Diritto e Religione nelle Società Multiculturali/ Law and Religion in Multicultural Societies/ Derecho y Religión en las Sociedades Multiculturales/ Droit et Religion dans les Sociétés Multiculturelles/ Recht und Religion in Multikulturellen Gesellschaften/ 多元化社会中的法与宗教 / القانون والدين في المجتمعات متعددة الثقافات

by Matteo Carnì *

1. The smallest State in the world and Covid-19 emergency

The quick and aggressive outbreak from Covid-19 that spread across the planet did not spare Vatican City, the smallest State in the world created in 1929 to guarantee the Holy See “absolute independence for the fulfillment of His high mission in the world”.

The finalistic element underlying the institution of Vatican City allows us to understand the qualifications of the Civitas Vaticana that have been offered over time: State-medium, Instrumental State, Apparatus State. This naturally does not detract from the character of a true State that it possesses, nor does it undermine that purpose which is proper and characteristic of every political society, namely the pursuit of the common good of the affiliates.

Vatican City is developed in an area of ​​just 0.44 square kilometers, inside the city of Rome. This is unique reality compared to other traditional constitutive elements of each state, namely the people and sovereignty[1].

The Vatican people is composed by Vatican citizens. Vatican citizenship, which is granted for the free determination of sovereign authority, is a functional citizenship, issued mainly from the office covered by each citizen in the Vatican State or in the Roman Curia.

Vatican sovereignty belongs to the Holy See, understood in the most restricted sense of the Roman Pontiff. The Pope is in fact the absolute monarch, bringing together all the powers (legislative, executive and judicial), even if ordinarily he does not exercise them directly but through the permanent entrustment to organs that, with distinct competences, perform the related functions.

We are in the presence of a single state reality, in which there is no real stable population and no social classes and political or cultural currents. Hence the inopportunity of any definition of Vatican City as a theocratic or hierocratic state since the Civitas Vaticana, while presenting a priestly caste in a pre-eminent position with respect to citizens, is nothing but a “great ecclesiastical apparatus that governs itself”, without therefore oppress their own population in the name of a certain religious creed as happens instead in true theocratic states[2].

To the aforementioned constitutive characteristics of the state is also added the fact that no productive activities are found in Civitas Vaticana, in fact there is a public monopoly of economic activity.

2. Covid-19 crosses the Vatican walls

The normal and daily contacts between Italy and Civitas Vaticana, on various institutional, work and religious occasions, have allowed the outbreak of the  virus rapidly cross the Vatican walls, making the boundaries between the two state realities imperceptible precisely because of the nature of the enclave that characterizes the Vatican City, entirely surrounded by Italian territory.

The actual[3] cases of infection, between Vatican citizens and employees of the Holy See, are eight.

A small number if compared to the large and sad numbers of the various European states and the rest of the world.  It appears even less if we consider the large flow of people who pass through the Vatican’s daily access for work reasons. Think also of the pilgrims and tourists who visited – before the closing measures – St. Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Museums or the numerous Italians who go daily to the Vatican Pharmacy.

Adding  this the continuous flow of people in other “Vatican” properties,   mostly located in the immediate vicinity of the Vatican State – in which many Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and connected to the Holy See.
It is therefore evident “that contiguity of personal and legal relationships that connects both sides of the Tevere river, and that commonality of language, habits, lifestyle, which constitutes the substratum of all true familiarity. It follows, for example, that very few of those who cross the imaginary line that unites the two ends of Bernini’s colonnade in St. Peter’s Square psychologically warn that they are crossing the border between two states. […] Too many links between the Vatican, the Roman reality, the Italian Church, ecclesiastical institutions and civil institutions, which end up favoring the dense network of contacts, exchanges of opinions and proposals, which make the two realities close and almost intimate, one to the other”[4].

The concerns arising from Covid-19 that animate the Vatican City State seem – at first sight – to be the same as those that are afflicting the other state realities of the world, all aimed at protecting the health and life of the affiliates.
Whether it is the Holy See or ecclesiastical authorities at national and local level, there is therefore the sharing – by the entire Catholic Church – of the just concerns of civil authorities towards “situations such as the one in which it is in play the good health and the good life of every single person, as well as the common good of the whole society”[5].

3. Covid-19 and legislative / administrative measures in Vatican City State

The Pope’s state has been able to react to the Covid-19 emergency with promptness and determination, adopting numerous measures in coordination with those launched by the Italian authorities[6]. It should be stressed that these are measures which are sometimes of a regulatory nature, sometimes of an administrative nature.

As for the former, think of the Rescriptum ex audientia Sanctissimi, and its annex, with which some extraordinary and urgent measures have been issued to counter the epidemiological emergency from Covid-19 and contain the negative effects on the conduct of judicial activity. The suspension of all procedural activities in progress at the judicial offices of the SCV was therefore ordered, as well as the related limitation and forfeiture terms, then providing for exceptions with regard to the internal investigative activity and more generally prior to the hearing and with regard to those procedures that need to be treated for urgent reasons[7]. This is basically a regulatory provision adopted directly by the Holy Father as monarch of the state, and therefore not by the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State which usually exercises the legislative power which the Pontiff is in any case owner of.

The measures adopted of an administrative nature, think of the provisions that already on February 25 the Health and Hygiene Directorate of the Governorate of the Vatican City State sent electronically for the prevention and spread of the Covid-19 infection, to be poste in the places of work and at the entrance of services open to the public. Or to the provisions of the same Health and Hygiene Department which have re-proposed those prudential containment measures adopted by most States[8].

It should be noted how similar provisions were adopted through administrative measures by one of the Departments that make up the Governorate of the Vatican City State and therefore not by resorting to those provisions having the force of law that the President of the Pontifical Commission for the State Vatican City has the power to enact in cases of necessity and urgency.

By extending the radius of action to the entire Roman Curia and to the entities connected to the Holy See[9], the first section of the Secretariat of State has released some special rules to be observed by proposing even more drastic rules of prudence for Civitas Vaticana and for extra-territorial[10] buildings, considering the extent of the infection[11].

This resulted in the closure, as a precaution, of the Vatican Museums, the Excavation Office, the Museum of the Pontifical Villas and the museum centers of the pontifical basilicas[12], and, a few days later, the closure of the Piazza and the Basilica of San Pietro and the opening with contingent entrances to the Vatican Pharmacy and Annona supermarket[13].

The provision of the Papal Secretariat on the one hand notes that the containment measures “impact on the private and working life of Vatican employees”, on the other it explicitly states that “it trusts in the sense of responsibility of each in the adoption of all measures [ …] indicated to protect one’s own health and that of the whole working community”[14].

The statements made by the Secretariat of State may seem obvious, completely coinciding with what is foreseen by other States, but it assumes – for the Vatican working reality -an additional value since the employment relationship with the Holy See and the Vatican City State goes beyond the traditional concept of labor[15].

As sustained by John Paul II in the letter to Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, those who work for the Holy See and the Vatican City State constitute a singular community that operates “sub umbra Petri“, in such immediate contact with the Apostolic See. Beyond the duties carried out, each worker participates “truly in the one and unceasing activity of the Apostolic See, that is, in that «concern for all the Churches»  […] in a primary measure […] the prerogative of the successors of St. Peter in the Roman See”[16].

In such a scenario of service to the Apostolic See there is also the decision – to “ensure essential services to the Universal Church” – to keep the dicasteries and entities of the Holy See and of the Vatican City State open, in coordination with the Secretariat of State[17], applying at the same time all the sanitary norms and flexibility mechanisms at work established by the Papal Secretariat such as delocalized work, limiting the movements of the employees[18].

Despite the appropriate precautionary measures, the opening of the various Dicasteries and institutions – continuing only with essential and mandatory activities – has guaranteed, and guarantees, the exercise of the Petrine ministry[19].

4. Economic consequences deriving from Covid-19 in Vatican City State

As for the disastrous economic consequences deriving from Covid-19, with reference to the situation of some enclave states, such as the Co-Principality of Andorra and the Principality of Monaco, it has been argued that the aforementioned micro-states “because of their limited territorial scope and without potential shock absorbers due to their belonging to over-state containers such as the EU, are afraid emerge from this terrible pandemic economically shattered and broken in their identity structure”[20].

What is expected for the Vatican City State, which is an enclave of Italy and the European Union?

Any reflection in this regard must take into due consideration the peculiarities of the Vatican City State, an enclave State which can only be assimilated in part to the aforementioned micro-states since in the Civitas Vaticana, where, among other things, there is a public monopoly on economic activity, it is not there are productive activities.
The Holy See and Vatican City State also find themselves operating in hoc mundo like Italy and other states and remain subject to the same contingent concerns, including economic and financial ones[21]. Think of the decrease in revenues deriving from the temporary closure of the Vatican Museums, whose sale of entrance tickets is one of the most important revenues for the State[22].

5. Old and new bonds of solidarity between the Holy See, Vatican City State and Italy

In other respects, the Covid-19 emergency has strengthened the bonds of solidarity between the Holy See, Vatican City State and Italy, ancient bonds that have always involved Italy and the Holy See in “mutual collaboration for the promotion of man and the good of the country”, as stated in the first article of the Agreement of Villa Madama.
A first bond of solidarity is found precisely in the timely adaptation of the Italian legislation by the Vatican City State, however without formally transposing the Italian provisions, but on the basis of Vatican regulatory and administrative provisions in line with the Italian ones[23]. This solidarity has made it possible to avoid the creation – through the invocation of concepts such as sovereignty and independence – of the areas totally free from the common struggle against Covid-19 such that they cannot contain the spread of the epidemic.
Other constraints of solidarity are found in some initiatives adopted by subjects and entities belonging to the Holy See. Think of the willingness manifested by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples[24], owners of the management of the properties of the Holy See, to accept requests for temporary reduction of commercial lease payments, in light of the situations of particular economic suffering that the tenants of properties located in Italy are facing, as a consequence of the measures issued by the Italian Authorities to stem the spread of Covid-19.
Or think of the invitation made by Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, Almoner of His Holiness, to about 250 heads of dicasteries, secretaries and prelates, to donate a monthly salary, as a sign of union with the Holy Father, who will then decide the destination of the collected alms for the Covid-19 health emergency[25].

Another sign of solidarity with Italy, expressed by the Holy See, was the display of flags at half-mast, in mourning, to express their closeness to the victims of the pandemic in Italy and in the world[26].

6. Vatican City State and Covid-19 emergency between God and Pope Francis

Finally, a consideration must be made about the confessional nature of the Vatican City State as a “Catholic State”.

In order to qualify the Civitas Vaticana, this expression indicates a state which, “in its political action and in its right, tends to conform to the teachings of the Church on temporal realities and their regiment. The values ​​conveyed by these teachings certainly animate and support the Vatican order”[27].

Contrary to one of the possible scenarios recently and rhetorically proposed for other states, namely “a West [which] will emerge from the emergency strengthened in its identity as a secularized space, in which the power of science counts most and where religion it survives only as subordinate and residual”[28], for the Holy See and the Vatican City State, awareness of the role of the Catholic religion and other religions remains firm.

The Cardinal Major Penitentiary in the letter to the confessors said that “the social distancing required for health reasons, even if necessary, cannot, nor should ever translate into ecclesial distancing, let alone in theological-sacramental distancing” after specifying that “Mercy does not it stops and God does not distance itself”[29].

Even in the Vatican City State, God does not remain on the edge of the scene.
And certainly Pope Francis, who is the absolute monarch of the Vatican State, is not at the margins of the scene, not at all resigned to the tragic situation that the world is experiencing, and who – in the storm of his controversial pontificate[30] – thinks of his “current responsibilities and in the after that he will come”, to his “service as bishop of Rome, as head of the Church”, living the pandemic in the name of prayer and having as his greatest concern that of “accompanying the people of God and being closer to him”[31].

*Professor of canon law, LUMSA University (Rome)

[1] On constitutive elements, see  G. Dalla Torre, Lezioni di diritto vaticano, Torino, 2018.

[2] C. Cardia, Principi di diritto ecclesiastico. Tradizione europea legislazione italiana, IV ed., Torino, 2019, pp. 308-310.

[3] Holy See Press Office, Bollettino, Comunicato della Sala Stampa,  8th April 2020.

[4]  C. Cardia, La condizione giuridica ex art. 16 Trattato del Laterano del Pontifico Seminario Lombardo (Parere pro rei veritate), in G. Dalla Torre- P. A. Bonnet (a cura di), Annali di diritto vaticano 2017, Città del Vaticano, 2017, pp. 14-15 (my translation).

[5] G. Dalla Torre, Gli ordini dati dello Stato e l’ordine interno della Chiesa, in Avvenire, 22nd March  2020, p. 3 (my translation).

[6] On italian measures, and their influence on the “religious behavior and old-centuries rules that have resisted many other plagues”, see P. Consorti, Religions and virus, in Diresom Papers (www.diresomem.net –  9th March 2020).

On the “new emergency rights” see L. M. Guzzo, Law and Religion during (and after)  Covid-19 Emergency: the law is made for man not man for law, in Diresom Papers (www.diresomem.net – 30th March 2020).

[7] Segreteria di Stato, Rescriptum ex audientia Sanctissimi, 18th March 2020, in L’Osservatore Romano, 20th -21st March 2020, p. 7. (Suspension until 3rd April 2020, later prolonged to 4th May 2020 by a new Rescriptum (1st April 2020, in L’Osservatore Romano, 3rd April 2020, p. 8).

[8] Stato della Città del Vaticano, Governatorato, Direzione di Sanità ed Igiene, Norme per il contenimento dell’infezione da Covid-19, 6th March 2020.

[9] See J. I. Arrieta, Le istituzioni collegate con la Santa Sede, in G. Dalla Torre- P. A. Bonnet (a cura di), Annali di diritto vaticano 2016, Città del Vaticano, 2016, pp. 7-28.

[10] See G. Dalla Torre, L’“extraterritorialità” nel Trattato del Laterano, Torino, 2016.

[11] Segreteria di Stato, Prima sezione – Affari generali, Norme speciali da osservarsi nei Dicasteri e negli altri Enti della Santa Sede o ad essa collegati e nel Governatorato dello Stato della Città del Vaticano, per il contenimento dell’infezione da Covid-19, 8th March 2020.

[12] Holy See Press Office, Bollettino, Comunicato della Sala Stampa, 8th March 2020.

[13] Holy See Press Office, Bollettino, Comunicato della Sala Stampa, 10th March 2020.

[14] Segreteria di Stato, Prima sezione – Affari generali, Norme speciali da osservarsi nei Dicasteri e negli altri Enti della Santa Sede o ad essa collegati e nel Governatorato dello Stato della Città del Vaticano, per il contenimento dell’infezione da Covid-19, 8th March 2020.

[15] See M. Persiani, Il lavoro sub umbra Petri, Pref. di G. Dalla Torre, Roma, 2016.

[16] Giovanni Paolo II, Lettera del Sommo Pontefice circa il significato del lavoro prestato alla Sede Apostolica, 20th  November 1982, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 75 (1983), pp. 119-125. See A. M. Cappelletti, Lettera del beato Giovanni Paolo II circa il significato del lavoro prestato alla Sede Apostolica del 20 novembre 1982, in Scritti in onore di Franco Bolognini, Cosenza, 2011, pp. 165-184

[17] Holy See Press Office, Bollettino, Comunicato della Sala Stampa, 12th March 2020.

[18] Segreteria di Stato, Prima sezione – Affari generali, Disposizioni per il personale dei Dicasteri, degli altri Enti della Santa Sede o ad essa collegati e del Governatorato dello Stato della Città del Vaticano, 11th March  2020.

[19] Segreteria di Stato, Sezione per gli affari generali, Lettera (n. 487.558) del Segretario di Stato Card. Pietro Parolin ai Capi Dicastero della Curia Romana, 30th March 2020.

[20] A. De Oto, The Republic of San Marino and the practice of worship in the  Covid-19 era: between history, common law and emergency decrees, in Diresom Papers (www.diresomem.net – 3rd  April  2020).

[21] On relationship between Church and economy see M. d’Arienzo, Chiesa ed economia, in Diritto e religioni, 2009, 2, pp. 214-224.

[22] See P. V. Aimone Braida, Le finanze del Papa, Città del Vaticano, 2016, pp. 212-214.

[23] N. Colaianni, La libertà di culto al tempo del coronavirus, in Stato, Chiese e pluralismo confessionale, Rivista telematica (www.statoechiese.it), 2020, 7, p. 39, says that Pope Francis has spontaneously observed in Vatican City State  italian decrees [“… consapevole che il suo Stato è una enclave nel territorio italiano, non ha deciso indipendentemente le misure da adottare né ha imbastito intese con lo Stato ma ha applicato spontaneamente al suo interno decreti italiani”].

[24] Holy See Press Office, Bollettino, Comunicato della Sala Stampa, 10th March 2020.

[25] https://www.vaticannews.va/it/vaticano/news/2020-04/covid-elemosineria-apostolica-solidarieta-offerta-curia-romana.html  (6th April 2020).

[26] Holy See Press Office, Bollettino, Comunicato della Sala Stampa, 31st March 2020.

[27] G. Dalla Torre, Lezioni di diritto vaticano, p. 55 (my translation).

[28] M. Ventura, Dov’è Dio? Dio soffre con l’uomo. Il contagio sfida la fede, conversazione con R. Dell’Oro, S. Dianich e C. Militello, in La lettura, Corriere della Sera, 22nd March 2020, pp. 8-9 (my translation).

[29] Lettera del Card. Mauro Piacenza, Penitenziere Maggiore, ai penitenzieri e ai confessori in occasione della S. Pasqua 2020, 4th April 2020,

in http://www.penitenzieria.va/content/penitenzieriaapostolica/it/profilo/organico/penitenziere-maggiore/discorsi-e-interventi/lettera-pasqua-2020.html (my translation).

[30] See A. Mantineo-L. M. Guzzo (a cura di), Il Papa venuto dalla “fine del mondo” per la Chiesa del terzo millennio, Milano, 2019.

[31] See A. Ivereigh, Il Papa confinato. Intervista a Papa Francesco, 8th April 2020,  in https://www.laciviltacattolica.it/news/il-papa-confinato-intervista-a-papa-francesco/


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