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Law of Guarantees

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A name given to the law passed by the senate and chamber of the Italian parliament, 13 May, 1871, concerning the prerogatives of the Holy See, and the relations between State and Church in the Kingdom of Italy. The principal stipulations of the law may be summed up as follows:

  1. the pope's person to be sacred and inviolable;
  2. insult or injury to the pope to be treated on a par with insult or injury to the king's person; discussion of religious matters to be absolutely free;
  3. royal honours to be paid to the pope; that he have the right to the customary guards;
  4. the pope to be given an annual endowment of 3,225,000 lire ($622,425 or £127,933) to cover all the needs of the Holy See (college of cardinals, Roman congregations, embassies, etc.) and the maintenance of church buildings;
  5. the Vatican and Lateran palaces, as well as the Villa of Castel Gandolfo, to remain the property of the pope; these articles assure the pope and all engaged in the spiritual government of the Church, as well as the college of cardinals assembled in conclave, complete liberty of communication with the Catholic world, exempt them from all interference with their letters, papers, etc.;
  6. the clergy to have freedom of assembly;
  7. the government to renounce the "Apostolic Legation" in Sicily, and the right of nomination to major benefices, with reservation, however, of the royal patronage; the bishops are not obliged to take the oath (of allegiance) on appointment;
  8. the Exequatur to be maintained only for the major benefices (except in Rome, and in the suburbicarian sees) and for acts affecting the disposition of ecclesiastical property;
  9. in spiritual matters no appeal to be allowed against ecclesiastical authority; the civil courts, however, to be competent to pass judgment on the juridical effects of ecclesiastical sentences. Provision to be made, by a future law, for the reorganization, conservation, and administration of all the church property in the kingdom.

The Italian government, which had declared that it entered Rome to safeguard the person of the Holy Father (Visconti-Venosta, circular of 7 September, 1870; the autograph letter of Victor Emanuel to Pius IX, dated 29 Aug., received 10 Sept.; again the king's answer to the Roman deputation which brought him the result of the plebiscite), and which, in the very act of invading pontifical territory, had assured the people that the independence of the Holy See would remain inviolate (General Cadorna's proclamation at Terni, 11 Sept.), felt obliged to secure in a legal and solemn way the executions of its aforesaid intention. It owed no less to its own Catholic subjects, and to Catholics the world over. Two ways were open to it for keeping its promise. It might call an international congress of all nations having a very large Catholic population, or it might pass a domestic Italian law. In the aforesaid circular of the minister Visconti-Venosta, addressed to all the powers, the former way was hinted at. But the unconcern of Catholic governments over the events that ended in the occupation of Rome put an end to all thought of consulting them; and so a domestic law was passed. Before its adoption, however, Pius IX, by a letter of his cardinal vicar, dated 2 March, 1871, protested against the law "in which", he said, "it was no easy task to decide whether absurdity, cunning, or contempt played the largest part".

The pope refused to recognize in the Italian government any right to grant him prerogatives, or to make laws for him. Indeed, each of the "concessions carried with it a special servitude, while later events proved that they were not intended to be seriously observed. In the Encyclical of 15 May following, the pope declared that no guarantees could secure him the liberty and independence necessary in the exercise of his power and authority. He renewed this protest at the consistory of 27 October. And it stands to reason that a law voted by two houses of Parliament could with equal ease be abrogated by them at will. Indeed, it has ever been part of the programme of the "Left" party in the Italian Parliament to suppress the Law of Guarantees. Pius IX, moreover, was unwilling to accept formally the arrangements made concerning the relations of Church and State, especially the Exequatur and the administration of ecclesiastical property. Moreover, if, as he hoped, the occupation of Rome was to be only temporary, the acceptance of this law seemed useless. Doubtless, too, such acceptance on his part would have been interpreted as at least a tacit recognition of accomplished facts, as a renunciation of the temporal power, and the property which had been taken from the Holy See (e.g. the Quirinal Palace). The abandonment of the "Apostolic Legation" in Sicily, for eight centuries an apple of discord between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Sicily (Sentis, "La Monarchia Sicula", Freiburg im Br., 1864), and the endowment granted the pope, were truly but slight compensation for all that had been taken from him. Consequently neither Pius IX nor his two successors have ever touched the aforesaid annual endowment, preferring to depend on the offerings of the faithful throughout the Catholic world. It may be added that the endowment was not sufficient to meet the needs of the Church, nor with their multiplication could it be increased.

A few years ago the question arose as to whether this untouched endowment would be confiscated by the Italian treasury at the end of every five years, as is usual with other public debts of the Kingdom of Italy. The "Civiltà Cattolica" maintained that it could not be confiscated, but the Italian courts long ago decided differently, when they rejected the claims of the heirs of Pius IX on the ground that as he had not accepted the endowment he had never come into possession of it. What need then of confiscating it? Pius IX expressly rejected this income, 13 November, 1872.

There is occasional controversy between writers on international law and on Italian ecclesiastical legislation over various matters connected with this law: whether in the eyes of the Italian government the pope is a sovereign, whether he enjoys the privilege of extraterritoriality (not expressly recognized to him, though granted to foreign embassies to the Holy See), etc. As far as the Holy See is concerned these controversies have no meaning; it has never ceased to maintain its sovereign rights.


GIOBBIO, Lezioni di diplomazia ecclesiastica (Rome, 1899), I, passim; CASTELLARI, La Santa Sede (Milan, 1903), I, 108 sqq.; II, 488-608; GEFFCKEN, Die völkerrechtliche Stellung des Papsttums (Rome, 1887), 172; Gazetta Ufficiale, series II, no. 214; Acta Pii IX (Rome, s. d.), pt. I, vol. V, 286 sqq., 306 sqq., 352 sqq.; Acta Sanctæ Sedis (Rome, 1870-1871), VI.

About this page

APA citation. Benigni, U. (1910). Law of Guarantees. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Benigni, Umberto. "Law of Guarantees." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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