When is a state not a state?

It may seem in bad taste to find something of academic interest in the sexual abuse cases concerning the Catholic church, but this piece in The Guardian raises some important political and geographical issues.

These include the Pope’s temporal power – long reduced to lands where he exercised jurisdiction directly – and the status of the Vatican. It raises the question of sovereign immunity, with the piece noting that

Most Italian commentators tend to agree that the Vatican is a sovereign entity as it has a marked territory, with Latin as the official language, an independent legal system and its own police body, facts which tend towards giving it the same immunity as states…

But the US Supreme Court has ruled that it does not have that immunity, thereby implicitly suggesting that it is not a real state. Now that’s a long way from it not being recognised as a state – which is crucial – but it’s an interesting development nonetheless. It also, much more broadly, raises questions about what is sovereignty, what is a state and the relation that both have to territory.

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