VATICAN CITY (EWTN News/CNA)—Pope Benedict XVI used his address to the new ambassador from the Netherlands to outline how the Catholic Church views its role in diplomatic relations.
“In acting as a voice for the voiceless and defending the rights of the defenseless, including the poor, the sick, the unborn, the elderly and the members of minority groups who suffer unjust discrimination,” said Pope Benedict, “the Church seeks always to promote natural justice, as it is her right and duty to do.”
Although the terms “Vatican state” and “Holy See” are often used interchangeably, they are very different things.
According to international law and diplomatic custom, it is the Holy See and not the Vatican city-state that is the recognized “legal personality” of the worldwide pastoral ministry of the bishop of Rome as head of the Catholic Church. Therefore, the Holy See existed for centuries as a diplomatic entity before the creation of the Vatican city-state in 1929.
And it is the Holy See, not the Vatican city-state, which exchanges diplomatic representations with 179 countries and is also represented at many intergovernmental bodies, including the European Union and the United Nations.
Pope Benedict explained to the new Dutch ambassador, Joseph Weterings, that the relationship between the Holy See and other states was “clearly of a different character from those between nation-states.”
“The Holy See is not an economic or military power,” he said, yet “its moral voice exerts considerable influence around the world.”
The reason for this influence, said the Pope, was precisely because the unchanging moral stance of the Holy See “is unaffected by the political or economic interests of a nation-state or the electoral concerns of a political party.”
Its contribution to international diplomacy, therefore, consists “largely in articulating the ethical principles that ought to underpin the social and political order” and also “in drawing attention to the need for action to remedy violations of such principles.”
Obviously, the opinions of the Holy See are drawn “from the standpoint of the Christian faith,” but “Christianity has always pointed to reason and nature as the sources of the norms on which a state of law should be built,” the Pope said to the ambassador.
Therefore, the Holy See conducts its diplomacy not on “confessional nor on pragmatic grounds,” but on the basis of “universally applicable principles that are as real as the physical elements of the natural environment,” he said.
With specific reference to the Netherlands, the Pope praised the Dutch government’s promotion of religious freedom which, he said, was “a matter of particular concern to the Holy See at the present time.”
The Dutch government is currently investigating the creation of a body to monitor religious freedom at home and abroad, similar to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Since 2010, the government of the Netherlands has consisted of a coalition of center-right and Christian democrat parties led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. It is presently trying to change the country’s liberal laws on drug use and prostitution. The Pope praised both these initiatives.
“While your nation has long championed the freedom of individuals to make their own choices, nevertheless, those choices by which people inflict harm on themselves or others must be discouraged, for the good of individuals and society as a whole,” he said.
Catholics make up about 25% of the Netherland’s population of 16 million, making it the country’s largest religious group.