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a. the palace of the popes in Rome and their principal residence there since 1377, which includes administrative offices, a library, museum, etc., and is attached to the basilica of St Peter's
b. (as modifier): the Vatican Council
a. the authority of the Pope and the papal curia
b. (as modifier): a Vatican edict
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(official name, Stato délia Città del Vaticano).

General information The papal city-state, the residence of the head of the Catholic Church. Located in the western part of Rome, the capital of Italy, on the hill Monte Vaticano. Surrounded almost entirely by a stone wall. Area, 0.44 sq km; length of its border, 2.6 km. Population, circa 1,000 (1970). The official language for documents is Latin.

Form of government The Vatican is a theocratic monarchy. The head of state is the pope of Rome, the head of the Catholic Church. He is elected for life by secret ballot by a consultative council, the College of Cardinals, who are appointed for life by the pope and who in 1970 numbered 136. The pope has supreme legislative and executive authority. The functions of prime minister are fulfilled by a secretary of state. A special papal commission consisting of five cardinals with a governor subordinate to them is responsible for the administration of the Vatican territory. In 1968 for purposes of administration an advisory body, the Consulta, was set up, consisting of 30 laymen, 24 of whom are residents of Rome, and six honorary members who are aliens. The Swiss Guard is responsible for the guarding of the Vatican and ceremonial functions.


Historical survey and economic geography The name “Vatican” is derived from the hill of that name on the banks of the Tiber; here, in the early Middle Ages a palace was erected, which from the end of the 14th century became the permanent residence of the head of the Catholic Church. After the unification of Italy and the incorporation into it of Rome in 1870, the temporal power of the pope of Rome came to an end. The pope did not recognize the unified Italian state and declared himself to be a “prisoner in the Vatican.” The conflict between the Holy See and the Italian government was settled in 1929 by the Lateran Pacts, under which the Vatican state was established, its present limits defined, and the Holy See was recognized as having full international sovereignty.

The economy of the state is based on income from capital investments and offerings. The Vatican is one of the largest owners of capital and has close ties with Italian banks, including the Banco di Roma, Banca Commerciale Italiana, Banco di Santo Spirito, and many others, and with such international banking firms as the House of Rothschild, the Morgan Bank, and the Crédit Suisse. The Vatican’s capital is concentrated mainly in Italy. It has interests in various concerns for the production of electricity, rubber, chemicals, and so forth. It has investments in many international monopolies and also in the USA, Switzerland, Great Britain, France, Spain, and a number of Latin American countries. It also owns much land in Italy, Spain, the Federal Republic of Germany, and other countries, and it derives large profits in the form of tithes payable for the lease of these lands. It receives considerable sums in the form of donations from believers (mostly from the USA), church taxes, and so forth. Its financial activities are coordinated by a special Prefecture for Economic Affairs, which was established in 1968. Other important sources of income are foreign tourists and the issue of postage stamps. The Vatican’s railway station was opened in 1932 and is linked by a 700-meter railway line with the Italian network.

The unit of currency is the Italian lire.

Press, radio, and television The official Vatican publications are Acta Apostolicae Sedis, a bulletin in Latin that publishes the papal legislative acts and has continued in its present form since 1909, and the Annuario pontificio, founded in 1860, which is a yearly reference publication in Italian providing information on Vatican and Catholic Church services, as well as on prominent churchmen. The official Vatican publications in Italian are the daily L’Osservatore romano, founded in 1861, which had a circulation of 70,000 in 1968, and its Sunday edition, Osservatore della domenica; weekly editions of this newspaper appear under the same name in French, English, and Spanish. The journal Civiltà Cattolica, has appeared twice monthly since 1850.

The Vatican has had a radio station since 1931, which in 1970 was broadcasting in 45 languages. The Vatican television center has been in operation since 1949.

The Vatican as the international center of the Catholic Church The position of the Vatican and its role are determined by the influence exerted by the Catholic Church on the mass of its believers and by its control over the clerical forces. According to official Catholic sources in 1969 there were 613,760,000 Catholics, served by 433,200 priests in 200,000 parishes.

Extensive Catholic organizations are controlled by the Vatican. Most of them are in the system of Catholic Action—a complex of organizations involving various levels and groups of the population. In 1970 there were some 40 international Catholic organizations. Among the largest are the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, which has 36 million members in 61 countries, and the International Catholic Youth Federation, with a membership of 10 million in 81 countries. Influence is brought to bear on the working class mainly through the World Confederation of Labor (until 1968 the International Federation of Catholic Trade Unions), which has a membership of 12.5 million in 75 countries. The Vatican also relies for support in its activities on the clerical political parties, of which there were more than 30 in 1968, some of which are in power.

The Vatican is the largest religious and ideological center of Catholicism. It controls numerous Catholic educational institutions and the Catholic press, radio, films, and television.

The Vatican propaganda forces actively oppose communism. The Vatican’s social doctrines support private property, the class divisions of society, class inequality, and so on. Major ideological and practical recommendations are set out in the pope’s speeches and in his encyclicals—letters from the pope to the clergy and believers and, in certain instances, to “people of good will.”

The history of the Vatican’s foreign policy is an indication of its ties with the policies of the most important imperialist powers. In the years preceding World War II the Vatican collaborated with the fascist powers. In 1929 it signed a concordat with Italy, in 1933 with Germany, and in 1940 with Portugal. During the aggressions committed by the fascist powers against the Spanish Republic in 1936-39, Czechoslovakia in 1938-39, Albania in 1939, and Poland in 1939, the Vatican did not raise its voice in protest against the fascist crimes and in fact went along with them. During this period militant anticommunism became the basis of the Vatican’s policy; it endeavored to organize a crusade against the USSR in 1930, it published the anticommunist encyclical Divini Redemptoris in 1937, and so on. During World War II (1939-45) the Vatican was one of the centers of negotiation for a separate peace between the representatives of fascist Germany and Italy and representatives of the USA and Great Britain. After the war and the defeat of the fascist states the Vatican announced its nonrecognition of the postwar frontiers of Germany along the Oder-Neisse line (letter from Pius XII to the German episcopacy in 1948).

The Vatican’s hostility toward communism made it, after World War II, an ally of the more aggressive imperialist circles of the USA and other capitalist states in their struggle against the forces of democracy and socialism. The Vatican welcomed the plans for the formation of the NATO aggressive military bloc (apostolic letter of Pius XII of February 1949) and the military Western European Union (announcement of Pius XII of Oct. 3, 1953). In 1949 a decree was issued excommunicating communists from the church and all those who collaborated with them or read the communist press. The Vatican and its clerical agents endeavored to prevent the spread of socialist revolutions in the people’s democracies. Its leaders came out against measures by any authority of a people’s democracy that would hurt the economic positions of the Catholic Church. For example, the Vatican protested to the Czechoslovak government against the secularization of church lands in Czechoslovakia, and many persons suffered repressions in the form of excommunication in Rumania in 1951 and Poland in 1953. Attempts were made by the Vatican in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other countries to stir up activity among political clericalist forces—Catholic political parties and public secular organizations. In 1949 a decree was issued condemning patriotically inclined Czechoslovak priests and activist laymen who refused to follow the proimperialist course of the Vatican. The Vatican supported the counterrevolutionary uprising in 1956 in Hungary, in which Cardinal Mindszenty took an active part. After World War II the Vatican launched a campaign of slander against the Soviet state. In the western areas of the USSR, Vatican agents among the reactionary Catholic clergy and traitors to their homeland endeavored to hamper the rebuilding of the national economy. The Vatican’s anti-Soviet attitude was set forth in the most unambiguous form in the “Apostolic Letter to the Peoples of Russia” of Pius XII on July 7, 1952.

The development of the world revolutionary movement brought with it an overall weakening of the Vatican position and a decline in the influence of the Catholic Church over the masses of the people. (The bull Humanae salutis, 1962, of John XXIII compared the present stage in the existence of the Catholic Church “with the most tragic times in its history.”) As a result the Vatican leaders were compelled to review the Vatican political line and endeavored to adapt it to changing conditions in the world. The evolution of the social doctrines of the Catholic Church was reflected in the encyclical Mater et Magistra, 1961, which contains elements of bourgeois reformism. A new tendency in the Vatican’s policy on the question of war and peace was evidenced in the statements of John XXIII in the 1960’s in defense of peace and in favor of the settlement of international disputes through negotiation. The main principles of the policy of clerical pacifism are stated in the encyclical Pacem in terris, 1963, and in the Pastoral Constitution On the Church in the Modern World, prepared at the 21st Ecumenical Council between 1962 and 1965.

As the socialist systems in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe became more consolidated, a more realistic approach to the socialist countries began to emerge. In the 1960’s for the first time in international practice exchanges of messages took place as well as meetings between some of the leaders of socialist states and the pope of Rome. The development of relations between the Vatican and socialist countries was reflected in the conclusion of an agreement in 1964 between the Vatican and Hungary, which settled certain practical questions connected with the activities of the Catholic Church in Hungary, and of a protocol in 1966, which normalized relations between the Vatican and Yugoslavia. The Vatican maintains official diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba and, since August 1970, with Yugoslavia.

The Vatican devotes considerable attention to the consolidation of the position of the Catholic Church in developing countries. Since the 1950’s and the collapse of the colonial regimes in Asia and Africa, the Vatican has taken active measures to create groups of local high-ranking Catholic clergy. Local Catholic priests have been consecrated as bishops in Ruanda, Basutoland, Tanganyika and Senegal in 1952; in Nigeria in 1953; in Burma and South Africa in 1954; and so forth. On Mar. 28, 1960, the pope appointed for the first time an African to the office of cardinal—L. Rugambwa. During those same years special attention was paid to the establishment of a local Catholic Church—for example, in British West Africa in 1950; in British East Africa in 1953; and in Burma, Southern Rhodesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Madagascar, and elsewhere in 1955. Diplomatic relations were established with new states of Asia and Africa. The basis of the policy of clerical neocolonialism of the Catholic Church in developing countries is set forth in the encyclical Populorum progressio, 1967. In 1970 the Vatican had diplomatic representation in 14 Asian countries and 16 African countries. Altogether in 1970 the Vatican had 64 foreign diplomatic representatives, including 14 in Europe and 19 in Latin America. Moreover the Vatican has 15 apostolic delegations of a nondiplomatic nature in the USA, Great Britain, and other countries. It has permanent observers at the United Nations, UNESCO, the International Labor Organization, and other international organizations. In January 1971 the Vatican announced its adherence to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons treaty.

New developments in the Vatican’s activities do not signify the rejection of the traditional anticommunist line in its ideology. This can be seen from the statements of some Vatican leaders, attacks against “atheistic communism” in the encyclical Ecclesiam suam (1964) of Pope Paul VI (who has been pope since 1963), Cardinal Ottaviani’s announcement in 1965 on retaining in force the anticommunist decree of 1949, and so forth.

A bitter struggle is taking place between various trends in the Catholic movement in many countries, including the Vatican state itself, between the so-called innovators and the conservatives around questions concerning various aspects of the present Vatican policy, particularly concerning questions of the preservation of worldwide peace and the policy to be adopted toward the socialist countries.


Art and architecture The Vatican consists of a magnificent architectural complex of churches, palaces, and fortifications combined with fine specimens of landscape architecture. The architectural history of the Vatican goes back to the fourth and fifth centuries. The ceremonial entrance to the Vatican is the oval St. Peter’s Square framed by colonnades erected (1657-63) by the architect L. Bernini. The colonnades lead to the largest Catholic church in the world—St. Peter’s Basilica, which has an area of 15,160 sq m and is 132.5 m high. It was built between 1506 and 1614. Among its architects were Bramante, Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta, Vignola, and Carlo Maderno. In the basilica are the marble Pietà of Michelangelo, a bronze baldachin, cathedra, and monuments by Bernini, and other works of art. North of the basilica is a large group of palaces, which occupies an area of 55,000 sq m, built mainly in the 15th and 16th centuries, including the chapel of Nicholas V, with frescoes by Fra (II Beato) Angelico; the Borgia Apartments, with frescoes by Pinturicchio; the Sistine Chapel, with frescoes by Michelangelo, Perugino, Botticelli, and Ghirlandaio; the Pauline Chapel, with frescoes by Michelangelo; the Loggias and Stanze painted by Raphael and his pupils; the monumental Court of the Belvedere and the Court of San Damaso, built between 1503 and 1545 and designed by Bramante; and the ceremonial entrance to the Vatican Palace—the Royal Staircase, (Scala Regia, 1663-66; architect, L. Bernini). The Vatican Library is located inside the palaces and possesses a unique collection of manuscripts; there are the Pio-Clementino, Chiaramonti, and Braccio Nuovo museums of ancient sculpture, the Gregorian Museum of Egyptian and Etruscan antiquities, and other museums. In the Vatican gardens are, among others, the Casino of Pius IV, built in 1558 and designed by the architect Pirro Ligorio, and the Vatican Pinacoteca, containing Italian paintings up to the 17th century. On the Vatican territory are also the papal residence, the radio station, printing house, post office, and so on. The early Christian basilicas of the fourth century (San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Paolo fuori le Mura), the Lateran Palace (16th century), and other buildings in Rome, as well as the pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo (17th century), are also the property of the Vatican.


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