Australian Embassy
Holy See

Australia-The Holy See relationship


Holy See - Australia Relationship

The Holy See conducts diplomatic relations through its Secretariat of State and a network of diplomatic posts (known as Nunciatures), and maintains formal diplomatic relations with 183 countries. It is a party to a number of international instruments (including a series of international human rights treaties) and enjoys membership of various United Nations subsidiary bodies, specialised agencies and international intergovernmental organisations. There are 83 countries with resident diplomatic missions at the Holy See, in many ways a City State, including broad representation from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Following the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1973, Australia had a non-resident Head of Mission to the Holy See, based in another European capital, supported by a Counsellor-level Chargés d’Affaires in Rome. The Holy See has maintained an Apostolic Nunciature in Canberra since 1973.

When His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI (now Emeritus) visited Australia (13-21 July 2008) for World Youth Day (WYD), the Government announced Australia would appoint its first resident ambassador to the Holy See: the Hon Tim Fischer AC, who served in this role from 30 January 2009 - 20 January 2012, inclusive. He was succeeded by John McCarthy KCSG, who held the position from 28 August 2012 - 29 January 2016. Ms Melissa Hitchman took up her appointment  as Ambassador on 18 July 2016 and served until December 2019. She was the first career diplomat and first resident female Ambassador to serve in such a capacity. The current Ambassador is HE Ms Chiara Porro.

Some of the other key milestones in the bilateral relationship include the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, on 17 October 2010. The bipartisan parliamentary delegation representing Australia at the ceremony included the now Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop, MP. On 20 October 2011, Pope Benedict opened the Australian Catholic Church's new pilgrimage centre in Rome, Domus Australia. Australia and the Holy See celebrated 40 years of diplomatic relations and 100 years of apostolic relations in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

There continue to be high-level reciprocal visits: former Governor-General, the Hon Sir William Deane AC KBE, attended the investiture mass in March 2013 for then newly-elected Pope Francis; then Education Minister, the Hon Christopher Pyne, MP, represented the Government at the canonisations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in April 2014; Sen. the Hon John Hogg, then President of the Senate, represented the Senate at the 40th Anniversary events; and the Secretary for Relations with States (Foreign Minister) of the Holy See, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Dominique Mamberti, visited Australia in November 2014 at the invitation of the Australian Government, and the Australian Bishops Conference. It was the first such visit to Australia by a Vatican Foreign Minister. Then Governor-General of Australia HE General The Hon Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retired) visited the Holy See in June of 2018.

Archbishop Mamberti was succeeded as Foreign Minister by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who was previously Papal Nuncio (Ambassador) to Australia between 2012 and 2014.