Balkanalysis.com

The Holy See

Capital Vatican City

Time Zone CET (GMT+1)

Country Code 39

ccTLD .va

Currency Euro

Land Area 0.44 sq km

Population 836

Language Latin, Italian

Major Religion Roman Catholicism

Key Data

Notable Public Figures

Francis I - Jorge Mario Bergoglio,
Pope

Pietro Parolin,
Cardinal Secretary of State

Giovanni Angelo Becciu,
Substitute for General Affairs

Paul Richard Gallagher,
Secretary for the Relations with States

Antoine Camiller,
Undersecretary for the Relations with States

Luciano Suriani,
Delegate for Pontificial Representations

Peter Brian Wells,
Assessor for General Affairs

José Avelino Bettencourt,
Head of Protocol

Domenico Giani,
Chief of Vatican Gendarmerie

Serbian-language Review: The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Serbian-language Review: The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

By Colonel Katerina Strbac

Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Serbia, Institute for Strategic Research

The first Serbian-language review of The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans, Col. Strbac’s text provides a comprehensive overview of the work. It can be found from pp. 258-261 of this uploaded military scholarly magazine.

This uploaded magazine is the first issue of 2016 of the Serbian MOD magazine, Vojno Delo: Interdisciplinarni Naucno-Teorijski Casopis, which also contains many other articles of interest to Serbian-language readers.

You can also read an excerpt from the work on the TransConflict site here, and another regarding Bosnia on New Advent here.

For an English language review, see the ECPR’s Standing Group on Organized Crime review by Patrick Mondaca.

Book Review of Catholic Kosovo: a Visitor’s Guide

Catholic Kosovo: A Visitor’s Guide to Her People, Churches, Historical Sites, and Her 1,900 Year Journey

Available in paperback format or in e-book format).
By Marilyn Kott

Reviewed by Chris Deliso

This very useful and illustrated book, published in November 2015, represents the most comprehensive guide (in English, at least) on all historical and modern sites associated with the Catholic Church in Kosovo. As such, it should prove a very handy asset both for those wishing to visit tourist attractions in Kosovo, or learn more about the historic and socio-religious aspects of life there.

Catholic Kosovo is divided into 17 chapters and four appendices. Most of the chapters are devoted to individual churches/Catholic sites in areas throughout Kosovo. The book includes an eclectic selection of factual descriptions and logistical data, bits of personal experience, historical episodes and interviews, including with Kosovo Bishop Dodë Gjergji.

The book starts with an overview of Kosovo’s Catholic sites, and offers handy tips on attending Mass there. An overview of the history of Catholicism in Kosovo is given, but this is enhanced further in the remainder of the book and visits to specific sites. While not every existing church is visited, an appendix provides details of 24 additional ones. Other appendices discuss historical Catholic personalities associated with Kosovo and provide helpful linguistic tips.

The churches and other Catholic-related sites discussed are treated more or less geographically. Pristina sites are discussed first, followed by those of Janjevo and Ferizaj. The southeast route along the northern edges of the Skopska Crna Gorna, is also covered, including Viti, Stublla and the important pilgrimage site of Letnica.

The remainder of the book picks up in the southwest, at the Catholic sites of Prizren and then up to Gjakova, Peja and Klina, before concluding with the sites at Kravasaria and Mitrovica to the northeast. The in-depth discussion of the churches and their histories are complemented by important facts like feast days and patron saints.

The helpful logistical information provided includes maps, directions, Mass schedules, church contact information and online resources.

One of the unique aspects of this book is its collective production process and ultimate beneficiaries. The author and her husband, a former US defense attaché in Kosovo, did not immediately plan to write the book when arriving in 2012. But as practicing Catholics, they quickly found like-minded local and international Catholics who introduced them to local practices and sites, and were thus able to compile a lot of experience and data into something useful for future visitors.

Kott emphasizes that the book was indeed a team effort and developed over time. In her acknowledgements section, the author thanks Msgr. Dodë Gjergji, who provided “access to essential records and photographs,” as well as to several individuals and NGO members who helped with research, translation and writing- people who, in the author’s words, “provided material for this book that only people who live and worship in Kosovo can.” She notes that income from book sales will go to the NGO AYA Pjetër Bogdani, Caritas Kosovo, and the Bishop of Kosovo’s building fund.

Le sfide del Vaticano nei Balcani

Il Rafforzamento della Chiesa Cattolica nel 2015 e oltre

Matteo Albertini e Chris Deliso

L’elezione nel 2013 del carismatico Papa Francesco ha nuovamente stimolato l’interesse del mondo verso il Vaticano; uno scenario nel quale, però, il ruolo giocato dalla Santa Sede nei Balcani ha continuato a rimanere pressoché ignorato, almeno fino ad oggi.

Le sfide del Vaticano nei Balcani cover image BalkanalysisSovrapponendo un’ampia ricerca sul campo, informazioni riservate di intelligence e interviste ad esperti del settore con i resoconti delle fonti giornalistiche e con i dati ufficiali della Chiesa, Le sfide del Vaticano nei Balcani è la prima analisi, interamente dedicata alle attività della Santa Sede nella regione, capace di rendere conto dei rapporti del Vaticano con gli stati e con le chiese balcaniche, e di evidenziare la sua azione nei confronti delle popolazioni locali.

Non mancano infatti libri dedicati al ruolo del Vaticano nei Balcani durante gli anni novanta, nella seconda guerra mondiale o in epoche ancora precedenti; ma nessuno studio ha ancora documentato le politiche e le attività correnti dei rappresentati della Chiesa Cattolica all’interno dell’area. In questo senso, questo studio rappresenta un valido e originale contributo per comprendere come la più celebre delle istituzioni religiose mondiali stia lavorando in una delle regioni storicamente più incerte.

Le sfide del Vaticano nei Balcani (Amazon.com)

Le sfide del Vaticano nei Balcani (Amazon.it)

The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans (English edition on Amazon.com)

Scritto da due veterani analisti con esperienza negli affari balcanici ed europei, questa ricerca si rivolge allo stesso tempo al lettore generico e agli specialisti del settore. Albertini e Deliso documentano in dettaglio le attività della Santa Sede in sette paesi balcanici, con particolare attenzione allo scopo primario di rafforzare – e perfino di espandere – il potere cattolico: una strategia sostenuta dal clero locale, da organizzazioni di beneficenza, da speciali Ordini ecclesiastici e dai governi alleati.

Questo libro è così una lettura necessaria sia per coloro che sono interessati alla Chiesa in quanto istituzione, sia per coloro che intendono comprendere la più ampia geopolitica del sud est europeo contemporaneo.

Inoltre, questo libro evidenzia, per la prima volta, la cooperazione ed i progetti vaticani in comune con i propri partner europei, ognuno dei quali volge uno sguardo preoccupato alla Turchia, a sua volta interessata alle terre un tempo appartenute all’impero Ottomano.

I lettori de Le sfide del Vaticano nei Balcani troveranno dunque approfondimenti non solo sulle questioni religiose, ma anche sui complessi – e spesso poco noti – eventi geopolitici che condizioneranno il futuro della regione, dell’Europa, e dello stesso Vaticano.

Tra gli argomenti trattati:

  1. La struttura e gli obiettivi della operazioni vaticane, e il personale diplomatico chiave;
  2. I protocolli di sicurezza tra Italia e Vaticano;
  3. I dettagliati resoconti delle visite di Papa Francesco in Albania e Turchia nel 2014;
  4. Le relazioni del Vaticano con i paesi ortodossi di Bulgaria, Macedonia e Serbia;
  5. L’importanza di Medjugorje per i cattolici bosniaci e per la missione evangelizzatrice del Vaticano;
  6. Il peso simbolico di alcune reliquie montenegrine, oggetti del contendere di un intrigo internazionale;
  7. Il ruolo dei Cavalieri di Malta nella regione;
  8. Le attività finanziarie del piccolo paradiso fiscale e bancario del Lussemburgo nel sostenere le organizzazioni cattoliche nei Balcani;
  9. Il ruolo segreto dei servizi ungheresi nel mettere in atto la politica vaticana;
  10. La lotta per l’identità nelle comunità albanesi, il ruolo dell’Islam e le preoccupazioni per la sicurezza;
  11. L’intensificata guerra di spie tra Germania e Turchia nei Balcani;
  12. I progetti di sviluppo macro-regionale europei per il periodo 2014-2020 e l’armonizzazione delle politiche europee e vaticane nei Balcani;
  13. Cinque dettagliate appendici, con i dati riguardanti le relazioni diplomatiche del Vaticano con i paesi balcanici, i profili dei nunzi vaticani, le informazioni sulle ONG cattoliche e sulle rappresentanze locali dei Cavalieri di Malta e delle società gesuite.

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Vatican Bookshelf

Welcome! Here we will make available our reviews of Vatican-related books that complement our own publication, The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans: Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and Beyond.

Book Review of Catholic Kosovo: A Visitor’s Guide to Her People, Churches, Historical Sites, and Her 1,900 Year Journey

Available in paperback format or in e-book format).
By Marilyn Kott

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God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican

By Gerald Posner

(Simon & Schuster, 2015)

Reviewed by Chris Deliso

Balkanalysis Vatican Bookshelf Review gods-bankers-Gerald Posner Chris DelisoGod’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican tells in vivid detail the story of how the Holy See transformed itself, within a few short decades, from a declining institution almost distrustful of money into a financial powerhouse. Posner’s detailed investigation – some nine years in the making – tells a remarkable tale of how a small group of men at the highest levels of the Holy See created an unprecedented financial empire for the church, with portentous consequences for key events in modern history such as the World Wars, the Solidarity movement in Poland, and the various scandals within the church over the past two decades. In each case, it appears that greater world conflicts and political events have had a transformative effect on the Vatican’s institutions and indeed its very orientation to money and the ways and means of using it.

It must be said that, while the Vatican as an institution has long been steeped in myth and legend, the actual facts as presented by Posner do not lead to the assumed conclusion that many might expect. Far from having control over a tightly centralized, ever-wealthier treasure chest for centuries, the Vatican has actually gone from boom to bust numerous times and did not even have a proper bank of its own until World War II. And, as the recent auditing efforts authorized by Pope Francis show, still cannot be completely sure exactly what it has, and where, as each successive investigation over the years has always found accounts that have been concealed, or simply forgotten within the vast global network or organizations with which the Vatican must relate.

Indeed, what is perhaps most fascinating about the book is its depiction of an entertainingly chaotic world of Vatican bureaucracy in which funds could come, go, disappear or reappear, and in which some of the most marvelously inventive schemes for accomplishing this were pioneered by some very clever men. Posner provides a great service in introducing us to the various financial advisors who have kept the Catholic Church running for over a century. Indeed, by following the general lineage of not only popes but their financial czars and bureaucrats as well, God’s Bankers makes a useful addition to the historical record, introducing a whole host of colorful characters who are rarely mentioned today, and who are even unknown (to non-Italians, at least), but who have nevertheless had a huge impact on the church’s finances, influence and other countries, groups and individuals. Thus, at heart this is really a story of a relationship: that of an immovable institution and the men tasked with protecting it through financial means.

Indeed, the concept of the church as institution, in which self-protection becomes an instinctive reflex, is driven home often. While they had their differences and even heated rivalries, all of the popes’ financial officials felt a primary and ultimate allegiance to preserving the Church as an institution. Whether or not all of their financial decisions turned out to be wise or ethical, these men felt strongly that they were doing the right thing, and the various popes tended to protect them, even long after their mistakes had compromised them.

Although the book begins with a broad view of the church’s money-making activities in the Renaissance and Early Modern periods (with the well-known but amusing concept of indulgences) the real context from which the narrative springs is the loss of the Papal States in the middle of the 19th century, and the need to find revenues to replace what these landholdings had brought in. This loss, the author notes in detail, had a long-term ideological effect as well, since it forced church leaders to rethink their traditional aversion to participation in finance, and especially their disdain for ‘sinful’ usury.

Posner generates dramatic effect by repeatedly contrasting Vatican financial decisions with the Church’s activities (or alleged activities) in relation to the Nazis and the Holocaust, as well as corrupt businessmen, politicians and organized crime, and finally, with the more recent priestly child abuses scandals. This tactic provides narrative tension and the requisite grounds for stating moralistic views of the Church; this cumulative process provides a sort of momentum leading up to the final plea for Pope Francis to fully modernize the Vatican Bank and desist from any shady dealings. (The author does acknowledge that the last few years have however seen unprecedented efforts by the Holy See, under international supervision, to do exactly this).

However, while many of the cases brought up are quite serious, the truth probably lies somewhere in between, as all past and present sources tend to have different views and to stress different facts and opinions to bolster these views: and this is by all means not a simple question of pro- and anti-Catholic orientations but, as Posner illustrates clearly, of specific personal rivalries and deep enmity within the Curia itself, which often led, and will continue to lead to character assassinations of various popes and other clerical figures by their internal rivals.

Readers of this website will be curious to know what degree of Balkan coverage God’s Bankers goes into. While the answer is not very much, this does not mean that it lacks for good context or interesting jumping-off points for future research. The most interesting of these involve the coverage of events in the first half of the 20th century. The aspect of the Vatican’s finances and its general fortunes (and misfortunes) of the time cast a new light on events happening in the Balkans. And there are great details such as the Vatican man who served as Italy’s delegate to the Ottoman Public Debt Council, which followed the Italian-Turkish war over Libya in 1911.

Various mentions are made of Vatican investments or intended investments in Balkan states, including Montenegro, Bulgaria and Romania. The big mention, of course, concerns the Vatican’s support for fascist Croatia and later funding of the ‘rat lines’ for Nazi war criminals to South America. This coverage is a bit ambivalent, however, for while the author is highly critical of wartime Pope Pius XII, and the Ustase leader Ante Pavelic, he repeats the Croatian church’s traditional positive image of Archbishop Stepanic which is of course debated hotly by Serbian historians and others as well. And, though he notes the horrors of Jasenovac, Posner rather underestimates the number of Serbs, Jews and others killed there by the Ustase. The only other mention of Stepanic is much later in the book, where he is not given any particular endorsement or context in terms of the Vatican’s support for Croatian neo-Ustase forces in the 1990s. There is no mention of Vatican finance in regards to the wars of the period in the Balkans, nor to the vast financial fortunes that the Medjugorje pilgrimage site has amassed since 1982. It would have been interesting to know more about all this. However, these are somewhat tangential to the book’s main thrust and as such are forgivable omissions.

All in all, God’s Bankers is both a highly educational and entertaining book well worth reading. Although the text portion of the book logs in at well over 500 pages (and is followed by useful historical photos of the major players mentioned in the work), it reads quickly and runs at a good pace. Containing unique first-hand interviews with some truly memorable characters, including American government investigators and former Italian secret agents, God’s Bankers is a valuable and necessary contribution to our understanding of a little-known but crucial aspect of the church’s very institutional existence.

Directory of Topics: The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

The below directory of pages presents the key topics and areas of inquiry discussed in The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans: Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and Beyond. Buy the book to get the full story on these topics, which include:

  • Nuncios and Nunciatures: Identities, professional biographical data, common features and activities of current and recent Vatican diplomats in relevant Balkan countries
  • Vatican security and intelligence bodies, their structures, mandate and cooperation with Italian and regional security bodies, as well as tactical directives on the ground
  • The Vatican’s diplomatic strategies in the region, in regards to dealings with Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim communities
  • Prominent Catholic NGOs and groups in the region, how they operate, and identification of their humanitarian and ideological activities
  • Activities and goals of outside countries and groups interested in overarching Vatican and Catholic strategy in the Balkans, including the Knights of Malta, the Jesuits, and European states like Hungary, Luxembourg and Germany

I. Conceptual/Organizational Topics

Catholic Charities and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Diplomacy and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Security and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

The Jesuit Order and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

The Knights of Malta and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

II. Regional Country Topics

Albania and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Bulgaria and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Bosnia-Hercegovina and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Croatia and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Kosovo and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Macedonia and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Montenegro and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Serbia and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Turkey and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

III. Extra-regional Countries Topics

Luxembourg and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Hungary and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

 

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Security and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Providing security for the pope, his entourage and local Catholic facilities is of paramount importance to the Holy See. While fulfillment of this task resides primarily with a small but efficient internal security structure, the Vatican also enjoys strong cooperation with the Italian state, other countries, institutions like Interpol and other entities.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond

Summary

While its main role is safeguarding the pope and Vatican City, the Vatican’s main security institution, the Gendarmerie Corps (official website) carries out many other tasks as well.

The gendarmerie, run currently by the powerful Domenico Giani – an experienced veteran of Italian state intelligence and crime-fighting – oversees security preparations for papal visits abroad, in conjunction with local partners. Founded in 1816, the Corps has undergone various permutations in its time but remains one of Europe’s oldest such institutions. The 130-strong force works closely, on the domestic front, with the pope’s traditional Swiss Guard.

The official relationship between the Italian State and the Holy See in security matters was stipulated by the Lateran Treaty of 1929. While the Vatican has its own police, and is a state unto itself, it tends to grant Italian magistrates and police officials a certain space to operate during common investigations.

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In recent years, the increasing threat of Islamic terrorist attacks against the pope and Vatican City – vividly attested by the summer 2014 warnings from Islamic State – have caused Vatican security planners to beef up their defenses, as well as their partnerships with foreign intelligence services. And the eruption of the ‘Vatileaks’ scandal (among other events) has inspired the Holy See to hire a cyber-security expert.

Chief among international partners is Italy’s External Intelligence and Security Agency (Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna, or AISE). In 2008, a special agreement between the Vatican and Interpol was inked, giving the pope’s security planners new access to criminal databases and the ability to run requests by global law enforcement.

While terrorism, kidnapping and sabotage remain the most sensitive vulnerabilities that Vatican security seeks to address on a regular basis, there are other areas of concern as well. For example, Chief Inspector Giani has spoken publicly about the need to protect religious relics and historic structures, highlighting the effect that wars and black-market economies have on Christian heritage.

We expect that the Vatican’s security measures will increase significantly, if not visibly in the years ahead. The increasing volatility of the Islamic world and recent terrorist attacks in Europe highlight the fact that Christian and Jewish targets remain the most ‘desirable’ for increasingly powerful and well-funded terrorist entities.

Further, we anticipate that the Holy See will, through its diplomatic, ecclesiastical and charity networks, take a preventive approach to stopping possible terrorist attacks, kidnappings and assassination attempts on the ground as well. Bosnia is now the Vatican’s main security and intelligence focus in Europe, due to preparations for Pope Francis’ June 2015 visit to the country. A sign of the ‘invisible hand’ of the Holy See may come in the form of increased Bosnian police raids on Islamist targets in the months ahead.

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Diplomacy and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

Papal diplomacy is a centuries-old art that has manifested in different ways over time, ranging from negotiation and shows of ‘soft power’ to intercession in politics and wars. All of these have been observed in the Balkans in the past, though today the Vatican’s presence is characterized by shrewd and rarely-visible diplomacy.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond Key data about present and past Balkan nuncios comprises a special appendix to the book.

Summary

The Holy See is represented on the ground by a small group of hand-picked diplomats. Statistically, these men are 62 years of age at time of first Balkan appointment, and most have prior experience in developing countries in Africa and Latin America.

The Vatican’s official diplomatic representatives (nuncios) are tasked with covering all territory of interest, with the assistance of relatively small staffs. Their work is greatly assisted, however, through interface with local Catholic leaders, charities and other sympathetic groups and individuals.

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An important restructuring decision in recent years now means that two Balkan countries are assigned to a single nuncio and his team, with the exception of larger countries like Orthodox Serbia and staunchly Catholic Croatia, both of which currently have their own specific nuncios.

Balkan nuncios have the task of balancing official Vatican policy with the ever-changing political realities on the ground, and with the needs of their local ecclesiastical administrations and the flock. In 2015 and beyond, we estimate an increase in the input and influence of nuncios. Their advice was, in the past neglected by some Holy See higher-ups in different administrations.

The projected gains of the nuncios is due to the November 2014 appointment of Jesuit-educated Archbishop Paul Gallagher as the Holy See’s new Secretary for Relations with States. Essentially the Vatican’s ‘foreign minister’, Gallagher is considered a ‘friend of the nuncios’ and is said to have acuity of vision and an openness to input from field diplomats. He will be overseen by Pope Francis and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who is himself an accomplished diplomat.

Therefore, considering this current assessment, analysts focusing on Vatican policy will do well to more keenly observe the activities and insights of papal nuncios in the Balkan countries, as they will increasingly help shape this policy at a time when the Holy See has to focus its attention at the top on other areas of the world.

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The Jesuit Order and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

The Jesuit Order has a centuries-old tradition of activity in the Balkans, particularly in the educational sphere. This is today manifested by the increasing presence of Jesuit schools in the region, while the Order’s humanitarian mission is reflected in the presence of the Jesuit Relief Services charity on the ground. A full list of Jesuit schools, charities and key personnel is provided in a special appendix to the book.

The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyondSummary

Pope Francis is a Jesuit- the first member of this venerable order ever elevated to the papal throne. This fact alone makes the current Balkan activities of the Catholic world’s most famous educators a bit more relevant.

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The Jesuits have recovered an influential presence, acquired in previous centuries. Before the arrival of communism in Albania and Yugoslavia with the Second World War, they had been firmly ensconced in ecclesiastical and educational life in Croatia, Albania and elsewhere.

The official Jesuits Conference of Europe Provincials maintains regional offices in Albania, Bosnia and Croatia, as well as an office in Belgrade that covers both Serbia and Montenegro. Although they tend to maintain a low profile, the Jesuits are very effective in terms of education, information-gathering and interface with local authorities. And their evangelical activities have also enriched the Church’s network ability, volunteer corps, and outreach to the poor and marginalized. Indeed, the activities of Jesuit Relief Services (for just one example) has meant that the Catholic Church is among the best-informed bodies concerning the flow of refugees and asylum-seekers from the Middle East through the Balkans.

The Jesuits today have made a full recovery since their communism-era losses. Schools affiliated with them include the Classical Gymnasium in Zagreb, a Jesuit Philosophical Faculty at Zagreb University, Dubrovnik’s Diocesan Classical Gymnasium ‘Ruđer Bošković,’ and the Jesuit Classical Gymnasium in Osijek (all in Croatia). Other schools include Kosovo’s Asociation ‘Loyola Gymnasium’, and different schools and universities in Albania.

In early 2015, it was announced that Serbia will allow a Jesuit school system to come into existence as well. We expect that the Jesuits will increase their educational, missionary and charity activities in the Balkans, complementing Vatican and EU interests. This would be in keeping with their historic role in the region, even long before the idea of a formally ‘united Europe’ existed.

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The Knights of Malta and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), commonly known as the Knights of Malta, is an original Crusader order founded around the year 1099. Key details about SMOM-Balkan relations are provided in a special appendix to the book. Its current activities in the Balkans are of great interest to analysts and laymen alike.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond

Summary

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is one of the most important, though least-mentioned of Catholic entities in the Balkans. The Maltese Order has been much-maligned by conspiracy theorists interested in the Vatican’s more lurid historical aspects. Nevertheless, its charitable work in the region (and elsewhere) today seems quite benign, and is generally beneficial for local communities.

However, the SMOM also uses its status as an independent sovereign subject under international law to play a role in regional diplomacy and affairs, though it keeps a very low profile in the region, and is only very rarely mentioned in public discourse.

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The one exception to this, over the years, has been the role of the Knights of Malta in Montenegro. As discussed in detail in the book, the SMOM has had an overriding fascination with the country as it is the current owner of several ancient Christian relics once owned by the Knights- whose progenitors looted them from Constantinople during the perfidious Fourth Crusade of 1204.

The efforts of the Knights of Malta to reclaim these relics have taken unbelievable twists and turns since the 1990s, involving political ‘persuasion’ and other means. However, as of 2012 the items in question have been declared a national treasure and it appears that, barring divine intercession, the relics will stay in Montenegro.

In general, we can expect a continuing robust role for the Knights of Malta in the Balkans in years ahead. Along with its charitable endeavors, the group is able to leverage its status as a de-facto state entity to play a key role in execution of international policies that allow the Vatican to harmonize efforts with the EU on say, immigration and refugee issues in the Eastern Mediterranean. The exclusive membership and many political and business connections of SMOM make this one of the most powerful, yet least-known, religious institutions in the Balkans today.

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Catholic Charities and The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans

The key role of Catholic charities in providing vital humanitarian assistance, running development projects, conducting religious outreach and abetting intelligence-gathering in the Balkans has been discussed in The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans, which contains a complete list of active charities and contact data in a complementary appendix.The Vatican challenges in the Balkans Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond

Summary

While some Catholic charity activity predated the fall of Yugoslavia, it was primarily the wars of the 1990s that brought the main players into the region.

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This presence allows the Holy See, crucially, to extend its reach even to places with little or no Catholic representation. The input its delegates receive from local ‘non-official channels,’ complemented by the official Vatican cooperation with the Italian state, INTERPOL and other institutions, also dramatically increases the Holy See’s ability to gather intelligence.

Of course, the main activity of the Catholic charities, both large and small is humanitarian aid and development work. These activities can range from education, health care and disaster relief to refugee assistance, volunteerism, evangelization and even political intercession in times of crisis.

The largest NGO present has long been Caritas, the worldwide Confederation of Catholic Bishops’ Organizations. The American charity Catholic Relief is another major charity present, though it has a more limited focus. Another major Catholic charity, though less well-known outside of Italy, is the Comunità di Sant’Egidio (Community of Saint Giles), a generally well-respected group with long activities in Albania and Kosovo.

A final major charity present is the Germany-based Aid to the Church in Need, led by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza. This powerful organization is now part of the Holy See’s infrastructure, having become a Pontifical Foundation in 2011 under decision of Pope Benedict XVI, and has branches and activities in many countries.

An array of smaller, mostly Italian charities are also active on the ground in the Balkans. Although they have more modest capacities than the above global entities, many are well-funded or have intimate connections with important businessmen, politicians and institutional figures in Italy.

In general, the humanitarian mandate of Catholic charities and NGOs in the Balkans – as everywhere else in the world – gives them legitimate contacts with leaders of government, business and society in the countries where they operate. And the inherent allegiance of these organizations to the Holy See allows them to become, in the diplomatic sense, force multipliers for the Vatican on many levels.

Thus, given the numerically small number of official Vatican diplomatic personnel in the region, and the relative minority of Catholics across much of the Balkans, the infrastructure, activities and personnel of Catholic charities and NGOs constitutes an indispensable resource for the Holy See and the execution of its regional interests.

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