? On May 13, 2023, as Pope Francis was about to receive the Ukrainian head of state in audience, he promulgated a new fundamental law for the Vatican City State.
The new constitution is the third fundamental law since the Lateran Treaty which put an end to the “Roman question.” After the annexation of the Papal States by Italy in 1871, the problem arose of guaranteeing the independence of the Holy See, necessary for its integrity and its action.
The solution was the creation of a territory so small that it is almost symbolic, but endowed with all the constituent elements of a State: territory, population, sovereignty, legal system. Since then, the pope has governed Vatican City State through a governor and a commission of five to seven cardinals who exercise their functions by delegation.
Today, the government of this state provides security, public order, civil protection, protection and health care, general hygiene, landscaping, economic activities, postal, philatelic and customs services, connectivity and network infrastructure, construction activities, technical systems and electricity.
It is also responsible for the conservation, enhancement and use of the Vatican Museums, as well as the “supervision of the assets of the entire artistic, historical, archaeological and ethnographic heritage” of the Vatican.
The 1929 law provided for legislative power to be exercised directly by the pope, with the possibility of “delegating legislative power on certain matters or individual objects to the governor.” The second fundamental law, in 2000, established that the Pontifical Commission exercised legislative power directly, except in cases where the pontiff reserved it to himself.
The state remains an absolute monarchy, but John Paul II transmitted the management of power and administration, concretizing the fact that the pope, although king, does not act like a king. As a matter of principle, the Roman pontiff concentrates in his person all the executive, legislative, and judicial powers.
The new fundamental law promulgated by Francis on May 13 aims to “respond to the needs of our time” and to “make operational” the situations arising from the international commitments made by the Apostolic See according to “the renewed demands that this aspect as specific as this requires.”
To put it more clearly, the new constitution of the smallest state in the world should aim to make the necessary updates in terms of financial transparency, but also, and above all, to give more responsibilities to the laity, in the right line of the reform of the Curia consecrated by the successor of Peter in Praedicate evangelium, March 19, 2022.
Until now, the Pontifical Commission managing Vatican City was made up of a cardinal president and other porporati. Beginning next June 7, the date of the entry into force of the new fundamental law, that will no longer be the case.
In addition to the cardinals, the Commission will include “other members” appointed by the Pope for a five-year term: lay people will therefore also be able to participate. Another important modification, in line with the economic and financial reforms implemented by Benedict XVI and accelerated by his successor, consists in the drawing up of the budget: it will no longer be decided – as is the case today – upon a simple presentation by the Governorate, but will result from a three-year program which must take into account international financial criteria.
The Commission comprising clerics and laity will deliberate on the three-year financial plan, submitting “these acts directly to the approval of the sovereign pontiff.” The budget must ensure the “balance” of revenue and expenditure and be inspired by the “principles of clarity, transparency, and equity.”
A last detail, and not least: if in the past the Secretariat of State was involved in the legislative and executive activity of the Vatican City, in particular with regard to the approval of the budget, in the future, the influential dicastery will no longer be able to interfere in the management of the Governorate, except in cases where the micro-State plays the role of subject of international law.
Thus the new constitution accentuates centralization by the fact that “power” is reserved for the pope while the other entities are only assigned “functions.” This is why the new law does not refer to “powers” of the Secretariat of State On the other hand, the various organs have legislative, executive and judicial functions.