Popes had a long wait for the Lateran Pacts
By Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo
For 60 long years after the seizure of
the papal states, Popes Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Benedict
XV lived in absolute seclusion before talks between the government
of Italy and the Roman Pontiff were reopened by Pope Pius XI.
The result of the new negotiations, the Lateran Pacts, refers to
the treaty, the financial agreement, and the Concordat between the
Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy which resulted in the creation of
the independent Vatican City State.
After the seizure of the states in 1870, the Popes continually
protested against the unjustified Law of Guarantees which Italy
wanted to impose on the papacy, and Italy was unwilling to cede any
territory necessary to proclaim a sovereign state. Pope Pius XI was
elected on Feb. 6, 1922, the same year that fascism triumphed.
The Pope was determined to end the bitter situation. It took
courage for this iron-strong Pope from Milan to appear on the front
balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to impart his blessing Urbi et Orbi
(to Rome and to the World). Today we take the Pope’s balcony
appearance for granted, but it was not so at that time.
Benito Mussolini also needed to end the hostilities with the
Catholic Church. Discussions that finally succeeded began in August
1926 between the Italy’s representative and Francesco Pacelli, legal
adviser to the Holy See and brother of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli,
then Secretary of State and later elected Pope Pius XII. The
meetings lasted two and a half years and were held in unviolated
The Lateran Treaty had 27 articles that definitively and
irrevocably settled the "Roman Question," the conflict between the
papacy and the kingdom of Italy (1861-1929). The treaty recognized
the Holy See’s absolute, visible independence and sovereignty with
the right of international and diplomatic relations with other
states. The Vatican issues passports to all cardinals and prelates
who exercise special missions.
Thanks to Cardinal Tisserant, I received one such diplomatic
passport which I used for accompanying him to numerous countries. My
last diplomatic mission was in 1990, to obtain recognition by the
United Nations of the monuments that belong to the Vatican as
cultural patrimony under the protection of the World Heritage.
The Lateran Treaty affirmed the Catholic religion as the sole
religion of the state. Vatican City was created an independent state
with its own territory over which the Holy See could exercise
exclusive, absolute, sovereign jurisdiction, free from interference
by the Italian government.
The same agreement admitted the right of Vatican City to issue
coinage and stamps, to send and receive diplomatic representatives,
and to govern as citizens those residing within its borders. Italy
guaranteed to the tiny state of only 108.7 acres an adequate water
The government had to link the railway system to the train
station in the Vatican, and make telegraph, telephone, and postal
connections with the outside world. Today, with the new technology
of satellites and wireless phones, these concessions seem
unnecessary. Eighty years ago they were vital necessities.
The Pope was held to be sacred and inviolable. Offences against
him, by deed or word, were held punishable under Italian law and
similar in gravity to the offences against the king of Italy.
Some properties outside the Vatican enclosure were retained by
the Holy See. These included three basilicas: St. John Lateran, the
cathedral of the Bishop of Rome; St. Mary Major; St. Paul; other
important churches; and Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer
residence. The Holy House at Loreto, the Basilicas of St. Francis of
Assisi and St. Anthony at Padua, and the catacombs were also given
up to the Vatican.
The financial settlement was immensely greater than the one
previously proposed by the Law of Guarantees, which wanted to grant
an annual sum of 3,224,000 lire. With the new agreement, Italy had
to compensate the Holy See for the loss of its states by paying 750
million lire in cash and 1 billion lire in 5% negotiable government
Finally, the concordat, an agreement between the Pope and the
Italian government on Church matters, was signed to regulate the
status of religion and the Church in Italy, to guarantee to the
Church free exercise of its spiritual power and free, public
exercise of worship.
The government promised to respect the sacred character of the
city of Rome and to allow freedom for bishops, priests, and faithful
to attend religious functions.
Although unanimous enthusiasm greeted the signature of the pacts
in Italy and elsewhere, the rigidity of fascism threatened to break
down completely, especially when Catholic Action, so dear to the
heart of Pius XI, became engaged in political rather than religious
activities. The Pope criticized Mussolini, and the dispute became so
acrimonious that, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the signing
of the Lateran Pacts, the Pope called all Italian bishops to Rome.
The bishops were extremely perturbed and feared a clash between
the Pope and Mussolini would end in a religious war. Many bishops
preferred to leave the country and escape to Switzerland.
Then, as he prepared his speech for the next morning to reproach
Il Duce for violating the Concordat, the Pope died suddenly in the
middle of the night. This was before the outbreak of World War II.
Pope Pius XI was interred under St. Peter’s grotto. He was one of
the most significant and most able of the Popes of modern times.
Msgr. Lopez-Gallo’s columns are available in two volumes for $20
each from St. Andrew’s Church Supply, 275 E. 8 Ave., Vancouver, V5T
1R9, or toll-free at 1-800-663-7161. Proceeds will go to Hogar de
Nazareth Orphanage in Mexico, which he sponsors.
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