Pius XI, Catholic Politicians and the Fascists
In the conclave following the death of Benedict XV, the “pope of peace,” which began on February 2, 1922, and ended just four days later (February 6), the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Achille Ratti, was elected pope on the 14th ballot, beating the two candidates considered most popular: Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, of the conservative wing, and Cardinal Pietro Maffi, of the progressive wing. One hundred years have passed since that event, which strongly marked the history of the contemporary Church.
Achille Ratti’s pontificate was controversial, because of the difficult period in which it took place. It was very intense from the religious point of view (many devotions and liturgical celebrations that are still alive in the Church were promoted by this pontiff) as well as in the political and cultural spheres. In this article we will deal only with the beginnings of the pontificate of that courageous pope who, even if much loved by the Catholics of those years, is unlikely, in contrast to many of his successors, to be raised to the honors of the altars.
The new pontiff chose the name Pius probably to mark the continuity of direction with Pius X and to reassure the supporters of the Spanish cardinal. He confirmed Cardinal Pietro Gasparri as his Secretary of State, thus satisfying the progressives. His first act as pontiff was very significant: he gave his blessing from the external loggia of the Vatican Basilica, something that had not happened since the days of the capture of Rome by the army of united Italy. It was interpreted by many as a conciliatory gesture, and as a good omen for the settlement of the Roman Question.