Vatican City, as most people know, is a sovereign state, albeit a very small one entirely within Italian territory in the city of Rome. Most visitors to this tiny country enter it by stepping from the Via della Conciliazione, which is in Italy, into St. Peter’s Square, which is in Vatican City. If you’re going to those parts of Vatican City that are not regularly open to the public, however, you have to show your passport at a guardhouse, as you would at other international borders. One doesn’t just walk in. In fact, except for St. Peter’s Square, almost the entire city-state is surrounded by high stone walls, including, on its southern and western borders, parts of the famous Leonine Walls, which were put up by Pope Leo IV in the ninth century. If you took it in your head to climb over these walls, the Vatican’s army, known as the Swiss Guard, would arrest you. The guards might wear those flashy uniforms designed by Michelangelo, but they carry SIG P75 9mm pistols and Heckler & Koch MP-5 submachine guns.
These strike me as very sensible arrangements, but it seems that Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice, disagrees. He said recently , "Speaking of borders, I must unfortunately say that in a world that greeted the fall of the Berlin Wall with joy, new walls are being built between neighborhood and neighborhood, city and city, nation and nation." The building of such walls is "wrong" and part of "an inhuman project," the cardinal says.
At least that’s what he says when other countries build walls on their borders, for he was speaking not about the wall surrounding Vatican City but about the fence the United States is going to build along our southern border with Mexico. Whether he merely forgot that his boss, Pope Benedict XVI, lives behind high stone walls on an international border, or whether he would say that the pope is guilty of inhumanity to his fellow man for so doing, is unclear.
It appears that Cardinal Martino didn’t quite think through all the implications of his remarks. He overlooks the fact that countries have borders for all kinds of important military, political, legal, and economic reasons. If these reasons hold weight and we are going to have borders at all, then countries have a right to make their borders effective. As Publius says in The Federalist No. 44 , "No axiom is more clearly established in law, or in reason, than that wherever the end is required, the means are authorized; wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particular power necessary for doing it is included." If it is morally permissible for a country to have borders (and I don’t think Cardinal Martino has yet denied this), then, everything else being equal, it follows that a fence is morally permissible if it is needed to make a border effective.
For the record, I favor greatly increased immigration into the United States, mostly for the economic benefits I think would accrue to our country generally, to the individuals from outside the United States who would become Americans, and to their home countries. In fact, I think U.S. citizenship is a valuable resource that the United States has a moral obligation to share. Since this valuable resource is limited, however, the obligation to share it includes an obligation to apportion it equitably among those who want it. Implementing equitable principles by which to share U.S. citizenship and the right to enter the United States requires that the American people, acting through their government, control who gets in and on what conditions.
In particular, it requires preventing people from unilaterally appropriating to themselves parts of the resource to be distributed by entering the country illegally. Allowing such things gives those who chance to live in close proximity to the United States, such as Mexicans, an unfair advantage over those who live half a world away, such as Vietnamese. If maintaining our ability to ration this scarce resource equitably requires passport controls at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, or a fence along several hundred miles of desert in the southwestern United States, so be it. Our moral obligation to distribute U.S. citizenship fairly requires such things.
As to Cardinal Martino, assuming he is not prepared to denounce Benedict XVI along with the United States, he needs to articulate a principled distinction between the stone walls surrounding Vatican City and other barriers on international borders. Absent such a principled distinction, his reported statements either expose the Catholic Church to the charge of hypocrisy or expose him to a charge of recklessness in a position of influence.
Robert T. Miller is an assistant professor at the Villanova University School of Law.