.- Pope Benedict XVI used his address to the new ambassador from the Netherlands to outline how the Catholic Church views its role in diplomatic relations.
âIn acting as a voice for the voiceless and defending the rights of the defenseless, including the poor, the sick, the unborn, the elderly, and the members of minority groups who suffer unjust discrimination,â said Pope Benedict, âthe Church seeks always to promote natural justice as it is her right and duty to do.â
Although the terms âVatican Stateâ and âHoly Seeâ are often used interchangeably they are very different things.
According to international law and diplomatic custom, it is the Holy See and not the Vatican City State that is the recognized âlegal personalityâ of the worldwide pastoral ministry of the Bishop of Rome as head of the Catholic Church. Therefore the Holy See existed for centuries as a diplomatic entity before the creation of the Vatican City State in 1929.
And it is the Holy See, not the Vatican City State, which exchanges diplomatic representations with 179 countries and is also represented at many inter-governmental bodies including the European Union and the United Nations.
Pope Benedict explained to the new Dutch Ambassador, Joseph Weterings, that the relationship between the Holy See and other states was âclearly of a different character from those between nation-states.â
âThe Holy See is not an economic or military power,â he said, yet âits moral voice exerts considerable influence around the world.â
The reason for this influence, said the Pope, was precisely because the unchanging moral stance of the Holy See âis unaffected by the political or economic interests of a nation-state or the electoral concerns of a political party.â
Its contribution to international diplomacy, therefore, consists âlargely in articulating the ethical principles that ought to underpin the social and political order,â and also âin drawing attention to the need for action to remedy violations of such principles.â
Obviously the opinions of the Holy See are drawn âfrom the standpoint of the Christian faith,â but âChristianity has always pointed to reason and nature as the sources of the norms on which a state of law should be built,â the Pope said to the ambassador.
Therefore the Holy See conducts its diplomacy not on âconfessional nor on pragmatic groundsâ but on the basis of âuniversally applicable principles that are as real as the physical elements of the natural environment,â he said.
With specific reference to the Netherlands, the Pope praised the Dutch governmentâs promotion of religious freedom which, he said, was âa matter of particular concern to the Holy See at the present time.â
The Dutch government is currently investigating the creation of a body to monitor religious freedom at home and abroad, similar the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Since 2010 the government of the Netherlands has consisted of a coalition of center-right and Christian democrat parties led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. It is presently trying to change the countryâs liberal laws on drug use and prostitution. The Pope praised both these initiatives.
âWhile your nation has long championed the freedom of individuals to make their own choices, nevertheless, those choices by which people inflict harm on themselves or others must be discouraged, for the good of individuals and society as a whole,â he said.
Catholics make up about 25 percent of the Netherlandâs population of 16 million, making it the countryâs largest religious group.