Vatican Government and Infrastructure

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Vatican coat of arms: The crossed keys symbolise the keys of Simon Peter. The keys are gold and silver to represent the power of loosing and binding. The triple crown (the tiara) symbolizes the triple power of the Pope as "father of kings", "governor of the world" and "Vicar of Christ". pictured above is the seal of the Vatican City. The gold cross on a monde (globe) surmounting the tiara symbolizes the sovereignty of Jesus

The Catholic Church is not an absolute monarchy but the Vatican state is. Both the Vatican and Catholic Church have a centralized, top-down, hierarchal structure. This goes against the traditional Christian distrust of power.

In the mid-19th century, the Vatican decided that key to its survival was the centralization of power in the papacy. The Vatican Council of 1869-70 proclaimed the dogma of papal infallibility in part to give the Pope the last word in both spiritual and administrative matters.

Priests and popes are not supposed to participate directly in politics. The 1929 Lateran Treaty, which made the Vatican a sovereign state was part of efforts to stem the tide against modernity which was strengthening the power of Catholic political parties and lay communities at the expense of the Vatican and the Pope.

Websites and Resources Holy See ; Catholic Online ; Catholic Encyclopedia ; Lives of the Saints: ; BBC on Christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website ; Internet Sourcebook ;

Vatican State

Rome is the See of the Pope (the Holy See), who resides in Vatican City, an independent papal state within the boundaries of Rome since February, 1929. A see is the jurisdiction area of a Bishop and the Pope is the Bishop of Rome. The word "see," as in the "Holy See" come from Latin “sedes” ("seat"). It refers to the "Holy Seat" of the Bishop of Rome, or the Pope. Rome has been the home of the Holy See since A.D. 42.

According to the BBC: “The Vatican is the smallest independent state in the world and residence of the spiritual leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Its territory is surrounded by the Italian capital city Rome, and priests and nuns of many nationalities make up almost all of the population. [Source: BBC, January 31, 2018 |::|]

Vatican flag

“The Vatican City is a tiny fragment when compared with the extensive Papal States of central Italy, which were conquered by the forces of Italian unification in the mid-19th century. The popes then became "prisoners in the Vatican", unwilling to leave the confines of the Apostolic Palace until 1929, when Italy's Fascist government negotiated the Lateran Treaty that created the current mini-state. |::|

“The Vatican City itself packs many imposing buildings into its small area. These include St Peter's Basilica, a pilgrimage site. The Vatican Museums and Art Galleries house the priceless art collections of the popes.

Vatican City came into existence in 1929 as a separate state with the Lateran Treaty, a deal struck between the Catholic church and the Italian leader Benito Mussolini that gave the Pope legal authority in Vatican territory in exchange for the church remaining neutral in Italian political affairs. Before the Lateran Treaty the Pope ruled over a shrinking and warring kingdom known as the papal states.

Entrance to the Vatican Museums does not include entrances inside all the Vatican City. Much of the city is limited to scholars with special library passes, to people visiting residents and citizens with prescriptions that can only be filled in the Vatican pharmacy. The Vatican parish is St. Ann's.

Vatican Country Profile

The Vatican, or the Holy See, is the world's smallest country. 108.7 acres (one eighth the size of New York's Central park). It is home to about 800 people. The world’s five smallest political entities (in square kilometers) are: 1) Vatican City (0.4); 2) Monaco (2); 3) Nauru (21); 4) Tuvalu (26); 5) San Marino (61). Vatican City (the Papal State of Rome) and San Marino (the oldest republic in the world) are separate enclaves within Italy.

Vatican statistics: Population about 800. Area 0.44 sq km (0.17 sq mile). Major languages Latin (official), Italian. Life expectancy 74 years (men), 81 years (women). Currency euro. [Source: BBC]

Flag: White and gold have been colors associated with the Vatican for centuries. Crossed keys refer to papal power and to the giving of keys by Christ to St. Peter (Peter was selected by Jesus to carry on the Christian religion). The papal according to some sources stands for the royal, imperial and sacred powers of the pope.

Vatican Population

The Vatican is home to about 800 people. Most are priests, nuns and other clerics. The service industry included the 100-member Swiss Guard. There are about 3,400 lay employees who live outside the city.

The Vatican has a high population density. The world's most crowded countries (people per square kilometer) are: 1) Macao (25,882); 2) Monaco (15,789); 3) Hong Kong (5,308); 4) Singapore (4,228); 5) Vatican City (2,500); 6) Bermuda (1,322); 7) Malta (1,076); 8) Bangladesh (824); 9) Bahrain (772); 10) Maldives (762).

About 400 people possess Vatican citizenship and passports, about two third of which are either Swiss Guard or members of the Holy See's diplomatic corps.

The Vatican has the lowest birth rate of any political entity because no one is born there, which in turn is because no one married lives there.

View of the Vatican in 1921

Curia and Vatican Decision Making

The Curia is the Vatican's administrative branch. It is a bureaucracy dominated by Italians and other Mediterranean people, many of whom are clergymen of one sort or another. .

Congregations of the Curia are like superministries within the Catholic church government. Vatican agencies include the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, which determines who will and won’t be saints;

There is little discussion over sensitive issues between the Vatican, the bishops and ordinary Catholics. The Vatican is a hierarchal, authoritarian organization. When the Vatican makes a decision, the Catholic laity are expected to abide by their rulings without making a fuss.

No one can accuse the Vatican of acting impetuously. In the 1980s it pardoned the famous scientist Galileo, whose heretical actions included looking at the planets through a telescope, after 400 years of discussion.

Vatican Security and Justice System

The Vatican is a sovereign city-sate with the right to investigated and persecute any crimes that are committed with ins borders. The Vatican has its own police forces, fire department, courts, magistrates and even a small jail, which is usually isn’t used for anything other than storing books. The only area policed by the Italian police is St. Peter's Square.

Swiss Guard, the official guards of the Pope

Most the criminal cases tried on the Vatican's civil court involve pick pockets and purse snatchers. Before a murder suicide involving two members of the Swiss Guard in 1998, the last murder within the Vatican was the assassination of a prime minister of Pope Pius IX in 1848 in political riots preceding Italy's reunification.

Because of the sovereign status of the Vatican, Italian magistrates need permission to do investigation within Vatican boundaries. The assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II took place in St. Peter's Square and was investigated by Italian police and tried in Italian courts. The scandal surrounding the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano in 1982 involved Italian authorities.

Vatican Wealth and Economics

The Vatican has an annual budget of around $300 to $350 million. In 1991, the Vatican had a deficient of $87 million. In 1994 it had a $1 million surplus. In 2013 it had revenues of $315 million and expenditures of $348 million,

The Vatican has its own banks. In the early 2000, the Vatican lire was replaced by the Euro. The Vatican has some small industries. It makes its own uniforms and mosaics and has its own media. The Vatican has no income taxes. It derives its income from admission fees, and the sale of postage stamps, coins and publications and donations from Catholics.

The Vatican imports all of its food, energy and water. One of the few groups of people allowed to enter the Vatican are people with prescriptions that only be filled in the Vatican pharmacy.

Over the centuries the Catholic Church has amassed a vast amount of land, wealth and valuable artworks. At one time the wealth of the Catholic Church was greater than that of the nations of Europe.

No one outside the Vatican is sure how much the papal state is worth or how much it earns from its investments. It assets are vast. Besides the artistic treasures the Vatican possesses it also has numerous international investments, most notably in real estate. Among it vast real estate holdings it once owned shares of the Watergate building in Washington D.C., the Pan Am Building in Paris and the Hilton Hotel in Rome.

Despite all the Vatican's wealth it has a reputation for being parsimonious. To save money the Vatican has its own electricity generators. In the 1980s, journalist James Fallows talked with an archbishop named Lino Zanini who was in charge of maintaining the Vatican physical plant. Referring to a sarcophagus built for Pope John Paul I he said, "Do you know how much they wanted for this job. They wanted one month and 30 million lire [about $15,000 at the time]. Thirty million! And do you know what we did it in?...58 hours, for two million lire!"

Vatican Treasures

Vatican 100 lire coin

Many of the Vatican's greatest treasures can not be viewed by the public. In the catacombs beneath St. Peter's is "Christ Helios," a famous mosaic still in brilliant condition, that is the first such depiction of Jesus, who is in a pose reminiscent of the Greco-Roman sun god, Apollo. [Source: Aubrey Menen, National Geographic, December 1971]

In the attic is an exquisitely made, two-story high wooden model of St. Peters that showed what the Cathedral would have looked like if Michelangelo and others hadn't altered the original Bramante design. The design was scraped by Michelangelo because it had too many dark crannies where bandits could hide out and commit "innumerable rascalities" like coining false money and ravishing nuns. [Ibid]

In 1995, Anthony Melnikas, a scholar from Ohio State University who often spent his summers doing research at the Vatican, Library was charged with theft when he tried to sell two pages from a 14th century manuscript for $500,000 to a U.S. antiquities dealer.

Employees of the Vatican

About 3,000 lay people work at the Vatican. Of these about 90 percent are ordinary Italian citizens and residents of Rome. The largest employer is Vatican Radio which is run by a Jesuit order and employs nearly 400 administrators, lay workers, secretaries and broadcasters who transmit their reports in 35 languages, 15 of which are Eastern European and one of which is Esperanto.

US President Obama at the Vatican with various Vatican employees

The are dozens of priests, nuns and monks who work at the Vatican. The priests hear confessions in booths that have placards announcing the languages the priest understands. Many of the monks and nuns employed at The Vatican restore the Vatican's treasures. One Hungarian nun who was 82 when Fallows talked to her originally wanted to be a missionary but in 1939 when Pope Pius XII saw how skilled she was at stitching up old tapestries he told her "Your mission is here" and she has never worked anywhere else since.

Some employees are paid very well. Workers at the Vatican generally work from 8:00am to 2:00pm, six days a week. Salaries are lower than Rome but it rare for someone to get laid off, and the workers pay no income tax.

Vatican Communications and Media

The Vatican has its own post office and telephone systems. It makes a lot of money from selling stamps for collectors. The Holy See also has its own newspapers, radio and television stations, Internet enterprises, and publishing houses. It also has a movie theater, where films such as the animated film of Moses was screened.

Vatican Radio offers 400 hours of programming weekly, worldwide in 37 languages. According to the BBC: “Powerful transmitters beam Vatican Radio — "The Pope's Voice" — to a global audience. But the station has faced allegations that its transmissions have been putting lives at risk in a Rome suburb by exceeding Italy's electromagnetic radiation standards - claims the Vatican denies.”

The Vatican Press was founded in the 16th Century. It is the official publishing house for memos and letters from the Pope. The Vatican paper L'Osservatoore Romano was founded in 1861 with a daily circulation of about 20,000.

The Vatican opened its Web Site in April 1997. ( It has the pope's latest encyclicals and over a 1,000 other documents. The Popes messages have been disseminated on the Internet. Two million hits were registered after the Pope's first Christmas message. The papacy Twitter account is @pontifex.

Vatican Schools and Bees

Vatican helicopter and the Vatican heliport

The Vatican's Ethiopian College in 1985 had only five members. The colleges get its name from the 15th century when so many Ethiopians made the pilgrimage to Rome the Vatican gave them their own hospice that later became the college.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences as of 1985 had 70 members, 22 of which had earned the Nobel prize. Among its members are Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and Christians from all sorts of different denominations.

Catholic education has traditionally been centered around monastery and convent schools. parish schools, parochial schools and high schools and Catholic colleges and universities.

The Vatican has its own beehives, which are attended by alter boys who attend a special school at the Vatican for three years. The alter boys, who bear chalices and swing smoking censors during mass, also have had large turtles as pets. The honey from the beehives is served at meals and occasionally the bees will swarm and lodge themselves in nooks and crannies of St. Peters Basilica. One Vatican worker told Fallows, "We try to get them down with ladders but sometimes we have to call the firemen for help."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Sourcebook ; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time,, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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