The Pope and foreign policy: Berlin and the Vatican celebrate one hundred years of diplomatic relations

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meets Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meets Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, © Janine Schmitz/photothek.de

30.06.2021 - Article

The anniversary was actually in 2020 but the celebrations had to be postponed because of the pandemic: To mark the 100th anniversary of Germany establishing diplomatic relations with the Holy See, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas received Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin in Berlin.

Back in May, Foreign Minister Maas travelled to the Vatican for a private audience with Pope Francis. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary, he and Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin today participated in the interdisciplinary symposium “Rome in Berlin” hosted by the Apostolic Nunciature in Berlin together with the newly founded Central Institute for Catholic Theology of the Humboldt-Universität. Prior to the symposium, Maas met Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin, the de facto head of government for the Holy See, for talks on international and church policy issues.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meets Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meets Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin© Janine Schmitz/photothek.de

Shared commitment to humanitarian assistance, peace and climate protection

Germany and the Holy See share foreign policy engagement on a number of issues such as humanitarian assistance, peace policy and combatting climate change. The Holy See and Catholic organisations such as Sant’Egidio have successfully worked as mediators in many armed conflicts, for example in Mozambique or Colombia. Organisations such as Malteser International or Caritas are performing important work in the sphere of humanitarian assistance. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at today’s symposium “Rome in Berlin”:

Often it is Catholic organisations such as Caritas, the Malteser or MISEREOR which alleviate humanitarian need and build development opportunities. The drama of the pandemic once again showed us the huge responsibility shouldered by the Church here – sometimes for the healthcare systems of entire countries.

With Pope Francis, the Argentine Jorge Bergoglio, we for the first time have a representative of the global South at the helm of the Catholic Church. Social justice, a humane world economic order, access to education and health, preserving the integrity of Creation, protecting minorities and interfaith dialogue are, for him, major priorities. These topics provide many opportunities for increased dialogue with the Holy See.

The Holy See as a diplomatic actor

The Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with 183 states around the world, has observer status at the United Nations and has signed numerous international agreements and conventions. It is the Pope who embodies the Holy See here as head of the Catholic Church, the Holy See being distinct from the Vatican as an independent dwarf state which was only created in 1929 through the Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Holy See after the original church state had been absorbed by Italy in 1870.

Despite its limited diplomatic apparatus, the Holy See provides comprehensive and in part exclusive insight and access particularly to countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa where the Catholic Church has considerable influence through Church structures, churches on the ground and religious orders. The Nuncio in office plays a key role here, serving as both diplomatic representative of the Holy See and as representative of the Pope in dealings with the bishops of the host country. In Germany and many other countries, the Nuncio is traditionally also Doyen of the Diplomatic Corps, so a kind of “honorary president”. Since 2013, the Croat Archbishop Nikola Eterović has been Nuncio in Germany.

Germany and the Holy See have maintained diplomatic relations since June 1920. The Holy See was the first subject under international law with which the Weimar Republic established official relations. Previously, such relations had been maintained only at the level of individual Länder such as Bavaria or Prussia. Relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Roman Catholic Church are furthermore governed by the Concordat concluded in 1933 which remains valid to this day and covers questions including freedom to practise religion, asset management, education and military chaplaincy. In Germany, the Holy See is represented by the Apostolic Nunciature in Lilienthalstrasse in Berlin where today’s symposium “Rom in Berlin” is meeting.

Foreign Minister Maas:

When, following the Government’s relocation to Berlin, the question of where the new representation in Berlin should be was raised, the Holy See very deliberately decided against using the old plot of land in the embassy district near the Tiergarten park. Instead it moved here, to Neukölln. At the vibrant heart of the city. Where poor and rich, various cultures and religions rub shoulders on a daily basis. The fact that here of all places a piece of Rome has been built in Berlin has something almost prophetic when we look at the pontificate of Pope Francis and his understanding of a passionate and compassionate Church in the truest sense of the word.


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