In the article Pope Francis and the Challenges of Inter-civilization Diplomacy, published in the latest issue of Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (Vol. 58 – No. 2 – 2015), the author analyzes the most important issues in the contemporary diplomacy of the Holy See, governing body of the Roman Catholic Church, and its relations with predominantly Christian Orthodox countries (above all, Russia), China, Israel, and the Islamic world.
The paper examines the transformation of the Holy See in the post-Cold War era and the challenges it faces. The author explains three types of challenges that the Holy See faced at the beginning of the new millennium: One group of challenges includes problems that came from inside the Church itself – scandals like the discovery of pedophile priests and money laundering in the Vatican Bank. The second group of challenges derived not from the Church itself but from societies that are mainly Catholic and, as such, are still more or less considered internal problems. Secularization opened the door for a host of issues, many of which were not supported by the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. Still, the involvement of the Church in societies made certain topics – like the legalization of euthanasia, abortion, same-sex marriages, and marijuana as well as issues with contraception, the celibacy of priests, etc. – major subjects of the Holy See’s affairs in many countries. The third group of challenges, the one most strictly related to diplomacy, has to do with the question of the position of the Holy See in international relations of the post-Cold War era. The Holy See has historically succeeded in getting along with major powers on the world scene. This is something, the paper emphasizes, it must continue to do (particularly with the major non-Catholic entities) given the rapidly changing world.
The paper continues by putting the election of Pope Francis and the first two years of his pontificate in the context of the contemporary history of the Holy See. His election vastly improved the image of the Church because of his personality – the author compares him to John XXIII and John Paul I, as opposed to Benedict XVI and, at least in the twilight years of his long pontificate, John Paul II. As the first pope hailing from the Western and Southern hemispheres, Pope Francis brings a new perspective to the ongoing globalization of the Roman Catholic Church. Relations among important civilizations and their leading countries increased in the globalized post-Cold War world. This is something Pope Francis’ predecessors were fully aware of, but their actions on some occasions were inconsistent with their proclaimed wishes to build bridges with other cultures.
Pope Francis, the paper argues, faces major challenges in his inter-civilization diplomacy: improving relations with Russia and other countries with Orthodox majorities, establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, and continuing two very long and rather complex dialogues – with Judaism, including complicated relations with the State of Israel, and with the Islamic world, encompassing some of the major countries like Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
The paper then goes into short analyses of each one of these major dialogues. Regarding Orthodox Christianity, Pope Francis continues the dialogue, seemingly closing the gap between the two branches of Christianity, which can be seen in his stances on the Ukraine crisis and the recognition of Kosovo – positions that are considered very soft and tactful toward Russia. Growing rapprochement with Eastern Christianity may become the most tangible success of this pontificate. Because relations with Israel depend on the Middle Eastern peace process, this dialogue seems frozen if not moribund at this time, and it is hard to expect any important mediation by the Holy See in the area. The paper claims that relations with Islam remain critical because of the increase of importance of the religion, but many obstacles remain (like the Pope’s recent renewed recognition of the Armenian genocide and the struggles of Christian minorities in some Middle Eastern countries). Further, the article analyzes Holy See politics regarding the People’s Republic of China and recent conciliatory moves between the two, but it also presents some serious difficulties that need to be faced in order to make the establishment of full diplomatic relations – one of the main goals of Holy See diplomacy overall – possible.
The paper concludes with the author’s perspective on possible outcomes of the inter-civilization diplomacy of the Holy See during the current pontificate. While it poses questions around whether the reformatory stance of Pope Francis is answering the challenges faced by the Church or will become a challenge itself (as it faces displeasure and resistance from more conservative forces within the Church), it concludes that major breakthroughs in diplomacy are always hard to predict, but the history of Holy See diplomacy is indicative of the fact that it will be able to adapt to rapidly changing international relations.
Read the article:
VUKIĆEVIĆ, BORIS. (2015). Pope Francis and the challenges of inter-civilization diplomacy. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 58(2), 65-79.
BORIS VUKIĆEVIĆ – University of Montenegro, Faculty of Political Science, Podgorica, Montenegro (firstname.lastname@example.org), ORCID ID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7946-462X.