Lateran Treaty (1929)

Lateran Treaty (1929)
Lateran Treaty (1929)

Between 1924 and 1926, the Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini consolidated his power until he had dictatorial control over the nation of Italy and was formally designated as Il Duce, the leader. No longer did Mussolini have to answer to parliament; only the monarch, Victor Emmanuel III, could dismiss him from his post.

Once Mussolini became dictator, he turned his attention to societal issues. As part of this process he began discussions with the Holy See, the political entity of the papacy and Vatican City, in order to improve relations between the two parties.

The support of the papacy was extremely important to Mussolini's continued domination over the Italian people. However, the papacy had remained estranged from outright support for the Italian government following the confiscation without compensation of the Papal States during the process of Italian unification.

This estrangement had a serious impact on the relations between the papacy and the Italian government and resulted in 1874 in the pope's calling for all Catholics to boycott the political process and to refuse to take part in elections or join political parties. This situation persisted until the end of World War I, when the pope revoked the earlier decree.

The Vatican still held tremendous power, both real and symbolic. Therefore, in August 1926 Mussolini began a dialogue between state and church to reinforce his own power and from the point of view of the Vatican to preserve some of its own.

This dialogue was largely prompted by the establishment of the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB), the Fascist youth organization, and its actions to eliminate all other youth organizations and activities within Italy, including those run by the church.

The church viewed these developments with alarm, since they would act to reduce its role in the formation of the character of youth. Although the government officially dissolved the Catholic Boy Scout organizations in 1927, the church, as part of the larger Lateran Treaty, did secure the continuation of Catholic youth groups.

Under pressure from the ONB in the early 1930s, Mussolini toyed with the dissolution of these youth groups, which were increasingly seen as an alternative source of authority and indoctrination. However, he chose not take this step, which would have violated the terms of the Lateran Treaty.

On February 11, 1929, Mussolini, on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III, and Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, on behalf of Pope Pius XI and the Vatican, signed the Lateran Treaty, which ended 60 years of dispute between Italy and the Vatican. This document was divided into three main sections: the conciliation treaty, the financial convention, and the concordat.

The conciliation treaty essentially established official diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Italy and affirmed Catholicism as the "state religion." The financial convention stipulated that the Italian state would pay the Vatican the sum of 750 million lire in cash as well as 5 percent Consolidated Bearer Bonds of 1 trillion lire to compensate the Holy See for the loss of lands in 1870. This payment would be made in full by June 30, 1929, and would not be subject to any tariffs or taxes.

The concordat gave the Vatican power over religious teaching in public schools at both the primary and secondary school levels (taught by priests); extended papal control over marriage laws and wills; reiterated the sovereignty of the Holy See over its property, its ecclesiastical members and seminarians, and its message; and preserved the organization Catholic Action, which was a branch of the Vatican, as the only independent organization left within Fascist Italy.

The Lateran Treaty as a whole provided benefits to each party. For Mussolini, reconciliation with the church brought his government further internal stability, as it broadened the base of support for the state by eliminating the rift that had persisted for six decades.

In terms of its larger, international impact, the treaty elevated Mussolini and thereby his style of government in the eyes of the world and gave both additional legitimacy. For the Vatican, its power over key societal institutions such as marriage and education were extended and reaffirmed. Its terms were incorporated into the postwar constitution and remained in effect until 1985.