Vatican diplomacy at home and abroad
Vatican diplomats have the dual role of representing the Holy See to the nation where they are posted and also of keeping an eye on the local Catholic Church. The Vatican City is a hub for diplomats around the world with accreditation limited, where this is possible, to conservative Catholics who may have a double allegiance: to their own country and to the Church.
Vatican diplomacy is conducted by three principal means: through a diplomatic corps, an independent micro-state and reciprocal “state visits”.
- The pope’s ambassador, called a “nuncio” has far more power than other diplomats because he has an important say in the nation's Catholic Church. “The key to episcopal appointments lies in the hands of the nuncio, the pope’s representative to a country, whose role it is to make recommendations based on papal priorities.” 
- These Vatican diplomats operate worldwide, reporting and receiving encrypted messages.  As the map shows, almost all the nations on the planet have diplomatic relations with the Holy See (by the end of Benedict XVI's reign in 2013 there were ties with 180 countries).
- And not just with individual states: the Holy See is an observer at the United Nations. Moreover, it is a member of seven organizations and agencies of the U.N. system, an observer in eight others. It is also a member or observer in five regional organizations, including the Euroepan Union.
- Thanks to the Vatican's mini-state, the diplomatic relations work both ways. The Church plays host to representatives from all these countries in the diplomatic “beehive” of the Vatican State. It also receives visiting heads of state and for those who wish to avoid the scrutiny of the press in their own countries there is even a Vatican “Treaty Room” where they can discreetly sign a concordat (as did the Presidents of Portugal and Brazil).
- And papal “state visits” can help whenever the Church wishes to put public pressure on a government, either to refrain from passing liberal legislation or to conclude a concordat. Increasingly these are embedded in “World Youth Days”.
Dedicated and well-informed Vatican diplomats
The UK ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Campbell, describes the Vatican’s diplomats as having “sharp eyes and ears” in 178 countries.
It is far closer to the ground than any ordinary diplomatic corps through its network of bishops in each region and clergy in each locality. The Holy See knows what is going on in the world at governmental and grass roots level, has extraordinary access at the highest political level in most Catholic countries.... 
On occasion the Vatican’s representatives may even granted secret information by their hosts. Joseph P. Hurley, the first American to serve as an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State and as papal nuncio, corresponded confidentially with three US presidents. He was even sent state secrets by Sumner Welles, Undersecretary of State, prior to World War II to help him win over Catholic public opinion which tended to be isolationist. 
Vatican diplomats can also help the Pope to keep tabs on the local Church hierarchy. In 2011 the papal nuncio or ambassador to Australia was caught making secret enquiries about possible Catholic bishops. He had sent a questionnaire to trusted clergy and a few laypeople which
asks about the candidate’s personal qualities, orthodoxy, loyalty to the Pope, commitment to celibacy and opposition to women priests, and his public image. It asks about predisposition to hereditary illness and the family’s “condition”. This direct line to the Vatican can serve the papal ambassadors well in their careers. Many popes have been former nuncios who have worked for the Church in foreign countries before returning to the Vatican. The most notable of these was Pius XII who spent more than a decade as papal nuncio before returning to Rome to become Vatican Secretary of State.
John XXIII also took the diplomatic route to the papacy. During World War II he worked with Marshal Pétain’s war-time regime to erode French separation of church and state. His quiet and effective efforts were modelled on the discreet St. Joseph.  Like the Saint, the papal nuncio (ambassador) should be “always obedient and silent...always self-effaced and remain in the shadow”.
To know how to obey, to know how to be quiet, to speak when necessary, with measured words and with reserve, that is the role of the diplomat of the Holy See, and it is also that of Saint Joseph. 
Vatican diplomats need this intense dedication, as there are rarely more than two of them in each mission. They also have a double workload, since they must not only represent the Holy See to the local government but also keep a vigilant eye on national churches. “We are priests,” says one veteran. “We have no family. We work 24 hours a day if necessary. It’s the key to understanding why we are so few, and so efficient.” 
Currently, the Holy See has diplomatic relations with [now 178] countries, with resident ambassadors — or nuncios — in 110 nations. All individuals who become nuncios are automatically promoted to the rank of archbishop. Diplomats for the Holy See are selected from priests undertaking studies at Vatican universities in Rome, or they are chosen upon recommendation from their bishops. [...] Unlike some diplomats from other countries, those from the Vatican don’t have the luxury of choosing where they want to be posted to. 
Their postings are longer than those of other diplomats, so that they get to know the country very well. Eugenio Pacelli (the later Pius XII) spent twelve years in Germany (1917-1929) before becoming Vatican Secretary of State and negotiating concordats with Austria and Germany.
Even when they leave active service the skill and experience of these envoys can help the Church. Retired Vatican diplomats have recently been given a new role — as trouble-shooters. After a number foreign policy blunders at the beginning of Benedict XVI’s reign, he has now installed several former Vatican diplomats in key positions, including the retired Vatican “foreign minister”, Cardinal Tauran. 
Diplomatic buzz in the Vatican City and beyond
Much international information gathering and power brokering is carried on within the walls of the Vatican itself. Thanks to its status as a country it can offer foreign diplomats the chance to make their own quiet contacts — under its supervision.
- In 1848 the American senator Edward Hannegan called Vatican City “the emporium of intelligence in Europe”.
- In the 1970s Henry Cabot Lodge, Special Presidential Envoy to the Vatican, asked a Muslim diplomat at the Holy See why his government thought it was worthwhile to maintain such a big mission at “a place which did not seem to concern him very much.” The diplomat replied, “We don’t want to miss anything.” 
- In 2001 James Nicholson, US Ambassador to the Holy See, called it “a beehive of ideas, information, conspiracies, collaboration and diplomatic manoeuvres”. 
- A former ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel H. Díaz, noted that the Vatican also serves as a good forum to engage countries the U.S. doesn’t have formal diplomatic relations with, such as Cuba and Iran.  The same goes for Taiwan which is only recognised by the Vatican and 22 other countries. 
Even outside the Vatican City good contacts with the Church can pay off, as it has “a branch in every village”.  The leaked US Embassy cables showed the Church “to be deeply involved in local politics worldwide and a useful source of information for American diplomats, especially in places like Cuba and Venezuela. One cable from 2006 said that a Venezuelan priest might be a good source on President Hugo Chávez”. 
Vatican diplomacy's expensive status games
However, diplomatic relations with the Vatican come at a price. This is what Ireland discovered when, in 2012 it attempted to reduce the expensive duplication of maintaining representation to both Italy and the Vatican in Rome. Ireland's Foreign Minister ran up against “the insistence by the Vatican that we had to have two separate ambassadors, two separate embassies, two separate buildings”. Those are the “rules”.  The Vatican jealously guards its diplomatic status by refusing accreditation to any ambassador who is also accredited by Italy.
This obliges those countries that have nonresident ambassadors to the Vatican to use their ambassadors to countries other than Italy. The Armenian representative to the Vatican is also resident ambassador to France; the Ethiopian one, resident ambassador to Israel; the Fijian one, High Commissioner to the UK; and the Malaysian one, resident ambassador to Switzerland. When these nonresident ambassadors to the Vatican present their credentials, they do not receive a private audience with the pope, as do resident ambassadors. Thus it was in the company of these four gentlemen that the new Irish ambassador presented his credentials.  He is a senior civil servant who works in a government ministry in Ireland. The Irish Foreign Minister said, “we can service the Vatican from Dublin”. 
The deal was clear. Ireland refused to pay for two embassies in Rome and the Vatican refused to give accreditation to the Irish ambassador to Italy, as that could set a precedent. The compromise was a nonresident ambassador in Dublin — and no private audience with the Pope. You get what you pay for.
The Vatican determines who represents other countries
During the Protestant Reformation British ties were cut with the Vatican. The pope excommunicated King Henry VIII in 1533 and withdrew the papal nuncio who would not return permanently until 1982, the year of the papal visit to Britain. Only in 1914 were diplomatic relations cautiously resumed by the UK. Three years later the Foreign Office issued a memorandum saying that Britain’s representative at the Vatican “should not be filled with unreasoning awe of the Pope,” and the post was filled by a non-Catholic.  In 2005 this practice was reversed by Prime Minister Blair, a secret convert to Catholicism. 
Diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the US were established even later than those with Britain, on the eve of World War II. They were pushed through by subterfuge, following a trip by Pacelli, the “concordat cardinal” and consummate diplomat. Congress would have had to vote on any move to send a US ambassador to the Vatican, so in order to bypass it, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed a “personal representative”.
For this new and unprecedented post he chose the multi-millionaire Myron Taylor, former president of the finance committee of the United States Steel Corporation. Since Taylor was not to be an ambassador proper, there was no need to get Senate approval of his appointment. And since the envoy could easily pay his own expenses, there was no need to ask Congress for an appropriation. 
Once relations with the Vatican have been established — one way or another — the pope can then help determine who will represent the country. Under the Benedict XVI the Vatican has been accrediting only those foreign diplomats who also have allegiance to the Church. Even liberal Catholics are not tolerated. And there is sometimes a further reason for rejecting nominated ambassadors and delivering a diplomatic snub. According to an official of that Vatican department, “the Secretary of State privileges the relationship with nations with which it has concordats.” 
It may come as no surprise, then, that Argentina, which in 2005 cancelled a concordat, had trouble getting an ambassador accredited by the Vatican. In February 2008 the Argentine Government named a Catholic who had been divorced and then remarried as ambassador to the Holy See. The Vatican, citing this, refused to accept his diplomatic credentials. 
France, too, which cancelled its concordat back in 1905, also ran into difficulties. It took the better part of a year and three tries before in September 2008 France managed to get an ambassador accepted. Although all were practising Catholics, the first candidate was divorced and the second was gay and living in a civil partnership. 
As a reader remarked in the comments section for this story,
Is the ambassador supposed to represent France to the Vatican, or the Vatican to France? France should say, this is who we pick as our representative, if you don’t like it, we end diplomatic relations.
However, that’s not what happens. In fact, in 2009 the Vatican got away with reprimanding the President of the United States by rejecting all three of his proposed ambassadors, even before they were offically put forward. They were Catholics who supported women's reproductive choice.  And a few years later the Vatican turned away a potential Bulgarian ambassador who was married to an Italian because he had written a novel which contained some gay sex.  Apparently it was consensual and between adults — unlike the actions of some priests who have raped little boys with impunity.
For the Church version see “Vatican Diplomacy” (Vatican Information Service, 11 April 1997).
For a shrewd analysis (though speculative and dated) see Avro Manhattan on Vatican diplomacy (from The Vatican in World Politics, 1949).
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This is a review of Charles R. Gallagher, S.J., Vatican Secret Diplomacy: Joseph P. Hurley and Pope Pius XII, Yale University Press, 2008. It can be downloaded here: http://ebookee.org/Vatican-Secret-Diplomacy-Joseph-P-Hurley-and-Pope-Pius-XII_313067.html
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6. Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, [then Nuncio, later Pope John XXIII], “Spiritual Testament”, December, 1947, p. 3, (last sentence).
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19. Willie Kealy, “Gilmore is adamant -- embassy in Vatican will not reopen”, Irish Independent, 2012-04-22. http://www.independent.ie/national-news/gilmore-is-adamant-embassy-in-vatican-will-not-reopen-3088291.html
20. Martin O'Brien, “Blair lifted Catholic ban for ‘Our Man In The Vatican’”, BBC, 2010-02-15. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8514142.stm
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22. Li Fu-jen, “The Vatican in World Affairs”, Fourth International, Vol.7 No.10, October 1946, pp. 296-301. http://www.marxists.org/archive/glass/1946/10/vatican.htm
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25. Francis X. Rocca, “Vatican rejects France’s new gay ambassador”, National Catholic Reporter, 2008-10-02. http://ncronline.org/node/2074
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27. Michael Day, “Vatican blocks Bulgaria's papal envoy in row over gay sex in book: Holy See 'upset' at homosexuality and prostitution in lawyer's popular novel”, Independent, 2012-08-07. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/vatican-blocks-bulgarias-papal-envoy-in-row-over-gay-sex-in-book-8010218.html
Last updated 2013-05-04