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Comment l’empereur des Habsbourg a mis fin au Concordat avec le Vatican

The Empire of Austria concluded the Concordat on August 18, 1855 and ratified on September 25, 1855. It had 36 articles, most of which are devoted to the work of the Catholic Church in education. The treaty also contains arrangements about the administration of church property, about state contribution for the clergy (congrua) and about the autonomy of the Catholic Church. The concluding article of the treaty states that all Austrian laws which are in conflict with the provisions of the treaty expire on the date of ratification. The contract does not contain any clause that would regulate the conditions of its termination.

Nevertheless, the termination took place. It was preceded by a pressure from Protestants, who pointed out that the relatively progressive laws that the Austrian Empire was gradually adopting were at odds with what the Austrian state had committed itself to in the Treaty with the Vatican. They also insisted that the declared religious neutrality of the state not remain on paper only but become a reality. The Constitution of December 1867 subjected the supervision of education and upbringing to the state and guaranteed every citizen freedom of religion and conscience. The laws of May 1868 further restricted the privileged position of the Catholic Church. Among other things, contrary to Article 10 of the Concordat, they reintroduced the right to civil marriage, which had been in force in Austria since 1811, but expired with the adoption of the Concordat in 1855.

The termination of the treaty itself, however, was prompted by a very controversial step by the Vatican, namely the proclamation of the dogma of the infallibility of the pope on July 18, 1870. This was too much even for the good Catholic the Emperor Franz Joseph I certainly was. He adopted the objections of the Crown Council and few days later, on July 30 1870, a handwritten letter by the emperor was handed over to the papal nuncio in Vienna announcing the unilateral termination of the treaty. The reason given for the termination was that after the proclamation of the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope, the character of the contracting party has changed fundamentally. Habsburg Empire applied the "clausula rebus sic stantibus" used in the international law, according to which the treaties apply provided that "things remain as they are" meaning that the character of the treaty parties will not change substantially.

Critics of the move argued that the dogma of the Pope’s infallibility had not changed the character of Vatican’s legal personality, but they could not reverse the termination of the treaty itself. Pope Pius IX, in response to the termination of the Concordat, limited himself to threatening the emperor with ecclesiastical punishments stating that he would have bad conscience because of what he did.
If we were to draw some lessons from the 150th anniversary of Habsburg’s termination of the Concordat with the Vatican, it would probably be above all the knowledge that the path from the declared religious neutrality of the state to its actual application is always long and tortuous.

D 22 octobre 2020    AOndrej Prostredník

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