Leo XIII died in 1903 and became Pope in 1878. Rome was in turmoil at the time and violence surrounded his predecessor Pix IX’s funeral and his election to the Papacy. A schism was going on in Germany in the establishment of the Old Catholic Church. Pope Leo was a strong conservative and admirer of the Medieval Church and had a great respect for Pope Innocent III. Also slavery was condemned during the middle ages but when the plague of the fourteenth century occurred it was reintroduced. Leo also had a deep regard for the guild system and acknowledged St. Thomas Aquinas as the preferred Philosopher and Theologian of the Church requiring all seminarians to study him.
Leo believed in universal Papal authority and sought reconciliation with Germany and France without success. He was successful with Italy either. He envisioned the Church as being involved in the world and used the term ‘Catholic Democracy’ to give expression to that vision for it. He attacked secret societies like the free masons.
With the economic growth of industrial revolution Leo addressed its negative ramifications in society. Laborers saw the Church as identifying with the wealthy Industrialists. Leo’s response was that the Church should be shaping the world. And in 1891 wrote Rerum Novarum in an attempt to address the problems of laborers. His encyclical dealt with the modern social problems. He challenged socialism and communism and stating that class hostility was not natural and that civil governments should not interfere with the family. He directed the Church to deal with all aspects of human life. He argued that laborers should have time to pray and worship. He proclaimed that the rich and poor were equal and entitled to equal treatment. He called for labor to be regulated- time worked, breaks, child labor, and woman laborers. He wrote that laborers deserved just compensation for the work in sanitary condition and favored labor unions like the guilds of the middle Ages. Of all the modern Popes he took the most social initiatives.
Pope Pius X died in 1914 and became Pope in 1903. He was not on the fast track to Church leadership. He came from a poor family and lacked diplomatic skills that were particularly annoying to the French. He emphasized that lay people should frequent the Eucharist often, gave young children the opportunity to receive communion. He promoted a policy to keep theology in the language of the time even though he too preferred St. Thomas Aquinas. He didn’t care for modernist theologians who were more interested in being relevant than truthful. He saw the need for a new code of Canon Law since the last revision of it was in the 12th Century. He was deeply loved for who he was, pious and holy. Pius XII canonized him a saint, the first Pope made a Saint since the 17th Century.
Benedict XV died in 1922 and became Pope in 1914. Benedict was a Pope with diplomatic skills in the unique position as a religious emissary but who was ignored by the belligerent nations of the First World War. Due to the 1915 Treaty of London that ignored papal peace moves Benedict's proposed seven-point Peace Note of August 1917 was ignored by all parties except Austria-Hungary.
Pius XI died in 1939 and became Pope in 1922. His most important role was to conclude the conflict with Italy over the Papal States in 1929. They were turned over to Italy and the Church maintained what we know today as Vatican City. He attempted a concordat with European States and opposed Nazism and communism. In 1931 he celebrated the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum with a decree and proclaimed it to be the Magna Charta of Catholic Social teaching. He advocated social responsibility of the wealthy and directed the Church away from wealth, power and status. He rejected class warfare and addressed secular and moral issues. He suggested a need to rethink socialism and said that evangelization was the work of laborers. He supported families and wanted to insure that businesses would be sustainable. He had a concern for the poor.
Pius XII died in 1958 and became Pope in 1939. He travelled widely and was a good diplomat. He visited the U.S. and led the Church into modernity; he encouraged biblical scholarship and encouraged the laity to read the Bible. He proclaimed the Assumption as a dogma of the Church in 1950. The most controversial aspect of his Papacy were charges that he was anti-Jewish which is absurd in view of all his efforts to keep them from being executed by Nazi Germany.