Church or State?

By Duane Shank 12-13-2010

As researchers continue to pore through the quarter-of-a-million documents made public by WikiLeaks, I've been wondering when something with religious interest would surface. This weekend, it did.

In The New York Times and the Guardian (here and here) there were stories based on cables from U.S diplomats at the Vatican and from Vatican diplomats in the U.S. Among the newsworthy items:

  • The Catholic Church is deeply involved in local politics around the world, and American diplomats rely on the church's international network for useful information.
  • The pope was primarily responsible for the Vatican's opposition to Turkey joining the European Union, fearing that a Muslim country in the E.U. would weaken his case for a reference to Europe's Christian roots in the E.U. Constitution.
  • The Vatican wants to undermine Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, because it fears that Chavez is hurting the church by seeing the church hierarchy as part of the privileged class.
  • The British ambassador warned that the pope's invitation to conservative Anglicans who opposed women priests to convert to Catholicism was so inflammatory that it could lead to anti-Catholic violence in Britain.
  • As sexual abuse scandals erupted around the world, the Vatican asserted its influence both through the hierarchy and its diplomats in negotiating with local bishops and civil authorities.

It's the ultimate church-state union. Roman Catholicism is the only religion whose headquarters, Vatican City, is also a sovereign state with diplomatic relations around the world. It functions through its religious hierarchy to influence its believers, and through its diplomatic corps to exercise political influence. Historically, it has been a conservative influence in both areas, and WikiLeaks seems to confirm that is still the case.

Duane Shank is senior policy advisor at Sojourners.

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