The diplomatic corps to the Holy See - An irreplaceable witness

2014-02-10 L’Osservatore Romano

“It should be noted here that one of the results of the exhaustion of temporal power due to the Lateran Pacts is to significantly increase the importance of the diplomatic corps in the eyes of the Papacy, which sees an irreplaceable witness of the recognition its sovereignty in the crown of Ambassadors and Ministers, of which it is surrounded”. Thus the French philosopher Jacques Maritain wrote in 1948 in the concluding report of his three years as ambassador of his country to the Holy See. With these words, Maritain summed up the extraordinary importance of the diplomatic activity of the Holy See and the sensitivity of this extremely complex and unique mission.

Jacques Maritain

This is a depiction, synthetic as it is, of the complexity one can find while consulting the list of the diplomatic corps to the Holy See, an invaluable tool in the understanding of Holy See's relations which are in their 80th year. Published on, the list of the diplomatic corps was presented to Pope Francis on 7 February, as announced in a tweet by the Secretariat of State (@terzaloggia) on Monday morning, 10 February.

Last year, 46 ambassadors presented their credentials to the Holy Father: 20 reside in Rome and the other 26 outside of Rome. In total 16 ambassadors are women and there are 23 embassies which temporarily do not have an ambassador (or have been granted approval but have not yet presented their credentials), and thus the charges d'affaires manages the embassy. There are 83 chanceries with offices in Rome and 78 outside of the city. Yemen is the only country without a head of mission but it has a chancery. There are 21 countries which have neither a head of mission nor chancery.

There are currently 180 states which maintain diplomatic relations with the Holy See. South Sudan was added to this list on 22 February 2013, at the level of an apostolic nunciature and an embassy. Also included on this list is the European Union, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and the State of Palestine which has a mission of special character. With regards to international organizations, the Holy See became an extra-regional observer of the Central American Integration System (SICA) on 21 January 2013; and on 12 December 2013 it was accredited as the first observer to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Over the course of 2013 two agreements were signed regarding the legal status of the Church: in Cape Verde on 10 June and with Chad on 6 November. Furthermore on 21 October an agreement was signed with Hungary which altered a previous agreement signed on 20 June 1997 on the financing of Church activities and on various issue of patrimony.