Relationships between Don Bosco and Archbishop Gastaldi went through two different stages, one of great understanding and cooperation, and another of notable difficulties and conflicts. The watershed could be considered to be Gastaldi’s transferral from the Episcopal See of Saluzzo to being Archbishop of Turin in 1871.
Theologian and Canon, Lorenzo Gastaldi at the end of the 1840s appreciated and supported Don Bosco’s work of the oratories, he praised him in the press, allowed his mother and sister to help the boys at the Oratory in Valdocco and when he left as a Rosminian for England in 1853 he spoke on behalf of Don Bosco. On his return to Italy, his respect for Don Bosco continued and his friendship intensified through his collaboration in publishing the Catholic Readings, his preaching to the boys at Valdocco and to the Salesians, his lessons in theology to the latter group, and his generous offerings for the church of Mary Help of Christians.
Given these precedents, once can understand how Don Bosco indicated him to Cardinal Antonelli as a possible bishop and in 1867 the Pope appointed him to Saluzzo then in 1871, again on indications from Don Bosco, as Archbishop of Turin.
At this point the “coexistence” between the two strong personalities became difficult, their mutual esteem for one another and their work diminished, their relationship grew ever more tense and ended up in open conflict, made worse by a hostile secular press, but also by writings from their religious defenders, all with the best of motives.
The reasons for dissent or bitter conflict were varied: different ways of thinking about the Church, different ways of understanding formation to the priestly and religious life, disagreement about the Salesian Society being a religious institution and its legal form, different points of view about the privileges obtained by the leader of the Society, real or pretended rights by both sides, justified complaints or sheer obstinacy, voluntary involvement or not in conflict situations for which they had no direct responsibility, the impact that other controversies had on them, or events that were insignificant in themselves but that could lead to painful misunderstandings and mutual distrust.
Other than the roles they had and what they represented, we also need to consider that they were individuals of a very different kind and with different sensitivities, different desires, passions and dreams; but they were both fierce fighters, equally inclined to command rather than obey. They gave more consideration to the results of their actions than to seeking simple agreement, were not always available to meet together, clarify, conciliate, perhaps because of mutual disappointments, hopes, frustrations, real preconceptions.
When the one was accused of insubordination to legitimate authority he replied he was being persecuted by the other with the consequence that all attempts at mediation, at local level or by the Holy See, were doomed. It was a contest of wills that presented as a classic conflict between authority and charism, even more so at time dominated by Ultramontanism, and only an “accord” at the command of the Holy See in 1882 was able to resolve it.
We publish eleven texts that belong to this painful affair, almost all of them letters Don Bosco wrote to the Archbishop. He communicates the satisfaction of the civil authorities at the archbishop’s appointment to Turin (no. 79); he explains the meaning of pontifical approval of the Salesian Constitutions and how formation is given to Salesians (no. 80); he disagrees with the archbishop’s decision regarding ordination of Salesian priests, especially considering how many diocesan vocations came from Valdocco and his own involvement on behalf of Gastaldi’s appointment at both Saluzzo and Turin (no. 81); he is sorry about events causing the archbishop problems but for which he does not feel responsible (no. 82); he defends his work regarding retreats, hoping to lay aside concerns about doing things in the best way possible, in order to combat evil and promote good (no. 84); he offers some reflections and explains some details, asking that he be given reasons for a possible refusal (no. 85 ).
Amazed that in a personal discussion he was not given an opportunity to explain himself or correct what he was accused of—after all he had done on behalf of the two episcopal appointments—he says he has nothing else to add and merely asks forgiveness for any trouble he has caused (no. 86); he asks for renewal of his faculties for confessions, which had expired, to avoid giving scandal (no. 87). Then follows a letter responding to a controversy on indulgences which had been referred to Rome (no. 88), before an extensive printed report at the end of 1881 (no. 89) which is a simple example of Don Bosco’s circumstantial complaints concerning Archbishop Gastaldi’s attitude towards him, and about which for the first two years of the Episcopal appointment to Turin (1872-1874) he had drawn up a detailed account for the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, Salvatore Nobili Vitelleschi (no. 83).
This collection of documents concludes with the letter of formal acceptance of the “Accord” (no. 90) which was really more an armistice between belligerents than a peace: real peace between the two individuals did not exist. There was mistrust or profound wounds that could not simply be put aside by a document. The true “accord” would only come about with the sudden death of the archbishop on March 25, 1883 and the granting of privileges to the Salesians on June 28, 1884, after a long ten year wait.
A good part of Don Bosco’s correspondence and the documentation relating to the Gastaldi affair published here—as also the even more abundant material in the archives and partially published—has a rather polemical tone to it, making their trustworthiness suspect and interpretation difficult. So once again one needs to look at the critical biographies of the two individuals and appropriate studies.
Reference time period: 1871 – 1882
Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 258-284.
Istituto Storico Salesiano