From the Summer 2006 edition of the Thomas Aquinas College Newsletter: Since being ordained in 1977, his Excellency, the Most Reverend Celestino Migliore, has been a member of the Vatican Diplomatic Corps. During the past 25 years, he has served in the Holy See’s missions in Angola, Egypt, and Poland, and has represented the Holy See in various European capitals.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Migliore as Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, where he is the voice of the Church. He brings Her teachings to bear on matters such as international trafficking in persons, population control and family life, and immigration and asylum.

Thomas Aquinas College is most grateful to Archbishop Migliore for taking time out of his busy schedule to preside over the College’s 2006 Commencement ceremonies and for graciously agreeing to be interviewed by Director of College Relations Anne Forsyth.


Q: One hears the terms “Vatican” and “Holy See” often used interchangeably. But there are differences between the two. Would you please distinguish the two for us?

A: In 1929, the Vatican State was created by an agreement between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy. A decision was made to establish Vatican City in order to assure the Pope a basis for his absolute independence and autonomy from any earthly power. The Vatican is intended to ensure indepen-dence for the action of the Holy See, thanks to a territorial sovereignty reduced to its minimal ex-pression. However, it is the Holy See that is the juridical interlo-cutor within the international community. The Holy See is the Pope, together with all the bodies of the Roman Curia through which he governs the Catholic Church. The Holy See is a sovereign juridical person because it is the supreme organ of the Catholic Church. Its attribute as a sove-reign subject is recognized in international law.

Q: How does one become a member of the Holy See’s diplomatic service?

A: Generally it comes about through the Secretariat of State that contacts bishops of various dioceses, bearing in mind the needs of the representations in different continents and countries of the world. The bishops, in turn, propose a suitable candidate for this service. These candidates are then interviewed and trained at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome where they share a communal life and study.

Q: For a number of years you were a visiting professor at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, teaching ecclesiastical diplomacy. What kinds of classes have you taught there and what kind of training does one receive in preparation for diplomatic work in the service of the Church?

A: For more than 300 years, the Holy See has had its own diplomatic institute at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where formation of future “diplomatic agents” of the Holy See study for a minimum of two years.

These candidates enter after having been ordained priests. Therefore, all of them already possess a degree in theology. Many also possess another degree in various disciplines, specifically in Canon Law.

The academic curriculum consists of two years of specialized studies: ecclesiastical diplomacy, international law, monographs on international organizations and on techniques of negotiations; the history of ecclesiastical diplomacy, diplomatic styles, courses on great modern cultural and theological strains; and economic and social questions.

At the same time, they take courses in information technology and languages. Each student, at the end of the curriculum, has to possess a working knowledge of at least two languages in addition to his mother tongue. The major languages studied are: English, French, Spanish, and German, and increasingly, Arabic and the languages of Eastern Europe and Asia.

Q: Is your rank as Apostolic Nuncio equivalent to that of an Ambassador?

A: Correct. This equivalence is found in Art. 14 of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. There it states that the heads of diplomatic missions are the ambassadors or nuncios accredited to Heads of State.

Q: Why does the Holy See have “permanent observer” status at the United Nations rather than “full member” status? What are the privileges and/or disadvantages of “permanent observer” status?

A: Having the status of a Permanent Observer at the U.N., the Holy See has the right to speak, to take the floor, to participate in shaping the consensus through negotiation. The Permanent Observer does not have the right to vote-—which is proper to Member States—nor do we have the right to bring forward candidates for various positions. But we do have the right to speak—and this, in and of itself, is important. Inevitably, voting and full membership would entail direct participation in questions of a political nature, or in military and economic issues which go beyond its objectives.

Q: What are the primary concerns of the Holy See with respect to international relations?

A: The diplomacy of the Holy See involves some basic values. I believe that this diplomacy has its own specific characteristics. First, it has a moral aspect, which means we are always mindful that we are called to promote the moral and ethical aspects of issues. Second, it is a diplomacy of unity. It has no natural boundaries because it is universal and concerns all peoples of the world. Third, it has a humanitarian perspective, that is, it is a diplomacy which always sides with people, not with a given parliament or particular administration.

Q: How does the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See make its voice heard at the U. N.?

A: I would like to categorize the activity of the Holy See at the U.N. on three levels.

First, it makes contributions to the international debate on current issues: development, peace, security, eradication of poverty, access to education and health, rights of the children, women’s issues, right to life, and religious rights. Through democratic debate, we have an opportunity to shed the light of Catholic social thought—recently summarized in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church—on these issues.

Second, the Holy See contributes to the building of a consensus. As an Observer, the Holy See is admitted to negotiations on resolutions, declarations, conventions, treaties. This is an important facet of the Holy See’s activity, because conventions and treaties, once adopted, form international law. Besides, international treaties now tend to regulate not only the reciprocal obligations between states, but they deal more and more with rights of the individuals (rights of the child, women’s rights, right to life, religious rights).

Furthermore, resolutions, declarations, and plans of action, though they belong to the so-called “soft law” with a merely advisory value, are extremely important. Nowadays, national parliaments, when legislating, keep an eye on the international soft law. Scholars, non-governmental organizations, and national courts do the same. In view of the impact of international law and its influence on domestic policies, we are convinced that we, too, can promote our views on relevant social, civil, cultural, and developmental issues through our contribution to the negotiations within the U.N.

Third, the Holy See gives voice to those who have no voice. This is perhaps a poetic way to phrase it. But I would like to point out that this is the most challenging, interesting, sometimes difficult, but always gratifying side of my daily activity. I am referring to dioceses, associations, religious congregations, and individuals who turn to us, confident that we can help them to meet with and present to the right offices and persons their views and requests, which are usually humanitarian in nature. And I have to say that our interlocutors always give much attention and oftentimes operative consideration to the issues we present to them.