A Revolutionary Priest

Written by  Amerigo Baruffaldi
The Roman question and Giacomo Cassani's views on religious reform.
Ferrarese by birth and by the fact of his never having left his native province, as early as the middle of the Nineteenth century, Father Giacomo Cassani was speaking out in favour of the national "revolution" and declaring himself a supporter of conciliation between the Church and the political classes.

At the Clementino Seminary in Cento the young Cassani received an ideological training and a liberal culture that was to play a decisive role in his early choices: from his adhesion to Gioberti's programme, to writing for liberal-Catholic periodicals and his candidacy for the Roman constituent assembly in 1849.

All this earned him a suspension a divinis and a humiliating piece in Civiltà cattolica, which defined him as man "decidedly lacking IN criteria", but despite everything Father Cassani managed to overcome his problems thanks to the soundness of his character, his firm faith and intellectual lucidity.

With regard to relations between State and Church, at first he adopted a cautious and conciliatory stance, largely to further the cause of the clergy of Bologna and the Romagna, whose relations with the Italian State had been difficult after 1859.
From 1861 onwards, he began to suggest a more radical solution to the "Roman question", which sprang from entreaties for religious renewal, albeit hedged by guarantees regarding the Church's freedom to exercise its supremacy in spiritual matters. He proposed a new Constitution of the Church, founded on a reduction of Papal power in relation to that of the bishops: a sort of democratization of the ecclesiastical institution.

The Italian State was to stimulate and encourage this process of renewal and to offer itself as supreme guarantor of the freedom and independence of the Pope, the bishops and parish priests. In this context, bishops could have disposed, for example, of the ecclesiastical assets of the respective dioceses, free by that time of any particular controls on the part of the State.

The proposal is informed by the principle underpinning the Borgatti-Scialoja law on the "Freedom OF the Church AND the Liquidation OF the Ecclesiastical Axis" (which, in 1867, brought down the second Ricasoli administration): Francesco Borgatti, the former Justice Minister, was in fact a friend and fellow countryman of Cassani's. And in that project, considered at the time as an unacceptable concession on the part of the Government to the «reactionary plotting of the clerical party», we can now see the fundamental principles of the current reform bill regarding ecclesiastical property.
In the meantime, for his faithfulness to national values, for having signed Father Passaglia's petition, and for certain doctrinal subtleties, Father Cassani was again in trouble with the Bolognese curia. But this hostility and aversion was made up for by the esteem of the Italian Government, which in 1860 offered him the Chair in Canon Law followed in 1875 by the Chair in the History of Civil Law at the University of Bologna.

In the last years of his life, Cassani devoted himself to two economic and social problems that afflicted his native province: the origin of the agrarian Participation of Cento and of Pieve di Cento, which he wished to have abolished out of respect for the egalitarian principles of the French Revolution; and the question of tithes in Cento, which the Archbishop of Bologna - according to Father Cassani - had no right to collect, insofar as they were "ecclesiastical tithes" and therefore to be suppressed along with other ecclesiastical assets.

In 1890, he was elected to the town council of Cento. Before then he had been awarded various honours for his cultural merits.
He died in Bologna on the 2nd of June 1899, comforted by the sacraments, but not reconciled with the Church.

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