The role and tasks of the Apostolic Nuncio

Diplomacy of the Holy See substantially differs from secular diplomacy in the following areas:

  • heterodox nature of power which it represents
  • interests that it is obliged to protect
  • aims that it pursues
  • means that it employs
  • person of the diplomat himself

It was emphasized by the contemporaneous Secretary of State cardinal Angelo Sodano during his visit to Poland at the turn of April and May 1998: “A papal diplomat takes care of spiritual issues which include: matters concerning the Church, human rights, moral issues, universal values. His essential duty is to spread and realize the message of the Gospel. Simultaneously, his task is to protect interests of the Church and the state to which he is accredited. Being concerned about the development of human and religious values, he serves all the citizens of a given country. Thus, ecclesiastical diplomacy employs moral rather than material means.”

Theological grounds for sending representatives of the Holy See

The existence and activity of the representatives of the Bishop of Rome and of the Holy See find its theological justification in teaching about the Church and especially about Peter’s mission in the Church, about collegiality and unity of bishops. These issues were enunciated anew in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Subsequently, this teaching was consistently presented in the post-conciliar document by Pope Paul VI; namely, in motu proprio Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum (The care of all Churches).

Canons concerning this matter are instanced in both codes promulgated by John Paul II (Canons 362-367 of the Code of Canon Law and canon 46 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches).

The Bishop of Rome is a permanent and visible source and foundation of the unity of the Church, bishops and the faithful all over the world. One of his main tasks is concern for keeping unity and indivisibility of the Church (cf. LG, 18), maintaining unity of faith, sacraments and discipline (cf. OE, 2). The precondition for exercising by the Holy Father his mission in the Catholic Church community is keeping close relationships with brothers in episcopate and with the particular churches. The presence of the Pope in all particular churches is necessary for him in order to know their condition and their needs. For obvious reasons, the Pope cannot do it personally in a permanent way.
In the canon 362 of the Code of Canon Law it is stated that “The Roman Pontiff has the innate and independent right to appoint, send, transfer, and recall his own legates either to particular churches in various nations or regions or to states and public authorities. The norms of international law are to be observed in what pertains to the mission and recall of legates appointed to states.”

Therefore, a nuncio is an associate of the Bishop of Rome in exercising the mission of the superior Shepherd of the Church. He participates in the charism of this superior fatherhood. Thus, his mission is a deeply pastoral ecclesiastical duty and not a secular or political task.

It is not surprising then that the Second Vatican Council, being deeply pastoral, enriched the diplomatic activity of nuncios with a substantial innovation: their mission towards a particular Church is a religious ecclesiastical function ad intra, whilst their mission towards a state as a political community is a religious ecclesiastical function ad extra.

The tasks of a Nuncio

Since the tasks of a nuncio are connected with his double mission, they can be divided into two areas:

A. Tasks towards particular Church

The most important duties in this area are the following:

  1. Representing the Pope (The Holy See) to a particular Church
  2. Informing the Apostolic See about life, conditions and activity of a given particular Church
  3. Assisting the bishops and the Polish Bishops’ Conference by action and advice, leaving intact the exercise of their lawful power and personal responsibility
  4. In connection with the appointment of ordinary and auxiliary bishops, proposing names of candidates to the Apostolic See, as well as preparing the informative processes about those who may be promoted
  5. Participating in ecumenical activities and in international cooperation of a particular Church
  6. Safeguarding powers and rights of a particular Church and the Holy See

B. Tasks towards state authorities

Overall, the tasks which have to be mentioned are the following:

  1. Representing the Pope (The Holy See) to state authorities or to international organizations
  2. Fostering appropriate relationships between the Apostolic See and state authorities
  3. Addressing questions concerning relations between Church and State (in consultation with the Bishops’ Conference), drawing up concordats, agreements, treaties, and covenants.
  4. Conducting dialogue and cooperation with state authorities for the sake of human rights, respect for human dignity, freedom of faith, conscience and worship, protection of life, stability of family, solidarity with the poorest members of society, promoting peace between different groups and nations.