The audience granted by Pope Francis to diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See is an opportunity to reflect on the annual review of the relations maintained by the Vatican with the various states of the world.
Diplomatic activity is governed by the second section of the secretariat of state, which, on a daily basis, represents it in the many countries in which the Church exercises—or attempts to exercise—some influence.
As the Vatican press office recalled, in February 2021, no less than one hundred and eighty-eight states maintain diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
To this must be added the European Union (EU) and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. In addition, there are eighty-eight embassy chanceries based in Rome, again including those of the EU and the Order of Malta.
In addition, there are the offices of the League of Arab States, the International Organization for Migrants, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Within the framework of bilateralism dear to the Holy See, several agreements have been signed or renewed over the past year: on October 12, 2020, a seventh additional accord was signed between the Holy See and the Republic of Austria, amending the Convention for the regulation of patrimonial relations passed on June 23, 1960.
This protocol specifies, among other things, the amount of compensation that the Austrian state must pay to the Church, “given the suppression of the endowment of the clergy resulting from old legislation.” According to the terms of the agreement, Austria notably commits to donate 17,295,000 euros per year to the Church.
On January 17, the framework agreement between the Holy See and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was signed: it notably establishes the freedom of the Church in her apostolic activity. Various areas are also regulated: Catholic educational establishments, the teaching of religion in schools, the charitable activity of the Church, pastoral care in the Armed Forces, penitentiary and hospital institutions, and others.
On September 7, 2020, the agreement between the Vatican and Burkina Faso, signed on July 12, 2019, entered into force: for the first time, the Catholic Church enjoys full legal existence in this African state.
The Church is deploying diplomatic action in the field of the environment: should this be seen as a “Francis effect”? Or the Vatican’s desire to strengthen its influence in the world through ecology, following the soft power strategy? Maybe both.
In any event, the Holy See ratified on June 17, 2020, on behalf of the Vatican City State, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, relating to substances that deplete the ozone layer.
Finally, on October 22, the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China agreed to extend for another two years the validity of the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops in China, signed in Beijing in 2018.
An agreement whose terms remain secret to this day, and against which great voices in the Catholic hierarchy are rising, seeing it above all as an unconditional surrender to the totalitarian power exercised by the new Red Emperor, Xi Jinping.