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The Current Legislation on Citizenship in the Vatican City State

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The following is a guest post by Dante Figueroa, Senior Legal Information Analyst at the Law Library of Congress. The author would like to recognize the collaboration of  Samuel Urueta, Summer Intern, in the preparation of this posting.

A color photograph showing Vatican City from a distance.
Image of Vatican City by Jorge Valenzuela A (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Currently, the Vatican City State has a population of about 800 people, which makes it one of the least populated countries of the world, and only 450 of its residents have the Vatican citizenship.  I was intrigued by this fact and decided to study how citizenship is acquired in the Vatican City State. A review of recent canon law materials, in particularly Benedetto XVI Legislatore (2011), led me to the article entitled, La Nuova Legge Vaticana Sulla Cittadinanza, 22 febbrario 2011, N. CXXXI [The New Vatican Law on Citizenship, February 22, 2011], by Alessio Sarais.  Law n. CXXXI of 2011, issued by Pope Benedict XVI, contains the current legislation on citizenship of the Vatican City State.

To understand the context of Law n. CXXXI of 2011, it is helpful to understand the historic background of the creation of the Vatican City State. The Papal States were a group of territories located in the central part of the Italian peninsula which were under the jurisdiction of the Pope between 754 and 1870 . The Vatican City State was founded as a separate sovereign State by the Lateran Pacts signed between the Holy See and Italy on February 11, 1929. Pursuant to these treaties and to international law, the Vatican City State, the Holy See, and Italy are different entities and the relationships between them are multiple and complex.  The Holy See represents the universal government of the Catholic Church and is considered a juridical entity under international law but it does not possess the attributes of a sovereign state: territory, population and sovereignity.  Article III of the Lateran Pacts contains the recognition by Italy of the Vatican City State’s ownership of the Vatican territories (including Saint Peter’s Square) and its right to grant citizenship to its subjects.

A color photograph of St. Peter's Square from above.
St. Peter’s Square by Flickr user ishane

As a consequence of sovereignty, each State determines the ways to acquire citizenship. These systems vary for each nation, but the most usual systems are closely related to three classic factors: the place of birth (ius soli), the blood bonds (ius sanguinis), or/and the place of residence (ius loci). It is normal to see a combination of these factors used in a given national system. However, due to the particularities of the Vatican City State, this sovereign entity has utilized other factors to determine whether a person can be considered as one of its citizens.

The first Vatican legislation on citizenship was Law n. III of July 7, 1929 enacted by Pope Pius XI shortly after the ratification of the Lateran Pacts. Law n. III regulated citizenship, access, entrance of vehicles, and residence in the Vatican City State. It used several criteria to determine Vatican City State citizenship. Some of these criteria, for example, related to the office held by the resident interested in becoming a citizen. Law n. III was followed by some minor regulations and decisions that expanded the notion of Vatican City State citizenship. Among the most important are: (a) the decision issued by Pope Pius XII on July 6, 1940, extending citizenship to diplomats of the Holy See who were not residents of the Vatican City State; and (b) the 2006 Swiss Guard governing statute (Organic, Disciplinary and Administrative Statute of the Pontifical Swiss Guard of January 16 of 2006, Art. 85), which extended citizenship to the members of the Papal garrison.

In February of 2009 Pope Benedict XVI appointed an ad hoc commission with the purpose of drafting a new citizenship law. This commission presented a draft bill to the Pope, who approved it and enacted it as Law n. CXXXI of February 22 of 2011. This Law covers four main aspects of the life in the Vatican City State: citizenship, residence, access, and the penalties for infringement thereof.

A member of Swiss Guard standing in uniform near an entrance to the Vatican.
Swiss Guard by claudiogennari via Wikimedia Commons

Under the new legal regimen, citizenship can be acquired by law (ex iure) or by administrative decision. Ex iure citizenship is granted to only three classes of persons: (a) the Cardinals resident in the Vatican City State or in Rome; (b) the Holy See’s diplomats; and (c) the persons who reside in Vatican City State by reason of their office or service. This last class includes the members of the Swiss Guard.

Pursuant to Law n. CXXXI, the acquisition of citizenship by administrative decision can only be requested in three situations: (a) by residents of the Vatican City State when they are authorized by reason of their office or service; (b) by the persons who have obtained papal authorization to reside in the State, independently of any other conditions; and (c) by the spouses and children of current citizens, who are also residents, of the Vatican City State.

Due to the special nature of the Vatican City State, the traditional factors utilized to acquire citizenship (ius sanguinis, ius loci, or ius soli) are not applicable and are not found in its regulations. In lieu of them, the Vatican City State has opted for other factors that are more appropriate for its structure and political organization.

Comments (22)

  1. Fascinating!

  2. If it is a State with its own governing body and defined identity of the citizens then it should have a proper justice system that will enable the appointed judicial representative to make appropriate convictions of catholic priests who are known to the Department for the Congregation of the Faith to have committed hidious crimes of sodomy and abuse of little innocent boys and girls. Within most states outside Vatican catholic priests can sexually abuse children and will escape the clutches of justice because they are above the established laws of the land. Their law is Canon Law an antiquated legislative garbage.

  3. What does this mean for dual-citizenship? Do new cardinals have to relinquish their previous nationality? Is that new with this legislation, or has it been the same since 1929?

  4. Link to Lateran treaty broken.

  5. Virginia has raised some interesting questions that I thought I would address.

    Question #1: What does this mean for dual-citizenship?

    As stated in the post, “Due to the special nature of the Vatican City State, the traditional factors utilized to acquire citizenship (ius sanguinis, ius loci, or ius soli) are not applicable and are not found in its regulations. In lieu of them, the Vatican City State has opted for other factors that are more appropriate for its structure and political organization.” The 2011 law on citizenship does not address the issue of dual-citizenship. Therefore, it would fall to the State of origin of the respective Vatican citizen to determine if such dual-citizenship is permitted. One blogger has elaborated on this in the context of a U.S. citizen becoming Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. The blogger’s conclusions do not seem to indicate that such person would lose his U.S. citizenship.

    Question #2: Do new cardinals have to relinquish their previous nationality?

    As stated above, new cardinals are not required to relinquish their previous nationality, since the 2011 Vatican law only regulates their acquisition of Vatican nationality, but not the status of their prior nationality.

    Question #3: Is that new with this legislation, or has it been the same since 1929?

    My understanding is that the 2011 Vatican law does not amend the core provisions related to the acquisition of nationality by Cardinals with respect to the prior 1929 regulations.

    Thank you for your comment!

  6. I would like to have dual citizenship. My country I live in which is the United States and I would like to hold citizenship of The Vatican City State. I am not in any trouble and never was. I am just a Roman Catholic who is also a member of the Knights of Columbus 4th degree. I Have always been very interested in the Papal States\ Vatican City States. i visited Rome once in 2006 with my American passport. Now I Would like to be a citizen of your country and hopefully study more about it. I’m a very strong believer in my Roman Christianity and already consider myself a honorary citizen of your City State.

  7. If I were to decide to move to, and take up residency in the Vatican City, what law would apply, and what administrative steps would I have to follow? Can I just take up residence in Vatican City without a formal request to do so?

  8. Does this citizenship law grant any citizenship to women besides wives & daughters of the Swiss guard?

  9. I have followed the current visit (and speeches) of the Pope to the United States. In his address to the Senate, he indicated that we were all once immigrants and should welcome those from other Countries with open arms. I’m wondering if this is an approval of the influx of illegal immigrants we are getting in the United States. He quoted the golden rule ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. As a Christian, I try to follow that rule but I would think we have to consider the financial burden these people are putting on our economy (100 Billion dollars a year) and regulate this influx in some way.
    I’m also wondering, since Vatican City is a Country, how strict are the rules for citizenship there and could I become a citizen? Also I know its a small Country but would they accept a certain number of people entering illegally? Just Curious

  10. On the Pope’s return flight from Mexico yesterday, he implied condemnation for Donald Trump’s proposal to limit illegal immigration by “Building a wall”. I am curious as to whether Vatican City allows for illegal immigration and how stringent their citizenship requirements might be. Perhaps the Vatican, since the current head does not believe in walls but bring people together -perhaps they will take in more refugees and allow for illegal and legal residency?

  11. Does not seem too welcoming for immigrants.

  12. I am an Indian. Jai Maharashtra. I want citizenship of Vatican City

  13. Dear sir

    I don’t understand what you say you mean you provide citizenship or other thinks can you explain it thanks

  14. 1.2B member church is also 1.2B citizens’ state, if it offers dual-citizenship to all Catholics. Then it is a country like China and India.
    With Vatican dual-citizenship there will be no refugees in Catholics, they can legally travel to mother church who will give rehabilitation.
    Catholic citizenship is being a citizen of Vatican country and being a member of the Catholic Church to actualize the values of kingdom of God.
    A baptized catholic is a member of the Catholic Church in religious sense and a citizen of Vatican country in political sense.

  15. 1) To Joseph P. – priest are not above the law because they are Catholics. Many have been defrocked (stripped of their ecclesiastical and ministerial priesthood, and many are in prison for their crimes. Your statement is simply no true.

    2) You may not, as a Catholic, simply request citizenship in the Vatican City State. It is for those who work or serve there, and for those closely affiliated with them, particularly their families.

    3) Pope Francis has already given shelter and care to refugees from Syria.

  16. Was Cardinal Law Protected By The Vatican State From His Crime In The USA, As A City Of Refuge?

    Wikipedia: Bernard Francis Law (born November 4, 1931) is an American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He is Archbishop emeritus of Boston, former archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and Cardinal Priest of Santa Susanna, the American Catholic church in Rome.
    Law was the Archbishop of Boston from 1984 until his resignation on December 13, 2002,[1][2] in response to the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal after church documents showed he had extensive knowledge of sexual abuse committed by dozens of Catholic priests within his archdiocese.[3] One priest alone was alleged to have raped or molested 130 children over decades, while Law and other local officials moved him among churches rather than going to the authorities.[3]
    Two years after resigning from his position in Boston, which the Church called “an important step in the healing process”,[4] Pope John Paul II appointed Law as Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 2004. He resigned from this position upon reaching the age of 80 in November 2011

  17. A close connection of the Vatican is SMOM (Sovereign Military Order of Malta), which is a sovereign entity in its own right.
    SMOM: the Grand Master and 3 or 4 of his lieutenants are SMOM official citizens with passports, also has diplomats to over 100 countries…It has a building on the Via Condoti in Rome, which functions like an embassy…But it has no land or territory as does Vatican City.
    The license plates of SMOM are only used on official vehicles.

  18. Do you refer to yourselves as being Vaticanian? Vaticati? Vaticanon?
    Thank you?

  19. Please and I want to know legal means to become Vatican citizens

  20. I looked at this because I wondered, liike Jill at 18 above, what the name of the nationality is.

  21. So with the Pope’s comments on how other countries should accept refugees as citizens, why is it that the Vatican can have the most restrictive immigration laws on the planet? You’ve got a wall and laws that almost prohibit immigration… what are the standards for Christian countries to use here?

  22. So the pope should not condemn other nations for limiting the entry of illegal migrants unless he’s willing to open the Vatican to illegal immigrants as well.

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