The Lateran Treaty

The Lateran Treaty is the agreement which was signed in the Lateran Palace in Rome, on the 11th of February 1929 by Italy and the Holy See which recognized the Vatican City as a sovereign and independent papal state. The Lateran Treaty is also referred to as the Lateran Pact of 1929. The Lateran Treaty was signed by Benito Mussolini as the Italian government representative and cardinal secretary of state Pietro Gasparri as the representative of the Holy See; and it was confirmed by the Italian constitution of 1948. But opposite to the expectations of many Italians that the Treaty would diminish the worldly power of the pope, instead it made the Church more internationally recognized. Until today, the Treaty still has a clause that threatens Italians with a five year imprisonment in case someone tells a joke about the Pope.

The Lateran Treaty had three parts, namely: a political treaty, which gave Vatican its own microstate; a financial convention, which gave Vatican compensations; and a concordat, giving the Holy See privileges within Italy and stating regulations establishing the relations  between the Catholic Church and Italian state. Mussolini’s success in signing this treaty was said to be his greatest achievement in his career. After the signing, a national holiday was declared in Vatican City.

The Lateran Treaty was the birth of the independence of the Vatican as modern state. The state of the Vatican City became a sovereign state with the pope as its recognized leader. The papacy recognized the state of Italy with Rome as its capital. On the other hand, Italy recognized papal sovereignty over the Vatican City and also secured full independence for the pope. The status of the two states changed with each recognizing its territory and responsibilities.

There were also several articles in the Lateran Treaty which gave directions on how matters of the Catholic Church were to be handled. For example, article 1 gave the city of Rome a special character as a “centre of the Catholic world and place of pilgrimage”; article 20 stated that “all bishops were supposed to take an oath of loyalty to the state and had to be speaking Italian language”; article 34 stated that “the state recognized the validity of Catholic marriage and its subjection to the provisions of canon law”; article 36 “which permitted religious instructions in public schools”, among many other articles.

Immediately after signing the Lateran Treaty, the Vatican state joined the Universal Postal Union and later used it to acquire international influence. It is the Lateran Treaty that has allowed popes to travel round the world as heads of state just like any others and address diplomatic delegations.

The effects of the Lateran Pacts are still felt today and they extend far beyond Italy.