Azione Cattolica Italiana

Catholic Action (ACI)
   Founded in January 1908 to coordinate the new social organizations that had been established after the publication of the papal encyclical Il fermo proposito in 1905, Catholic Action is the evangelical arm of the Vatican in Italian society. Its major development came in the 1920s, during the pontificate of Pius XI. Anxious to avoid a clash with Benito Mussolini, Pius abandoned the Partito Popolare Italiano/Popular Party (PPI) to its fate and relied almost entirely on the ACI to promote Christian values. It did so via four main institutions: the Federation of Italian Catholic Men, the Society of Catholic Youth, the Catholic University Federation, and the Catholic Women’s Union of Italy. For the most part, these organizations cooperated with the Fascist state’s initiatives, but the youth organizations, the Boy Scouts in particular, clashed with the totalitarian objectives of the state. One of Pius’s principal goals during the negotiations that led to the signing of the Lateran pacts in 1929 was the preservation of the Church’s right to educate young people. Although Pius succeeded in this goal, the proliferation of ACI activities, in particular the publication of specialist publications for the family and women, and the use of church halls for meetings, film shows, and cultural activities, inevitably brought the ACI into conflict with the authorities. In June 1931, all Catholic youth associations were forbidden by law. Pius responded with the encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno, which criticized certain aspects of Fascist ideology as being incompatible with Christianity. Despite this stand on principle, both Pius XI and his successor, Pius XII, were subsequently obliged to tighten ecclesiastical control over the movement. With the return to democracy, there was a huge proliferation of specialist Catholic associations (for doctors, university and school teachers, jurists, chemists, even artists), and an impressive increase in the ACI’s membership from the already imposing figure of 2.5 million in 1943 to over 3.3 million by 1959. In these years, the ACI— particularly under the leadership of Luigi Gedda (1952–1959)—became one of the Church’s weapons in the ideological battle waged by Pius XII against the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI). When Pope John XXIII ascended to the Holy
   See in 1958, the ACI’s semipolitical role became less accentuated. The theological innovations of the second Vatican Council (1962–1965) emphasized the essentially religious function of Church-sponsored organizations. This reduction in what may reasonably be termed its propaganda role, and the increasing secularization of society, caused ACI membership to fall sharply in the 1970s and 1980s, but Catholic associations still penetrate every sphere of Italian life and have a formative effect on the lives of many Italians even today.
   See also Catholicism; Papacy.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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