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Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Date Posted:

Pope Pius IX

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The Popes at War and the Fall of the Papal States

First published in the English Churchman September 8 & 15, 2000
Dr. Clive Gillis

The Roman Catholic dominated European Union desires more than economic control of member states. It seeks military control.

The main plank of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is that the EU should be able to act with ‘determination and cohesion’. At the heart of this strategy is a European Army with the ability to act independently of NATO and unfettered by the vetoes of individual EU member states.

This arrangement was proposed in the French Pleven plan when NATO was founded. The Treaty of Amsterdam made it possible on the 2nd October, 1997. The Italians were among its strongest protagonists.

Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, is a lawyer with a degree cum laude from the Catholic University of Milan. He was born in what was formerly the Papal States. Prodi has called the proposals ‘logical’.

The dynamic MEP Emma Bonino, who lives in Rome and was voted European personalty of the year by the French Roman Catholic weekly La Vie, and who almost became President of Italy, is also an ardent supporter. Bonino had her article A Single European Army published in the Financial Times on 3rd February, 1999.

Bonino graciously conceded that ‘to meet a central British concern, national armies and diplomatic corps need not disappear.’ However by the very nature of the EU that disappearance would only be a matter of time.

When NATO was first proposed, Pius XII (Hitler’s Pope) had to be wooed with great care to prevent him launching a Roman Catholic campaign against Protestant, Anglo-Saxon American and Britain whom he feared would have military power in Romanist heartlands. For centuries the Popes had their own army, often supplemented with men drawn from sympathetic countries in Europe. All Protestants should therefore be greatly concerned at the creation of a European army over whose activities the Vatican could exert influence.

Mr. Tony Blair cannot or will not appreciate the dangerous, defective reasoning, which calls for a European Army. William Hague unmasked it in his speech entitled No to a Federal Europe delivered on the 13th May, 1999. Hague, speaking at Budapest, in the heartland of the old RC Austro-Hungarian Empire, said, ‘The plan for a common European defence is sheer dogma. It does not begin with any assessment of the security needs of the European allies. Instead, it takes as its starting point the idea that, if Europe is truly to be united, then it must have its own courts, frontiers, flag, anthem and currency.’

The story of the army of the Papal States in the last century, and the conduct of Pius IX in his desperate struggle to retain the temporal power of the papacy and to prevent Italian unification, has a chilling relevance to today. Statesmen like Cavour and brave soldiers like Garibaldi were excommunicated and consigned to eternal damnation simply on account of their patriotism. The new King Victor Emmanuel II and his subjects were similarly treated. The decree Non expedit of 29th February 1868 forbade Roman Catholics to take any part in the political life of the new state.
Pope Pius IX

Yet these memories are already fading from the Italian consciousness. Although there is not an Italian town of any size without a Via Cavour and Via Garibaldi, young Italains are less mindful of such things. The present writer was photographing a Garibaldi monument earlier this year when a crowd of curious students stopped to have matters explained by their teacher. A little later an elderly man passed by who obviously knew the monument well. He threw up his hand in appreciation and said in affectionate tones ‘Ahhhhh! Garibaldi …’

The period between the Revolution of 1848-49 and the fall of Rome in 1870, found the Vatican controlling actual soldiers and not just an army of priests. Most of the territory of the Papal States welcomed the proclamation of the new Kingdom of Italy on March 17, 1861, but Pius IX clung doggedly to Rome and its environs.

IT was on 21 September 1870, that Pius was finally informed that the last of his troops had been disarmed, that the papal flag had been lowered on the Castel St. Angelo and that his army and state were no more. He wrote to his nephew, from the Vatican, ‘All is over. Without liberty it is impossible to govern the Church. Pray for me all of you. I bless you. Pius IX.’

A month later, barely a Roman could be found who shared his views. Many priests contributed Yes cards in an overwhelming vote to join the new Italy, although they were strictly forbidden to do so. By 5th December Rome became the capital of the new united land. The Papal Army had fought in vain.

As far back as 1814 the Austrian army of liberation sent by Napoleon I, was largely welcomed by the local Italian rulers. They had at that time little or no sense of national identity but depended upon historic alliances to underpin their small kingdoms. Most of the people who considered themselves ‘Italians’ were found in the Papal States which at that time divided the Italian peninsula into north and south. However these ‘Italians’ were mostly papal intellectuals wedded to the Pope’s temporal sovereignty with little real feeling for national identity.

The invading Austrians had to contend with other power blocks. In 1720 the Duke of Savoy acquired Sardinia and originated a line of aggressive Kings of Sardinia-Piedmont. One of these was King Victor Emmanuel II who was ably assisted by the talented Cavour. The resurgent French constituted another block. The Italian patriot cause introduced a third.

The Vatican sought, as always to exploit a complex political situation. As the patriot cause prospered the Austrian became less welcome and in 1848 Milan rose against them in the heroic ‘Five Days’.

Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, an obscure Bishop of Imola, enjoyed a temporary dalliance with liberalism. However when he was made Pope Pius IX in 1864 the Jesuits tightened their grip on him and his pontificate proved to be one of the longest and most reactionary of modern times. His election was a titanic battle between weighty conservative and liberal candidates. Although at first he appeared to hold liberal views, he quickly dashed the hopes of those who thought he would espouse the cause of a united Italy. In his Allocution of 29 April 1848 he stated. ‘Some desire we … should engage … in war against the Austrians … We … proclaim clearly and openly such a measure is altogether alien from our counsels.’ When Garibaldi came to proclaim a Roman Republic Pius IX fled regretting that he had not been even firmer with the patriots from the outset.
Piux IX inspecting the Papal Army 1868

Pius promised to liberalise and the French reinstated him on the papal throne whereupon he immediately went back on his assurances, defiantly declaring the noble ideals of the Italian patriots to be the work of the devil. He utterly opposed them up to the final twilight of his tragic-comic reign. His rule was only made possible by the bayonets of either French or Austrian troops, depending on current political fortunes, who came to the aid of the Papal army and of Pius paranoid attempts to suppress the slightest rebellion. However, as Garibaldi advanced ‘the thirst for revenge revived in the Vatican.’

Pius IX chose the childish dreamer Monsignor Saverio de Merode as his Minister of War. De Merode, a fanatical and wealthy Belgian papist, had been a soldier before entering the priesthood. Here was his opportunity to excel. He set about raising the Papal army ‘with more haste than intelligence’ fully expecting to reverse the gains of the patriots. He worked with the Jesuits on a press campaign aimed at mobilising Roman Catholic sentiment throughout Europe. His propaganda reached as far as the French in Quebec, where 507 Canadians became the first body of troops from that land to fight abroad. The centenary of this event was marked with a filmed re-creation of the episode entitled, With Drums and Trumpets, which although ‘sympathetic’ could not be other than ‘humorous’. Their grey uniforms and red peaked grey hats which were the dress of the Papal Zouave (light infantry) can be seen along with their rifles, bayonets and medals in the Canadian War Museum. Pius IX is reported to have been worried by the enthusiastic response from Ireland, because he feared that the temptation of readily available cheap Italian wine might impair their fighting capacity. His fears proved well founded. However the Irish priests procured many volunteers with ‘golden promises’.

De Merode chose one of his French relatives, General Christofano de Lamoriciere, to command the Papal Army. He was awarded a huge salary and commenced duty on Easter Day 1860. In his first address to the troops Lamoriciere said that the Risorgimonto (the Italian patriotic rising), menaced Europe and that, ‘The cause of the Pope is that of civilisation and the liberty of the world.’ No doubt the Vatican would repeat the same sentiments today should Rome again have access to a European Army.

Lamoriciere found De Merode to be fanatical and incompetent. The Ministry of War had not map office and there were insufficient guns, ambulances and horses. The indigenous Zouaves strongly resented the foreign recruits, who were technically ignorant. Many of the officers were of ‘bad repute’.

The volunteers consisted of ‘Austrians liberated from prison; turbulent and undisciplined Swiss; Spanish beggars; and starving Irish’. When the Irish volunteers found that they had been deceived in their expectations by the priests they became riotous and set fire to their barracks declaring that ‘they would murder any foreign officers who attempted to command them.’ The disillusioned Irish volunteers became, ‘incredibly dirty and immoral’ the most loutish of their number ‘claiming their pay with menaces’. The authorities of Macerata declared that they ‘preferred even a Spanish garrison to an Irish one’. The only volunteers recruited within the Papal States formed a regiment of ruffians nicknamed the barbacani because they ‘preferred robbery and pillage to military glory’.

The indescribable brutality of the Papal Army, particularly of the volunteers, is well chronicled, especially during the action in Perugia. Some American citizens, the Perkins, happened to be staying in a Perugian hotel. Though in possession of appropriate Pontifical papers they were attacked and robbed by the papal troops. The Vatican was faced with an embarrassing diplomatic crisis. Antonelli, the Secretary of State, replied in as many words that it was the Perkins own fault for being there. The Americans were furious. The might of the American legation secured the prompt return of such articles as could be recovered and the refunding of the value of the other objects taken, ‘with the assurance of the Government of his Holiness to seek out the offenders and punish any violation of military law.’ Many innocent families were lass fortunate. In this action, which saw the Marches added to the evolving Italy, the incident was exploited by the patriots. Petitions were secretly disseminated prior to the invasion, to encourage the occupants to rise at the appropriate time. These made great play of the immorality and ruthlessness of the Papal troops. The Papacy may well wish to distance itself from such tings but unfortunately for Rome the private views of Pius IX have been providentially preserved for us.

Odo Russell the official representative of the British government at the Vatican from 1858-1870. His correspondence with his uncle, Lord John Russell, is of particular value because, ‘Pius was very free in talking to him, perhaps because he was detached from this particular struggle, and not even a (Roman) Catholic’. In a letter from Odo Russell to Lord John Russell dated January 16th 1861 we read, ‘The Pope then explained to me, as he had done before, that the petulance of the Italian people rendered self government impossible, and that the present movement in Italy could never succeed; we Englishmen would not understand that Italy must be ruled by strong armies and a firm hand.’ It would take the Pope several hours to expound his views on this vital principle.

The Vatican remains a very powerful State even without its territories. No doubt such a strong European Army would be very useful in putting down troublesome Protestants in Ulster or wherever they might be found.

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