Non Expedit

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This phrase, "it is not expedient," is of biblical origin (1 Cor 10.22) and has long been used by the Roman curia to indicate a negative reply for reasons of opportuneness. Signified here is its most famous application expressive of the Holy See's policy prohibiting Italian Catholics from participating in political elections and most other political activities of the new kingdom, which unified the peninsula by seizing the states of the church and ending the papal temporal power and whose attempt to solve the roman question by the Law of guarantees (1871) proved unacceptable to pius ix.

Origins. Giacomo margotti, a journalist in Turin, anticipated this policy when he inaugurated a widely successful propaganda campaign in 1857, urging Catholics to abstain from civil elections and coined the phrase nè eletti nè elettori (neither elected nor electors). Yet in 1866 Pius IX permitted Catholics who were elected deputies to take the oath of loyalty to the state provided they added: salvis legibus divinis et ecclesiasticis (divine and ecclesiastical laws remaining intact). The non expedit policy first received formal acceptance in the decree of the Sacred Penitentiary (Sept. 10, 1874). Since numerous Catholics were uncertain whether the non expedit was an absolute prohibition or a recommendation, Pius IX issued a brief that declared abstention a duty and reproved attempts to entice Catholics to the polls (Jan. 29, 1877). leo xiii renewed the prohibition on the eve of the 1880 elections, in a more solemn manner in the encyclical Immortale Dei (Nov. 1, 1885), and again in his approval of the Holy Office decree (June 30, 1888).

Application. Filippo Meda made the formula nè eletti nè elettori gradually give way to another, preparazione nell' astensione (preparation in abstention), which advocated that Catholics should not be mere abstentionists, but should use their civil rights, improve social and political institutions by instilling in them Christian principles, regain society to Catholicism, and terminate the hostility between Church and State. The non expedit did not apply to administrative elections and other forms of civic activity. Catholic participation in administrative elections was always rather sizable, and it was greeted with satisfaction by the Catholic press not as a preparation for political elections, but as an act of hostility against the revolution. Especially in the big cities of Genoa, Turin, and Naples, the administrative elections of 1878, 1879, and 1880 resulted in sensational Catholic successes; Catholics in Rome joined in the Unione Romana and gained control of the communal government (187987). In political elections, on the other hand, the non expedit was observed in orderly fashion by Italian Catholics, thereby causing a very notable electoral absenteeism, which created a deep chasm between the "legal country," representative of a small group of citizens who possessed and exercised the right to vote, and the "real country," constituting the vast majority, which did not possess, or refused to exercise, this right.

Disappearance. Confronted with the dangerous expansion of parties of the extreme left and with the rupture of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See, pius x (190314) edged toward a reconciliation with Italy, whose government, headed by Giovanni Giolitti, proved to be more conciliatory. On the eve of the political elections of Nov. 13, 1904, bonomelli explained to the pope the risk to the social order involved in Catholic electoral abstention and the consequent victory of the extreme left, and Pius X advised Catholics to follow their consciences. This authorization abrogated the non expedit virtually but not formally, because the encyclical Il fermo proposito (June 11, 1905) confirmed the generic prohibition against participating in elections, but admitted a dispensation when bishops recognized the necessity of using the ballot for the good of souls and the supreme interests of the Church and society.

When the Universal Council (Consiglio universale ) was established (1913), Giolitti, president of the Council of Ministers, feared a leftist victory and sought to introduce into the ministerial majority representatives of the Catholics, who were economically potent, especially in country districts and who enjoyed the veneration surrounding Catholic religious tradition. This led to the Gentiloni pact inviting Italian Catholic support of candidates who would follow the Catholic Electoral Union's religious and social ideas. With the formation of the Popular party (Jan. 19, 1919), inspired by Don sturzo, Italian Catholics finally entered the political life of Italy as an autonomous force. About this time Benedict XV abrogated the non expedit.

Bibliography: g. dalla torre, I cattolici e la vita pubblica italiana, ed. g. de rosa, 2 v. (Rome 1962). g. de rosa, Storia del movimento cattolico in Italia, 2 v. (Bari 1966). f. olgiati, "Per la storia del Non expedit," Vita e Pensiero 33 (1950) 364369; "La politica di S. Pio X e il conservatorismo," ibid. 37 (1954) 525540. a. c. jemolo, Church and State in Italy, 18501950, tr. d. moore (Philadelphia, Pa. 1960). For additional bibliography see roman question.

[r. mori]