After the First World War – in which Italy became involved precisely 100 years ago – many things in the Italian Peninsula were not as they had been before. There were numerous innovations from the political, legal, social, cultural and moral points of view. There were also innovations concerning the Catholic issue, starting with the Roman Question. Indeed as Arturo Carlo Jemolo, with his customary shrewdness, noted in his fundamental history of relations between Church and State in Italy, already, “after a year of war [...] things had changed”.
At the juridical level the events of the war put the Law of Guarantees to the test – and not with a positive outcome – revealing its insuperable limitations. At the political level the liberal elites let the Government know that Italy's unity as a political community could not disregard the adherence of the Catholic masses. For their part, once the prohibitions of the non expedit had faded, Catholics had matured in their commitment to the country’s political life, going beyond the cultural and social commitment in which they had been imprisoned during the previous decades. The construction of the “common house” could not do without their contribution.
There are many reasons for the above-mentioned change. One of them is without a doubt the concrete and effective example of collaboration and solidarity given by the ecclesiastical institution and by Italian Catholics in the tragic years of what Benedict XV had defined the “pointless carnage”. The Holy See’s work for refugees and prisoners, desired by the Pope himself; the enormous charitable effort of Catholic associations for the wounded and disabled, and for widows and orphans; the formidable and daily work for soldiers on the front at material and moral, as well as spiritual levels, not only by military chaplains, dozens of whom died on the battle fields, but also by the many priests and religious called to share in military service the gruelling daily life in the trenches: These are merely examples – but are not secondary – which help in understanding the change of atmosphere mentioned.
It is not by chance that during the Peace Conference in Paris in 1919 the well-known preliminary meetings took place between Archbishop Bonaventura Ceretti and Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy in the course of which concrete openings emerged for surmounting the Roman Question. On that occasion there were significant indications that anticipated what was to happen 10 years later, following the signing of the Lateran Pacts. These indications were not only in the sphere of the guarantees to be assured to the Holy See for the exercise of its lofty mission in the world which in 1929 were to give place to the Lateran Treaty; but also in the different yet at the same time contiguous and supportive sphere of the juridical status of the Church in Italy that was to be resolved with the Lateran Concordat. Orlando himself was later, in the period of the Constituent Assembly, to reveal that a prospect of the Concordat had unfolded.
Today’s anniversary of the agreements stipulated on 11 February 1929 in the Lateran Palace, sparks the memory of the distant origins of a process that aimed to overcome the grievous disagreement between the State and the Church in Italy whose fruits were subsequently to be gathered by others, rather than by those who had triggered the process. However, what it is desired to emphasize here is that it was the tangible, multiple and strong experiences of the Church’s solidarity for a country torn to pieces by the conflict that gave rise to the said process. These experiences led to testing institutional paradigms of distinction in collaboration.
To see clearly, it is also possible to reinterpret the various aspects, which the various epochal transitions brought with them, of the whole long history of the Lateran Pacts since, in this perspective, the agreement reveals the truest and most profound meaning: not that of an insane compromise between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God; not that of a suspicious actio finium regundorum [action for the determination of boundaries] between institutions that distrust one another; not that of a search for reciprocal institutional interests; but rather the meaning of service for the benefit of the human being, in a different capacity and with respect for reciprocal independence and autonomy.
In Art. 1 of the Villa Madama Agreement of 18 February 1984 which led to the revision of the Lateran Concordat, after the mention of the principle of independence and sovereignty proper to each one, the commitment of the Church and of the State to “collaboration for the promotion of Man and the good of the country”.
Therefore the common thread of solidarity, which made a deep mark on the experience of a century in the relations between Church and State in Italy, at last emerged in the 1984 Agreement, becoming a legally binding programme for the future.
St. Peter’s Square
April 24, 2019
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