Lateran Pacts

   The Lateran pacts were an agreement reached between Mussolini and Pope Pius XI that replaced the guarantee laws of 1871 as the basis for church-state relations in Italy. They were the fruit of a lengthy period of secret negotiations among Pius, the Vatican’s foreign minister, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, Benito Mussolini, and the Fascist justice minister, Alfredo Rocco. Negotiations began in August 1926, but ran into serious difficulties over education, which the Church was not prepared to wholly cede to the Fascist state. Eventually, in February 1929, in the Lateran Palace in Rome, Mussolini and the pope came to a deal that granted unique privileges within the state to the Catholic Church.
   The agreement consisted of three separate pacts. The first was a treaty of mutual recognition between the Vatican and the Italian state, whereby Italy acknowledged the territorial rights of the pope over the Vatican palaces and a number of other churches in Rome, and accepted that the Vatican was an independent state that could maintain diplomatic relations with other states even during times of war. The pope, in return, recognized the kingdom of Italy. Afinancial convention appended to the treaty constrained Italy to pay substantial reparations for Church property expropriated after the Risorgimento. An additional concordat established the role that the Church would play in the civil life of the nation. Here, too, the Church won substantial concessions. Mussolini recognized that Catholicism should be the official state religion; the state’s existing veto power over episcopal appointments should be reduced to a consultative power only; religious instruction would be provided at all levels of primary and secondary education (though not in the universities); the Church would be permitted to organize youth associations, including Azione Cattolica/Catholic Action (ACI) and the Boy Scouts; and church weddings would have civil recognition. The concordat effectively gave the Church legal autonomy from the totalitarian state. It was greeted with consternation by many Fascists, notably Giovanni Gentile and Roberto Farinacci. Catholic democrats like Luigi Sturzo, Giovanni Gronchi, and Alcide De Gasperi, by contrast, worried that the Church would become too closely identified with Fascism. Pius XI, however, was satisfied. The pacts were a legal bulwark of genuine strength against Fascist encroachment on the Church’s traditional activities. The Lateran pacts were subsequently affirmed—with Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI) support—in Article 7 of the 1948 Constitution, which reiterates the independence and sovereignty of the Catholic Church and, in paragraph 2, states: “Relations between [state and the church] are governed by the Lateran pacts. Alterations of these pacts, if accepted by both parties, shall require no constitutional amendments.” In 1984, the pacts were renegotiated to give full status to church weddings so long as they conformed with civil law. Vatican annulments of marriages were made reviewable by Italian courts; religious teaching in Italian public schools was left to the discretion of parents; limited tax exemptions were granted to Church properties with a strictly religious function; state stipends to the clergy were ended; and it was agreed that all disputes between the Vatican and Italy were to be settled in Italian courts, a concession that established the primacy of Italian law. This tilting of the balance toward the state reflects Italy’s increasing secularization.
   See also Papacy.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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