August 12, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

20th-century Church: Vatican City State established

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

Pius XI was pope from 1922 to 1939, between World War I and World War II. He built on Pope Benedict XV’s efforts toward diplomacy, mainly by negotiating 18 concordats with the major powers. He was the first pope to head Vatican City State.

Benito Mussolini had come to power in Italy, and was anxious to win the good will of the Church. The pope, too, wanted to end the situation that had made five popes “prisoners in the Vatican” since 1870. After two years of negotiation, the Lateran Treaty was signed on Feb. 11, 1929, establishing the State of the Vatican City.

The treaty extended recognition to the Church’s holdings outside the Vatican itself, such as Castel Gandolfo, various office buildings, and basilicas such as St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. It recognized the pope as the absolute owner and sovereign of Vatican City.

It also accepted Catholicism as the only faith in all of Italy, called for Catholic education in Italy’s cities, and gave freedom for Catholic Action, a lay organization which sought to increase the influence of the Catholic faith on society. It also compensated the Holy See for the loss of the Papal States by paying 750 million lire in cash and 1 billion lire in 5-percent negotiable government bonds.

In return, the Church accepted the loss of the Papal States, and agreed to recognize the Italian state with Rome as the capital of Italy.

Today, Vatican City State consists of 108.7 acres, plus the extraterritorial possessions mentioned above. The pope possesses full executive, legislative and judicial rights. The Pontifical Commission for the Vatican State carries out administrative duties.

Vatican City State should not be confused with the Holy See (or Apostolic See). The former term designates only the territorial possession of the papacy, while the latter term refers to the universal spiritual sovereignty, and authority of the pope over the Church.

The Holy See is the oldest sovereign state to participate in international relations, and it remained so after the loss of the Papal States. Diplomats from various countries are posted to the Holy See, not to Vatican City State.

The Holy See, rather than the State of Vatican City, conducts the administration of the universal Church. The Secretariat of State, the papal congregations, tribunals, councils and commissions, all of which assist the pope in administration, are collectively known as the Roman Curia.

Meanwhile, Pope Pius XI tried to improve relations with Germany after Adolf Hitler and the Nazis took over that country in 1933. A concordat, negotiated by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, was signed that year guaranteeing liberty for the Church, independence for Catholic organizations and youth groups, and religious teaching in schools.

Good relations with Mussolini and Hitler didn’t last long as it became apparent that they were intent on totalitarianism after Nazi racial policies were adopted in Italy. Pius XI wrote encyclicals against Italian Fascism, Nazism and Communism.

During his pontificate, Pius XI also spoke out strongly against the persecution of the Jews and against the persecution of the Church in Mexico, the Soviet Union and Spain.

More about Pope Pius XI next week. †

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