A crucial link between Church and State

FR. RAYMOND DE SOUZA

On occasions a genuine superstar is appointed as ambassador, one who lends lustre to the profession of diplomacy.

The appointment of ambassadors can sometimes be a dispiriting affair. There are many exemplary professionals to be sure, but there are also many civil service time-servers, superannuated politicians, ruling-party fundraisers and old friends of the prime minister or president thought better sent overseas. On occasions though, a genuine superstar is appointed, one who lends lustre to the profession of diplomacy. Such was the case on Monday, when U.S. President George W. Bush appointed Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Internationally acclaimed as a brilliant legal scholar, Glendon will receive a warm welcome at the Vatican, where she was part of Pope John Paul II's cadre of informal advisors. Subsequently, he appointed her president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a sort of continuing symposium comprising the world's leading social scientists (and for which she retained me for some organizational assistance).

Glendon, 69, has devoted her long career to the university world. She is not a diplomat, but has thought long and hard about what should characterize international relations and, in particular, how such relations can and should foster human rights. Her latest book, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a study of just that — how the world of diplomacy can achieve a workable consensus on the rights of the person.

The American ambassador to the Holy See occupies a singular position in international relations. Her job is to represent the world's most powerful state to the papal office, which is not a state at all and operates by standards other than worldly power.

In everyday speech, Glendon will be known as America's Vatican ambassador. But strictly speaking, the Vatican City State has no international relations, and exists principally to secure the independence of the pope from any civil power. Diplomatic relations exists between sovereign states and the Holy See, which is the diplomatic and legal personality of the pope as he exercises his universal ministry as head of the Catholic Church.

Yet an alternative, and older, way of looking at international relations is that it consists in the deliberation of how nations should order their affairs to foster the common good. In such a conception, diplomacy needs more actors, not fewer, who are animated by ideals, not interests.

This State-Church relationship offends some, even if the Holy See has had established diplomatic relations for longer than any of the current member states of the United Nations have existed. Last summer, The Economist argued that "instead of claiming to practise a form of inter-governmental diplomacy," the Holy See ought to "renounce its special diplomatic status and call itself what it is — the biggest non-governmental organization in the world."

The Economist is a distinguished weekly, but has a perennial anti-Catholic itch which it periodically needs to scratch. Nevertheless, its objection bears examination. In its binary division of the world into government and non-government actors, The Economist implicitly says that international relations should be characterized only by power, as exercised by those states strong enough to assert their will in diplomacy. States have interests, and diplomacy is the strategic advancing of those interests. In such a world, the ancient diplomatic activity of the Holy See is considered simply an assertion of Catholic interests and a relic of temporal powers that the Church has long since relinquished.

Yet an alternative, and older, way of looking at international relations is that it consists in the deliberation of how nations should order their affairs to foster the common good. In such a conception, diplomacy needs more actors, not fewer, who are animated by ideals, not interests.

For example, in recent years the American embassy to the Holy See has taken a lead in fighting against human trafficking, or more to the point, slavery in the world of "sex tourism." No state is in favour of it, but who has a strategic interest in stopping it? On that, and many similar issues, the diplomatic space offered by the Holy See is essential.

In recent years, the position which Prof. Glendon is about to assume has been a very delicate one in view of the Holy See's opposition to the Iraq War. That too highlights the indispensable role of Vatican diplomacy; without the Holy See's activity, it is unlikely that the moral dimension of the war would have been so carefully articulated by both the war's supporters and its opponents.

In the end, all politics — including at the international dimension — is about choosing worthy ends and justifiable means, which is to say that it is a moral activity. The intersection of interests and morality is no where more evident than on the desk of the superpower's representative to the universal pastor. And there is no more creative person to sit at that desk than Prof. Glendon.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "A crucial link between Church and State." National Post, (Canada) November 8, 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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