Aldo Moro (1916-1978) was a prominent leader of Italy's Christian Democratic Party. He was a major proponent of the "Centro-Sinistra"—the center-left government coalitions in the 1960s—and in the early 1970s of the compromise between the Christian Democrats and the Communists. In 1978 he was kidnapped and then murdered by the Red Brigades, a left-wing terrorist organization opposed to his "historic compromise" policies.

Aldo Moro was born in Maglie (in the southeastern province of Lecce) on September 23, 1916. His parents were both educators. His father was an inspector for the ministry of public instruction, and his mother was an elementary school teacher. Moro attended school in Taranto. His obesity often made him a target of teasing by his school mates, but he studied hard and ranked at the top of his class.

Moro's background was strongly Catholic, and he was active in church-sponsored youth groups both in the Gioventù Cattolica Italiana at the high school and in the Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana (FUCI) at the University of Bari. At the university he studied law and was president of the local Catholic student chapter. In 1939 he transferred to Rome. There he became the national president of FUCI and followed Pope Pius XII's line on behalf of peace in Europe and neutrality in Italy for World War II. In 1942 he resigned his position after being drafted for military service.

In 1945 Moro, then a professor of law at the University of Bari, was elected to the Constituent Assembly on the Christian Democratic list and began a distinguished political career. He was the youngest of the 18 members of the coordination committee that drew up the Italian republic's constitution. He was subsequently elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1948 and was appointed by Alcide De Gasperi to serve as undersecretary to the foreign minister, a post he retained until 1950. In 1954 Moro accepted his first cabinet post, minister of justice, under Antonio Segni. As minister of justice Moro was in charge of all prisons in Italy. He enacted a series of sweeping reforms after inspecting every prison in the country and talking with thousands of prisoners, something no predecessor had done in more than 100 years.

Subsequently he served as minister of public instruction in the government of Adone Zoli before becoming secretary of the Christian Democrats in 1959. Although the Christian Democrats were badly divided and in danger of splitting, Moro managed to rally the party around him. He was always a staunch anti-Communist and told the Christian Democrats' seventh congress in October 1959 that for Christian Democracy, "the first duty is to resist Communism in every sector: human, moral, political and social." Nevertheless, he was uneasy that his party, in order to form a governing coalition, was so heavily dependent on right wing parties with pro-Fascist sympathies. His goal was to form coalitions that were both anti-Communist and anti-Fascist. After a period of initial reluctance, he began talks with the Socialists of Pietro Nenni, who claimed to have broken with the Communists. The negotiations resulted in the parliamentary coalition of the Center-Left, the "apertura a sinistra" (opening to the left). Eventually this led to the formation of Moro's first government in 1963. He headed three governments between 1963 and June 1968 and two more in the mid-1970s.

After a series of electoral gains by the Italian Communist Party in the early 1970s, Moro began to urge Christian Democrats toward the "Compromesso Storico" or "Historic Compromise." According to this informal agreement, which lasted from 1976 to 1979, the Communists refrained from voting against the Christian Democrats in return for an informal voice in governmental policy.

As a politician Moro was not a brilliant speaker, but he was able to bring political antagonists together. He built a reputation as a master of ambiguous political formulas, subtle maneuvers, and compromises between seemingly irreconcilable positions. In describing a deal between the Christian Democrats and left-wing groups in a shaky government coalition, he spoke of "parallel convergencies." The phrase, a contradiction in terms, became famous as an example of the Moro style of politics.

Moro was married and the father of three daughters and a son. He lived quietly with his family in a modest apartment in Rome.

In March 1978 Moro became the most sensational victim of the Red Brigades, a left-wing terrorist organization bitterly opposed to Moro's "historic compromise." In a daring maneuver outside his home in Rome the kidnappers killed Moro's five police guards and abducted him. In letters to the government, newspapers, and Moro's family the kidnappers demanded the release from jail of 13 terrorist leaders awaiting trial or sentencing.

The government faced a terrible dilemma. To give in to the terrorists would expose politicians to future kidnappings. To give in would also admit that the life of a political leader was worth saving, but not the lives of policemen, judges, journalists, or businessmen—all past victims of terrorist attacks. The government and the political parties rejected the kidnappers' demands. After a fruitless 54-day search by security forces, Moro's body was found in May in the trunk of a car in the center of Rome. Symbolically, the car was parked half way between the national headquarters of the Christian Democratic and Communist parties.

Further Reading on Aldo Moro

Frank J. Coppa, editor, "Moro," in Dictionary of Modern Italian History (1985), and Corrado Pizzinelli's, Moro (Milan, 1969) provide additional information on Moro.