[Opinion] A conflict of interest?
By Matthew Epsom
January 31, 2021
One of New Zealand's diplomatic relations is actually not with another country, but with a peculiar legal corporate person under international law called the Holy See.
The Holy See is often mistakenly referred to as the Vatican. However, the Vatican and the Holy See are not the same things.
Vatican City is a sovereign country whose ruler happens to be the pope. The pope has absolute unchecked power within his realm which makes Vatican City the world's only elected non-hereditary absolute monarchy, and the pope, effectively, a king.
The reason why we seldom hear about the king of Vatican City is because while pope and king are two distinct offices, they just happen to be occupied by the same person at the same time.
The pope is also bishop of Rome, but because he is pope, he has a special throne with its own special name called the Holy See. This throne oversees all other thrones of Catholic bishops worldwide. It effectively constitutes the universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the worldwide Catholic Church. In other words, the Holy See is the authority and structure of the Catholic Church operating across the globe.
Catholic tradition claims that the Holy See was founded in the first century by saints Peter and Paul. But Mussolini actually created the current entity when he struck a deal with Pope Pius XI in 1929, giving the land of Vatican City to the Catholic Church. What the Pope and Mussolini created was a legal corporate person in international law with a sovereign geographical territory, Vatican City, under its jurisdiction.
To better explain this phenomenon, by way of analogy, imagine that a powerful international company had a CEO who convinced the New Zealand Crown to give one of its islands to the company. The CEO then made that island a new country and established himself as absolute monarch. He then moved his corporate headquarters to the island so that the company's global outreach could benefit the country, and the laws of the country could benefit the company. As for himself, depending on the situation, sometimes it's good to be CEO of the company, and other times it's good to be king of the country.
So the next time you hear the words “Holy See”, think Catholic Church Incorporated in which the pope is its CEO. And when someone speaks of the Vatican as the Catholic Church's government and global outreach, think Holy See.
But the odd thing about this setup is the fact that the Holy See maintains special bilateral diplomatic relations with about 180 sovereign states, including New Zealand. It also performs multilateral diplomacy with multiple intergovernmental organisations. In other words, New Zealand recognises the company — the Catholic Church Incorporated — and not the country, Vatican City. We also sign concordats and treaties with that global company.
Stranger still, the Holy See claims a need to exercise its mission in full freedom when dealing with every interlocutor. Though because of its history and influence, such claims have never been subjected to any critical examination. Thus, the Holy See has been able to escape the scrutiny applied to all sovereign states, one of which it is not.
In fact, the Holy See, otherwise Catholic Church Incorporated, has been able to use all the privileges granted to it by real states to hide a multitude of very serious crimes, the most odious being the systemic rape of helpless and innocent children by its priests, bishops and even cardinals around the world, and the cover-up of those crimes.
Therefore, as New Zealand's Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care looks into what happened to children, young people and adults at risk in the care of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, perhaps the commission could investigate the Holy See's non-compliance with international conventions in respect of child abuse by its personnel, along with the role of the Catholic Church's laws and internal regulations in impeding child protection, and even its insurance contracts being used to indemnify itself against legal liability from survivor complaints — not to mention how “Te Houhanga Rongo/A Path To Healing”, the NZ Catholic Church's redress scheme for victims of clergy and religious sexual abuse, helps the Church, rather than the victims.
Let's see if the commission would recommend that the Government break ties with such a criminal organisation operating in our country, claiming tax exemptions while it has used its diplomatic immunity and other privileges to hide its crimes and shield its paedophiles.
If our Government would perform such a courageous and honourable act, then New Zealand would become the first country in the world to get it right. If it doesn't, then even the Government itself could be complicit in the Catholic Church's systemic child sexual abuse scandal, ongoing coverup, and deception.