The Pope and Mussolini - Wikipedia
The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of By January Mussolini had held a secret meeting with the cardinal. Kertzer says Pope Pius cooperated closely with Mussolini for more than . Why would the pope, Pius XI, see it in his interest to ally with the fascists? . Of course the pope would not - never consider going to meet Mussolini at. Pius XII, in his very first Encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, of 20 “Most of the pages from Pacelli's log of his meeting with the popes in these.
And Mussolini organized in December of what they called the Day of the Wedding Ring, where all good loyal fascists were to give up their gold wedding rings, which were presumably to be melted down to help offset the effects of the international boycott and help support the war.
In Italy itself, priests, bishops, cardinals had their gold pectoral crosses melted down for the fascist cause, the cause of the Ethiopian war. So this was very important to Mussolini and to the pursuit of the war. You know, it's interesting that these two men, Mussolini and Pope Pius XI, had this kind of alliance and contention that lasted for, what, close to 18 years, I guess? They were - they met exactly once, right?
Since becoming pope, although here are two men, they lived a mile or so from each other in Rome, and they had intensive relationships, but the relationship, other than the one time they met, which was inwas all conducted through an intermediary and particularly this one envoy that the pope had, the Jesuit envoy, but also a official ambassador to the Italian state, the Papal Nuncio.
So why didn't they meet more? Well, there were various reasons. They would've met more often if it was up to the pope. There were other times when there were various crises, when the pope made it known to Mussolini he would welcome discussing things with him, including, for example, the Ethiopian war, if that would help.
- Pope Pius XI
- The Pope and Mussolini
But Mussolini was not eager to meet with the pope. Of course the pope would not - never consider going to meet Mussolini at Mussolini's office. So it would be a matter of Mussolini having to come to the Vatican. And for Mussolini to come to the Vatican and its grandeur, all the ritual and pomp that surrounds the pope, was something that made Mussolini very uncomfortable, even if he weren't basically an anti-cleric, which is another part of this.
So Mussolini would never agree to meet one-on-one with the pope again. Coming up, Kertzer tells us about the relationship between Mussolini and Pope Pius after Hitler came to power as Italy and Germany became closer allies. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. We're speaking with Brown University historian David Kertzer, who won a Pulitzer Prize this week for his book documenting a close alliance in the 's and '30s between the Catholic Church and Italy's fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.
Kertzer writes that Pope Pius XI shared Mussolini's hatred for communism and distaste for Western democracy and found the church reaped many benefits from its support for the regime. Kertzer's book, "The Pope And Mussolini," is now out in paperback. In the s, of course, Hitler comes to power in Germany and the pope is very troubled about the German government's repression of the church and its activities, and he wants Mussolini to meet with Hitler and do something about it.
They do have an encounter, and it's kind of a fascinating occasion. Tell us about it. So inHitler arrives at the - outside Venice, the airport there, where he's met by Mussolini for their first encounter. Now, Mussolini refused to have a translator. Hitler only spoke German. And in fact, Mussolini did learn a number of languages.
He did know some German, although he was less than fully fluent, but his pride was such that he wouldn't tolerate a translator.
And what he later - as he later recounted in some of his correspondence, Mussolini found Hitler as almost crazed, that he would go on and keep speaking like a phonograph, rather, that he couldn't turn off, especially when the question of religion came up. He would talk about how the church had befallen into the hands of Jews and so forth. But the pope kept leaning on Mussolini to help him with Hitler.
And this is one of the things that really does come through, through the newly available documents in the various archives in the Vatican and elsewhere in Rome, and that is that there were a constant series of requests from the time that Hitler comes to power shortly thereafter to Mussolini to intercede on the pope's behalf with Hitler.
Who did the pope have who might have influence on Hitler?
'Pope And Mussolini' Tells The 'Secret History' Of Fascism And The Church : NPR
Certainly nobody in the clergy, in the Catholic clergy, could have that kind of influence. He saw Mussolini as extremely valuable in this role.
So what we find in the archives - a whole assortment - I mean, time after time, month after month - requests that Mussolini take action either directly or through his ambassador to Berlin. And Mussolini was at first actually eager to be helpful, at least up to a point. He could show how valuable he was to the pope. But after a while, he wasn't making much progress with Hitler, though curiously, he kept giving Hitler and other of the top Nazi leaders advice on how best to deal with the Catholic Church and how best to deal with the pope and how successful he had been using his methods.
And didn't get the pope anywhere? So and the pope, of course, was furious with Hitler for - well, both for kind of theological reasons. The kind of racism of the - and the Aryan supremacy and so forth, of Nazi ideology was not something that would be at all appealing to the pope, but also because the influence of the Catholic Church in Germany was being quickly eroded.
There's one point at which the pope issues an encyclical criticizing Hitler's treatment of the church in Germany. And you write that Hitler, you know, went on an angry rant about it and threatened to heap disgrace on the church by revealing certain secret information. What was he talking about? Well, he was talking about pederasty and other kinds of sexual scandals. And in fact, he did create a series of what we refer to as high-profile morality trials against priests, but also against monks and nuns, in which they were charged with all sorts of depraved behavior of orgies and abusing children and so forth.
And he saw this - Hitler saw this as kind of his weapon that he could use to try to discredit the Catholic Church. You know, as the anti-Semitism of Hitler's regime revealed itself, with Kristallnacht and, you know, other outrages, the question emerged of what would the Italian Fascist Party do toward its Jewish population?
First of all, what was the status of Italy's Jews? How many were there? How were they treated? Well, there were about 35, or so Jews in Italy, which is one-tenth of 1 percent of the population. So it was a very small population, and it was found primarily in a few big cities in Italy, so it's quite different than some other parts of Europe.
In Poland, for example, 10 percent of the population was Jewish. So it was a small community. It was not seen as a threat to the fascists initially. In fact, there were many Jews who were - became fascists. There were officeholders, fascist officeholders, of various types who were Jewish.
And indeed, Mussolini's own long-term early mistress from the time of the First World War into the s was a Jewish woman - Margherita Sarfatti - who was also one of his major political advisors.
So in some sense, it was a big surprise when Mussolini begins to copy Hitler in his anti-Semitic policies. This wasn't something that was a longstanding, you know, core commitment of Mussolini's.
It was certainly never part of the fascist program. I mean, it's not to say there weren't anti-Semitic fascists or an anti-Semitic wing of the fascists, which there was, but it was not identified with Mussolini. And Mussolini, I mean, although he participated in the larger probably mild, you might say anti-Semitism of the larger culture, nothing marked him as being particularly interested in this issue.
And, in fact, he did an interview with a German Jewish reporter, I think wasin which he specifically said that he did not see any problem about Jews and did not believe in racial theories. And what was the pope's attitude on what was called the Jewish question? Well, the pope's attitude is more complicated. There had long been in the church a very strong anti-Jewish sentiment. The Jews were demonized, of course, in part for theological reasons, as having been cursed for God and the charge of deicide, of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and so forth.
But this, by the late 19th century, had come to be part of a larger anti-Semitic stream in the church which saw the Jews as part of what was wrong with European society, as secretly plotting against Christians.
And many church publications published this kind of material. The pope, interestingly, had a good relationship when he was in Milan with the local rabbi, for example. And one thing we do know from the documents that are now available is he himself did not see Jews in Italy as any particular problem, even if he may have had ideas about international Jews and Jews in Poland, Jews in other parts of Europe as being identified with communism and so forth, one of the charges being made in the church at the time.
So the pope was a part of a anti-Semitic ambience, you might say, but it was not a major issue for him. And he did make a distinction that the Italian Jews were not a threat of any kind.
Well, in the late '30s, as the alliance between Italy and Germany grew tighter and Mussolini made a military pact with Hitler, Mussolini eventually moved to prepare laws persecuting Italian Jews. Kind of take us through his transformation. Well, in May ofHitler made a triumphal visit to Italy, including Rome. The pope, who despised Hitler, refused to receive him, but left the city, went to his summer estate at Castel Gandolfo, closed the Vatican museums so that Hitler wouldn't be able to visit the Vatican museums and was outraged by the kind of reception planned for - heroic reception planned for Hitler, who he regarded as a major - the major opponent of the church at the time in Europe.
So it was in this context right after that visit that in July ofMussolini has the new racial policy of the Italian government announced in which they refer to the superiority of the pure Italian race and the fact that according to this theory, the Jews were not part of the Italian race and in fact were a threat to good Italians. And this would be followed in early September with the first major series of anti-Semitic laws referred to as the racial laws. These laws would, for example, kick all Jewish children out of the public schools, kick out all Jewish teachers and professors as well.
Jewish members of professions wouldn't be able to practice their professions. Jewish members of honorary societies would be thrown out and so forth.
So this was a very dramatic time for the Jews in Italy and came as a big shock because there really wasn't much precedent for this under the fascist government. So it was at this time that the pope, who was already upset with Mussolini for getting into bed with Hitler, began to be even more alienated. And especially it wasn't so much because of how the Jews were being treated - although, this I think pained the pope - but what it showed about how Mussolini was really making a ever increasingly strengthening pact with Hitler.
And it was interesting, as you describe it. I mean, the pope made many efforts to convince Mussolini to make changes in the racial laws, to permit, for example, Jews who had converted to Catholicism or who had married a Catholic to be exempted from them. I mean, to what extent was he troubled by the immorality of this kind of discrimination and to what extent was it something else?
Well, in general, you know, a theory of racial superiority went against what he saw as basic Catholic teachings, which, of course, the Catholic Church has universal aspirations and would not discriminate based on race. But he - ultimately he would only protest one aspect of the racial - not how Jews were being dealt but how Catholics who had once been Jewish were being dealt with.
So the only protest that actually comes out of the Vatican against the anti-Semitic laws held that they should not be applied to Catholics who had formerly been Jews.
This is a remarkable time you write about in the book where, you know, the pope is elderly, his health is failing, and it's clear that he is very troubled and takes steps, which it seems would lead to a very public condemnation of Mussolini and anti-Semitism. He drafts this - he charges an American cleric, John La Farge, with drafting an encyclical, which seems like it's going to be a very sharply critical view. But he was surrounded by many people in the Vatican who just weren't going to let this happen.
And, in fact, when he picks this American Jesuit, John La Farge, who's known for his work against racism - and that is anti-black racism in the United States - for this task of drafting an encyclical against anti-Semitism and racism, he does it without letting his secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli, know or the other people around him. Clearly, he doesn't have confidence that they would share his view that he should be doing this because they would be worried about irritating Mussolini and Hitler as well.
So he is making these various moves. But yet the - for example, the newspaper, the Vatican daily newspaper - which is not under censorship - L'Osservatore Romano, publishes - shortly after the new racial policy is pronounced in mid-August and just before the racial laws, anti-Semitic racial laws, would go into effect in mid-August, - publishes a piece basically calling for measures to be taken against the Jews, seeing the Jews as a danger, saying the church had always called for restricting their rights, saying that the church had opposed giving the Jews equal rights, liberating the Jews in Europe and of the previous century.
This piece in the Vatican daily newspaper was then picked up by the fascist press throughout Italy to justify the imposition of the anti-Semitic racial laws that would go into effect very shortly thereafter. This is just one example. So what you see, if you're looking in the archives, is exactly how these people around the pope - largely in the secretary of state's office, but not only, for example, the world head of the Jesuit order is a very important player here as well - how they are able to thwart the will of the pope.
You know, I have to say, I mean, there's an ending to this story, which it's written, you know, like a thriller, like a novel. As the 10th anniversary of the Lateran Accords, which was this historic agreement between the Italian government and the church -the 10th anniversary is to be celebrated - it appears the pope is determined to make a public condemnation of the fascists and really rupture that relationship.
But it just doesn't happen. Do you want to tell us the story? In fact, one of the things we learn from Mussolini's correspondence is he was convinced that the pope was going to use the occasion of that 10th anniversary celebration, which he invited all the bishops of Italy to St. Peter's for a speech, that the pope was going to denounce Mussolini and the alliance with Hitler in that speech.
So Mussolini was desperately afraid of exactly that. And the, of course, the timing of the pope's death has led to various conspiracy theories. This big speech that all the bishops were called in to hear - that Mussolini was so worried - about was to take place on February 11, The pope dies on February 10, the day before he's supposed to give the speech.
And whether or not you believe in any of these conspiracies, I didn't find any evidence of any foul play myself in the archives.
'Pope And Mussolini' Tells The 'Secret History' Of Fascism And The Church
But one thing we do know and that we do recently know because of the newly available documents in the archives and in the fascist archives, is that after - immediately after the pope's death, Mussolini got word to the secretary of state, Cardinal Pacelli, who is now as the chamberlain in charge of the pope's effects and basically requests that Pacelli destroy all copies of the speech because the pope actually had made copies - copies - of the speech to give all the Italian bishops when they came.
Mussolini wanted these destroyed. So do we know what was in the speech? The text of the speech only comes out many decades later and was hidden from view until recently. It's - you know, reading it now, it's not the thundering denunciation of fascism that one might like. On the other hand, it was pretty strong stuff. It talked about - warned the bishops that there were fascist spies everywhere; they should watch what they said. He again denounced racism. So it was the kind of speech that Mussolini would certainly not have liked to hear, much less Hitler.
We should say what happened - what became of the Jewish population of Italy, which was subject to these racial laws which, you know, initially had dealt with, you know, banning them from certain occupations, banning kids from public schools, but did not, you know, mean that there were Italian concentration camps.
What became of the Italian Jewish community as the war proceeded? Well, actually, there were Italian concentration camps, although they were not extermination camps. But you're right, the racial laws had never envisioned the mass murder of the Jews of Italy. But inMussolini is overthrown and Hitler sends German troops to flood through the Italian peninsula, take over all of central and northern Italy, take control of Rome.
The allies are now trying to battle their way up from Sicily, from the south of the boot, up north. But it will take a couple of years until the end of the war till they make their way all the way up there. So the Jews now are subject to the Nazi policies of extermination. The Nazis enlist their fascist Italian collaborators to help locate the Jews and to deport them, largely to Auschwitz. There had been, in addition to about 35, Italian Jews, by this time there were about 10, Jews from Germany and other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe who had escaped to Italy.
Of these, something like 8, would be sent to - would never make it out of Auschwitz, basically, other concentration camps - would be murdered. The majority, however, do survive the war. You write in the author's note that the common narrative is that the Roman Catholic Church fought heroically against Italian fascism, you know, and that the Catholic Action, these clubs or these groups that were supported by the church, had been on the forefront of finding fascism.
And your book tells a very, very different story. And it strikes me how much of, you know, how much of this was actually publically known at the time, or at least written about, if, you know, in some Italian papers and in some foreign newspapers. How did this narrative of the Church fighting fascism prevail if so many of these events seemed to be observed at the time?
Well, I think this is a fascinating question, and it's part of a larger question - namely, Italy remaking its fascist past. So it's not just the Catholic Church. To bolster his own new regime, Benito Mussolini was also eager for an agreement.
After years of negotiation, inthe Pope supervised the signing of the Lateran Treaties with the Italian government. According to the terms of the treaty that was one of the agreed documents, Vatican City was given sovereignty as an independent nation in return for the Vatican relinquishing its claim to the former territories of the Papal States.
Pius XI thus became a head of state albeit the smallest state in the worldthe first Pope who could be termed a head of state since the Papal States fell after the unification of Italy in the 19th century. The concordat that was another of the agreed documents of recognised Catholicism as the sole religion of the state as it already was under Italian law, while other religions were toleratedpaid salaries to priests and bishops, gave civil recognition to church marriages previously couples had to have a civil ceremonyand brought religious instruction into the public schools.
In turn, the bishops swore allegiance to the Italian state, which had a veto power over their selection. The Church especially endorsed foreign policies, such as support for the anti-Communist side in the Spanish Civil War, and support for the conquest of Ethiopia. Friction continued over the Catholic Action youth network, which Mussolini wanted to merge into his Fascist youth group.
Pius XI invested the money in the stock markets and real estate. To manage these investments, the Pope appointed the lay-person Bernardino Nogarawho, through shrewd investing in stocks, gold, and futures markets, significantly increased the Catholic Church's financial holdings.
The income largely paid for the upkeep of the expensive-to-maintain stock of historic buildings in the Vatican which until had been maintained through funds raised from the Papal States. Boundary map of Vatican Citytaken from the annex of the Lateran Treaty The Vatican's relationship with Mussolini's government deteriorated drastically after as Mussolini's totalitarian ambitions began to impinge more and more on the autonomy of the Church. For example, the Fascists tried to absorb the Church's youth groups.
It denounced the regime's persecution of the church in Italy and condemned "pagan worship of the State. The Vatican refused to comply and thereafter Mussolini began to work with Hitler, adopting his anti-Semitic and race theories. From left to right: The Nazis, like the Pope, were unalterably opposed to Communism. German bishops were at first opposed to the Nazis in the election. Pius expressed support for the regime soon after Hitler's rise to power, "I have changed my mind about Hitler, it is for the first time that such a government voice has been raised to denounce bolshevism in such categorical terms, joining with the voice of the pope.
The Reichskonkordat was signed by Pacelli and by the German government in Juneand included guarantees of liberty for the Church, independence for Catholic organisations and youth groups, and religious teaching in schools.