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Holy See/ 3. Competence, decision-making and administration  

3.2 Overall description of the system

When considering the Holy See, it is important to bear in mind that there are two closely related entities, different in nature and function: the Holy See and the Vatican City State. Moreover, the Holy See is not a nation state, but a sovereign entity, whose followers live in their countries, subject to their national legislation. In matters concerning cultural policy, the Holy See has only a moral or religious authority over the cultural bodies of the Catholic Church. The Vatican City State is responsible only for the cultural organisms in its territory.

The Holy See

The Holy See, or Apostolica Sedes, is the seat of the Roman Pontiff, the Roman Curia and the various bodies that assist the Supreme Pontiff in carrying out his pastoral mission. These are generally known as dicasteries. The Holy See, as the supreme organ of government of the Catholic Church, is a sovereign juridical entity under international law.

The Roman Curia is a complex body composed of the Secretariat of State, Congregations, Tribunals, Pontifical Councils, Offices and other structures. Other institutions, such as the Vatican Secret Archives, the Vatican Apostolic Library and some Academies, fall directly under the Holy See.

The Congregations and Councils are made up of cardinals, archbishops, bishops and lay people selected from the worldwide Catholic Church, and each is chaired by a Cardinal Prefect or President who is assisted on the practical level by officials responsible for administrative tasks. Each dicastery is advised on its specific mission by a body of consulters chosen for their particular skills and knowledge.

In the cultural sphere, the mission of the Pontifical Council for Culture, created by John Paul II in 1982, is to promote dialogue between the faith and protagonists of culture, literature, sciences and arts, and cultural currents, which are often marked by non-belief and religious indifference. The Council also collaborates with the cultural activities of the Holy See. Its task is one of animation, with no jurisdiction over other cultural institutions, which are autonomous and depend on the Sovereign Pontiff through the Secretariat of State.

Some institutions linked to the Holy See play an important role in cultural affairs: Vatican Radio, the Vatican Press and Publishing House, the Vatican Television Centre and the newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, all serve the Pope's spiritual ministry. The Fabric of St Peter also plays a major role in the context of conservation of UNESCO-protected heritage and has the task of administering and maintaining St Peter's Basilica and its heritage.

Vatican City State

The Vatican City State was established in 1929 with the signing of the Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Holy See. The Treaty acts as guarantor of the independence of the Holy See, which exercises sovereignty over the Vatican City State. Its juridical organisation is laid down in the Fundamental Law (2000).

The Pope or Supreme Pontiff holds full legislative, executive and judicial powers in the Vatican City State. He, together with the Secretariat of State, is responsible for international co-operation.

Legislative power is exercised by the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, which is made up of cardinals nominated by the Sovereign Pontiff. The Cardinal President of the Commission also exercises executive power through the Governorate of Vatican City State, which is composed of directorates, offices and services concerned with administration of the temporal goods of the Holy See.

The General Management of Pontifical Monuments, Museums and Galleries (the Vatican Museums) and the Vatican Observatory fall under the Governorate. The Permanent Commission for the Care of Historical and Artistic Monuments of the Holy See is responsible for the artistic protection of buildings owned by the Holy See both in Vatican City and in extra-territorial areas.

Chapter published: 26-11-2009

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