Sunday, October 16, 2011

Monaco and the Papacy

Recently “Rome Reports” (a good place to get news about the Pope and news concerning the Holy See) stated that HSH Prince Albert II had visited the Pope once but that he was planning to visit the Vatican again to introduce his wife Princess Charlene (a Catholic convert) to the Pontiff. I’m not sure where they came up with Prince Albert only visiting the Pope once unless that is to say he has only made one formal visit, as Sovereign Prince, to the Pope following his enthronement. Prince Albert has visited the Vatican many times, prior to his succession, he met Pope John Paul II on more than one occasion and the Prince was present at the enthronement of HH Pope Benedict XVI. It has also been said that the Supreme Pontiff will make a historic visit to Monaco sometime next year. However, this provides an opportunity to talk about the long and close ties between the Holy See and the Principality of Monaco. The diplomatic ties between Monaco and the Holy See are some of the oldest in Catholic history.

As we know, the Grimaldi family first left Genoa and came to Monaco as a result of the Guelf-Ghibelline feud that once raged across northern Italy. Eventually, this became simply a feud but the original reason for it was a clash between the Pope on one side and the Holy Roman Emperor (basically the ruler of Germany) on the other. The Guelf faction (to which the Grimaldis adhered) supported the Pope while the Ghibellines supported the Emperor. So, the House of Grimaldi has been on the side of the Pope from the very beginning of the history of Monaco. From the very beginning the official state religion of Monaco has been the Christian religion as taught by the Roman Catholic Church. One of the most significant figures in the history of Monaco was a Catholic bishop, Bishop Agustin Grimaldi, regent for Lord Honore I. It was Lord Honore I who welcomed Pope Paul III to Monaco, the first time a Pontiff ever visited the country. Numerous members of the Grimaldi family joined the Church, such as HSH Princess Charlotte, daughter of HSH Prince Jacques I of Monaco, joined the Order of the Visitation as a nun.

Even members of the Grimaldi House one might not ordinarily consider the “religious types” have supported the Church such as Princess Catherine-Charlotte founded the Convent of the Visitation in Monaco. There were, of course, occasions in history when there were tensions such as when Prince Charles III expelled the Jesuits for their opposition to his establishment of the Monte Carlo Casino. However, hard feelings never lasted long. After the fall of the Papal States and the formation of the Kingdom of Italy, the Principality of Monaco was a haven for many of the veterans of the former papal army who were sheltered in Monaco and paid as their own unique military unit, a sort of Catholic addition to the Princely Rifles. There is even a street named after them in Monaco. The Princes of Monaco have a long history of generous support for the Church, even though there were occasional bumps in the road, usually due to the rocky record of marriage in the Grimaldi family, but Church law has always been respected.

Most recently, Prince Albert II has had to walk a rather fine line between the Catholic tradition of Monaco and the secularism that dominates modern western Europe. One area that has caused some friction is abortion. Prince Rainier III was adamant in completely banning the practice in Monaco but Prince Albert, as part of standards required by the European community, did not stop a law going through allowing for abortion in cases of rape, fetal illness or deformity or if the life of the mother is imperiled. However, as those are the only exceptions, Monaco is still regarded as one of the few western European countries where abortion is illegal. In 2009 Prince Albert II served as patron of a conference organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life, among others, to promote adult stem-cell research which does not involve the destruction of human embryos. In 2010 the Prince signed on to a coalition of twenty Catholic and Orthodox countries to defend the Christian tradition of Europe, “against the secularism, liberalism and relativism that prevail in modern Europe”. HSH Prince Rainier III, a devout Catholic who sought the Papal blessing at every major event of his reign, was a high-ranking member of the Knights of Malta and held the Papal honors of the Order of the Golden Spur and the Order of the Seraphs. Likewise, Prince Albert II is one of the highest ranking members of the Knights of Malta and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, a Catholic order under Papal protection, of which he has been a member since 1983.

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