By Francis X. Rocca Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Among the various World War I-related anniversaries of this centennial year, the election of Pope Benedict XV, 100 years ago Sept. 3, is apt to be one of the less widely observed.
Pope Benedict XV is the most obscure of the nine men who have led the Catholic Church over the last century — the title of his biography by historian John F. Pollard is “The Unknown Pope” — and in some ways, this negative distinction seems justified. His seven-and-a-half-year pontificate was relatively short and, with respect to his most prominent undertaking, spectacularly unsuccessful.
Yet Pope Benedict left a legacy of lasting significance for the papacy and the church as a whole in the vital area of teaching and practice on war and peace.
Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa of Bologna, Italy, was elected pope less than six weeks after the outbreak of the world war — and almost immediately started campaigning against it. His efforts reached their peak in his Peace Note of 1917, which urged all belligerents to stop fighting in favor of international arbitration of their disputes.
All of these efforts were for naught, largely because of the weakness of Vatican diplomacy, which had languished since the Holy See lost the Papal States half a century earlier.
“The Vatican by 1914 had relations with only two great powers; one was Austria-Hungary, the other was the Russian empire, and with the Russian empire, relations were pretty bad,” Pollard said.
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who took his nation into the war in 1917, was dismissive of Pope Benedict’s attempts to intervene. Even many Catholic bishops on both sides put patriotism ahead of loyalty to the pope and openly undercut his calls for peace. Continue Reading »