Law of Guarantees


May 23, 2022

The Law of Guarantees, by its full title Law of Guarantees on the prerogatives of the Sovereign Pontiff and the Holy See and on the relations of the State with the Church is an Italian law promulgated on May 13, 1871 seeking to resolve the "question Roman", born of the disappearance of the Papal States which occurred a year earlier. The law grants the pope a certain number of advantages: the inviolability of his person, his immunity from jurisdiction before the Italian courts, his penal protection against public insults, the freedom of correspondence or the celebration of worship. It also recognizes the right to sovereign honours, as well as the right of active and passive legation, that is to say the ability to send and receive ambassadors recognized as such, and enjoying as such the immunity diplomatic. It also grants him a pension of 3.225 million lire. Finally, it gives him the enjoyment of the palaces of the Vatican, the Lateran and Castel Gandolfo. By the nature of the legislative text, Italy considers that this is about its internal affairs: it is a law, therefore a unilateral act, and not a treaty negotiated as equals with a foreign power. Consequently, the Italian State does not recognize the pope any sovereignty over the territories he occupies. As a result, the Vatican does not enjoy any extraterritoriality status under Italian law: the national courts are declared competent for the offenses committed there, including in Saint Peter's Basilica, which case law rejects any right of asylum. Under the terms of the law, the pope therefore finds himself in an unprecedented and ambiguous situation, which the jurist Joël-Benoît d'Onorio compares to that of a colonial protectorate. On May 15, Pius IX refuses the Law of Guarantees by the encyclical Ubi nos and considers himself a “prisoner in the Vatican”. The Roman question will not be definitively settled until 58 years later by the Lateran agreements (1929).


Joël Benoît d'Onorio (dir.), The Holy See in International Relations, proceedings of the colloquium organized on January 29 and 30, 1988 by the department of legal and moral sciences of the Institute Portalis, Cujas & Cerf, Paris, 1989 ( ISBN 2-20403-106-2).

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