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Popular Party of Italy - Partito Popolare Italiano

The Italian Government, having occupied the Papal States in 1870, was anathema. The Papal bull of Non Expedit expressly forbade all Catholics from voting at political elections, as to do so would be to imply a recognition of the Italian Kingdom, and the Vatican generally does all in its power to make it impossible for an Italian to be a good Catholic and a good patriot at the same time. The feeling of the mass of the Italian people towards politics was one of indifference. The number of registered voters who did not go to the poll amounted to nearly half the electorate.

The Clerical party made use of their labors to represent themselves as the only true champions of the lower orders against the tyranny of the Government, and tried to form a Christian Democratic party, initially without much success. The Vatican threw over the Christian Democrats, as it felt that the movement was getting out of hand. By 1905 the Vatican was involved in serious difficulties in its relation to the independent economico-political movement among the Roman Catholics of Italy, officially known as the " Democrazia Cristiana" and headed by Don Murri. This propaganda was the outcome of special pronouncements made by Pope Leo XIII, in which the authorities of the Church proposed a solution of social problems in a spirit of harmony with Roman Catholicism. The movement had assumed such a degree of independence in its attitude toward the government and toward the question of Roman Catholic participation in political affairs that the Church found it necessary to frown upon the whole agitation.

The Lombard Central Committee of the movement proposed the organization of a national Catholic political party, probably after the model of that in Germany, which for three decades and more has been a thorn in the flesh of Bismarck and his successors. The Christian Democrats in Rome openly resolved that the censure of the Pope was undeserved. They fully recognized, they asserted, the spiritual supremacy of the Pope; they sought a degree of autonomy only in political and social matters, and do so on the basis of two papal encyclicals.

The clerical party was naturally hostile not merely to their democratic prineiples, but perhaps even more to their evangelical convictions, while the social democrats opposed them for their Christian faith. Leo XIII, with his penetrative sagacity, was quick to see the significance of the movement and largely favored it, but after his death a period of bitter ecclesiastical persecution descended upon the Christian Democrats. By the time of the Great War public opinion veered round, the best and most truly Christian elements in Italy were sympathetic to the Christian Democrats, and they were represented in the Italian Parliament.

The old 'abnormal' regime, which was summed up for them in the political sphere by the ruling 'Neither electors nor elected' - this will not do to-day. It has been disappearing slowly. At the 1913 election, the Papal prohibition against voting for deputies for the Italian Parliament -' It is not expedient' - had disappeared in practice, though in theory, 'Non expedit' was still the rule at the time of the Great War. Church and Government were in complete agreement that it was very expedient; indeed, that all good men should use their votes to keep down the subversive element in the Chamber. For many years, though in theory there has been no 'Catholic Party,' there has been a small group of 'Deputies who are Catholics.' For two years, one of them had been a minister of the Italian Crown.

In January 1919 the Sicilian priest, Luigi Sturzo, founded the original Italian Popular Party. This party took as its program the defence of religion, justice and the Christian spirit. The Partito Populare (Popular Party) of Italy, at a congress held in Bologna, announced its intention to "combat capitalistic Liberalism" and to substitute for the present wage system a "more humane and more Christian plan," under which "capital will be reduced to its purely material role and labor will receive the fruits which it produces."

The Popular Party of Italy was not Catholic in the professional sense of the word, since non-Catholics may enter its ranks if they follow a program inspired by Christian principles. Officially the Holy See was not involved; it accepted no responsibility for the program and actions of the new party, which was autonomous, purely political, and in a quite different category from the 'Popular Union' and other officially authorized Catholic organizations. Nevertheless, it was quite impossible that Italian Catholics should have initiated this movement without the knowledge and tacit consent of the Holy See, and it meant, in point of fact, that the' Non expedit' had gone by the board: Italian Catholics were now at liberty to take part openly and without subterfuge in the life of the State.

Its tight organization and discipline won it quick success. In 1919 the party won 101 of 508 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and PPI ministers were included in various governments. Though it counted only one hundred out of five hundred and eight deputies in Monte Citorio, it soon became what the German Centre Party was in the Reichstag in Bismarck's day, or the Irish Parliamentary Party in the English House of Commons in Parnell's day, the arbiter of the situation. As the Socialist Party refused to collaborate with any party, no side could govern without the Popular Party.

At the elections held in May, 1921, the Popular Party returned from the urns numbering one hundred and nine deputies, strong, picked men. Not only to the example of France, but to the strength of the Popular Party is due the attitude which the Italian press, as a whole, has adopted in favor of a permanent reconciliation between the Holy See and Italy.

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