Church and State

The odd and questionable custom of the United States having an ambassador to a church continues. Miguel Diaz has been formally welcomed by Pope Benedict XVI. And let’s not play games and imagine that we send an ambassador to the Vatican because it is a “country.” We send an ambassador not to a square mile with a population of 900 people, but to a church with a billion members–of which this ambassador is always one. Benedict knows this. That’s why his address to Diaz is about what “the Church”–especially “the Church in the United States”–must do and say. He underscored the moral vision the [Catholic] Church must uphold and teach–acting then as a teacher to a docile student.

The same teacher/student relationship is apparent each year at Red Masses around the country, which honor the legal profession and give bishops the opportunity to instruct lawyers and judges in the Catholic Church’s moral teaching. No Red Mass has a higher profile than the one in Washington, DC, which traditionally attracts many of the members of the Supreme Court. CNN notes that some have a problem with it. Ruth Bader Ginsberg says, “”I went one year, and I will never go again, because this sermon was outrageously anti-abortion.” She was shocked, shocked!–that they were teaching Catholic doctrine.

3 thoughts on “Church and State

  1. Fun fact: The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, aka Knights of Malta, is a recognized sovereign in international law and hosts ambassadors from most of Europe (minus the British Isles and Scandinavia), all of Latin America except Mexico, much of Africa, and Thailand, Cambodia, and even Afghanistan. It has permanent observer status in the UN, just like the Vatican. Its only territorial claims are two buildings with extraterritoriality in Italy, which is even less than the complete political independence of the Vatican City-State.

    And an interesting question: Suppose sea levels rise 10 feet, swamping the Maldives and Kiribati and threatening many other small island nations. Would these nations that have no territory remain sovereign? Do the governments of these nations become illegitimate simply because they control no territory?

    And if they don’t, just what does define sovereignty?

  2. Certainly many people agree with you. (I learned this stuff recently while researching my law review note topic, on suing the Holy See). I think the PLO was denied sovereign immunity over this very issue, IIRC.

    But, that hasn’t always been the definition of sovereignty, as the SMOM shows. And governments or monarchs that were once sovereign tend to remain sovereign. Think of exiled kings such as James II of England, who maintained a royal retinue and entertained ambassadors after his deposition in 1689. And the SMOM, which used to rule Rhodes and then Malta. I know the Teutonic Knights also maintained sovereign status long after they were kicked out of Prussia and Pomerania.

    Hence, my question about possibly drowned nations in the future.

    So, while the Holy See (the proper sovereign entity, not the Vatican, which technically is not sovereign and may actually be considered a feudal domain) is unusual, it is not unique in the history of international law.

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