Religious confessions in international order

AuthorJaime Bonet Navarro
Religious confessions in international order
1. Presence of religious entities in international society
Religious confessions are always present in international society, and
they develop its activities in various forms. This is the case of some
entities belonging to Catholic Church: the Holy See1, Vatican City State,
and the Sovereign Order of Malta. There have also been other religious
institutions – Catholic and non-Catholic – which have enjoyed the
international legal personality or, at least, they have acted through forms
of international presence similar to secular States, but they do not exist
currently. Within Catholic institutions there were the old Papal States, the
State of Teutonic Order with vast territories around the Baltic Sea, and other
States in the hands of religious authorities, bishops and archbishops into the
Germanic Holy Roman Empire. These are the Principalities-Archbishoprics
of Salzburg, Cologne and Magdeburg, and the Principalities-Bishoprics
of Liege, Lübeck and Freising.
Nowadays, there is only one non-Catholic religious entity with
international legal personality, linked to the Islamic religion: the
Organization of Islamic Conference. It is due to the fact that international
public law recognizes international legal personality to international
organizations. It is different in the case of Protestant organizations or
associations that have an international activity without having the status
of international organizations, and therefore, without international legal
personality. In the past there were only two non-Catholic entities which
1 For a brief bibliographic selection on this issue: J.M. VIEJO XIMÉNEZ, Posición ju-
rídica de la Iglesia católica en el orden internacional, in Revista Española de Derecho
Canónico 158, 2005, 145-218; G. BARBERINI, Chiesa e Santa Sede nell’ordinamento in-
ternazionale: esame delle norme canoniche, Torino 2003; J.J. RUDA SANTOLARIA, Los
sujetos de Derecho internacional: el caso de la Iglesia católica y del Estado de la Ciudad
del Vaticano, Lima 1995; G. ARANGIO-RUIZ, Note sulla personalità internazionale della
Santa Sede, in La politica internazionale della Santa Sede 1965-1990, Perugia 1992, 25-
38; M. TEDESCHI, La posizione internazionale della Santa Sede, in Vecchi e nuovi saggi di
Diritto Eclesiástico, Milano 1990, 181-191; S. FERLITO, L’attiv ità internazionale della
Santa Sede, Milano 1988; T. MALUWA, The Holy See and the Concept of International
Legal Personality: Some Reflections, in Comparative and International Law Journal of
Southern Africa, 1986, 1-26; J.A. BARBERIS, Los sujetos del Derecho internacional ac-
tual, Madrid 1984; H. WAGNON, La personnalité du Saint-Siège en Droit international. Les
faits, les doctrines, in Storia Diplomatica 30, 1977, 321-342, and I. CARDINALE, The Holy
See and International Order, Gerrards Cross 1976.
acted in international society with international subjectivity: the Islamic
Caliphate and the ancient Tibetan Buddhist State, with the Dalai Lama as
head of State (in exile) of Tibet. In the other hand, in Orthodoxy, Mount
Athos, was close to be established as an independent State, but historical
circumstances prevented it.
Epistemological considerations will help to determine the scope of
our work. First, we may wonder whether confessional States would be
a mean for the intervention of an official religion in the international
order. In my opinion, this question has a negative answer because the
State with an official religion is who has an international legal
personality; but official religion does not, even when the confessional
State acts for a purpose or deployed for religious reasons. So, when
the Iranian head of State makes a declaration of hostility towards
Israel, it is an action of the Iranian State, and it is not an act of Islamic
religion. However, the acts of the Holy See in the international order
are both secular and spiritual because it is the top of the Catholic
Church and it has its own international legal personality.
Our second ask is about the countries where the head of State is a
religious authority. It is clear in the cases of the Holy See, Vatican City
State or the Order of Malta. Another case of a catholic head of Stat is in
Andorra, wich it is, actually, a Co-principality where one of two co-
princes is a bishop, specifically, that of La Seo de Urgel2, a Spanish city
near Andorra. But this is a different reality due the fact that Andorra acts
in international life as a secular State, but only has a bishop like a head of
State for historical reasons a bishop, besides the French President.
2. Current forms of presence
2.1. International presence of the Catholic Church and its entities in the
international society
The presence and international activity of the Holy See and the
Vatican City State is a notorious fact, very much studied by the doctrine3;
but Sovereign Order of Malta, another Catholic institution with international
legal personality is not so well known4.
2 M.L. JORDÁN VILLACAMPA, El Obispo de La Seo de Urgel, Jefe del Estado, in
Laicidad y libertades: escritos jurídicos 1, 2001, 125-136.
3 J. BONET NAVARRO, La presencia y actuación de la Iglesia Católica en la vida
internacional, in Libro en Homenaje del Profesor Rafael Navarro Valls (in press).
4 In a different context, they also are international Catholic associations of Catholic
with only canonical legal personality. M. DELGADO MOLINA, Asociaciones internacionales de
fieles, International Associations of the Faithful, in Ius Canonicum 99, 2010, 9-29.

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