The State and the Catholic Church

The years of Enlightened Absolutism, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Rule have resulted in the secularization of princebishoprics, the confiscation of much of church property and the annexation of Catholic regions into states many of which were ruled by protestant dynasties, or states which had been protestant in character : at the Vienna Congress, the Catholic Southern Netherlands (future Belgium) were united with the (Calvinist) northern Netherlands in the Kingdom of the United Netherlands; Lutheran Prussia gained the Catholic Rhine Province, Westphalia (partially Catholic) in addition to Posen-Westpreussen with a Catholic, ethnic Polish population majority. Württemberg, Baden, Hannover, Oldenburg had annexed smaller Catholic territories; Bavaria was the odd example of a Catholic country having annexed smaller protestant territories. Then, still, there were areas were the Catholic community traditionally was treated as a subject population, such as Ireland.
At the Vienna Congress the Papal State was restored (without Avignon), but otherwise ignored. The papal administration rejected the loss of church property, the state having taken over traditional church responsibilities (civil registry; civil marriage and divorce; priest seminaries which insisted on the priests swearing loyalty to the state; state takeover of the universities, the confiscation of church property, the strict separation of church and state). These policies were allocated to Liberalism, a political pjolosophy bedeviled by the Vaticano.
On the other hand, defiance of the political situation neither helped restore the prerevolutionary situation nor the Catholic communities within their new political environment. The new borders required the adjustment of the diocesal borders, in some cases the creation of new bishoprics. This was accomplished in a series of treaties (CONCORDATS) between the holy see and the individual countries. Such concordats were signed with France in 1817, with Prussia in 1821, with Baden and Württemberg in 1821, with Hannover in 1824, with the Netherlands in 1827 (for Belgium), with Oldenburg in 1830.
The political events that had taken place during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Years, from a Roman perspective, also had brought advantages - the Gallican church in France, an enfant terrible during the 18th century, had virtually been destroyed, and in the early decades of the 19th century, and the papacy regained influence over the French Catholic church.
The papal administration, in the early 19th century, regarded democratic institutions - parliaments, elections - as tools of liberalism, which it despised. In the most advanced democracy if the time, England, Catholics were still barred from sitting in parliament; in Ireland the Catholic majority felt ruled like a colony. Yet when (Catholic) Belgium separated from the (Calvinist) Netherlands, Catholicism was the bracket that held the Flemish and Walloon people together; explicitly Catholic politicians, with the blessing of the pope, actively participated in party politics. In Switzerland, liberal politicians, in an attempt to modernize the state, pushed for the separation of church and state and the expulsion of the Jesuits, and the Catholic cantons resisted, a situation which lead to the brief Sonderbund War of 1847.
Within Italy, Savoy-Piemont was the most liberal state, thus the one with the worst relations with the Papal State.

From state perspective, the desire to have diocesan borders coincide with political borders, the demand that Catholic priests be loyal to the state, the principle of separation of church and state, religious toleration and civil registry remained. On such a foundation, the governments were willing to accept a modus vivendi.

Article Concordat, from Catholic Encyclopedia

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 30th 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

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