Friday, June 8, 2012

The Pope, the King and the Lateran Treaty

It was yesterday in 1929 that the Lateran Treaty was ratified between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy which finally ended the stand-off known as the “Roman Question” that existed since the forces of the Kingdom of Italy occupied and annexed the city of Rome in 1870 at which point the Pope withdrew inside the walls of Vatican City, refusing to recognize the united Italy in a self-imposed “exile” of sorts which lasted from that time until the Lateran Accords were signed. During that time the Popes refused to set foot outside the Vatican, banned (or attempted to ban) Catholic participation in Italian politics and refused to recognize the legal existence of the Kingdom of Italy. This split the Roman nobility into two rival camps; the “White Nobility” around the King and the “Black Nobility” around the Pope. Ordinary Italians, the vast majority of whom were solidly Catholic, mostly accepted the new political realities whether they welcomed them or not. Even Catholic clergy had to walk a thin line, remaining loyal to the Pope in keeping with their vow of obedience but also continuing to administer the sacraments even amidst the most difficult of circumstances. For example, since 1870 the Holy See had withdrawn Catholic chaplains from the Royal Italian Army yet in World War I many Catholic clerics volunteered to serve, many quite heroically, even accompanying troops as they charged into enemy machinegun fire to administer the last rites and attend to soldiers who were wounded.

Bl. Pius IX and King Victor Emmanuel II
The Vatican policy of officially ignoring the Kingdom of Italy for such a great period of time was ultimately harmful to both parties concerned. The Kingdom of Italy was deprived of the blessing of the Church and was harmed by the division of loyalties caused by the rift. Yet, the Church was also harmed as well. Most Catholics participated in politics by voting despite the papal ban but there was basically no one to officially argue the cause of the Church in the political arena. Those Italian politicians who did try to argue for the rights of the Church faced condemnation from both sides. The anti-clerical leftists naturally opposed them but the Vatican opposed them as well simply for being loyal to the King. It also prevented the Church from playing as great a role as it might have in the crucial peace process after World War I because the Italian government feared that the Vatican (which was seen to favor the Austrians) would use the proceedings to redress their own grievances and call for the dissolution of the Kingdom of Italy (a plan floated by Germany). Whether the Church would have actually done that we can never know but the standoff undoubtedly prevented the Church from doing as much good as she could have done during such a crisis. Critics were also quick to note that the Pope had excommunicated (several times) the Italian forces who invaded his lands but did not excommunicate German Catholics for invading France and Belgium. The whole situation was certainly not to the benefit of the Church in practical terms or in terms of public perception. This is not surprising as refusing to deal at all with an unfavorable situation usually allows the other side to win by default. As Catholic author Harry Crocker wrote in his book “Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church”, “The pope, in his own words, became a prisoner of the Vatican. He refused any formal acknowledgement that the princely realms of the Vicar of Christ had been reduced to a few -albeit magnificent- buildings, and demanded that Italian Catholics refrain from politics and voting, which was a self-defeating ordinance indeed”.

The Popes, of course, were standing on principle and protesting against the seizure of the Papal States over which they had long ruled as the local monarchs. However, the Italian occupation of Rome was not as detrimental to the Church as many feared and, indeed, ultimately proved beneficial in some ways. To be sure, the fear of a loss of independence on the part of the Pope was real and well founded. The Pope had to have freedom of action and not be under the control of or subject to any sort of pressure by any foreign power. Yet, in truth, the Papal States had never had that sort of independence which would have required the Pope to have sufficient land and people to match any of the major powers of Europe. Even when the Papal States existed the Popes were constantly shifting in political alliances between (usually) France and Germany/Austria to try to prevent any one power from dominating the Italian peninsula and thus threatening Rome. Pope Leo X, for example, joined in a league with the German Emperor and King of England against France when France and Venice looked to be dominating northern Italy. Later, when the Emperor (also King of Spain) looked to be too powerful, the Pope sided with France and his hesitancy in dealing with the outbreak of the Protestant movement is often attributed to his political fear of the German Emperor.

Papal Rome had, of course, been occupied many times by invading forces and probably none were so humane and respectful toward the Church as the Italian Royal Army. In 1083 the Holy Roman (German) Emperor Henry IV besieged Rome and the Pope called on the Normans for help. When they arrived the following year they cleared out the Germans but then sacked the city of Rome themselves. In 1527 German and Spanish troops of Emperor Charles V ransacked the city, butchered the Swiss Guard and besieged Pope Clement VII in Castel Sant Angelo. In 1798 French revolutionaries seized Rome, took Pope Pius VI prisoner and sent him to France, declaring the city a French allied-republic. After Napoleon came to power he annexed Rome and the Papal States as part of the French Empire and Pope Pius VII signed a concordat with him and presided at his coronation. The Congress of Vienna restored the Papal States but in 1849 republican revolutionaries took over, forced the Pope to flee the city and it took a French army sent by Napoleon III to restore the Pope to his proper throne. On the other hand, when the army of the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome, order was maintained, property was protected and the Pope was not hindered or harmed in any way. In fact, the initial offering the King of Italy made to the Pope was far more generous, in terms of the territory to be left under papal control, than in the Lateran Accords the Holy See ended up agreeing to many decades later.

King Victor Emmanuel III visits the Vatican
Originally, King Vittorio Emanuele II offered all of Rome within the Leonine wall to the Pope as his own domain (this included all of Vatican City as well). He was to be treated as a sovereign monarch, immune from criticism, above the law and his person legally sacrosanct and inviolable. He was also to have exclusive use to all papal properties on Italian soil ("use" not "ownership" you will notice). This was hardly 1527 or 1798. However, standing on principle, the Pope refused and so the “Roman Question” festered for decades until 1929 when Pope Pius XI and King Vittorio Emanuele III at long last made peace. It had taken three years of negotiation but finally was accomplished, as it should have been long before. According to the agreement, the Vatican City State was recognized by the King of Italy as a sovereign, independent, neutral state. The Pope recognized the Kingdom of Italy and renounced all claims to the former territories of the Papal States in exchange for which the Kingdom of Italy paid to the Pope 750,000,000 lire in compensation for the loss of these lands as well as an indemnity of 3,250,000 lire a year. The amount paid to the Pope as compensation for the loss of his territory was likewise less than what the King of Italy had originally offered in 1871. However, what was most significant was recognition of the Italian nation by the Church and the creation of the Vatican City State as an independent sovereign entity, protected by law as well as the sustained financial support of the state for the Church. The Roman Catholic Church also became the official state religion of the Kingdom of Italy, religious instruction became a part of all Italian schools (with a crucifix in every classroom) and religious marriages became government approved.

Pope Pius XII visits the Quirinale
It was a happy day without question. The only problem was that this agreement had come about during the Fascist era with considerable pushing on the part of Benito Mussolini himself who wanted absolutely no division of loyalties among the people and just as he had swallowed his ardent republicanism toward that end so too did he suppress his lifelong anti-clericalism, even going through a show of being baptized and declaring the Catholic Church a part of Italian life. He eagerly accepted the praise heaped on him as “the man who had given God back to Italy and Italy back to God”. Of course, he had ulterior motives and both Mussolini and the Pope wasted no time in basically breaking the agreement they had just signed. Mussolini had vowed to respect Catholic institutions but, of course, quickly determined to bring them all under state control. The Pope had promised to stay out of Italian politics but when Mussolini stepped over the line he wasted no time in condemning Fascist totalitarianism as the “pagan adoration of state authority”. Things could have been so much better if the two sides could have reconciled sooner to make the Kingdom of Italy a more perfectly Catholic country, if there had been a Catholic political voice from the start and a push-back against the influence of the socialists, Freemasons and others who monopolized the government for so long.

Mussolini at the Vatican
This should have been the effort from day one, once it was clear that the era of a ‘political papacy’ had gone. Indeed, it is hard to see what real good was accomplished by the long standoff. Of course, that is not to say things would have worked out entirely for the better if the Pope had accepted the original offer laid out in the Law of Guarantees. It rested on the power of the Italian Parliament and, as history shows, what Parliaments give other Parliaments can later take away. The spiritual prestige and popularity of the Pope grew significantly in the aftermath of his self-imposed home-exile but the Church and the Kingdom of Italy both suffered as a result of being deprived of a strong Catholic influence in the new government. The Church could have been of enormous help in combating the spread of radical leftist republican sentiments and this was realized in 1946 when the Church strongly favored the preservation of the monarchy but it all came too late. The republican government that succeeded the monarchy started out in friendly hands but soon came back to amend the Lateran Treaty again and again and again. The most significant change came in 1984 under the socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi who abolished Catholicism as the Italian state religion (and as an aside also ran up the national debt until it was greater than Italian GNP).

There was nothing more historically natural than for the Catholic Church and the Kingdom of Italy to be reconciled. A united Italy under one monarchy had been in peace and accord with the Catholic Church from the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great until the fall of the Roman Empire in the west. The House of Savoy had a long history of being staunch defenders of Christendom. The family ranks included the likes of crusaders and clerics; of Blessed Umberto III and Blessed Amedeo IX, the Savoy were the guardians of the Holy Shroud of Turin and the Kings of Piedmont-Sardinia had been ardent supporters of a strong Church and a strong monarchy and viscerally opposed the principles of the so-called “Enlightenment” and the subsequent French Revolution. Today, the loyal faithful should strive equally for the restoration of the Kingdom of Italy as a truly and officially Catholic monarchy and to strive to put back the Lateran Treaty to the original status it had when it was first signed 83 years ago today.


  1. As an Italian, I pray that my fellow Italians see the light, i.e., monarchy is the answer to solve the problems. Since the fall of the Italian monarchy, Italy has been a political, an economical, and a social basket-case. While most Italians are democrats and republicans, there remains a strong monarchist presence, especially in southern Italy (mostly the small, conservative villages and towns). In addition, there are monarchist organizations educating and advocating the return of monarchy in Italy. So, I am hopeful my fellow Italians will wake from their democrat and republican cesspool. In order to revive the Kingdom of Italy successfully, the culture and attitude must be changed.

    1. Given all the disadvantages they are forced to labor under I have been nothing but impressed by the ardent Italian monarchist community who continue to carry on and keep making the argument for a restoration.

  2. It could only do Italy good to shed the Berlusconi's of their republican government, and return to the crown. A modern day Kingdom of Italy would present an alternative to those radicals (neo fascists) who are growing in strength. Especially in the North of Italy. I've heard there are also strong Sardinian, Venetian and Sicilian independence movements. A king for Italy would unite them should hope!

    1. There are many democratic, republican, monarchist, independent, et al movements throughout Italy. Italians are very individualistic, of course, and there is a long history behind that attitude. There was (is) only one form of government that united (will unite) all Italians--monarchy. Yes, there were many political, economical, and social differences in opinion (still true today) during the Kingdom of Italy, but the monarchy united us all because brotherhood and common cause trump all else. I yearn for the return of the Kingdom of Italy.

  3. In retrospect, Pius IX and his successor's decision to be "Prisoners of the Vatican" was the right move. It earned them the united sympathy of the Catholic world (something I don't think they would have had had they taken an annual "allowance" from the Italian the Law of Guarantees called for) and if they had accepted the Law of Guarantees (which the Popes always argued was a unilateral one-sided law created by the Italian Govt and could be un-created by a future Italian Govt. - which was true) there would have been no true independence for the Pope nor no Vatican City State and no Lateran Treaty that sealed that not only into law but into the Italian Constitution (even the Republican one following the WWII), something going by the "good faith" of Italian politicans the Popes could not rely on. For instance, as you put it, the Popes were granted the "use of" the Vatican, St. Peter's, Castel Gandolfo, the Lateran but now ownership over them (which is downright insulting especially when you consider they had confiscated the Pope's personal property, the Quirinale, as home to the Savoy Kings). Many people mistakenly believed that the "extra-terroritory" clause in the Law of Guarantees meant these properties of the popes - but they were wrong. If you read old issues from the NY Times dating to WWI (when the Italian Govt. was actively trying to suppress any Papal involvement in peace talks citing the Pope had no authority) officials and surrogates of the Italian Govt (especially under PM Crispi) made the claim that the Pope only lived in his domains under the sufferance of the Italian Govt. which actually OWNED the Vatican and the Lateran. Even the Law of Guarantees called for a future date when the "Kingdom of Italy" might take over the Vatican Museums which should have been ominous for anyone thinking the Laws actually granted the Pope any rights. The decision by the Popes to never the leave the Vatican was actually the right one IMO. Any other decision (even openly accepting the Laws of Guarantees) would have meant the Popes were OK with the Italian Govt. unilaterally deciding what the Pope could and could not do and what he owned and did not own.

    1. Could it just be possible that the Catholic world would have gained more sympathy for the Pope simply because he was no longer having to take sides against any of them, because he had been the victim of aggression no matter what happened later or because he wasn't having to throw people in jail or have anyone beheaded anymore? I'd say it would at least be possible. It's not like Catholics were unsympathetic to the Pope before but it was rather difficult when you were a German and the Pope was supporting the French in cutting you down or vice versa.

      I did mention the point about the Guarantees being based on the goodwill of the Parliament -I never said otherwise. However, since the King was willing to offer what he did, if the Pope had at least negotiated with him I think it's at least possible he could have achieved what the Lateran Treaty did over an even greater territory. And as for taking an annual "allowance" from the government, I'm not sure why you would mention that as a negative. That's what happens now and has since the Lateran Accords. All Italians pay a tax to the Catholic Church, that's the law. If it would have weakened public sympathy for the Pope then it would be doing the same now. The only difference is that now, under the republic, all religions now get a piece of the pie instead of just the Catholic Church.

      Another point no one seems to ever make is that, as shaky as the "Guarantees" of the Kingdom of Italy might have seemed, there's not that much difference between that and the Lateran Treaty. A law is a law, a piece of paper is a piece of paper. If countries in 1870 were not willing to wage war to give the Pope back his land and subjects, could anyone imagine a country today doing that if the Italian government just decided to take over the Vatican? Because, promises aside, the Vatican cannot be truly independent. They require the goodwill of the Italian government to maintain themselves just as they did before the Lateran Treaties when the King could have, at any time, occupied the Vatican or simply cut it off from the outside world until they ran out of food and came out with their hands up.

      There were many anti-clericals in the government who urged such action because (they could argue to the world) the Pope would not negotiate and had already done the worst he could do to them. They basically said, 'He's refused to recognize our existence, refuses to deal with us and has already excommunicated everyone three times, so why not just end the problem ourselves?' And of course Italy and the Vatican were at odds during World War I, given what offers the Germans were making it is not surprising. The Papal court was overtly pro-Austrian and even the Pope declaring himself impartial was hard for people to believe since, up to that time, the Pope had never been impartial in a major war, the Pope had always taken a side and sometimes even contributed troops and warships.

      As soon as Bl. Pius IX died, each successive Pontiff found it necessary to roll things back from the initial staunch opposition (to shun the nation of Italy). Is it not possible they could have accomplished even more if they had just done that at the outset? The Papal States were gone, they were not coming back and it seems to me, at least possible, that it would have been much more beneficial to have come to terms with this sooner so that the Catholic majority of Italy could have been mobilized sooner to stop the less savory elements that came to dominate the political scene.

      And, again, like it or not, at the end of the day, the Pope still resides in the Vatican only because the government allows him to. Especially in today's political climate, I cannot imagine the rest of the world or the EU getting all that upset if Mario Monti decided to take a swing at the Pope. There would be plenty of letters of condemnation and protest, but I sadly cannot picture any government today actually doing anything about it.


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