The State Department said on Friday that the U.S. government “would take very seriously” a request from the Organization for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) that it monitor the papal election in the Vatican.
Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said she did some “digging” on this issue following Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee’s question on Thursday regarding whether the Obama administration believed that the election of Pope Francis had met international standards.
Lee’s exact question was as follows:
Does the United States regard the election of the Pope to--that election to have met international standards for the election of a world leader? He is, after all, a head of state, and a head of government... You routinely criticize countries or governments for having elections where there is not universal suffrage, where there is not any possibility of appealing the results, where there is not--where there were no monitors, for example. I’m wondering if this meets the standard for a free and fair election in your mind?
Lee went on to say, “Today, it seems like it would be the--it’s probably the least transparent election. I mean, it’s more opaque than an election in North Korea or Iraq under Saddam Hussein.”
“We consider Vatican City a sovereign juridical state,” replied Nuland. She continued:
As some of you know--I think Matt knows--that sovereign juridical state has about 600 resident citizens. I would simply note that in the context of the election for the Pope, they were electing the head of a religion. He’s also the head of this sovereign juridical state.
It’s interesting to us that since this is a European state, we have never had a request for ODIHR monitoring of the election, ODIHR being the election-monitoring entity in the European space. So, obviously, were that to come forward, we would take it very seriously.
Asked if such a request were made whether the Vatican would have to open up its voting process, Nuland responded that if a request were made for ODIHR monitoring of the voting, then the Vatican would be required to consider whether it would be open to ODIHR monitors.
“And, as I said yesterday,” Nuland continued, humorously, “We would--if you wanted to be a monitor, we could see if we could arrange it, Matt.”
Amid laughter from reporters, Nuland joked that other reporters could volunteer to be monitors for the papal elections as well. “We could have a whole roomful of monitors,” she said.
A reporter asked, “Is it then correct that the U.S. does not take a position on whether the election of the Pope was free and fair and transparent... without universal suffrage...?”
Nuland replied, “As I said yesterday, we don’t have any reason to question the process.”
According to CNSnews.com, the ODIHR is part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a United Nations affiliate. OSCE has 57 member states, including the Holy See and the United States.
Last October, Breitbart News reported that OSCE, in response to requests by civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and the ACLU, planned to send out “observers” to monitor the United States election for voter suppression activities.
The ODIHR’s website states that its work “is aimed... at assisting participating States in meeting their OSCE commitments in areas such as democratic governance and lawmaking, the development of pluralistic party systems and political party regulation... and promoting gender equality and women’s political participation.”
The notion of international interference into the freedom of the Holy See to govern the Church is not an unusual concept in the current day. The New York Times reported that the nation of China congratulated Pope Francis on his election to the papacy, while at the same time it warned the Vatican not to meddle in what China deems to be its internal affairs.
The message emphasized the conflict between the Vatican and China’s communist government, which has been accused of suppressing Catholicism. Currently, China does not permit the pope to select his bishops freely in that country.
Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson in China, said that Beijing hoped the pope would work with Chinese officials on improving relations. However, she also said that the Vatican “must stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, including in the name of religion.”
In addition, Chunying said that the Vatican must break diplomatic relations with Taiwan before relations with Beijing can improve. The Vatican, however, has insisted that China provide assurances on granting religious freedom to the estimated 12 million Roman Catholics that have been divided for many years between a state-supervised church, overseen by non-Vatican approved bishops, and an “underground” movement that rejects ties to the government.