Giacomo Chiesa (Benedict XV) elected Pope

Pope Benedict XV (Latin: Benedictus PP. XV, Italian: Benedetto XV; 21 November 1854 – 22 January 1922), born Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa, reigned as Pope from 3 September 1914 to 22 January 1922, succeeding Pope Pius X (1903–1914). His pontificate was largely overshadowed by World War I and its political, social and humanitarian consequences in Europe.
Between 1846 and 1903, the Church experienced its two longest pontificates in history at that time. Together Pius IX and Leo XIII ruled for fifty-seven years. In 1914, the Cardinals choose Della Chiesa at the age of sixty, indicating their desire for another long-lasting pontificate at the outbreak of World War I, which he labeled “the suicide of civilized Europe”. The war and its consequences were the main focus of Benedict. He declared the neutrality of the Holy See and attempted from that perspective to mediate peace in 1916 and 1917. Both sides rejected his initiatives. German Protestants rejected any “Papal Peace” as insulting. French politician Georges Clemenceau regarded the Vatican initiative as anti-French. Having failed with diplomatic initiatives, the Pope focused on humanitarian efforts to lessen the impacts of the war, such as attending prisoners of war, the exchange of wounded soldiers and food deliveries to needy populations in Europe. After the war, he repaired the difficult relations with France, which re-established relations with the Vatican in 1921. During his pontificate, relations with Italy improved as well, as the Pope now permitted Catholic politicians led by Don Luigi Sturzo to participate in national Italian politics. Benedict issued in 1917 the first ever Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church, the creation of which he had prepared with Pietro Gasparri and Eugenio Pacelli during the pontificate of Pius X. The new Code of Canon Law is considered to have stimulated religious life and activities throughout the Church. He named Pietro Gasparri to be his Cardinal Secretary of State and personally consecrated Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli on 13 May 1917 as Archbishop on the very day of the Marian apparitions in Fatima. World War One caused great damage to Catholic missions throughout the world. Benedict revitalized these activities, asking in Maximum Illud for Catholics throughout the world to participate. His last concern was the emerging persecution of the Church in the Soviet Russia and the famine there after the revolution. Benedict was an ardent mariologist, devoted to Marian veneration and open to new perspectives of Roman Catholic Mariology. He supported the mediatrix theology and authorized the Feast of Mary Mediator of all Graces. After just over seven years in office, Pope Benedict XV died on 22 January 1922. With his diplomatic skills and his openness towards the modern world, "he gained respect for himself and the papacy"

Benedict was first a pope struggling for peace. He was elected, 3 September, 1914, by a consistory which included cardinals who were citizens of the contending powers, because he favored neither side. A native of Genoa, an aristocrat, with a lawyer's training, he had had curial and diplomatic experience, being secretary at one time to Cardinal Rampolla. Unusually small of stature, myopic and ailing in appearance, with distinguished manners but matter-of-fact and precise, without much geniality or charm, this pope never attained to the same degree of popularity among the faithful as did his predecessor and his three successors. He was, however, the soul of generosity and was loved for his kindness by his entourage and all who knew him well. As Archbishop of Bologna, soon after war broke out, he said: "I should regret if any of my clergy should take sides in this conflict. It is desirable that we pray for the cessation of the war without dictating to Almighty God in what way it should end". So the cardinals picked on one who would stand apart. But he did not simply stand apart; he worked for peace, a true precursor of Pius XI and particularly Pius XII.

Five days after his election he spoke of his determination to do what he could to bring peace, and his first encyclical on 1 November, 1914 was concerned with this subject. Before Christmas he tried to persuade the belligerents to revive the Truce of God for the feast day. In 1915 he made another appeal. He expounded the principles which govern moral decisions about war. In August 1917 he circulated definite peace proposals to all the belligerents. There were rejected, both sides being now determined on an "absolute victory".

Relations between the Italian government and the Vatican improved during the war, an assurance being given that diplomatic representatives to the Vatican of powers with whom Italy was at war might remain there. But the pope preferred them to reside in Switzerland. Benedict's foundation of a bureau for the exchange of wounded prisoners and the discovery of the missing was widely appreciated, and led to an increase in the number of states with representatives at the Vatican – Italy's absence from them was one factor leading to the wish of the Italian government to solve the Roman Question in the following reign.

When circulating his peace proposals in 1917, the pope had referred Victor Emmanuel III and this was the first formal recognition of the monarchy given by the Vatican. Pius X had partially relaxed the prohibition against Catholics taking part in elections in Italy either as voters or as candidates. Benedict went much further and encouraged the Sicilian priest Don Luigi Sturzo to form his Partito Popolare. It was not intended simply as a Catholic party–but it was organized by Catholics with a social conscience, and many joined it simply because they were themselves pious Catholics. The Church had yet to learn the full modern practice of a strict separation of the Church's moral and ecclesiastical authority from the public aspect of the political, economic and cultural activities of individual Catholics, except where these are grossly scandalous or sinful. For the moment it was at least a step forward that the whole political sphere in Italy was no longer taboo.