Pope Pius XI

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Pius XI
Name Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti
Papacy began February 6, 1922
Papacy ended February 10, 1939
Predecessor Benedict XV
Successor Pius XII
Born May 31, 1857
Place of birth Desio, Italy
Died February 10, 1939
Place of death Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

Pope Pius XI, born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti (May 31, 1857February 10, 1939), reigned as Pope and sovereign of Vatican City from February 6, 1922 until February 10, 1939. He issued the encyclical Quas Primas establishing the feast of Christ the King. Its main idea is that the Catholic religion, beliefs, morality, and rule must spread itself to all areas of human living: the home, the city, politics, economics, art, etc.


Birth to the papacy

Achille Ratti was born in Desio, Province of Milan in 1857. He was ordained as a priest in 1879, and in 1919 was made titular Archbishop of Naupactus and papal nuncio to Poland. Two years later, he was made a cardinal and Archbishop of Milan. An avid mountain climber and librarian, Ratti was the surprise choice of the 1922 papal conclave to replace Pope Benedict XV.


Lateran Treaties

Styles of
Pope Pius XI
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style none

In 1929, the pope supervised the signing of the Lateran Treaties with the Italian government under Mussolini, which was intended to end the dispute that had existed between the Roman Catholic Church and the Kingdom of Italy over the former Papal States, and in particular Rome. Most of the Papal States had been seized by the forces of King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont in 1860 at the foundation of the modern unified Italian state, and the rest, including Rome, in 1870. According to the terms of the treaty, Vatican City was given sovereignty as an enclave of the city of Rome in return for the Vatican relinquishing its claim to the former territories of the Papal States. Pope Pius thus became head of state, the first pope who could be termed as such since the Papal States fell after the unification of Italy in the 19th century. The relationship to Mussolini's government deteriorated drastically in the following years. As a consequence Pius issued the encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno in 1931, and another encyclical of the same year — Quadragesimo Anno — which dealt with global economic issues.

Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI

Concordat with Germany

Another of Pius XI's objectives was the signing of a concordat with Germany. Negotiations were conducted on his behalf by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII. The negotiations were completed in 1933 as Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party were in the process of establishing a dictatorship. The concordat was signed by Pacelli and by the German government, and included guarantees of liberty for the Church. However, Hitler and the Nazis never honoured their part of the agreement. In 1937 he issued the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge condemning both the Nazi ideology of racism and Nazi violations of the concordat.


The Lateran Treaties also entailed an agreement with Italy that provided for monies being transferred to the Church to aid with the transition and intended as a compensation for the loss of the territories laid claim to by the Church (estimated to be around 700 million lire). During the reign of Pope Pius XI this money was used for investments in the stock markets and real estate. To manage these investments, the Pope appointed the lay-person Bernadino Nogara, who through shrewd investing in stocks, gold, and futures markets, vastly increased the Catholic Church's financial holdings. However contrary to myth it did not create enormous Vatican wealth. Most of the money simply paid for the upkeep of its expensive-to-maintain stock of historic buildings in the Vatican which previously had been maintained through funds raised from the Papal States up until 1870. Notwithstanding the large sums received in the concordat, after paying for the physical upkeep of St. Peter's Basilica, the Apostolic Palace and its property portfolio, the Vatican spent most of the twentieth century in the red, with a deficit of £50 million by the end of the 20th century.

Rumours he was murdered

Benito MussoliniAccused by Cardinal Tisserant of having the Pope killed to stop him delivering an anti-fascist speech.
Benito Mussolini
Accused by Cardinal Tisserant of having the Pope killed to stop him delivering an anti-fascist speech.

Pope Pius XI, who had been in declining health for some years, died in February 1939. A prominent French cardinal, Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, made a sensational claim in his personal diary. The Pope had been scheduled to deliver a blunt strongly worded address attacking fascism and anti-semitism on February 11. According to Tisserant, twenty-four hours before delivering this address, the Pope was given an injection by Dr. Francesco Petacci, who worked as the medical practitioner for the Vatican, and whose daughter was the longterm mistress of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. As a result of the injection, the Pope supposedly died hours before delivering his historic attack on Mussolini and European fascism.

While it is known that the Pope was planning to deliver a major attack on fascism in a speech to cardinals, and the text of the speech disappeared after his death, the claim that he was killed by Mussolini's mistress's father, to stop him attacking fascism in general and Mussolini in particular is not widely believed.[1]

Whereabouts of the anti-fascist speech

The whereabouts of his draft speech remains a mystery, though papal policy traditionally dictated that planned policies and proposed speeches not executed at the moment of a pope's death lapse automatically. It is possible that the speech was misfiled within the vast Vatican Archives after his death, that it became lost among the move of all his private papers from the Papal Apartments, or that some curial official, as has been done in past papacies, simply incinerated all draft speeches, undelivered speeches and uncompleted documents of the late pontiff.

The Apostolic Palace in the VaticanPope Pius XI died here in controversial circumstances in February 1939.
The Apostolic Palace in the Vatican
Pope Pius XI died here in controversial circumstances in February 1939.

Such destruction had been carried out in the past for fear that a new pope could be pressured into following the policies of his predecessor, were some of the late pope's plans to be made public by late pope's supporters if they thought that the new pope "would not be true to the memory of the late Holy Father". Confusion over the private papers of dead popes is a regular occurrence. The whereabouts of the wills of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I, and the whereabouts of documents associated with Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II became a cause of controversy immediately after their death.

Coat of Arms of Pope Pius XI
Coat of Arms of Pope Pius XI

In all cases either the documents were later found, having been misfiled, were discovered to have destroyed quietly on the late pope's orders, or in the aftermath of a papal death an aide had kept the document as a memento of the late pope, not realising its importance. Amid the multitude of papal secretaries, papal aides, members of the papal court and family members who have the task of removing possessions of a late pope after his death, confusion over who took what is all too regular and does not in itself prove, in the case of the proposed papal speech on fascism, either that the speech was destroyed to hide its existence, or that there was necessarily something suspicious in the timing of the pope's death.


The stone sarcophagus of Pius XI
The stone sarcophagus of Pius XI

Pope Pius XI was buried in the crypt at St. Peter's Basilica, in the main chapel, close to the tomb of St. Peter.


  1. ^  John Cornwell, A Thief in the Night: The death of Pope John Paul I (Penguin, 2001 edition) p.37.

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Preceded by:
Andrea Carlo Ferrari
Archbishop of Milan
Succeeded by:
Eugenio Tosi
Preceded by:
Benedict XV
Succeeded by:
Pius XII
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