Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The Holy See, as personified by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, has acquired significant international status over the centuries. In modern times it has not always been clear whether this status arises from the Holy See's status as head of the Church or as ruler of the tiny State of Vatican City. Some view the Holy See's unique international status as an exception to the general rule that only states participate in international affairs. The Holy See has acquired such recognition and authority primarily because of its long-standing involvement in world affairs over the last thousand years. Others disagree, however, and particularly object to the Holy See's status as Permanent Observer at the United Nations. They argue that the Holy See acts solely as a religious authority in the United Nations, a body where membership is supposed to be limited to independent states.

This Note discusses the possibility that another religion could form a new, independent, international state following the model of the Holy See and the Vatican City, thereby seeking to establish equivalent rights and authority in world affairs. The centuries-old influence of the Holy See in world affairs is an essential aspect of its unique status and continued authority. This Note first explores the historical background and current status of the Holy See, the State of Vatican City, and the Roman Catholic Church. The Montevideo Convention's definition of a "state" in international affairs is examined and applied to the Vatican City. Next, the considerations recently used by the international community when recognizing a new state are explored. The Note concludes that while the Vatican City is certainly an exception to the traditional requirements for statehood, no other religion could attempt to use the Holy See as a model for successfully gaining acceptance in international affairs.