Skip to comments.75th Anniversary of the Lateran Pacts
Posted on 02/06/2004 12:41:11 PM PST by sinkspur
Though there will be no five-star happenings to mark the occasion no fireworks, no papal liturgies, no processions Wednesday, Feb. 11, is nevertheless the 75th anniversary of a decisive turning point in the history of the modern Catholic Church.
On that date in 1929, the Vatican and the Italian government signed the so-called Lateran Pacts. These three agreements a treaty, a concordat, and a financial settlement recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See and the Vatican City-State, protected Catholic structures in Italy, and provided the Vatican roughly $85 million ($500 million in todays dollars) as reparation for the loss of the Papal States.
Cambridge University historian John Pollard compares the significance of the Lateran Treaties to the impact of Constantine in the 4th century. Just as Constantines policy of state support for the church laid the foundation for medieval Christendom, the legal and financial independence bequeathed by the Lateran Treaties were the sine qua non for the modern imperial papacy.
John Pauls jet-setting and international diplomacy, for example, would be inconceivable without the deal inked by Pius XI and his Secretary of State, Pietro Gasparri, 75 years ago with the Mussolini regime.
In a Feb. 2 interview with NCR, Pollard distinguished short-term, medium-term, and long-term consequences from the Lateran accords.
In the short term, the treaties helped Mussolini and the Italian fascists, giving them badly needed credibility. For the church, the deal resolved the Roman question, clarifying the legal status of the papacy after the collapse of the Papal States in 1870. It meant the pope was no longer in the untenable position of demanding that Italian Catholics abstain from the civic and political life of their newly unified nation.
At a very basic level, it also meant the Vatican, straining under massive debts, could have the roof fixed and pay the light bill.
Medium-term, the preservation of a Catholic infrastructure in Italy, especially through Catholic Action, meant that after World War II the church was the only national institution left standing. Its possible, Pollard argued, that the Christian Democrats would not have triumphed over the Communists in 1948 had it not been for this factor.
Long-term, the treaty consolidated the Vaticans status as a sovereign and independent international actor, which has allowed it to play a role in global affairs that no other religious organization enjoys. It also recognized a privileged position for the Catholic church in Italy it never relinquished.
Hence, Pollard said, despite the somewhat unsavory air that surrounds the Lateran Treaties because of their association with Mussolini and fascism, the bottom line is that they were an enormous boon to the papacy.
Pollard is especially interested in the financial dimension of the Lateran deal. His new book, Money and the Rise of the Money Papacy: Financing the Vatican 1850-1950, due out in the fall from Cambridge University Press, promises to be a fascinating read.
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Italian Cardinal Attilio Nicora, president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, was the architect of the financial dimension of the 1984 revision of the concordat with Italy signed as part of the Lateran Pacts. On Friday, Feb. 6, he sat down for an interview with NCR to discuss the 75th anniversary of these historic agreements.
Nicora said that the treaty that created the Vatican city-state has stood the test of time.
"In this way, Rome remained peacefully the capital of Italy without having to reopen the question of its statutes, and at the same time a small state arose within it, the sign and guarantee of independence for the Holy See," Nicora said. "This solution has endured 75 years, and has overcome extremely serious tests. It's enough to think about the years 1943-45, with the German occupation of Rome, and more generally the entire period of the war."
In fact, Nicora argued, the imaginative result achieved in 1929 could be a model for resolving other seemingly intractable disputes.
"It represents in its own way an example of how, with wisdom and courage, one can find apparently unthinkable solutions to very difficult international questions," he said.
I asked Nicora to respond to the main criticism of the Lateran Pacts, which is that they amounted to a form of support for Mussolini's fascist regime in exchange for a payoff.
"Historically, that this was of benefit to the fascists is indisputable, and in a certain sense that was inevitable," Nicora said. "It's very delicate, very complex, and I think to some extent it's impossible to theorize whether or not in view of this risk, it would have been better to avoid going forward. To me, this is an abstract discussion that goes nowhere."
Pius XI, Nicora said, was not trying to support fascism. Instead, he was trying to be a realistic about the fact that Mussolini was not part of the liberal anti-clerical culture that had dominated Italy since 1870, and hence he was open to finding a solution in a way that previous governments had not been.
The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome. It was built during Constantine's reign and was consecrated by Pope Saint Sylvester I in 324. This feast was later made a universal celebration in honor of the basilica called "the mother and mistress of all churches of Rome and the world" (omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput) as a sign of love for and union with the See of Saint Peter.
Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003
each year we recall the dedication of this Church
to your service.
Let our worship always be sincere
and help us to find your saving love in this Church.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
First Reading: Ezekiel 47:1-2,8-9, 12
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east; and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. And he said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing".
Second Reading: I Co 3:9-11,16-17
For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are.
Gospel Reading: John 2:13-22
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, He drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make My Father's house a house of trade". His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume Me". The Jews then said to Him, "What sign have You to show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up". The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But he spoke of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
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