June 24, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Imperiled Church: The end of the Papal States

John F. Fink(Eleventh in a series of columns)

You can’t help but think that the Catholics of the 19th century were sure that the Catholic Church was imperiled when Italian King Victor Emmanuel incorporated the city of Rome into the fledgling Italian state, and put an end to the Papal States. Rome had always been the center of the Church.

Temporal holdings of the popes went back as far as Constantine. He granted the pope extensive lands in Italy, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Africa. They were used to provide revenue to aid the poor of Rome and repair the city after various disasters and invasions. Other lands were appropriated after the Roman Empire fell in the West.

The Papal States themselves originated with the Donation of Pepin, the king of the Franks, in 756. By the 11th century, the Papal States included roughly two-thirds of Italy, from the Mediterranean Sea on the west to the Adriatic Sea on the east.

Government of this vast territory added to the temporal prestige of the popes. However, it also involved the papacy in bloody conflicts. During the 12th and 13th centuries, there was conflict with the Holy Roman Emperor over territory, and papal power declined during the years when the papacy was located in Avignon, France. However, by the time of Pope Julius II (1503-1513) the states were reclaimed.

As we saw two weeks ago, Napoleon seized the Papal States and annexed them to the French Empire in 1809, but they were restored to the papacy after Napoleon was defeated. While Gregory XVI was pope, the people in the Papal States revolted three times—in 1831, 1843 and 1845—because they wanted more democracy. Gregory had to call on Austria to put down the revolts.

After Pope Pius IX was elected in 1846, he granted some political reforms and set up city and state councils. But he was not prepared to go as far as his subjects wanted and refused to establish a constitutional state. Then papal troops tried to expel the Austrian troops from Italy, but they were defeated. Riots broke out in Rome, and in 1848 the pope fled in disguise to Gaeta, south of Naples.

France then came to the pope’s rescue. French troops restored papal rule, and the pope returned to Rome in 1850. Ten years later, though, Italian troops led by Count Camillo Cavour occupied all of the Papal States except Rome, and its immediate environs, and the territory was added to the new Kingdom of Italy.

French troops protected the pope in Rome for another 10 years until King Victor Emmanuel occupied Rome and incorporated the city into his kingdom on Sept. 20, 1870. He assured Pius IX of his personal safety and bestowed on the Vatican the privilege of extra-territoriality that it still has today. But the large area of Italy that used to be the Papal States was no longer under his jurisdiction. The pope was now “a king without a kingdom.”

Pius IX never accepted this arrangement and considered himself a prisoner in the Vatican. He never again left the area of the Vatican. †

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