Catholicism in Modern Italy: Religion, Society and Politics since 1861

By Kent, Peter C. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Catholicism in Modern Italy: Religion, Society and Politics since 1861


Kent, Peter C., The Catholic Historical Review


Catholicism in Modern Italy: Religion, Society and Politics since 1861. By John Pollard. [Christianity and Society in the Modern World.] (New York: Routledge. 2008. Pp. viii, 247. $140.00. ISBN 978-0-415-23835-9.)

In his multidimensional study of Catholicism in Italy from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, John Pollard explores the impact of modernization on the Catholic Church. Contrasting official religious policy of the clergy with the popular enthusiasms of the laity, he explores the creation of a selfconfident and durable Catholic subculture that served to insulate the faithful from many of the challenges of modernization. Pollard offers a valuable overview of modern Italian religious history.

Liberalism sought to curtail the influence of the Church in the early-nineteenth century by divesting it of much of its property. The movement for Italian unification was a secular manifestation of this challenge that eventually succeeded in capturing Rome and removing the temporal power of the papacy itself. The Church experienced a revival in the late-nineteenth century because unification meant that an Italian national church could be created for the first time under the leadership of the papacy. This led to the development and definition of a Catholic subculture, uniting clergy and laity in popular religious celebration while addressing some of the more pressing social issues of the times through the organization of credit unions, workingmen's associations, and charitable and youth organizations.

This Catholic revival enabled the Church to assist with the impact of the prima industrializzazione and to respond to the rise of socialism by entering clerico-moderate political alliances. During World War I, the clergy achieved popular acclaim through their activities on behalf of the national war effort, and, as a result, the Catholic political party Popolari was launched in 1919 with the blessing of Pope Benedict XV.

Although this party received strong electoral support, it emerged at the same time as the rise of fascism and, after 1922, became an impediment to Pope Pius XTs quest to resolve the Roman Question with the new Mussolini government. The pope sacrificed the Popolari and sought to meet the challenge of fascism by protecting parts of the Catholic movement within the nonpolitical organizations of Catholic Action. …

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