There is more than meets the eye in the trial of His Holiness Chamber Assistant Paolo Gabriele (for aggravated theft) and the Vatican Secretariat of State computer specialist Claudio Sciarpelletti (for abetting) that has just begun in the Vatican. The case reveals a guiding thread that links the Vatican City State legal order with the Holy See’s international diplomacy. It also shows how the Holy See has always conceived law to be comprised of two dimensions: statues, i.e. the law of concrete situations; and natural law, a set of permanent and universal principles. Legal positivism – with its one-dimensional roots in facts and not principles – is «like a skyscraper without windows», as Benedict XVI stated in his speech to the Bundestag in 2011.
Vatican City State Law. Its History
Paolo Gabriele’s trial shows the attention to the human person of the Vatican legal order, which is far from «obscurantist», as some in the media have described it. In 1929, the Lateran Pacts are signed. It is the so-called “Conciliation” between the Italian State – that conquered Rome in 1871, ending the Papal administration of the city – and the Holy See. Pope Pius XI himself negotiated the economic aspects of the treaty with Benito Mussolini, then the dictatorial head of the Italian government. From 1871 until then, the Vatican had survived just with the leftover patrimony not taken away from it following the «Porta Pia» invasion, ecclesiastical taxes (a meager source of revenue), and with the deposits and contributions to Peter’s Pence – a distinctive sign of Catholics’ will to aid the Pope.
And it is Pius XI who «supervises» the building of Vatican City State. He walks up to the base of Saint Peter’s Dome to look down over the territory of his City-State. Then, he decides what and where to build up (one third of the Conciliation’s compensation would be used to build Vatican City State); and he delivers funds to restore Papal nunciatures – up to that moment crumbling – thus marking the return of Vatican diplomacy. A Vatican diplomacy that never stopped working. However, before Vatican City-State –in Pius XI’s words «that small piece of land that is needed to carry out our mission»– a diplomacy that was at the mercy of, and heavily influenced by, the countries it worked in. Finally, Pius XI asks Bernardino Nogara – who had previously worked in Banca Commerciale – to manage the funds of the Financial Convention of the Lateran Pacts. This is when Vatican finances begin to take shape.
At the same time, the legal order of the newly born State also takes shape. As it would have been too complicated to draft a brand new legal code, the Vatican City State adopted the legal code then in force in the Italian State. That code is the Zanardelli Code. Vatican City State kept the Zanardelli code even after a new code was promulgated in Italy in 1931, the Rocco code (Alfredo Rocco was the minister for Grace and Justice). The Vatican did not adopt the Rocco code not just because it had been written and promulgated under fascism — i.e. under an authoritarian regime – but also because the Rocco Code was inspired in legal positivism. The juridical debate between the supporters of the liberal (but not libertarian) ideals underlying the Zanardelli Code and the “positivist” – modern but leading to authoritarianism – essence of the Rocco code still go on today.
What Is Vatican Diplomacy And Why Is It So Important?
It is evident in which side the Pope is. One can see it in the noticeable new way Vatican diplomacy has been ran during this Pontificate. Benedict XVI has drawn attention several times to natural law, and he has focused every diplomatic speech on the truth and the human person, thus clearly steering the Holy See’s international agenda in new directions.
What is Vatican diplomacy? Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State, explained it when he received the International Prize «Conde de Barcelona», on September 25. Bertone stated that Vatican diplomacy is not a relic of the past, and that often people fantasize about it rather than really knowing what it is. «It is – Card. Bertone said – a never-ending pursuit of just and humane ways to consider individuals’ and States’ rights and responsibilities.» In essence – Bertone notes – Vatican diplomacy is «a privileged means of communication» which final goal is the common good.
One of the «primary goals» is – Bertone stated – to be «a herald of the Pope’s message» internationally, to underscore the solidarity of the Pope with people from all over the world. Bertone recalled a famous quote of father Vandrisse, who worked for the French magazine Le Figaro: «The Pope’s diplomacy is a necessity. If it did not exist, one would have to invent it. An ancient and well established praxis, a tool to defend the dignity of the human person and libertas ecclesiae (the freedom of the Church), an occasion to talk about values: this is Vatican diplomacy.»
At the very same time that Bertone was receiving the prize in Barcelona, Dominique Mamberti, Secretary of Relations with States of the Vatican State Secretariat (i.e. a sort of Minister of Foreign Affairs) was delivering a speech at the High Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
Respect for human dignity was the center of Mamberti’s speech. It is the litmus test that shows whether the rule of law has instead become the rule of rules. Respect for Human Dignity is reaffirmed in the Preamble of the United Nations Charter, where it is written that human rights must be protected by the rule of law. From this point of view, «the application of the rule of law – Mamberti states – embraces every aspect of social life.» But moreover, it is necessary to «go beyond setting up simple procedures in order to guarantee a democratic source for norms and to have the consensus of the international community in the background.» Because «the inalienable dignity and value of each human person» comes before any law or social consensus. And it is not sufficient to «formally abide» by treaties or other forms of international law. «Only – Mamberti affirms – going beyond these considerations, would national and international institution avoid manipulations and coercion from finding their way into the life of individual citizens.»
When the rule of law becomes merely a formal and uncritical adherence to laws and regulations, this can paradoxically degenerate into a means of «oppression of the human dignity and of the rights of persons, communities and States.» The result — also raised by Benedict XVI in his speech to the Bundestag last year – is the specter of ending up with authoritarian regimes. Integral humanism is the antidote.
This is why – Mamberti states – «when talking of the rule of law,» law should be understood as «justice». How to discern it? Starting from human rights – rights that must be ever more universal – and looking at the progression of the philosophy of human rights, a story which dates back to Greek thought and Roman law, is enriched by Jewish-Christian wisdom, the legal orders of other European peoples and by canon law (the only truly international legislation in the world). Principles that have been further elaborated in Christian, Arab, and Jewish renewals, up until the Enlightenment. It is a complex stratification which leads to the United Nations Charter.
UN Charter Rooted In The Heart Of Man
The Charter is rooted in the heart of man. In its preamble, the founders of the United Nations reaffirmed «faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.» The choice of the word «faith» is revealing. Faith makes reference to deeply held beliefs. So, the United Nations is based on this faith in man’s rights that all peoples can relate to, no matter what their religious beliefs may be.
«Faith in transcendental human dignity – Mamberti says – or, better, the recognition of its transcendence, becomes the fundamental and indispensible reference point in understanding the rights codified in the foundational documents of the United Nations, and the key to their effective protection and promotion.»
Mamberti notes that lobbying is against the common good. In fact, lobbies influence States over norms that «under an appearance of legitimacy, are as a matter of fact an abuse on norms and international recommendations.» This happened – for example – with the financial crisis. Mamberti underlines that it is possible to have democratic systems produce new laws according to the will of just a few. And it also can happen that – if the human person is considered from a merely materialistic point of view and law is just something to be mechanically respected – the will of the most powerful prevails over the weakest: children, the unborn, the handicapped, the poor or – as it happened with the financial crisis – people deprived of correct information at the right time. «Juridical disorder on one hand – Mamberti says – and anthropological reduction on the other, undermine the ultimate and essential goal of every legal order: to promote and guarantee human dignity.»
That is why there is a need for a transcendental outlook. Because «human rights are linked to human dignity» and «are integrated in the rule of law, as the right to have a father and a mother, the right to make and maintain a family, the right to grow up and be educated within a natural family, the right of parents to educate their own children, the right to work and to a just wage for the wealth produced, the right to culture, freedom of thought and freedom of conscience.» The right of rights is religious freedom, a core theme of Benedict XVI’s Pontificate. Religious freedom – Mamberti says – is «an essential part of every person, which to a degree is identified with his or her very own freedom.» Mamberti calls for a «legal order firmly rooted in humanity’s dignity and nature.»
A Case History: Rimsha’s Case.
These are the very reasons why the Vatican penal code is Zanardelli’s and not Rocco’s. This is a juridical struggle the Holy See fights at every level. The most recent and widely discussed case has been that of Rimsha, the 12 year-old Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy for allegedly setting on fire – together with other pieces of paper –pages of Quran. Rimsha suffers from Down syndrome.
Rimsha Masih was imprisoned for several weeks. Then, on September the 7th, she was released on bail, and the authorities moved her and her family to a secret location, in order to protect her from possible fanatic Islamists’ revenge. Her story is so bizarre that many prominent Muslims did not hesitate to state that the charge was absurd, even more so because Rimsha is underage and she cannot read. The trial will take place on October first.
In the end, it was discovered that the same maulvi (responsible for the administration of the Mosque) accusing Rimsha had torn out a page of the Quran and put it over the ashes. The muezzin (who makes the calls to prayer) and other witnesses confirmed this version of events. It was noted that Khalid Jadoon Chishti (that is the maulvi’s name) wanted to expel Christians from the city block where he led the Muslims’ prayer.
This story has stirred a lot of debate in Pakistan. Even Muslim newspapers and magazines accuse Chishti of blasphemy. In Pakistan, people have become aware that the law on blasphemy is too often used for false accusations or even personal vendettas. Hundreds of Muslims – more than Christians – are imprisoned because of this law.
Where Shabahz Bhatti did not succeed, Rimsha’s story did. Bhatti was the Catholic Minister for Religious Minorities killed on March 2, 2011 by a commando of Islamic fundamentalists because he was trying to modify the law on blasphemy. Benedict XVI made of him a symbol in his last speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. One year after Bhatti’s death, Rimsha’s case has helped to open the eyes of the whole country.
Is a law Against Blasphemy Useful?
Just one week after Pope Benedict XVI ended his successful visit to Lebanon, the country’s most senior Catholic leader called for a United Nations resolution «that will ban denigrating religions.»
Meanwhile, in Pakistan – Religion News Service reports – the country’s only Catholic cabinet member, Minister of Harmony Paul Bhatti, told an interfaith gathering in Lahore that he will press U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to pass a UN resolution that condemns «defamation and offenses against religions.» Bhatti said «we must not allow anyone to break our harmony» between Christians and Muslims.
Since 1999, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – an umbrella group of 57 Arab and Muslim nations – has promoted a non-binding U.N. resolution against «defamation of religion,» although support for the measure has steadily eroded in recent years. Even Obama, addressing the UN General Assembly on September 25, made it clear that the U.S. Constitution could never sanction anti-blasphemy laws, and challenged Muslims who are offended by insults to Muhammad to take a broader view. The Vatican, too, has generally opposed efforts to introduce international legislation against defamation of religion, though for different reasons.
Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in 2010, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, warned that «introducing a vague concept of ‘defamation’” was not an effective way of “combating offensive attitudes towards religion,» and might actually lead to «further oppression of religious minorities.»
As in the Rimsha’s case, it shows how the law on blasphemy is often used as an instrument for personal revenge or abuses of power or – as in this case – to «free» villages from religious minorities. «Freeing villages of Christians – Tomasi maintains – has an economic, more than religious, goal.» Fides Press Agency explains how «behind Rimsha’s case there is the ‘real estate mafia’: some speculators wanted to expel Christians from the Mehrabadi quarter for financial reasons, since the value of houses in that part of Islamabad had risen. That is why they concocted the blasphemy claim. Most of the families in that neighborhood are faithful [Christians] who escaped from Gojra, a town set on fire by Islamic radicals in 2009, for an alleged case of blasphemy.»
This is one of the most recent examples of how Vatican diplomacy operates. Instead of legal positivism (a law to prevent an action), it is based on natural law and on the heart of man. This is a key principle that addresses criminal procedures within the walls of Vatican City State, and for the Holy See positions in negotiating UN resolutions. The human person is the focus, and the common good is the goal of its international agenda. So, looking closely to the law applied for the butler’s trial, one can understand a lot about the underlining principles of the Church.