The origins of "L'Osservatore Romano"


[Papa Pio IX] The first issue of L'Osservatore Romano came out in Rome on 1 July 1861, a few months after the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed (17 March 1861). The publication's aim was clearly apologetical, in defence of the Papal States, and it was deliberately polemical and propagandist. The newspaper took the name of a previous private pamphlet (5 September 1849 - 2 September 1852), directed by Fr Francesco Battelli and financed by a French Catholic legitimist group.
The birth of L'Osservatore Romano is closely linked to the defeat in battle suffered by the papal troops at Castelfidardo (8 September 1860). Indeed, after this event, while the Pontiff's temporal power was forcibly reduced in terms of territorial coverage and it did not seem as though there were a power in the whole of Europe to defend it, a large of number of Catholic intellectuals began to arrive in Rome with the firm intent of putting themselves at the service of Pius IX.

The idea of a private daily publication which would vindicate the Pontifical State and the values it championed began to gain favour among the pontifical authorities who were determined to restore the status quo ante.

Already by 20 July 1860, the deputy Minister of the Interior, Marcantonio Pacelli, wanted to supplement the official bulletin, the Giornale di Roma, with a polemical and militant publication of a semi-official kind called L'Amico della Verità. The draft of the project required time and it probably reached the ears of the Marquis Augusto Baviera, already a well-known journalist and fellow citizen of Pius IX, who that same summer (19 August) had requested permission to publish a fortnightly periodical, more about culture than politics, which was to take the old name of L'Osservatore, directed by Battelli.

In early 1861, Nicola Zanchini, a famous controversialist from Forlì, came to ask the Pontifical Government's help. He and another exile, the vivacious journalist Giuseppe Bastia who had arrived from Bologna, were granted direction of the newspaper planned by Pacelli. It was 22 June 1861 when the Pontifical Minister of the Interior, in charge of the press, received a manuscript signed by the petitioners Zanchini and Bastia, seeking permission to publish. Two days later, the proposal was already being discussed by the Council of Ministers. Finally, on 26 June, at the papal Audience, Pius IX gave his approval to the regulations of L'Osservatore.
Here are some of the articles:

Art. 1: The paper handed over to the lawyers, Mr Nicola Zanchini and Mr Giuseppe Bastia, will be called L'Osservatore Romano - and will be published with progressive issues to make up bound volumes. It will be published on the days and at the times established in the association's memorandum of intent, in which the format of the paper, the quality of the characters, the price and other conditions of the above-mentioned association will also be specified.
Art. 2: The newspaper will pursue the following aims: 
   1 - to reveal and to refute the calumnies unleashed against Rome and the Roman Pontificate;
   2 - to make known the most remarkable daily events occurring in Rome and elsewhere;
   3 - to recall the firm principles of the Catholic religion and those of justice and the law, as the stable foundations of any kind of social existence;
   4 - to educate on duties to the nation;
   5 - to inspire and promote the veneration of the august Sovereign and Pontiff;
   6 - to collect and illustrate all that deserves public attention in the arts, literature and sciences, and especially inventions and relative applications of achievements in the Pontifical States.

[Prima pagina del numero 1 - 1 luglio 1861
] This is how the first issue of the newspaper was presented to the reader. The title included the phrase "L'Osservatore Romano - a political and moral paper" and the price, 5 baiocchi. The "terms of the association" were then explained for those intending to take out a subscription.

A little lower down was included a "Notice" to potential associates and the basic editorial entitled:  "L'Osservatore Romano to its readers", which was a harsh indictment against the policies of Cavour who had recently died.

The first issues consisted of four pages containing all the polemical topics which were to characterize the "editorial line" for some time to come.

At the end of 1861, the subtitle "political and moral paper" was dropped, and the mottos: unicuique suum and non praevalebunt appeared under the masthead, as they still do today.

L'Osservatore did not even have an office at the start:  the first editors like Bayard de Volo, Anton Maria Bonetti, Ugo Flandoli, Fr Nazareno Ignazi, Costantino Pucci, Paolo Pultrini, Telesforo Sarti would meet in the Salviucci press, at 56, Piazza de' Santi Apostoli, where the paper was printed. Only in 1862 was the editorial staff established in Palazzo Petri in Piazza dei Crociferi, where their own press was shortly to be set up. The first issue was printed there on 31 March, the date on which the wording daily newspaper was added to the masthead.

On 30 June 1865, Zanchini and Bastia ceded their ownership to the Marquis of Baviera, as from the beginning of the following year. In the first few months of their editorship they were supported by the Bolognese Giovan Battista Casoni who, in 1890, would become the only editor-in-chief. The newspaper immediately appeared with an avant-garde programme and a spirit of independence, and became involved in bitter disputes with other Italian and foreign publications, defending the Church and the principles of human rights.

In its first decade, L'Osservatore Romano gave much space to international political topics, including the "Roman Question". Purely political issues were rarely discussed; rather importance was given to the justice or injustice of public acts and their consequences for the Catholic religion and social morality. Religious, ecclesiastical and economic and social themes were also given space on the front page. Thus very soon the paper described itself as "a loyal and more or less complete mirror not only of the opinions and wishes of the majority of Roman Catholics, but also of those - at least in their external and public forms - of the Pope's Government itself".

With the breach of Porta Pia by Italian troops (20 September 1870), L'Osservatore Romano from a "semi-official" organ of the Pontifical State, became a newspaper of the opposition inside the young and spreading Kingdom of Italy. After being suspended for about a month, the paper resumed publication on 17 October. On that occasion, it reported a declaration of obedience to the Pope and of total adherence to his directives on the front page, reaffirming that it would remain faithful "to that unchangeable principle of religion and morals which recognizes as its sole depository and claimant the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth".

In the particularly heated atmosphere of those years, the paper was sequestered several times. But nothing prevented the editors from resuming their battle of faith and ideas. Indeed, very soon L'Osservatore Romano began to replace the Giornale di Roma, the official organ of the Pontifical State, in communicating the Church's official news. This happened more obviously under the Pontificate of Leo XIII, who acquired the paper's ownership and in 1885 made it the Holy See's official organ of information.

Faithful to its origins, in these 146 years of life L'Osservatore Romano has continued its work of the service of the truth. With enthusiasm and with no fear of sounding a discordant note, it has documented the history of peoples and nations. Above all, it has continued its privileged service, making known the Magisterium of the Successor of Peter.

On the occasion of the centenary of the newspaper's foundation John XXIII wrote:

The past 100 years have made this newspaper not only a witness to but also a maker of history:  since, strictly bound to the Apostolic See by the very proximity of its location and diligently following its Magisterium, in furthering Christ's kingdom on earth it has continuously provided what is highly esteemed by the Catholic faithful and all honest persons:  it has asserted the truth, defended justice, advanced the cause of true freedom and safeguarded the honesty and honour of the human condition and dignity. In peaceful and in stormy periods, among the changing developments of events, it has maintained throughout the same constancy, the same moderation and fairness, the same sentiment of piety toward the human race fostered by Christian charity, since it has not based its way of thinking and acting on the passions of mere mortals, but on truth and divine justice. In this way it has become an outstanding example for any similar publication. For scorning religion, twisting the truth with false interpretations, mocking virtue, exalting vice and crime is most shameful and becomes even more harmful when, in the name of freedom, unbridled licence is practised, and thereby the ruin of human society prepared".

And 30 years later, on the occasion of the introduction of the new computerized technologies in the paper's production, John Paul II addressed the following letter to the Editor-in-Chief: "Today, 1 July 1991, in conjunction with the 130th anniversary of its establishment, "L'Osservatore Romano" opens a new chapter in its history as it begins utilizing the technology of photocomposition. This new phase promises even greater fruit in the service which this journal authoritatively gives, following the steps of the papal Magisterium, to ecclesial communion and modern social communications.

I gladly invoke the divine assistance on the editors and technicians, collaborators and readers, who with their various gifts are called to present to the world the Word of God and the teaching of the Church by means of new publishing technologies. It is a service to all people who "seek channels" of hope for obtaining Gospel confidence and courage.

In expressing my wish that your daily labours, inspired by faith and comforted by love, may increase the opportunities for understanding and love among individuals and nations, by continually reflecting that "light of nations", Christ, which shines on the face of the universal Church and the local Churches, with esteem and affection I cordially impart to all my Blessing." .

[Benedetto XVI]

The Popes of L'Osservatore Romano

The Editors

The Editions


English edition


This edition, first published on 4 April 1968, is currently distributed in more than 129 countries on the various continents. As well as in the countries where English is the national language, it is also circulated in all the other territories where English is normally used as a general means of communication.

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