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Pius Association

PIUS ASSOCIATION FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM Named for Pope Pius IX, the Pius Association for Religious Freedom sought to promote independence of the church from the state and to defend Catholic interests in the public realm. The association claimed over four hundred members in the city of Mainz during the first month of the revolution, and by October 1848, several thousand members throughout Germany. Although it did not survive the revolutionary period, the Pius Association helped initiate what German historians call "political Catholicism."

During the Vormärz (1815-1848), Mainz had become the center of the Ultramontane movement in the Catholic Church of Germany. Ultramontanists supported the expansion of papal authority as a bulwark of orthodoxy inside the church and for political leverage against the modern state (seeking authority ultra montes--on the other side of the mountains). Since the Congress of Vienna (1815), a circle of priests and theologians at the seminary in Mainz had cultivated the ultramontane movement, publishing Der Katholik--one of the most influential Catholic news papers of that era--and training generations of clergymen in this neo-orthodox movement. With support from the papal nuncio in Munich, proteges of the Mainz circle would eventually find their way into the highest ranks of the German episcopacy. By 1848, Mainz was the hub of this powerful movement in German Catholicism.

Through Der Katholik and the influence of the Mainz circle, cells of the Pius Association sprang up throughout southern and western Germany in the spring and summer of 1848. With membership rapidly climbing into the thousands, the organization could claim thirty affiliated clubs in Prussia alone. In Baden, where the clergy promoted a more progressive, enlightened Catholicism against the ultramontane movement, the Pius Association made only modest inroads; and that due primarily to the efforts of a layman, the professor and politician Franz Joseph Buss. Pius Associations appeared in several Bavarian and Austrian cities as well. The rapid development of the Pius Associations can be attributed to the election process in the German states. By working with local clergy to promote candidate lists for the Frankfurt national assembly and the state assemblies, the Pius Associations helped fill a political void in Catholic society.

The Pius Associations formed a loose union, operating independently from Mainz and usually under the control of laymen. The directing board of the Cologne Pius Association, for example, consisted of eleven attorneys, eleven businessmen, three priests, and two local officials. As one of the largest, Cologne's club also published its own journal, Pius IX. In this self-described Christian democratic journal with a circulation of three thousand, the Pius Association tried to mobilize support for its cause, accusing the Frankfurt national assembly of intolerance towards Catholics while carping at Protestants, liberals and Jews. Generally supportive of a "greater German" solution to national unification, the Pius Associations tended towards constitutional monarchy. Directed by Catholics of the "educated estate," as the Prussian police claimed, the Pius Associations represent an early populist movement among German Catholics.

A few Pius Associations supported democracy. In Trier, a combination of anti-Prussian sentiment and economic failure helped radicalize the local club. Advocating universal male suffrage, the Trier club engaged in what police called "democratic agitation," and was accused of collaboration with subversive parties. As the cause of radical democracy lost ground in Germany, the Trier club called for passive resistance through non-participation in the 1849 elections. The democratic strain within the Pius Associations was fairly weak, however. The vast majority of clubs denounced their democratic affiliates.

The greatest achievement of the Pius Association was its national assembly, which upon convening voted to change its name to the Catholic Association of Germany, laying the basis for the annual Catholic conference (Katholikentag) that meets up to the present day. Adam Franz Lennig, a priest and founder of the Pius Association, called for a general assembly of affiliated branches in Mainz, which met October 3-6, 1848, with representatives from nearly twelve hundred clubs. The assembly elected Franz Joseph Buss president. In its capacity as a national body of German Catholics, the Catholic Association of Germany moved towards charitable relief efforts and distanced itself from direct political engagement. The Pius Associations remained politically active on the local level, however, and orchestrated a massive petition drive to the Frankfurt Assembly, sending nearly twelve hundred petitions with more than a quarter million signatures. Most of the petitions called for independence of the church from the state and advocated confessional schools.

The Pius Association and its national assembly was not without its detractors in the Catholic world. Supporters of a synodal movement opposed the Catholic Association of Germany, and accused the Pius Associations of exacerbating confessional tensions while defending an anachronistic church institution. Progressive Catholics sought direct participation of lower clergy and educated laymen in internal church decisions and opposed the strengthening of papal authority. They also advocated reforms, such as religious services in the German language and a married clergy. Ultramontanists perceived these progressive Catholics and their synodal movement as a direct threat to Catholicism, and most bishops supported the Catholic Association of Germany as a counterforce against the synodal movement.

With the dissolution of the Frankfurt assembly, and the reassertion of princely rule in 1849/50, the Pius Associations ceased to spread, and in many places were banned. The few cells that survived the revolutionary period were those engaged in religious and charitable work, and limited political activity to private discussions. Although casualties of the reactionary period, the Pius Associations laid the popular foundation for Catholic politics in most regions of Germany, thus helping pave the way for the Catholic Center Party of the German Empire.
Eric Yonke


Ernst Heinen, Katholizismus und Gesellschaft: Das katholische Vereinswesen zwischen Revolution und Reaktion (1848/49-1853/54) (Idstein: Schulz-Kirchner, 1993).

Jonathan Sperber, Popular Catholicism in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Princeton NJ: Princeton U.P., 1984).

Jonathan Sperber Rhineland Radicals: The Democratic Movement and the Revolution of 1848-1849 (Princeton NJ: Princeton U.P., 1991).

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