In the mid 1800s, Italy was not a single, unified nation as we know it today. Instead, "papal states" under direct political control of the Pope blanketed the middle part of the country, cutting it in half. In 1860, these papal states were overthrown in a revolution lead by Giuseppe Garibaldi; however, the Pope refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of the new Italian government. On the one hand, the government was afraid of the Pope because, as religious authority, he held great sway over the masses, and any attempt at removing him by force would be political suicide. On other hand, the Catholic church had lost all political and military power, making it vulnerable. This continued until 1929.
|There are many statues of Garibaldi sprinkled throughout Italy today. This one is in the Piazza Garibaldi in Pisa. There's an excellent gelato shop (not pictured) to the left of the statue.|
Enter Benito Mussolini, rising fascist dictator with high hopes of mobilizing the country toward the expansion of the Italian empire. The tenuous relationship between the Italian government the Catholic church was problematic to this. The people were Catholic by faith; therefore, if a choice came down to supporting the government or obeying the Pope, they might be inclined to follow their religious convictions. Any government actions that the Pope didn't approve of could have spawned an internal conflict that could divide the country's loyalties. Mussolini's vision simply could not work without eliminating the choice between government and religion - so he aimed to unite the people by uniting the government with the church.
In 1929, the Lateran Treaty was introduced. The Catholic church was granted political sovereignty over the Vatican City as well as monetary compensation in exchange for its recognition of and cooperation with Mussolini's government. While cooperation with the government was not explicitly promised in the Lateran Treaty, that's exactly what resulted - the Catholic church never opposed Mussolini and actively supported his war efforts during World War II. In effect, the Lateran Treaty amounts to a bribe, and it's no wonder that the Catholic church wanted this buried. It's but one of the many stains on their history.
|St. Peter's Cathedral at the edge of the Vatican, viewed down the Via Conciliazione (Road of Conciliation). Mussolini built this road after the Lateran Treaty to symbolize the Vatican's newfound connection to the rest of Italy.|
Unexpectedly, the Lateran Treaty actually gave the Catholic church much more international influence than it previously had, which was certainly not Mussolini's intent. Prior to the treaty, the Pope, being at odds with the surrounding Italian government, had not been able to travel outside of the Vatican and engage in international relations for years. This new alliance catapulted Catholicism back into the sphere of world politics, and has allowed their influence to increase to this day.
The Lateran Treaty continues to be in effect between the Vatican and the Italian government that followed Mussolini's fall, and advancements in transportation and communication since then have allowed Catholics throughout the world to become united in a way that was not possible before. Given the history of the Catholic church - even their recent history in the last century - this is a potentially dangerous thing.
(I got most of the historical information from Wikipedia's entries on Giuseppe Garibaldi, Benito Mussolini, and the Lateran Treaty, as well as this write-up from Concordat Watch.)