Although the Holy See has appointed a delegate to help Catholics in Kosovo, it does not recognize the region as an independent state, the Vatican's top diplomat to Serbia has confirmed.
When Archbishop Juliusz Janusz was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as the new ambassador, or “apostolic nuncio,” to Slovenia on Feb. 10, he was also entrusted with the responsibility of apostolic delegate to Kosovo.
The Holy See's Press Office explained that as an apostolic delegate his responsibility has “a purely intra-ecclesial character.” The connection between the Vatican and Catholics in the Kosovo region is therefore “completely distinct” from diplomatic activity there.
“The mission of an apostolic delegate is not of a diplomatic nature but (it) responds to the requirement to meet in an adequate way the pastoral needs of the Catholic faithful,” the Vatican added.
In Belgrade Serbia's Politika newspaper interviewed Archbishop Orlando Antonini, the Vatican's nuncio to Serbia, about the consequences of the appointment.
He made assurances that the Holy See has not changed its position concerning Kosovo
The world is divided on recognizing the unilateral decision of Kosovo's regional government to split from Serbia in 2008. Most nations in the European Union recognize Kosovo's independence but fewer than half of U.N. member-countries do.
The U.S. supports its independence while Serbia, which has a centuries-long history of union and division with the area, still lays claim to it.
The archbishop explained that Catholic Church interest is directed only at local Catholics and not at diplomacy.
The community of more than 60,000 Catholics of mostly ethnic Albanian origin has experienced difficulties with practical issues in the life of the Church, he said. The Vatican hopes also to improve the relationship between local churches and the global Church.
Because these are strictly Church matters, he added, they were able to install the delegate “without having to change the well-known position of the Holy See on the status of Kosovo.”
Apostolic delegates exist in similar situations throughout the world, he said. Puerto Rico, for example, is legally a U.S. territory but it is within the Church jurisdiction of the Dominican Republic. The same is true for other Caribbean islands and places in the world, he explained.
As for discussion in the Vatican about recognizing the independence of the disputed region, the nuncio said the Holy See would not talk until the local governments based in Belgrade and Pristina, Kosovo reach a mutual decision on its status.