Since Italy became a unified nation in 1861, there have been 11 popes. All but two (the current incumbent, Benedict XVI, and his predecessor, John Paul II) have been Italian. The moral teachings and political opinions of these men have exercised an enormous influence on Italian politics and society.
   Pius IX (pope, 1846–1878). Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti was born in Senigallia (the Marches) in 1792. Initially regarded as a liberal, he was forced to flee from Rome during the 1848 revolution. Restored to his throne by French troops in 1849, he became a rigid conservative. Chiefly remembered for pronouncing the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1869, he rejected all attempts by the Italian state to reach a compromise on the role of the Church within Italy after the occupation of Rome.
   Leo VIII (pope, 1878–1903). Vincenzo Gioacchino dei conti Pecci was born near Rome in 1810. More genuinely liberal than his predecessor, he nevertheless refused to acknowledge the authority of the Italian state over Rome and defined himself as the “prisoner in the Vatican.” He barred Catholics from participating in Italian political life. His main doctrinal innovation was the encyclical Rerum Novarum, which criticized free market economics as well as socialism. Pius X (pope, 1903–1914). Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto was born in the province of Treviso (Venetia) in 1835. In terms of his influence on Italian life, he is chiefly important for giving his tacit consent to the so-called Gentiloni pact, by which the Church indicated a list of conditions that liberal candidates should respect in order to be assured of Catholics’votes. He was sanctified in 1954. Benedict XV (pope, 1914–1922). Giacomo Della Chiesa was born in Genoa (Liguria) in 1854. He is most famous for his condemnation of World War I as a “useless slaughter” in 1917. Within Italy he promoted the formation of the Partito Popolare Italiano/Italian Popular Party (PPI) in 1919. Pius XI (pope, 1922–1939). Ambrogio Damiano Achilli Ratti was born near Milanin 1857. As pope, his primary duty was maintaining the Church’s independence from the Fascist regime. The Lateran pacts, signed in February 1929, succeeded in this objective, though liberal Catholics believed that they made the Church an accomplice of Benito Mussolini’s repressive rule. Violently anticommunist, Pius XI backed the Fascist side during the Spanish Civil War (1936– 1939).
   Pius XII (pope, 1939–1958). Eugenio Pacelli was born in Rome in 1876. He strove to keep Italy out of World War II and preached a negotiated end to the conflict at every opportunity. Widely criticized for not having condemned Hitler’s persecution of the Jews with sufficient vigor, Pius undertook an anticommunist crusade after 1945, interfering directly in Italian domestic politics by threatening to excommunicate communist voters and by mobilizing the clergy in support of the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC). John XXIII (pope, 1958–1963). Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Bergamo (Lombardy) in 1881. As pope, he initiated a period of liberalization for the Church. He prompted the liturgical and doctrinal renewal of the Second Vatican Council between 1961 and 1965, giving it the specific task of “enabling the Church to contribute more usefully to solving the problems of modern life.” Domestically, he sought to disengage the Vatican from Italian politics. His popularity soared after he visited Italian prisons and showed a humility at one with his humble origins. Politically, he followed a policy of detente toward the communist bloc.
   Paul VI (pope, 1963–1978). Giovanni Battista Montini was born in Brescia (Lombardy) in 1897. Paul was the first pope to make pastoral visits overseas, visiting Israel in 1964 and several other countries in the following years. Within Italy, he refrained from turning issues such as divorce and abortion into a crusade, while affirming the Church’s objections to liberalization in these matters. John Paul I (pope, 1978). Albino Luciani was born in the province of Belluno in 1912. A much-loved figure who spurned traditional pomp and ceremony during his investiture, John Paul was expected to renew the policies of Pope John XXIII. His sudden death in September 1978, after just 34 days as pope, put an end to these hopes. John Paul II (pope, 1978–2005). Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice (Poland) in 1920. He was the first non-Italian pope since the Dutchman Hadrian VI (1521–1523). He played a significant role in supporting Poland’s Solidarnosc, which accelerated the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact system and even of Soviet communism. Despite his theological conservatism, John Paul won rueful respect from progressives in Italy for his opposition to the Gulf War and for his strictures against the materialism of modern life. He was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt in May 1981. His death in April 2005 was greeted by popular mourning in Italy. Benedict XVI (pope, 2005– ). Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born in Marktl-am-Inn (Germany) in 1927. A theological conservative, Ratzinger beat several strong Italian candidates during the conclave of cardinals. In September 2006, he made controversial remarks about Islam that led to an uproar in the Arab world.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.


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