were pretty sure of there heritage.


I'll just point over there to the Catalans.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:49 AM on October 1, 2012


Just to make a clarification:

"Cannon Law" is about shooting an artillery piece.

When one is discussing the rules of the Church, it's canon law.

Continue.
posted by mephron at 9:00 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Geoffrey Robertson (the well-known human rights lawyer) disputes the validity of the Vatican's claim to sovereignty, given that it does not meet the definitions of a sovereign state.

Note: There is the Holy See, and the Vatican City State. They are *not* the same thing, and the former is vastly older than the latter.

Dispute all you want, it's meaningless. The simple fact is this -- you are sovereign as long as enough countries around you agree that you are and as long as you can prevent other countries from coming in and taking that sovereignty away.

And it's very clear that most countries do consider the Holy See a sovereign nation, and really the only one who can rapidly take that away is Italy, unless you want to conquer Italy first.

The sovereign status of the Vatican City State is beyond dispute, having been established as such by the Lateran Treaty of 1929. This treaty also has Italy recognizing the Holy See as a sovereign state.

The Vatican has tried to assert diplomatic immunity to priests.

There are certain members of the the Holy See's diplomatic corps who in fact have diplomatic immunity, having been accepted as an accredited diplomat. Indeed, the Holy See has one of the busiest, and oldest, diplomatic corps in the world.

Diplomats of the Holy See and Papal Envoys carry diplomatic passports of the Holy See, which (as an intestate entity) only issues diplomatic and service passports. This is not the same as a Vatican City State passport, which are issued to citizens of the Vatican City State. You can hold a service passport from the Holy See without holding a Vatican City State passport. There are three sets of people that make up the citizenry of the Vatican City State -- Cardinals resident in the Vatican, or in Rome, diplomats of the Holy See, and persons residing in the Vatican City State because of their office/service to the VCS or to the Holy See. The first two are automatic, the last group is granted citizenship.

And, finally, to gain diplomatic protection, you have to present your accreditation as a diplomat to the host country, who will either reject you (in which case, you have 48 hours to leave, this is often extended if there are actual travel issues) or accept you as a diplomat. It is only at that time that diplomatic immunity comes into force. Declaring that someone already present is actually a diplomat does not work -- esp. when the passport they're currently holding isn't from the nation declaring you a diplomat.
posted by eriko at 10:27 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, 'cannon law' is the one the Americans impose on the world. 'Canon law' is imposed by the Vatican.
posted by Malor at 10:52 AM on October 1, 2012


"Cannon Law" is about shooting an artillery piece.

When one is discussing the rules of the Church, it's canon law.


And a canon cannon is used for distributing papal bulls and encyclicals at large sporting events.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:55 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The two-N canon, he's a priest
The three-N cannon disturbs the peace
And I will bet a side of gammon
There isn't any four-N cannnon

(after Nash's musing on South American mammals and Tibetian priests. Who lost his bet, after being informed of a 'three alarmer', being a blaze sufficient to merit three fire tenders)
posted by Devonian at 11:12 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Having just been caught red handed, I suppose it won't mean much, or do anything to re-rail the thread, when I declare my present belief that spelling trolls are the worst variety.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:42 AM on October 1, 2012


Well, honestly, I'm not sure we'd have had a long, detailed discussion on this one anyway, because I don't think there's anyone on the side of the Vatican.

And we're not spelling trolls, we're wrong word trolls, which are a far, far superior species.
posted by Malor at 2:03 PM on October 1, 2012


Well, honestly, I'm not sure we'd have had a long, detailed discussion on this one anyway, because I don't think there's anyone on the side of the Vatican.

Oh Metafilter, you never cease to condescend.
posted by Jahaza at 3:48 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Civil law jurisprudence which traces its origin to the Napoleonic code

Wasn't civil law descended from the legal code of the Roman Empire?
posted by acb at 4:20 PM on October 1, 2012


Finally, a legit reason to quote the Treaty of Westphalia on MeFi :)

The post from the Italian politics blog mentions that the Vatican is on the EU's list of possible money launderers - does anyone have further information on this? I wasn't aware of it previously.
posted by harriet vane at 7:43 PM on October 1, 2012


And I will bet a side of gammon

I would've gone with "And I will bet a lot of Mammon", myself.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:34 PM on October 1, 2012


Spiegel Online on the money laundering.
posted by mephron at 10:28 PM on October 1, 2012


Thanks mephron!
posted by harriet vane at 10:41 PM on October 2, 2012


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