The Agreements of the Holy See with States (19th-21st Centuries): Models and Transformations, from Confessional States to Religious Freedom

Ecole française de Rome, Pontificia Università Gregoriana
Ecole française de Rome, Pontificia Università Gregoriana, LabEx EHNE (Sorbonne Université)
28.02.2019 - 01.03.2019
Levant Marie, Regoli Roberto


This conference will explore the international legal agreements signed between the Holy See and individual states, which often but not always took the form of concordats and similar conventions. Its central focus will be to examine these conventions in light of diplomatic practices, as well as in relation to the political and religious dynamics of the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries, notably the principles and requirements that comprised modernity. This entails assessing the historical evolution of the typology, method, content, scope, and spaces concerned. Particular attention will be paid to relations between the Church, the state, and the society entering into these agreements along with the resulting transformations, from confessional states or states with a particular relation to the Catholic Church to the renewed approach of these relations after World War Two and especially after Vatican II, based on the concept of religious liberty. The aim of this conference, which is open to different disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, is to cut across approaches in history, law, sociology, and political science.

Line of Argument

The best-known and controversial examples of such agreements, such as the concordats in 1801 with Napoleonic France or in 1933 with Hitler’s Germany, have been widely studied, albeit without always taking advantage of archives that recently became available (Roman archives for the Lateran Pacts of 1929). More generally, the historiography on the subject essentially remains dated or fragmentary, for it is neither particularly rich for the second half of the nineteenth century, which had fewer concordats, nor for the second half of the twentieth century, which was nevertheless marked by a new surge in concordats. This conference will therefore favor comparative and interdisciplinary studies over a long period, ones that go beyond the solely legal or canonist approaches currently available.
The conference will focus on the contents of the agreements and their transformations from a cross-disciplinary perspective. What did they contain, for instance, with regard to the training of clergy, episcopal appointments, financing for worship, Catholic associationism, and academic and matrimonial matters?
It will also explore the specificity of these agreements in view of diplomatic practices, as well as what they signify in terms of bilateral relations, from a political and not just legal point of view. Most often the result of complex negotiations, they sparked sharp debates at the time of their signing, generating more incomprehension in public opinion than support, a fact that calls for further analysis.
These cross-cutting studies will help provide a better understanding not only the mens of papal diplomacy, but also of the policies of ecclesiastical law conducted by states, in addition to the territorial anchoring of the balance of power.
Each period brought with it models for the relations between the Church and various states, models that were simultaneously subject to political and societal requirements, as well as to how the Church understood itself. How did these bilateral agreements contribute to or reflect these conventions? Concordats helped the Catholic Church limit the intervention of public authorities in the functioning of ecclesiastical institutions, with the defense of ecclesiastical rights (Libertas Ecclesiae) being fairly constant, at least during the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century. Yet they were sometimes also the instrument of the modern papacy’s aim to construct or reconstruct, in one form or another, its primacy within the society. At the same time, they arguably provided greater legitimacy to European states confronted by the revolutionary wave of the nineteenth century, or those arising from the ruins of Empires after 1918, and later even those freed from colonization.
From this point of view, the concordat policy conducted in Rome included a European dimension that should be examined, particularly through research in recent years on the archives of Pius XI. This is the case not just because the spatial scope of the agreements signed during the interwar period also broadly covered the European continent (with a few exceptions), but because they also intertwined the prospects of Christian reconquest that were revived after the Great War. While it is generally important to explore the papacy’s relation to Europe from this perspective, it is also important to focus more specifically on the agreements concluded with communist regimes as part of the Vatican’s Ostpolitik, which also had an extra-European mission.
The Holy See dealt with all kinds of states to ensure the ecclesial and hierarchical presence of the Catholic Church. Because it sought to transpose canon law within local law in order to reduce national diversity and make the Eternal Church more uniform, the Church’s initiatives also included a global dimension that must be assessed, notably by taking advantage of recent reflections in this area within the field of religious history. For instance, the agreements concluded with the independent states of Latin America during the nineteenth century should be explored further, as should those concluded with colonial states for their possessions in Africa or Asia, all while shedding light on the Holy See’s attempts to circumvent these states and sign conventions directly with local authorities, such as China or Japan beginning in the late nineteenth century. The “concordat explosion” that came after 1945, and particularly after Vatican II, was marked by geographical extension, for this type of agreement was henceforth concluded with African countries, beginning with Tunisia in 1964, which represented the first concordat agreement with a Muslim country. These agreements can therefore also be approached from the standpoint of colonial liberation, Middle Eastern geopolitics, and the question of religious minorities.
The content and very typology of these agreements evolved in the second half of the twentieth century, thereby changing their spirit. In most cases they actually guarantee a form of secularity, with marked attention—asserted on both side—paid to religious freedom.
In doing so, this conference intends to take part in current debates surrounding secularization/desecularization and the geographical variations of these phenomena, as well as forms of religious cohabitation and the governance of religious pluralism.

The central issue is not to concentrate on particular agreements, but to take an interest in the evolutions connected to the practice as well as the consequences of these agreements over the medium and long terms, by moving beyond national limits in a macro-regional and/or diachronic direction. At the same time, preference will be given to both thematic (such as education, ecclesiastical appointments, grants for clergy, cultural commodities, etc.) and methodological approaches (textual criticism, statistical reading, and political, cultural, and sociological analysis of contexts, etc.).

Submission guidelines and calendar

- The languages of the conference will be French, Italian, and English. Proposals should be sent in one of these languages before September 5, 2018 to and They should be less than 500 words and indicate the problematic, case, or subject being studied, along with sources and methodology. They should include a brief presentation of the author (maximum 200 words).
- Late September, the candidates will be informed of the selections made by the organizers.
- Late January 2019, papers of approximately 8,000 characters (including spaces) will be circulated among the selected candidates.
- The conference will be held on February 28 and March 1, 2019, at the Pontificia Università Gregoriana and l’École française de Rome.

Please note: The organizers will provide accommodations for the selected participants upon request, and they will also contribute to travel costs through grants.


Organizing Committee: Fabrice Jesné (Ecole Française de Rome), Marie Levant (LabEx EHNE / Sorbonne Université), Roberto Regoli (Pontificia Università Gregoriana).
Scientifc Board: Paolo G. Carozza (Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame), Andrea Ciampani (Università LUMSA Roma), Carlo Fantappiè (Università di Roma Tre), Andreas Gottsmann (Österreichische Historische Institut Rom), Fabrice Jesné (École française de Rome), Marie Levant (LabEx EHNE / Sorbonne Université), Laura Pettinaroli (Institut Catholique de Paris), Roberto Regoli (Pontificia Università Gregoriana), Olivier Sibre (Institut Georges Pompidou / SIRICE).


Marie Levant, Roberto Regoli

Ecole française de Rome, Piazza Navona 62
00186 ROMA

The Agreements of the Holy See with States (19th-21st Centuries): Models and Transformations, from Confessional States to Religious Freedom, 28.02.2019 – 01.03.2019 Rome, in: H-Soz-Kult, 02.08.2018, <>.