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Chapter 41

Pius XI
6 February 1922  — 10 February 1939


Cardinal Achille Ratti was born on May 31, 1857. Unlike his predecessor, he was not of noble birth. His path to the Vatican was set in place when, after a short period as a parish priest, he was appointed librarian of the Ambrosian Library in Milan. In 1912 Pius X appointed him assistant librarian of the Vatican Library and soon Librarian of the Great Vatican Library.

In 1918 he became visitor and then nuncio to Poland. It was a complex post. For over a century Poland had not been independent, and soon the Russian Communist guns were heard in Warsaw, but the Poles warded them off. In 1921 Ratti was created cardinal and transferred to Milan as the archbishop. Within a few months he was Pope Pius XI. Since he was sixty-one when he first entered the Vatican diplomatic corps, it was a meteoric rise through the hierarchy, as he was pope at sixty-four.

Pius XI will ever be remembered principally as the pope at the time of the resolution of the Roman question which had led to Pius IX going into self-imposed "imprisonment" within the Vatican after the Papal States were wrested from the Papacy in 1870. Three subsequent popes, Leo XIII, Pius X and Benedict XV never left the Vatican during their terms of office. No doubt the Vatican saw this as a prolonged protest of their loss of sovereignty, a political power for which they thirsted.

The restoration of a sovereign territory, albeit the world’s smallest, about one-sixth of a square mile, was granted on February 11, 1929. The Lateran Treaty contained three parts. The first part, containing twenty-seven articles, is known as the Conciliation Treaty. The first four articles of the Conciliation Treaty contained enormous concessions to the Papacy which led to the dramatic recovery of Papal sovereignty and international influence. But prior to recording these four articles it is necessary to provide a little background.

Benito Mussolini (1883—1945) was the son of a blacksmith. His mother was a teacher. Appropriately he received his Christian name in honor of Benito Juarez, a Mexican revolutionary. A primary school teacher, he lived for a period in Switzerland where he engaged in atheistic and revolutionary propaganda. As a result he was expelled from one Swiss Canton after another and finally returned to Italy after his expulsion from the country.

In 1908, after serving a ten-day jail term for his socialist activities, he became a journalist in Trento, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He worked with Cesare Battisti who wrote strident articles against Austrian rule. This led to Battisti’s execution by hanging in 1916. It was Battisti’s nationalist fervor which inspired Mussolini.

In 1910 Mussolini was Socialist party secretary and editor. After a five-month jail sentence for opposing Italy’s 1912 conquest of Libya, expelling the Turkish rulers, he became an acknowledged Socialist leader. In 1914 he left the Socialist Party which opposed his support for the Allies in the First World War. In 1915 he formed the Fascist Party. Mussolini served as a private in the Italian light infantry. After the war he formed another Fascist Party, but stood for parliament in Milan with no success.

In the post-war social upheaval, Fascist squads attacked socialists, republicans and communists, with considerable loss of lives. Fascism actually became a national political party in November 1921. Mussolini took the title, Il Duce (the leader). On October 31, 1922 Mussolini formed a coalition government, but soon exerted autocratic power and expelled his non-fascist cabinet members. He formed his own personal army in 1923. By 1926 Mussolini was a dictator, as he banned all political opposition.

It was with this man who had espoused revolution, atheism and republicanism and had led a band of ruffians and thugs, that Pius XI decided to make a pact. On Mussolini’s part, he recognized the value of Roman Catholic support. The loss of the tiny Vatican territory was a small price for a subdued and cooperative Papacy. With his thirst for conquest in Africa and the region of the Mediterranean, he effectively bought off potential Vatican opposition.

The Papal support for the Fascist government of Italy is not difficult to explain, for its own form of governmental structure closely paralleled that of both Fascist and Nazi regimes.

Christopher Dawson, a Roman Catholic historian of that era, expressed it well:

Roman Catholicism is by no means hostile to the authoritarian ideal of the State. Against the liberal doctrines of the divine right of majorities and the unrestrained freedom of opinion the [Roman] Church has always maintained the principles of authority and hierarchy and a high conception of the prerogatives of the State. [Roman Catholic social ideas] have far more affinity with those of Fascism than with those of either Liberalism or Socialism. [They] correspond much more closely, at least in theory, with the Fascist conception of the functions of the "leader" and the vocational hierarchy of the Fascist state than they do with the system of parliamentary democratic party government. (Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Modern State, New York, 1936, 135, 136, quoted in John Robbins, Ecclesiastical Megalomania, The Trinity Foundation)

For its part, the Vatican no doubt recognized that its influence in world affairs would be greatly strengthened if it once more ruled a sovereign state, no matter how small. A Catholic Dictionary, edited by Donald Attwater, states that,

the person of the pope is inviolable and sacred and cardinals enjoy the honours of princes of the royal blood, and wherever resident in Rome, are Vatican citizens. (1958, p. 282)

This was a summary of articles 8 and 21 of the Section entitled "The Conciliation Treaty."

The Lateran Treaty was of monumental significance in the healing process. It effectively erased 1798 and 1870, traumatic Papal years, from the minds of successive pontiffs. It opened the way for later popes, especially Paul VI and John Paul II to travel to every continent, thus immensely expanding the influence of the Vatican both in the religious and political spheres. No longer was the pope a prisoner of the Vatican. But it was, nevertheless, strange that the pope found Papal advancement through a man who had rejected Roman Catholicism, was a former socialist and a man reviled by most civilized nations. It must not be overlooked, however, that the Papacy is ever opportunist.

The Lateran Treaty consisted of three sections—the Conciliation Treaty of 27 articles which outlined Italy’s concessions to Rome, the Financial Convention of 3 articles which set forth the financial settlement with the See of Rome and the Concordat of 45 articles, very favorable to the Vatican.

It was hypocritical that the atheist, Mussolini, agreed to sign both the Treaty of Reconciliation and the Concordat which commenced with identical words, "In the name of the Most Holy Trinity," deities whose existence he denied. But politicians as a class, despite notable exceptions, are prone to insincerity, if their political aims can be thus advanced.

We quote the first four Articles of the Conciliation Treaty, since inherent in these is the concession which enormously advanced the healing of the deadly wound.

Article 1

Italy recognizes and reaffirms the principle established in the first Article of the Italian Constitution dated March 4, 1848, according to which the Catholic Apostolic Roman religion is the only State religion.

Article 2

Italy recognizes the sovereignty of the Holy See in international matters as an inherent attribute in conformity with its traditions and the requirements of its mission to the world.

Article 3

Italy recognizes the full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction of the Holy See over the Vatican as at present constituted, together with all its appurtenances and endowments, thus creating the Vatican City, for the special purposes and under the conditions hereinafter referred to.

The boundaries of the said City are set forth in the map called Annex I of the present Treaty, of which it forms an integral part.

It is furthermore agreed that, although forming part of the Vatican City, St. Peter’s Square shall continue to be normally open to the public and shall be subject to supervision by the Italian police authorities, which powers shall cease to operate at the foot of the steps leading to the Basilica, although the latter shall continue to be used for public worship. The said authorities shall, therefore, abstain from mounting the steps and entering the said Basilica, unless and except they are requested to do so by the proper authorities.

Should the Holy See consider it necessary, for the purpose of special ceremonies, temporarily to prohibit the public from free access to St. Peter’s Square, the Italian authorities shall (unless specially requested to do otherwise) withdraw to beyond the outer lines of Bernini’s Colonnade and the extension thereof.

Article 4

The sovereignty and exclusive jurisdiction over the Vatican City, which Italy recognizes as appertaining to the Holy See, forbid any intervention therein on the part of the Italian Government, or that any authority other than that of the Holy See shall be there acknowledged.

Other articles were most advantageous to the Vatican. The infrastructure of the city of Rome, such as water supply, transport and protection against invasion, was placed at the disposal of the Vatican. Italy agreed to refrain from the construction of high-rise buildings in the vicinity of the Vatican and to demolish those already erected. Any attempt on the life of the Pontiff was to be regarded with identical seriousness as such an attack upon the King of Italy, and similarly punished.

The Vatican was accorded full ownership of several facilities located within sovereign Italian territory. These included the Patriarchal Basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Maggiore (Major) and St. Paul together with their annexed buildings and the monastery of St. Paul. Papal palaces in Italy were also given to the Vatican—the Palace of Castel Gandolfo and the Villa Barberini. Other properties were also specified. Further, educational institutions in Italy, such as the Gregorian University, were exempted from financial indebtedness to Rome.

The Financial Convention accorded the Vatican considerable means. In settlement for the confiscation of the Papal States in 1870, the Vatican was granted 1,750,000,000 lire in cash and bonds, the equivalent of 85,000,000 U.S. dollars, a large sum in 1929.

This treaty was drafted by Francesco Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII’s elder brother. Significantly, Adolf Hitler wrote in Volkischer Beobachter, February 22, 1929,

The fact that the Curia is now making its peace with Fascism shows that the Vatican trusts the new political realities far more than did the former liberal democracy with which it could not come to terms.

These words of Hitler would come home to haunt the Papacy during the twelve years of Nazi rule in Germany. So too, did Hitler’s words in the same article: referring to the Roman Catholic Center Party in Germany, Hitler declared in denunciation,

By trying to preach that democracy is still in the best interests of German Catholics, the Center Party . . . is placing itself in stark contradiction of the spirit of the treaty signed today by the Holy See.

Hitler’s logic was confirmed when later, in signing a Concordat with Nazi Germany in 1933, the Vatican agreed to require the Center Party to disband.

Hitler’s article was not the sole article of significance at the time. The San Francisco Chronicle of February 12, 1929, unwittingly confirmed the fulfillment of Bible prophecy in reporting the restoration of Papal political sovereignty. The newspaper’s headline was full of significance for students of Revelation 13:3—"And his deadly wound was healed." That newspaper headline stated—"Mussolini and Gasparri Sign Historic Roman Pact—Heal Wound of Many Years." The article went on to report,

The Roman question to-night was a thing of the past and the Vatican was at peace with Italy. The formal accomplishment of this today [the Associated Press news release was dated February 11] was the exchange of signatures in the historic Palace of St. John Lateran by two noteworthy plenipotentiaries, Cardinal Gasparri for Pope Pius XI and Premier Mussolini for King Victor Emmanuel III. In affixing the autographs to the memorable document, healing the wound that has festered since 1870, extreme cordiality was displayed on both sides.

And indeed the wound was healed by this act, but the scar of non-Catholic suspicion remained. It would take the pontificates of John XXIII and John Paul II to remove that scar.

There was triumph for the Vatican with the signing of the Lateran Treaty. It was unlikely that the darker side of that accord with a Fascist state was fully appreciated by the Curia at that time of rejoicing. Yet Adolph Hitler had laid out a warning. At the time of the signing he had written,

If the Pope today comes to such an understanding with Fascism, then he is at least of the opinion that Fascism—and therefore nationalism—is justifiable for the faithful and compatible with the Catholic faith. (Scholder, The Churches and the Third Reich, Vol. 1, p. 386)

This assessment strengthened the resolve of Hitler when, four years later, he became the German Chancellor.

Pius XI was the first head of state to recognize Hitler’s government in 1933. Pius XI praised Hitler in public, even before he extended official recognition to the Hitler regime. In 1933, Pius XI told Hitler’s Vice Chancellor Fritz von Papen, also a Roman Catholic, "how pleased he was that the German Government now had at its head a man uncompromisingly opposed to communism." (John Robbins, Ecclesiastical Megalomania, p. 164)

As John Cornwell, in Hitler’s Pope, p. 143, commented,

While the Holy See for centuries had been in the habit of signing treaties with monarchs and governments inimical to its beliefs and values, the terms of the Lateran Treaty had indeed established the semblance of an unprecedented integration of Catholicism and the corporate state.

The Lateran Treaty had indeed incorporated an integration of the Papacy and the Italian State, but the Pope, no doubt, taking the long view, recognized that the inherent risk of subjugation to Italian dominance was very small; rather it would ultimately be the Vatican which would prove to be the dominant power in the concordat. But surely Pius XI’s assessment that Mussolini was "a man sent by Providence," was a slight to the character of the God of heaven.

Many wonder why a document so beneficial to the Vatican and containing the return of sovereignty was not signed by the Pope, rather than that privilege being assigned to a mere plenipotentiary. Despite being titled in the Lateran Treaty by the august appellation, His Most Reverend Eminence the Lord Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, he was nevertheless a far cry from "His Holiness the Supreme Pontiff Pius XI", as the treaty described the Pope. The reason for the absence of Pius XI’s signature was Papal arrogance. Since King Victor Emmanuel III declined to sign the Treaty, leaving that to his Premier, the Pope refused to co-sign with a mere Prime Minister.

The Lateran Treaty established the Roman Catholic Church as the state church of Italy. Italy agreed to adopt various Roman Catholic positions, such as civil divorce, and that state primary and high schools would provide religious instruction based upon the Roman Catholic faith, provided by priests or members of Roman Catholic religious orders. On the surface the Lateran Treaty was an enormous coup for the Vatican, but its demand to unite church and state matters was fraught with fearful danger to dissenters. The union of church and state is an explosive mixture which, as history amply testifies, inevitably leads to persecution of those whose convictions are out of agreement with that of the state-approved and sponsored church. Revelation 13 plainly sets forth the ultimate consequences of Rome’s antithesis to the separation of church and state.

The signing of that Lateran Treaty was such a high point in Pius XI’s reign upon the Papal throne that the rest of his pontificate was anticlimax by comparison.

However, his appointment of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli as Gasparri’s replacement as Secretary of State in 1930, was to have a profound impact upon Papal activities during the Second World War and the early post-war years after Pacelli was elected Pius XI’s successor.

Pius XI took a keen interest in science and in 1925 established the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology and in 1936 the Pontifical Academy of Science. Unfortunately, the establishment of this Academy did not prevent one of Pius’ successors, John Paul II, proclaiming as valid the anti-Biblical concept of evolution.

Pius forwarded the missionary endeavor of the Roman Catholic Church, increasing the number of missionaries by a factor of two during his pontificate. He was an ecumenical pope and succeeded in 1930 in uniting the Syro-Malankarese Christians of Southern India with Rome. Yet, conversely, in his 1928 Encyclical, Mortalium animos, his severe attitude toward Protestants alienated them.

Pius also alienated many Roman Catholics in 1930 when he issued his encyclical Casti connubii, condemning the use of contraceptives as means of birth control. This situation was not assisted in the minds of liberal church members and priests when his 1934 Norms for the Dissolution of Marriage confined such divorce to marriages of non-Roman Catholics to Roman Catholics. In cases where the non-Roman Catholic spouse had later accepted the faith, divorce could only be granted if no sexual relations had occurred after the conversion.

Pius XI’s overwhelming legacy to his church was the resolution of the Roman question with the establishment of the 108.7 acres (44 hectares) nation of the Vatican, thus restoring political sovereignty to the Roman Catholic Church once more. This was a matter of great moment, a major turning point not only in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, but of the world. To this the prophecy of Revelation 13 amply testifies.


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