Come Now, Is This Really About "International Law"?

From Zenit (a Catholic news service):

The proposal of a member of the social networking Web site Facebook suggesting that the Vatican should exchange its treasures for food in Africa is an impossibility due to international law, says Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes.

The president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum said this Friday to ZENIT at a press conference Friday in which he commented on the online petition titled "Exchange the Vatican's Treasures for Food for Africa. Do You Want to Sign a Petition?"

The cardinal noted that, apart from the ideological aspect of the proposal, the Pope cannot consider it because he is prevented from doing so by international law....

Alberto Juesas Escudero of Spain launched the initiative, which now has more than 40,000 supporters. Escudero claims "it is a shameful to see the Vatican's riches and then watch the news."

He explained that what motivated him to issue this invitation was that he believes the Vatican "does not admit its errors. [...] It does not preach by example. Jesus was born in a cave and lived in poverty."

The youth concluded: "The Vatican is a disgrace! The Catholic religion is a disgrace!"

In answer to ZENIT's questions, Cardinal Cordes ... explained, "I had looked into [the status of the Vatican's holdings] and found out that the Church cannot do what it wants with the works of art that are in the Vatican."

In reality, he said, the Church "has the duty to conserve the works of art in the name of the Italian state." He affirmed, "It cannot sell them." ...

As Religion Clause (Prof. Howard Friedman) points out, the 1929 Treaty between Italy and the Vatican provides, "The artistic and scientific treasures existing within the Vatican City and the Lateran Palace shall remain open to scholars and visitors, although the Holy See shall be free to regulate the admission of the public thereto." The Vatican therefore indeed might not be free to sell off the paintings without violating its obligations to Italy.

But if the Vatican really wanted to sell the paintings and still comply with its obligations, it could just ask Italy to amend the treaty; nothing says such bilateral treaties are unamendable or even extremely hard to amend. And if Italy says no, then it could blame Italy. Or it could just say that it doesn't want to sell the treasures, in my view a perfectly defensible position. But appealing to "international law," as if it were some sort of unchangeable command that strongly constrains the Vatican here, strikes me as something of a smoke screen.

(Whether the reference to "international law" was made by the Cardinal, or added by Zenit, "a non-profit international news agency, made up of a team of professionals and volunteers who are convinced of the extraordinary richness of the Catholic Church's message, particularly its social doctrine, ... [and who see] this message as a light for understanding today's world," I can't say for sure, since Zenit doesn't link to the text of Cordes's comments.)