Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950

Article excerpt

Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950. By John F. Pollard. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2005. Pp. xx, 265. $85.00.)

Aside from its diplomatic aspects, much of the history of the modern Papacy remains obscure. Important popes, such as Leo XIII, Pius XI, and Pius XII, still lack scholarly biographies, as do any number of historically key curial personalities such as Cardinals Pietro Gasparri and Mariano Rampolla. Institutional histories are also scarce. For post-1870 curial congregations and offices there has been nothing equivalent to Lajos Pásztor's magisterial La Segreteria di Stato e il suo archivio, 1814-1833. The field of English-language studies is especially sparse. The dearth of reliable scholarship has contributed to a situation where even serious writers discuss the Vatican without understanding how it is organized or how it works. The appearance of this history of modern papal finance is, therefore, especially welcome. The author, a distinguished student of the modern Papacy whose recent biography of Benedict XV ably resuscitated the reputation of an important, though underestimated, figure from the period of World War I, has mined an impressive array of primary and secondary sources to prepare what will stand for some time as the definitive treatment of a complex and contentious subject.

This work accomplishes two goals. The first is to provide a lucid account of the methods used by the Vatican to finance itself in the period 1850-1950. If this book did nothing else it would still make a major contribution to our understanding of the modern Papacy. Papal finances have been a source of endless misunderstanding. Popular fiction and the more polemical forms of history are likely to imagine an immensely wealthy Vatican whose assets make the Papacy a silent (if not actually nefarious) presence in boardrooms and executive offices around the globe. More prudent and informed opinion is no less susceptible to misunderstanding, often swinging to the opposite extreme of positing a Vatican so strapped for funds that it barely holds its head above the financial waters. …

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