At this time when the attention of the world turns to the world’s smallest country, housed within the city of Rome, for the election of the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, it is appropriate to discuss the relationship between the Vatican City State and the Italian Republic.  Today the Vatican is recognized as a Permanent Observer State by the United Nations and as a sovereign nation by Italy.

The Vatican was the capital of the Papal States until 1870 when its sovereignty was lost to the Kingdom of Italy under Victor Emmanuel II.  In 1929 the modern Vatican City State came into being when the Kingdom of Italy and the Vatican signed the Lateran Accords which recognized the sovereignty of the Vatican and provided the Vatican with compensation for the land taken in 1870.  The treaties also gave the Vatican extraterritorial authority over 23 sites within Rome, and five sites outside of the city.  Among these is the Basilica of St. John the Lateran and several other churches, as well as the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo, where Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will spend the next few months while his permanent residence within the Vatican walls is being prepared.

After the signing of the Lateran Accords, all Italian laws that passed Parliament and were adopted by Italy were automatically adopted by the Vatican.  This changed in 2009 when the Vatican altered its policy so that the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State now examines each Italian law individually before adopting it.  According to Jose Maria Serrano Ruiz, the president of the Vatican commission on law revisions, the change in policy was a result of the “really exorbitant number” of Italian laws, their volatility, and their contrast with Church teaching.  Some speculated that this change was instigated by the decision of Italy’s highest court to allow a woman in a coma to have her feeding tube removed.



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