Pietro Gasparri

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Pietro Gasparri

Cardinal Secretary of State
Pietro Gasparri
Installed13 October 1914
Term ended7 February 1930
PredecessorDomenico Ferrata
SuccessorEugenio Pacelli
Other post(s)Cardinal-Priest of San Lorenzo in Lucina (1915–1934)
Ordination31 March 1877
Consecration6 March 1898
by François-Marie-Benjamin Richard
Created cardinal16 December 1907
by Pope Pius X
Personal details
Pietro Gasparri

(1852-05-05)5 May 1852
Died18 November 1934(1934-11-18) (aged 82)
Rome, Kingdom of Italy
ParentsBernardino Gasparri and Giovanna Sili
Previous post(s)
SignaturePietro Gasparri's signature
Coat of armsPietro Gasparri's coat of arms

Pietro Gasparri GCTE (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 Cardinal Secretary of State under Popes Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI.


Early life[edit]

Gasparri was born on 5 May 1852[1] in Capovallazza di Ussita,[1] a small village in the Apennine Mountains in central Italy[2] (in the modern province of Macerata, then part of the Papal States). His parents were Bernardino Gasparri and Giovanna Sili. The youngest of 10 children[1] born to a family of shepherds, Pietro was the favorite.[1]

His cousin went on to become Cardinal Augusto Silj.[3]

Pietro was a weak and sickly child, while his 9 siblings were strong and vivacious; some thought that he would not live long.[1] His father would often sleep in the fields with the sheep, and Pietro entertained the family by reading stories of saints as the family was gathered by the warmth of the hearth.[1] They would all be brought to tears as they listened to the stories of the martyrs. Pietro's mother had the "gift of tears", which she gave to all her children, especially Pietro, according to his memoir.[1]

Canonical scholar and curial diplomat[edit]

He was for many years the head of the Department of Canon Law at the Catholic University of Paris,[4] where he was a professor from 1880 to 1898.[5] He served as the Apostolic delegate to Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru from 1898 to 1901, when he became a member of the Curia and returned to Rome.

Shortly after becoming pope, Pius X asked Gasparri how long it would take to codify canon law. Gasparri answered that, with sufficient staff, it could be done in 25 years. Pius X replied, "Then do it".[6] Gasparri 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. His efforts resulted in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, in effect until 1983. On 18 October 1917, Pope Benedict named him the first president of the newly created Pontifical Commission for Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law.[7] Beginning in 1929, he also played a significant role in early stages of the codification of Eastern Catholic canon law.

Secretary of State[edit]

He was made a Cardinal-Priest of S. Bernardo alle Terme in 1907. In January 1915 he chose to become Cardinal-Priest of San Lorenzo in Lucina, however he retained in commendam his former title until December 1915.

He served as the Cardinal Secretary of State under Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI, beginning with his appointment on 13 October 1914.[8][9]

On 4 December 1916 he became Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church.[10]

1922 conclave[edit]

In the 1922 conclave that elected Pope Pius XI, Gasparri was the "champion of the moderates"[2] who wanted to continue Pope Benedict XV's more centrist policies vis-à-vis the modern world.[2] He was 69 years old and considered a possible compromise candidate for the papacy.[11]

Retirement and death[edit]

By 1928, Gasparri was suffering from heart disease and diabetes, slept poorly, and—despite Pius XI's urging—refused to take time off, fearing that the pope would replace him in his absence.[12] For years, he had been receiving signals that his services were no longer valued by the pope.[12]

He submitted his resignation as Secretary of State and after several weeks Pope Pius accepted it on 7 October 1930.[13]

Gasparri died on 18 November 1934. At his death he was still President of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Codification of the Canon Law of the Eastern Churches,[14] and Camerlengo.

Canon Law reform[edit]

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 in the work by Giacomo della Chiesa (the future Benedict XV) and Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pius XII). Perhaps the ablest canonist in the Roman Curia at the time, the work of codification, simplification, and modernization of canon law was for the most part the work of Gasparri.[15]

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[16] (Latin: Codex Iuris Canonici) by Pope Benedict XV, who set 19 May 1918 as the date on which it came into force.[17] 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",[18] 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.

Papal diplomacy[edit]

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, Czechoslovakia on 2 February 1928, Portugal on 15 April 1928, and Romania on 19 May 1932.[19]

Lateran Treaty[edit]

The Lateran Treaty is the crowning achievement of Pietro Gasparri, as it ended the sixty-year conflict between the Vatican and the Kingdom of Italy. It was signed on 11 February 1929, with Mussolini himself signing on behalf of Italy.[20] 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 Roman lawyer Francesco Pacelli,[21] the brother of then-Apostolic Nuncio to Germany Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII).[21] On the day of the signing, before leaving for the Lateran Palace, Gasparri met with Pius XI in order for him to approve the final draft of the agreements. After kneeling for the pope's blessing, Gasparri left the room with tears in his eyes, feeling the enormous importance of what would take place later that day.[22]

Russia and the Soviet Union[edit]

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[edit]

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 archdiocese, 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.[23]

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.[24] Relations with the Holy See were defined during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922–1939).

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 the Lithuanian ecclesiastical province without regard to Lithuanian demands and proposals, the real bone of contention being Vilnius which belonged to 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.[25]


In October 1918 Pope Benedict XV congratulated the Polish people on their independence.[24] 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 would again take its place in the family of nations and continue its history as an educated Christian nation.[24] In March 1919, he nominated ten new bishops and, soon after, Achille Ratti, already in Warsaw as his representative, as papal nuncio.[24] He repeatedly cautioned Polish authorities against persecuting Lithuanian and Ruthenian clergy.[26] 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".[27] He sent nuncio Ratti to Silesia to act against potential political agitations of the Catholic clergy.[28]

Ratti, a scholar, intended to work for Poland and build bridges to the Soviet Union, hoping even to shed his blood for Russia.[29] 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.[29] Therefore, he discontinued his contact with 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"[30] by Germans and Poles. Nationalistic Germans objected to a Polish nuncio supervising elections, and Poles were upset because he curtailed agitating clergy.[31] 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.[32] 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

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.[33] But numerous religious meetings and congresses, feasts and pilgrimages, many of which were accompanied by supportive letters from the Pontiff, took place.[34]

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.[35] 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.[36] 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".[37]

Concordat with Poland[edit]

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.[38] 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, and a permanent nuncio in Warsaw, who also represents the interests of the Holy See in Gdańsk.[39][40] The concordat stipulates, that no part of Polish territory can be placed under the jurisdiction of a bishop outside of Poland[41]

The Church enjoys full protection of the State, and prays for the leaders of Poland during Sunday Mass and on 3 May.[40] Clerics make a solemn oath of allegiance to the Polish State[42] 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.[43] 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.[44] for religious celebration in the specific rites, Canon law must be observed.[45] Catholic instruction is mandatory in all public schools, except universities.[46] 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 endowments 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.[34]

In the Florestano Vancini's film The Assassination of Matteotti (1973), Gasparri is played by Michele Malaspina.


Foreign Honours[edit]




San Marino:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini, pg. 51.
  2. ^ a b c Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini, pg. 7.
  3. ^ Florida International University website, The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, Biographical Dictionary of Pope Pius X (1903-1914), Consistory of December 16, 1907 (IV)
  4. ^ McCormick, Vatican Journal, pp. 44-45 (entry from January 2, 1927).
  5. ^ René Wehrlé, De la coutume dans le droit canonique. Essai historique s'étendant des origines de l'Église au pontificat de Pie XI (Paris: Recueil Sirey, 1928) pg. 396.
  6. ^ Peters, The Life of Benedict XV, pg. 204.
  7. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. IX. 1917. p. 558. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  8. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. VI. 1914. p. 525. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  9. ^ Rhodes, The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, p. 40
  10. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. VIII. 1916. p. 470. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  11. ^ "Gasparri and Maffi Favored". New York Times. 23 January 1922. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  12. ^ a b Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini, pg. 105.
  13. ^ "Cardinal Pacelli Papal Secretary". The New York Times. 11 February 1930. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  14. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. XXVI. 1934. p. 648. Retrieved 23 June 2020. Emo Sig. Card. PIETRO GASP ARRI, del titolo di S. Lorenzo in Lucina, Preside [sic] della Commissione pontificia per l'interpretazione autentica del Codice di diritto canonico e della Commissione pontificia per la Codificazione canonica orientale
  15. ^ McCormick, Vatican Journal, p. 44 (entry from January 2, 1927).
  16. ^ La Due, The Chair of Saint Peter, pg. 256.
  17. ^ Ap. Const. Providentissima Mater Ecclesia, 27 May 1917
  18. ^ Canon 1, 1917 Code of Canon Law
  19. ^ Concordata, Index.[incomplete short citation]
  20. ^ Kertzer, Prisoner of the Vatican, p. 292
  21. ^ a b Rhodes, The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, p. 42
  22. ^ Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini, pg. 108.
  23. ^ Schmidlin 1939, v. III, p. 305.
  24. ^ a b c d Schmidlin 1939, v. III, p. 306.
  25. ^ Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, p. 138, ff.
  26. ^ Schmidlin 1939, v. III, p. 307.
  27. ^ AAS 1921, p. 566.
  28. ^ Schmidlin 1939, v. III, 307.
  29. ^ a b Stehle 1975, p. 25.
  30. ^ Stehle 1975, p. 26.
  31. ^ Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, p. 15.
  32. ^ Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, 15.
  33. ^ Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, p. 135.
  34. ^ a b Schmidlin 1939, v. IV, 135.
  35. ^ Von Pastor 681
  36. ^ Von Pastor 833
  37. ^ Stehle 1975, p. 426.
  38. ^ Joanne M Restrepo Restrepo SJ, Concordata Regnante Sancissimo Domino Pio XI Inita, Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, Romae, 1932
  39. ^ Concordata, 3.[incomplete short citation]
  40. ^ a b Concordata 8
  41. ^ Concordata 26
  42. ^ Concordata 12
  43. ^ Concordata 22
  44. ^ Concordata 9
  45. ^ Concordata 18
  46. ^ Concordata 13
  47. ^ Journal de Monaco
  48. ^ "ENTIDADES ESTRANGEIRAS AGRACIADAS COM ORDENS PORTUGUESAS - Página Oficial das Ordens Honoríficas Portuguesas". www.ordens.presidencia.pt (in Portuguese). Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  49. ^ "Guía oficial de España". www.bne.es (in Spanish). Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  50. ^ a b "The Equestrian Order of Saint Agatha". Consulate of the Republic of San Marino to the UK. Retrieved 23 January 2021.


  • Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS), Vatican City, 1922–1960
  • Acta et decreta Pii IX, Pontificis Maximi, vol. I–VII, Rome, 1854{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Acta et decreta Leonis XIII, P.M., vol. I–XXII, Rome, 1881{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Acta Sanctae Sedis, (ASS), Vatican, 1865
  • Clarkson, Jesse D. (1969), A History of Russia, New York: Random House
  • Erzberger, Matthias (1920), Erlebnisse im weltkrieg, Stuttgart{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • McCormick, Anne O'Hare (1957). Vatican Journal: 1921-1954 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy).
  • Kertzer, David I. (2014), The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, New York: Random House
  • La Due, William J., JCD (1999), The Chair of Saint Peter: A History of the Papacy, Maryknoll,NY: Orbis Books{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Peters, Walter H. (1959), The Life of Benedict XV, Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company
  • Restrepo, P J M (1934), Concordata Regnante Sanctissimo Domino Pio PP XI, Rome{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Rhodes, Anthony (1974), The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, 1922-1945, New York, Chicago, San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
  • Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (1963), A History of Russia, New York: Oxford University Press
  • Schmidlin, Josef (1922–1939), Papstgeschichte (Papal History) (in German), Munich: Köstel-Pusztet
  • Stehle, Hansjakob (1975), Die Ostpolitik des Vatikans, Munich: Piper
  • Wehrlé, René (1928), De la coutume dans le droit canonique. Essai historique s'étendant des origines de l'Église au pontificat de Pie XI, Paris: Recueil Sirey

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Title last held by
Cesare Sambucetti
Apostolic Delegate to Peru
26 March 1898 – 23 April 1901
Succeeded by
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals
24 May 1914 – 22 January 1915
Succeeded by
Preceded by Cardinal Secretary of State
13 October 1914 – 7 February 1930
Succeeded by
Preceded by Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church
4 December 1916 – 18 November 1934