Dan Brown, Call Your Office: The Strange True Story of the Vatican’s Nuclear Arms Agreement

Did you know that the Vatican City has a nuclear arms agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency? It’s true. In fact, the Vatican has specifically promised the IAEA that they will “make every reasonable effort” to let them know if someone starts a nuclear program that is (a) within Vatican City, and (b) outside of the Holy See’s control:

The Holy See shall make every reasonable effort to provide the Agency with the following information:
  • A general description of and information specifying the location of nuclear fuel cycle-related research and development activities not involving nuclear material which are specifically related to enrichment, reprocessing of nuclear fuel or the processing of intermediate or high-level waste containing plutonium, high enriched uranium or uranium-233 that are carried out anywhere in the V.C.S. but which are not funded, specifically authorized or controlled by, or carried out on behalf of, the Holy See. For the purpose of this paragraph, “processing” of intermediate or high-level waste does not include repackaging of the waste or its conditioning not involving the separation of elements, for storage or disposal.

In other words, if a Cardinal goes rogue, and starts building the materials for nuclear weapons within the Vatican, the Holy See needs to try to remember to let the IAEA know about this.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: that sounds like the least plausible series of events imaginable, a plot too dumb to be in a Dan Brown novel. But you’re wrong: nothing is too dumb to be in a Dan Brown novel. The antagonist in the Da Vinci Code is an albino Opus Dei monk-assassin. The ridiculousness of a monk-assassin is rivalled only by the ridiculousness of an Opus Dei monk: they can’t have monks, because they’re a personal prelature (cann. 294-97 of the Code of Canon Law), not a religious house (cann. 607-709). It’s one thing to ask me to suspend my disbelief and accept an Opus Dei hired blade; but ask me to imagine a world in which Opus Dei ignores canon law, and you ask too much. All I’m saying is, both plots are ridiculous, but mine at least makes sense.

Of course, you might also be wondering what the Vatican would be party to such a strange agreement. There’s good reason for that, in fact. It’s so we can have things like this:

Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Legend here.

That is, the true story is that the Vatican has used its status as a sovereign state to help lead the opposition to nuclear proliferation on an international stage. As such, the Holy See couldn’t very well refuse to sign a non-proliferation treaty, and so it’s actually a party to five such agreements. Other than avoiding a potential charge of hypocrisy, it also lets the U.N. say things like: “A total of 190 parties have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States.” So there you have it: a perfectly sensible reason for the Vatican to sign on to what first seems like a nonsensical nuclear arms agreement. I still like the “rogue Cardinal” version better, though.


    1. Didn’t you know that all of the great cathedrals have had renovations since 1962, which included silos in their spires?? Your not as ‘up on things’ as I really thought!

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