Hundreds of organizations and thousands of people worldwide have initiated a campaign to change the status of the Roman Catholic church at the United Nations. Concerned that the church has flown in under UN radar by calling itself the Holy See, we have called on the Secretary-General to review the church's current status as a Non-member State Permanent Observer. We believe that the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic church, should participate in the UN in the same way as the world's other religions do—as a non-governmental organization.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AT THE UNITED NATIONS:
CHURCH OR STATE?



WHAT STATUS DOES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAVE AT THE UN?
The Holy See is a Non-member State Permanent Observer at the United Nations. This rarely-used designation gives it some of the privileges of a state, such as being able to speak and vote at UN conferences. No other religion is granted this elevated status. Other religions participate in the UN like most other non-state entities--as nongovernmental organizations. Because UN conferences operate on consensus, the ability to disagree with the majority consensus has significant power. The Holy See was not invited to participate in the UN. The Holy See initiated requests to be recognized as a state in international bodies. No vote was ever taken on the Holy See's presence at the UN by the General Assembly.



IS THE HOLY SEE A COUNTRY?
The question of the Vatican's statehood has been debated without definitive conclusion in diplomatic circles for most of the century. However, it is not the Vatican that is a member of the UN, but the Holy See. The Holy See is by definition a "non-territorial religious entity." It is not a state--it is the government of the Roman Catholic church. The Holy See also clearly does not meet the established international legal criteria for statehood, which include a defined territory and permanent citizenry. The Holy See has no defined territory, it is a government, not a territorial entity. As such, it also does not have a citizenry.


WHY IS IT TIME FOR A "SEE CHANGE"?
While the Holy See has the right to a voice at the United Nations, that voice should only be as loud as those of the world's other religions. NGO status would allow the Holy See to continue to advocate for its positions, but without the benefit of a special platform for its views. Seeking NGO status for the Holy See is not anti-Catholic--indeed, it would protect the rights of all religions at the UN and the right of the institutional Catholic church to be heard and appreciated as a religious body, not as a quasi-governmental entity.
 
 

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Jon O'Brien, President
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