Pietro Gasparri

His Eminence
Pietro Gasparri
Cardinal Secretary of State

Pietro Gasparri
Installed 13 October 1914
Term ended 7 February 1930
Predecessor Domenico Ferrata
Successor Eugenio Pacelli
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of San Lorenzo in Lucina (1915–1934)
Ordination 31 March 1877
Consecration 6 March 1898
by François-Marie-Benjamin Richard
Created Cardinal 16 December 1907
by Pope Pius X
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Birth name Pietro Gasparri
Born (1852-05-05)5 May 1852
Ussita,  Papal States
Died 18 November 1934(1934-11-18) (aged 82)
Rome,  Kingdom of Italy
Buried Ussita
Nationality Italian
Denomination Catholicism
Parents Bernardino Gasparri and Giovanna Sili
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Pietro Gasparri (5 May 1852 – 18 November 1934) was a Roman Catholic cardinal, diplomat and politician in the Roman Curia and the signatory of the Lateran Pacts. He served also as the Cardinal Secretary of State under Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI.


Born in Capovallazza di Ussita (in the modern province of Macerata, then part of the Papal States) as the youngest child of a family of shepherds. His parents were Bernardino Gasparri and Giovanna Sili, who had eight other children. He served as the Apostolic delegate to Peru from 1898 to 1901, when he became a member of the Curia and returned to Rome. He was called to Rome in 1904 to take the post of Secretary for the Commission for the Codification of Canon Law, in which he spent the next 13 years in seclusion, digesting volumes of decrees and studies compiled over centuries to create the first definitive legal text in the history of Catholicism.

He was made a Cardinal-Priest of S. Bernardo alle Terme in 1907, and served as the Cardinal Secretary of State from 1914 to 1930, when he retired to be succeeded by Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII. In January 1915 he opted to become Cardinal-Priest of San Lorenzo in Lucina, however, he retained in commendam his former title until December 1915. From 1916 until his death he was Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, and Cardinal Pacelli also succeeded him in that position. He played a significant role in the codification of canon law, heading the effort that produced the Code of Canon Law of 1917. Beginning in 1929, he also played a significant early role in the codification of Eastern Catholic canon law.

Canon Law reform

In response to the request of the bishops at the First Vatican Council, Pope Pius X ordered the creation of a general Roman Catholic canon law codification, which did not exist at that time. He entrusted Pietro Gasparri, who was aided by Giacomo della Chiesa, the future Benedict XV and Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII with the work.

Work began with collecting and reducing diverse documents into a single code, presenting the normative portion in the form of systematic short canons shorn of the preliminary considerations ("Whereas ..." etc.) and omitting those parts that had been superseded by later developments. The code was promulgated on 27 May 1917 as the Code of Canon Law (Latin: Codex Iuris Canonici) by Pope Benedict XV, who set 19 May 1918 as the date on which it came into force.[1] For the most part, it applied only to the Latin Church except when "it treats of things that, by their nature, apply to the Oriental",[2] such as the effects of baptism (cf. canon 87). In the succeeding decades, some parts of the 1917 Code were retouched, especially under Pope Pius XII.

Diplomacy in Western Europe

Under Gasparri's leadership, the Vatican successfully concluded a record number of diplomatic agreements with European governments, many of which heading new states, created after World War I. On 29 March 1924, a concordat was signed between Gasparri and Bavaria, with France on 10 February 1925, Czecheslovakia on 2 February 1928, Portugal, 15 April 1928 and Romania on 19 May 1932.[3]

The Lateran Treaty is the crowning achievement of Pietro Gaparri, as it ended the sixty-year conflict between the Vatican and the Kingdom of Italy. It includes three agreements made in 1929 between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See, ratified on 7 June 1929, thus ending the "Roman Question". Main Vatican negotiator for Pietro Gasparri was the lawyer Francesco Pacelli, the brother of Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli.

Diplomacy in Eastern Europe

Russia and the Soviet Union

Gasparri's watch in the Vatican coincided with major changes in Europe after World War I. With the Russian Revolution, the Vatican was faced with a new, so far unknown situation, an ideology and government which rejected not only the Catholic Church but religion as a whole.

Lithuania and Estonia

Gasparri managed to conclude a concordat with Lithuania. The relations with Russia changed drastically for a second reason. The Baltic states and Poland gained their independence from Russia after World War I, thus enabling a relatively free Church life in those former Russian countries.Estonia was the first country to look for Vatican ties. On 11 April 1919 Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri informed the Estonian authorities that the Vatican would agree to have diplomatic relations. A concordat was agreed upon in principle a year later, June 1920. It was signed on 30 May 1922. It guarantees freedom for the Catholic Church, establishes an archdioceses, liberates clergy from military service, allows the creation of seminaries and catholic schools, describes church property rights and immunity. The Archbishop swears alliance to Estonia.[4]

Relations with Catholic Lithuania were slightly more complicated because of the Polish occupation of Vilnius, a city and archiepiscopal seat, which Lithuania claimed as well as its own, though the majority of its population was Polish and it was a major center of Polish culture. Polish forces had occupied Vilnius. This generated several protests of Lithuania to the Holy See.[5] Relations with the Holy See were defined during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922–1939)


Before all other heads of State, Pope Benedict XV on October 1918 congratulated the Polish people to their independence.[5] In a public letter to the archbishop Kakowski of Warsaw, he remembered their loyalty and the many efforts of the Holy See to assist them. He expressed his hopes that Poland will take again its place in the family of nations and continue its history as an educated Christian nation.[5]In March 1919, he nominated ten new bishops and, soon after, Achille Ratti, already in Warsaw as his representative, as papal nuncio.[5] He repeatedly cautioned Polish authorities against persecuting against Lithuanian and Ruthenian clergy.[6] During the Bolshevik advance against Warsaw, he asked for worldwide public prayers for Poland. Gasparri sent Nuncio Ratti to stay in the Polish capital. On 11 June 1921 he wrote to the Polish episcopate, warning against political misuses of spiritual power, urging again peaceful coexistence with neighbouring people, stating that "love of country has its limits in justice and obligations".[7] He sent nuncio Ratti to Silesia to act against potential political agitations of the Catholic clergy.[8]

Ratti, a scholar, intended to work for Poland and build bridges to the Soviet Union, hoping even, to shed his blood for Russia.[9] Pope Benedict XV needed him as a diplomat and not as a martyr and forbade any trip into the USSR although he was the official papal delegate for Russia.[9] Therefore, he continued his contacts to Russia. This did not generate much sympathy for him within Poland at the time. He was asked to go. "While he tried honestly to show himself as a friend of Poland, Warsaw forced his departure, after his neutrality in Silesian voting was questioned"[10] by Germans and Poles. Nationalistic Germans objected to a Polish nuncio supervising elections, and Poles were upset because he curtailed agitating clergy[11] November 20, when German Cardinal Adolf Bertram announced a papal ban on all political activities of clergymen, calls for Ratti's expulsion climaxed in Warsaw.[12] Two years later, Achille Ratti became Pope Pius XI, shaping Vatican policies towards Poland with Pietro Gasparri and Eugenio Pacelli for the following thirty-six years. (1922–1958)

Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) Warsaw forced his departure as Nuncio. Two years later, he was Pope. He signed concordats with numerous countries including Lithuania and Poland

Secretary under Pius XI

The new pope, Pius XI kept Gasparri in his position. In Berlin, Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli worked mainly on clarifying the relations between Church and the German State. But, after Achille Ratti was elected Pope, in the absence of a papal nuncio in Moscow, Pacelli worked also on diplomatic arrangements between the Vatican and the Soviet Union. He negotiated food shipments for Russia, where the Church was persecuted. He met with Soviet representatives including Foreign Minister Georgi Chicherin, who rejected any kind of religious education, the ordination of priests and bishops, but offered agreements without the points vital to the Vatican.[13] "An enormously sophisticated conversation between two highly intelligent men like Pacelli and Chicherin, who seemed not to dislike each other". wrote one participant.[14] Despite Vatican pessimism and a lack of visible progress, Pacelli continued the secret negotiations, until Pope Pius XI ordered them to be discontinued in 1927.

The "harsh persecution short of total annihilation of the clergy, monks, and nuns and other people associated with the Church",[15] continued well into the 1930s. In addition to executing and exiling many clerics, monks and laymen, the confiscating of Church implements "for victims of famine" and the closing of churches were common.[16] Yet according to an official report based on the Census of 1936, some 55% of Soviet citizens identified themselves openly as religious, while others possibly concealed their belief.[16]


During the pontificate of Pope Pius XI,(1922–1939) Church life in Poland flourished: There were some anti-clerical groups opposing the new role of the Church especially in education.[17] But numerous religious meetings and congresses, feasts and pilgrimages, many of which were accompanied by supportive letters from the Pontiff, took place.[18]

Under the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, his Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri with unusual candour expressed his views on the post-war order and the future of Poland: He told Ludwig von Pastor, that the Peace Treaty of Versailles will most certainly end in a new war, maybe even ten wars.[19] He expressed his pleasure at the outcome of the Locarno treaty. However, the Polish Corridor continued to be a dark point in his estimation, requiring compromises.[20] At the same time, he opined, Poland can only exist, if she works either with her neighbour in the East or West. Since the Soviet Union could not be relied upon, he considered it "outright stupid, to destroy bridges to the West. Poland will have to pay dearly later on, once Germany recuperates".[21]


On 10 February 1925 a concordat (Concordat of 1925) was signed between Pietro Gasparri, Cardinal Secretary of State for the Vatican and Stanislaw Grabski for Poland.[22] The concordat has 27 articles, which guarantee the freedom of the Church and the faithful. It regulates the usual points of interests, Catholic instruction in primary schools and secondary schools, nomination of bishops, establishment of seminaries, a permanent nuncio in Warsaw, who also represents the interests of the Holy See in Gdańsk.[23][24] The concordat stipulates, that no part of Polish territory can be placed under the jurisdiction of a bishop outside of Poland[25]

The Church enjoys full protection of the State, and prays for the leaders of Poland during Sunday mass and on 3 May.[24] Clerics make a solemn oath of allegiance to the Polish State[26] If clergy are under accusation, trial documents will be forwarded to ecclesiastical authorities if clergy are accused of crimes. If convicted, they will not serve incarceration in jails but will be handed over to Church authorities for internment in a monastery or convent.[27] The concordat extends to the Latin rite in five ecclesiastical provinces of Gniezno and Poznan, Varsovie, Wilno, Lwow and Cracovie. It applies as well to united Catholics of the Greco-Ruthenian rite in Lwow, and Przemysl, and, to the Armenian rite in Lwow.[28] for religious celebration in the specific rites, Canon law must be observed.[29] Catholic instruction is mandatory in all public schools, except universities.[30] In Article 24 Church and State recognize each other's property rights seeming in part from the time of partition before 1918. This means, property rights and real estate titles of the Church are respected, a later agreement will define the status of expropriated Church properties, until that time, the State will pay Church dotations for its clergy. On paper the concordat seemed to be a victory for the Church. But Polish bishops felt forced to take measures against early violations, in the area of marriage legislation and property rights. Pope Pius XI was supportive of this and of episcopal initiatives to have their own plenary meetings.[18]


Lithuania was recognized by the Vatican in November 1922. The recognition included a stipulation by Pietro Gasparri to Lithuania. There were diplomatic standstills, as the Lithuanian government refused to accept virtually all episcopal appointments by the Vatican. The relations did not improve when, in April 1926, Pope Pius XI unilaterally established and reorganized Lithuanian ecclesiastical province without regard to Lithuanian demands and proposals, the real bone of contention being Vilnius, which was occupied by Poland.

In autumn 1925, Mečislovas Reinys, a Catholic professor of theology, became the Lithuanian foreign minister and asked for an agreement. The Lithuanian military took over a year later, and a proposal of a concordat, drafted by the papal visitator Jurgis Matulaitis-Matulevičius, was agreed upon by the end of 1926. The concordat was signed a year later. Its content follows largely the Polish Concordat of 1925.[31]


  1. Ap. Const. Providentissima Mater Ecclesia, 27 May 1917
  2. Canon 1, 1917 Code of Canon Law
  3. Concordata, Index.
  4. Schmidlin 1939, v. III, p. 305.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Schmidlin 1939, v. III, p. 306.
  6. Schmidlin 1939, v. III, p. 307.
  7. AAS 1921, p. 566.
  8. Schmidlin 1939, v. III, 307.
  9. 1 2 Stehle 1975, p. 25.
  10. Stehle 1975, p. 26.
  11. Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, p. 15.
  12. Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, 15.
  13. Stehle 1975, pp. 139-141.
  14. Stehle 1975, p. 132.
  15. Riasanovsky 1963, p. 617.
  16. 1 2 Riasanovsky 1963, p. 634.
  17. Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, p. 135.
  18. 1 2 Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, 135.
  19. Von Pastor 681
  20. Von Pastor 833
  21. Stehle 1975, p. 426.
  22. Joanne M Restrepo Restrepo SJ, Concordata Regnante Sancissimo Domino Pio XI Inita, Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, Romae, 1932
  23. Concordata, 3.
  24. 1 2 Concordata 8
  25. Concordata 26
  26. Concordata 12
  27. Concordata 22
  28. Concordata 9
  29. Concordata 18
  30. Concordata 13
  31. Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, p. 138, ff.


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Diplomatic posts


Title last held by
Cesare Sambucetti
Apostolic Delegate to Peru
26 March 1898 – 23 April 1901
Succeeded by
Alessandro Bavona
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Aristide Rinaldini
Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals
24 May 1914 – 22 January 1915
Succeeded by
Antonio Vico
Preceded by
Domenico Ferrata
Cardinal Secretary of State
13 October 1914 – 7 February 1930
Succeeded by
Eugenio Pacelli
Preceded by
Francesco Salesio Della Volpe
Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church
4 December 1916 – 18 November 1934
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