The war and its consequences were the main focus of Della Chiesa. He declared the neutrality of the Holy See and attempted from that perspective to mediate peace in 1916 and 1917. Both sides rejected his initiatives.
The national antagonisms between the warring parties were accentuated by religious differences before the war, with France, Italy and Belgium being largely Catholic. Vatican relations with Great Britain were good, while neither Prussia nor Imperial Germany had any official relations with the Vatican. In Protestant circles of Germany the notion was popular that the Roman Catholic Pope was neutral on paper only, strongly favouring the Allies instead. Benedict was said to have prompted Austria-Hungary to go to war, in order to weaken the German war machine. Allegedly, the Papal Nuncio in Paris said in a meeting of the Institut Catholique, to fight against France is to fight against God;
the Pope was said to have exclaimed to be sorry not to be a Frenchman; The Belgian Cardinal Desire-Joseph Mercier, known as a brave patriot during German occupation but also famous for his anti-German propaganda, was to have been elevated by Benedict XV, who allegedly praised the Treaty of Versailles
, which humiliated the Germans. This view was rejected by the Vatican’s Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri, who wrote on March 4, 1916 that the Holy See is completely impartial and does not favor the Allied side. This was even more important, so Gasparri noted, after the diplomatic representatives of Germany and Austria-Hungary to the Vatican were expelled from Rome by Italian authorities. However in light of all this, German Protestants rejected any “Papal Peace”
as insulting. French politician Georges Clemenceau
regarded the Vatican initiative as anti-French. Benedict made many unsuccessful attempts to negotiate peace, but these pleas for a negotiated peace made him unpopular, even in Catholic countries like Italy, among many supporters of the war who were determined to accept nothing less than total victory. His best known intervention was the seven-point Papal Peace proposal of August 1917, demanding a cessation of all hostilities, a reduction of armaments, guaranteed freedom of the seas, and international arbitration. Only Woodrow Wilson responded directly, stating that a declaration of peace was premature; in Europe each side saw him as biased in favour of the other and were unwilling to accept the terms he proposed. Still, although unsuccessful, his diplomatic efforts during the war are attributed to an increase of papal prestige and served as a model in the 20th century: to the peace efforts of Pius XII
before and during World War II , the policies of Paul VI during the Vietnam War and the position of John Paul II
before and during the War in Iraq.
. . . After the War
At the time however, the anti-Vatican resentment, combined with Italian diplomatic moves to isolate the Vatican in light of the unresolved Roman Question, contributed to the exclusion of the Vatican from the Paris Peace conference
of 1919 (although it was also part of a historical pattern of political and diplomatic marginalization of the papacy after the loss of the papal states). Despite this, he wrote an encyclical pleading for international reconciliation, Pacem, Dei Munus Pulcherrimum.
There is a statue in Saint Peter's Basilica of the Pontiff absorbed in prayer, kneeling on a tomb which commemorates a fallen soldier of the war, which he described as a "useless massacre".
After the war, Benedict focused the Vatican's activities on overcoming famine and misery in Europe and establishing contacts and relations with the many new states which were created as a consequence of the demise of Imperial Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany. Large food shipments and information about, and contacts with, prisoners of war were to be the first steps for a better understanding of the papacy in Europe.
Regarding the Versailles Peace Conference
, the Vatican was of the opinion, that the economic conditions imposed on Germany were too harsh, threatening the European economic stability as a whole. Pietro Gasparri was of the opinion, that the peace conditions and the humiliation of the Germans would likely result in another war, as soon as Germany would be militarily in a position to start one. The Vatican also rejected the dissolution of Austri-Hungary, seeing in this step an inevitable and eventual strengthening of Germany. The Vatican also had great reservations about the creation of small successor states which, in the view of Gasparri, were not viable economically and therefore condemned to economic misery. Benedict rejected the League of Nations
as a secular organisation that was not built on Christian values. On the other hand, he also condemned European nationalism that was rampant in the 1920s and asked for European Unification
in his 1920 encyclical Pacem Dei Munus
The Pope was also disturbed by the Communist revolution in Russia. The Pope reacted with horror to the strongly anti-religious policies adopted by Lenin's government and the bloodshed and widespread famine which occurred during the subsequent Russian Civil War. He undertook the greatest efforts trying to help the victims of the Russian famine, raising five million (what currency?) in 1921 alone. Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire
, concerns were raised in the Vatican about the safety and future of the Catholics in the Holy Land. Diplomatic Agenda
In the post-war period Pope Benedict was involved in developing the Church administration to deal with the new international system that had emerged. The papacy was faced with the emergence of numerous new states such as Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Finland, and others. Germany, France, Italy and Austria were impoverished from the war. In addition, the traditional social and cultural European order was threatened by right-wing nationalism and fascism and left-wing socialism and communism, all of which potentially threatened the existence and freedom of the Church. To deal with these and related issues, Benedict engaged in what he knew best, a large scale diplomatic offensive to secure the rights of the faithful in all countries. Italy Leo XIII
already had agreed to the participation of Catholics in local but not national politics. Relations with Italy improved as well under Benedict XV, who de facto reversed the stiff anti-Italian policy of his predecessors by allowing Catholics to participate in national elections as well. This led to a surgence of the Partito Populare Italiano
under Luigi Sturzo
. Anti-Catholic politicians were gradually replaced by persons who were neutral or even sympathetic to the Catholic Church. The King of Italy himself gave signals of his desire for better relations, when for example, he sent personal condolences to the Pontiff on the death of his brother. The working conditions for Vatican staff greatly improved and feelers were extended on both sides to solve the Roman Question
. Benedict XV strongly supported a solution and seemed to have had a fairly pragmatic view of the political and social situation in Italy at this time. Thus, while numerous traditional Catholics opposed voting rights for women, the Pope was in favour, arguing that, unlike the feminist protagonists, most women would vote conservative and thus support traditional Catholic positions. France
Benedict attempted to improve relations with the anti-clerical Republican government of France. He canonized the French national heroine Saint Joan of Arc
. In the mission territories of the Third World
, he emphasized the necessity of training native priests to replace the European missionaries as soon as possible, and founded the Pontifical Oriental Institute of Studies and the Coptic College in the Vatican. In 1921, France re-established diplomatic relations with the Vatican. USSR
The end of the war brought about the revolutionary development, which Benedict XV had foreseen in his first encyclical. 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. “The Pope, the Tsar, Metternich, French radicals and German police, are united against communism said Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Historical Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences
wrote, that the “reactionary policies of the Vatican” were an outgrowth of fear of socialism and hate of communism. This fear turned the Vatican into an ally of capitalism. The Catholic Church is seen to have been in a 1000 year alliance with feudalism, just defeated in Russia. In the words of Friedrich Engels, “the Church blessed the feudal order with the gloriole
of divine blessings. Her hierarchy
was ordered according to feudal principles. She is one of the greatest feudal exploiters."
The Communists took their time to get into Church issues, which were not a priority. Lenin "did not want to put the religious question at the forefront, because it does not belong there at all." They did not repeal the Tsarist decrees guaranteeing religious freedom. They even permitted the restoration of the Orthodox Patriarchate, which had been dormant for over 150 years. But with time, a [persecution of the Churches, including the Catholic Church, began and intensified. All religion, "the opiate of the masses" was considered hostile to communism, but most of the revolutionary violence was oriented against the Russian Orthodox Church. The new regime began to interfere in spheres, so far reserved for the Church, by legalizing divorce, and issuing civil marriage certificates. Bloody repression of civilians, carried out under the auspices of the Polish
Comrade Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky
, head of the Cheka
, led to public protest. The Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow
issued a solemn anathema
against the Communists "for their frightful and bestial murder of people entirely innocent, even people lying sick in bed, in ruthless cruelty, in full daylight without any trial and in defiance of all justice and legality". The Soviets
responded by taking away most Church properties and by nationalizing all Church schools. The Patriarch was arrested. Most monasteries were suppressed, and "counter-revolutionary" religious were executed. During the winter of 1918-1919, some "twenty bishops were murdered together with thousands of priests and religious". Some hope developed among the United Orthodox in the Ukraine and Armenia, but many of the representatives there disappeared or were jailed in the following years. Several Orthodox bishops from Omsk
wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict XV, as the Father of all Christianity,
describing the murder of priests, the destruction of their churches and other persecutions in their areas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Benedict_XV