Born in Capovallazza di Ussita, province of Macerata, Gasparri served as the Apostolic delegate to Peru from 1898 to 1901, when he became a member of the Curia and returned to Rome. He was called to Rome in 1904 to take the post of Secretary for the Commission for the Codification of Canon Law, in which he spent the next 13 years in seclusion, digesting volumes of decrees and studies compiled over centuries to create the first definitive legal text in the history of Catholicism. The size of his accomplishment is seen when the work he gets done in 13 years on his own takes a team of canonists 24 years to simply revise.
He was made a Cardinal-Priest of S. Bernardo alle Terme in 1907, and served as the Cardinal Secretary of State from 1914 to 1930, when he retired to be succeeded by Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli the future Pope Pius XII. From 1916 until his death he was Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, and Cardinal Pacelli also succeeded him in that position. He played a significant role in the codification of canon law, heading the effort that produced the Code of Canon Law of 1917. Beginning in 1929, he also played a significant early role in the codification of Eastern Catholic canon law.
Work began with collecting and reducing diverse documents into a single code, presenting the normative portion in the form of systematic short canons shorn of the preliminary considerations ("Whereas ..." etc.) and omitting those parts that had been superseded by later developments. The code was promulgated on 27 May 1917 as the Code of Canon Law (Latin: Codex Iuris Canonici) by Pope Benedict XV, who set 19 May 1918 as the date on which it came into force,. For the most part, it applied only to the Latin Church except when "it treats of things that, by their nature, apply to the Oriental", such as the effects of baptism (canon 87). In the succeeding decades, some parts of the 1917 Code were retouched, especially under Pope Pius XII. In 1959,
Under Gasparri's leadership, the Vatican successfully concluded a record number of diplomatic agreements with European governments, many of which heading new states, created after World War One. On March 29, 1924, a concordat was signed between Gasparri and Bavaria, with France on February 10, 1925, Czecheslovakia on February 2, 1928, Portugal, April 15, 1928, and Rumania on May 19, 1932.
The Lateran Treaty is one of the Lateran Pacts of 1929 or Lateran Accords, three agreements made in 1929 between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See, ratified June 7 1929, ending the "Roman Question".
They consisted of three documents:
Gasparri's watch in the Vatican coincided with major changes in Europe after World War One. With the Russian Revolution, the Vatican was faced with a new, so far unknown situation, an ideology and government which rejected not only the Catholic Church but religion as a whole. “The Pope, the Tsar, Metternich, French radicals and German police, are united against communism said Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels The Historical Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences wrote, that “reactionary policies of the Vatican” were an outgrow of fear of socialism and hate of communism. This fear turned the Vatican into an ally of capitalism. The Catholic Church is seen to have been an a 1000 year alliance with feudalism, just defeated in Russia. In the words of Friedrich Engels, “the Church blessed the feudal order with the gloriole of divine blessings. Her hierarchy was ordered according to feudal principles. She is one of he greatest feudal exploiters."
The Communists took time, to get into Church issues, which were not of priority.Lenin “did not want to put the religious question at the forefront, because it does not belong there at all." They did not repeal the Tsarist degrees guaranteeing religious freedom. They even permitted the restoration of the Orthodox Patriarchate, which has been dormant for over 150 years. But with time, a persecution of the Churches including the Catholic Church began and intensified. All religion, "the opiate of the masses" was considered hostile to communism, but most of the revolutionary violence was oriented against the Russian Orthodox Church The new regime began to interfere in spheres, so far reserved for the Church, by legalizing divorces, issuing and civil marriage. Bloody repression of civilians, carried out under the auspices of the Polish Comrade Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, led to public protest. The Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow issued a solemn anathema against the Communist “for their frightful and bestial murder of people entirely innocent , even people lying sick in bed , in ruthless cruelty, in full daylight without any trial and in defiance of all justice and legality”. The Soviets responded by taking away most Church properties and by nationalizing all Church schools. The Patriarch was arrested, most monasteries were suppressed, and “counter-revolutionary” Religious were executed. During the winter 1918-1919, some "twenty bishops were murdered together with thousands of priests and religious". Some hope developed among the United Orthodox in the Ukraine and Armenia, but many of the representatives there disappeared or were jailed in the following years. Several Orthodox bishops from Omsk and Simbirsk wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict XV, as the Father of all Christianity, describing the murder of priests, the destruction of their churches and other persecutions in their areas.
Gasparri managed to conclude a concordat with Lithuania. The relations with Russia changed drastically for a second reason. The Baltic states and Poland gained their independence from Russia after World War One, thus enabling a relatively free Church life in those former Russian countries.Estonia was the first country to look for Vatican ties. April 11, 1919, Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri informed the Estonian authorities, that the Vatican would agree to have diplomatic relations. A concordat was agreed upon in principle a year later, June 1920. It was signed May 30, 1922. It guarantees freedom for the Catholic Church, establishes a archdioceses, liberates clergy from military service, allows the creation of seminaries and catholic schools, describes church property rights and immunity. The Archbishop swears alliance to Estonia.
Relations with Catholic Lithuania were slightly more complicated because of the Polish occupation of Vilnius, a city and archiepiscopal seat, which Lithuania claimed as well as its own. Polish forces had occupied Vilnius and committed acts of brutality in its Catholic seminary there. This generated several protests of Lithuania to the Holy See. Relations with the Holy See were defined during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939)
Before all other heads of State, Pope Benedict XV on October 1918 congratulated the Polish people to their independence. In a public letter to the archbishop Kakowski of Warsaw, he remembered their loyalty and the many efforts of the Holy See to assist them. He expressed his hopes that Poland will take again its place in the family of nations and continue its history as an educated Christian nation. On March 1919, he nominated ten new bishops and, soon after, Achille Ratti, already in Warsaw as his representative, as papal nuncio. He repeatedly cautioned Polish authorities against persecuting against Lithuanian and Ruthenian clergy. During the Bolshevik advance against Warsaw, he asked for world-wide public prayers for Poland. Gasparri sent Nuncio Ratti to stay in the Polish capital. On June 11, 1921, he wrote to the Polish episcopate, warning against political misuses of spiritual power, urging again peaceful coexistence with neighbouring people, stating that “love of country has its limits in justice and obligations” He sent nuncio Ratti to Silesia to act against potential political agitations of the Catholic clergy.
Ratti, a scholar, intended to work for Poland and build bridges to the Soviet Union, hoping even, to shed his blood for Russia. Pope Benedict XV needed him as a diplomat and not as amartyr and forbade any trip into the USSRalthough he was the official papal delegate for Russia. Therefore he continued his contacts to Russia. This did not generate much sympathy for him within Poland at the time. He was asked to go. “While he tried honestly to show himself as a friend of Poland, Warsaw forced his departure, after his neutrality in Silesian voting was questioned” by Germans and Poles. Nationalistic Germans objected to a Polish nuncio supervising elections, and Poles were upset because he curtailed agitating clergy November 20, when German Cardinal Adolf Bertram announced a papal ban on all political activities of clergymen, calls for Ratti's expulsion climaxed in Warsaw. Two year later, Achille Ratti became Pope Pius XI, shaping Vatican policies towards Poland with Pietro Gasparri and Eugenio Pacelli for the following thirty-six years. (1922-1958)
The new pope, Pius XI kept Gasparri in his position. In Berlin, Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli worked mainly on clarifying the relations between Church and the German State. But, after Achille Ratti was elected Pope, in the absence of a papal nuncio in Moscow, Pacelli worked also on diplomatic arrangements between the Vatican and the Soviet Union. He negotiated food shipments for Russia, where the Church was persecuted. He met with Soviet representatives including Foreign Minister Georgi Chicherin, who rejected any kind of religious education, the ordination of priests and bishops, but offered agreements without the points vital to the Vatican. “An enormously sophisticated conversation between two highly intelligent men like Pacelli and Chicherin, who seemed not to dislike each other.” wrote one participant. Despite Vatican pessimism and a lack of visible progress, Pacelli continued the secret negotiations, until Pope Pius XI ordered them to be discontinued in 1927.
The " harsh persecution short of total annihilation of the clergy, monks, and nuns and other people associated with the Church, , continued well into the Thirties. In addition to executing and exiling many clerics, monks and laymen, the confiscating of Church implements "for victims of famine" and the closing of churches were common. Yet according to an official report based on the Census of 1936, some 55% of Soviet citizens identified themselves openly as religious, while others possibly concealed their belief.
Under the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, his Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri with unusual candour expressed his views on the post-war order and the future of Poland: He told Ludwig von Pastor, that the Peace Treaty of Versailles will most certainly end in a new war, maybe even ten wars. He expressed his pleasure at the outcome of the Locarno treaty. However, the Polish Corridor continued to be a dark point in his estimation, requiring compromises. At the same time, he opined, Poland can only exist, if she works either with her neighbour in the East or West. Since the Soviet Union could not be relied upon, he considered it “outright stupid, to destroy bridges to the West. Poland will have to pay dearly later on, once Germany recuperates”.
On February 10, 1925, a concordat (Concordat of 1925) was signed between Pietro Gasparri, Cardinal Secretary of State for the Vatican and Stanislaw Grabski for Poland. The concordat has 27 articles, which guarantee the freedom of the Church and the faithful. It regulates the usual points of interests, Catholic instruction in primary schools and secondary schools, nomination of bishops, establishment of seminaries, a permanent nuncio in Warsaw, who also represents the interests of the Holy See in Gdansk. The concordat stipulates, that no part of Polish territory can be placed under the jurisdiction of a bishop outside of Poland
The Church enjoys full protection of the State, and prays for the leaders of Poland during Sunday mass and on May Third. Clerics make a solemn oath of allegiance to the Polish State If clergy are under accusation, trial documents will be forwarded to ecclesiastical authorities if clergy are accused of crimes. If convicted, they will not serve incarceration in jails but will be handed over to Church authorities for internment in a monastery or convent. The concordat extends to the Latin rite in five ecclesiastical provinces of Gniezno and Poznan, Varsovie, Wilno, Lwow and Cracovie. It applies as well to united Catholics of the Greco-Ruthenian rite in Lwow, and Przemysl, and, to the Armenian rite in Lwow. for religious celebration in the specific rites, Canon law must be observed. Catholic instruction is mandatory in all public schools, except universities. In Article 24 Church and State recognize each others property rights seeming in part from the time of partition before 1918. This means, property rights and real estate titles of the Church are respected, a later agreement will define the status of expropriated Church properties, until that time, the State will pay Church dotations for its clergy. On paper the concordat seemed to be a victory for the Church. But Polish bishops felt forced to take measures against early violations, in the area of marriage legislation and property rights. Pope Pius XI was supportive of this and of episcopal initiatives to have their own plenary meetings .
Lithuania was recognized by the Vatican in November 1922. The recognition included a stipulation by Pietro Gasparri to Lithuania, “to have friendly relations with Poland”. There were diplomatic stand-stills, as the Lithuanian government refused to accept virtually all episcopal appointments by the Vatican. The relations did not did not improve when, in April 1926 Pope Pius XI unilaterally established and reorganized Lithuanian ecclesiastical province without regard to Lithuanian demands and proposals, the real bone of contention being Vilnius, occupied by Poland. In the Fall of 1925, Mečislovas Reinys, a Catholic professor of Theology became Lithuanian Foreign Minister, and asked for an agreement. The Lithuanian military took over a year later, and a proposal of a concordat, drafted by the papal visitator Jurgis Matulaitis-Matulevičius, was agreed upon by the end of 1926. The concordat was signed a year later. Its content follows largely the Polish Concordat of 1925.