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Mussolini & the Papacy
The Vatican and Italian Fascism

"The poor son of man possessed nothing he could lay his head on. And his disciples should pronounce the gospel without money in their belts. He would only allow them a walking staff and sandals, according to Mark.' According to Matthew and Luke, he even forbade these.' The biblical Jesus demands the renunciation of all possessions, and in the primitive Christian community, where his teachings and the style of his shared life with his disciples had to have the most continuing effect, there was also more than a hint of communism or, as Troeltsch puts it, the religious communism of love. And the New Testament even observes: "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had . . . there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales
        ... and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need."'
        But while Early Fathers such as Cyprian and, in particular, the noble Basil praised the communism of original Christianity,' and while doctor of the church John Chrysostom was still preaching that "the community of property is more an adequate way of living for us than private property, and it is in accordance with nature.”
        Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 25
        After 475 CE, the Church of Rome gave a quarter of the entire church income to the bishop. The clergy received a quarter; the lower clergy, however, also had to depend on outside earnings. A quarter was distributed among the poor and a quarter used for maintaining church buildings." But it seemed as if the pope was consuming all four parts for himself alone for years.16 Gradually the ownership of massive property developed, which was termed patrimonium ecclesiae or patrimonium St. Petri. The Roman Church not only had massive possessions in Italy but also in Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Dalmatia, Africa, and even in the Middle East. After the fifth century, the bishop of Rome, whose "predecessors" had to preach the gospel barefoot and without money, had become the biggest landowner in the Roman Empire.
        Then, during the reign of Steven III in the eighth century, a religious war led to the creation of the Papal States, those grotesque monstrosities that would separate the north and the south of Italy for more than a millennium. By using the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell and presenting a letter from St. Peter himself, the pope drove the Frankish ruler Pepin, whose usurped royal dignity the church had recognized and whose predecessor it had put in the monastery, to two crusades against the Lombards, who were threatening Rome. In 756 Pepin gave the conquered territories to St. Peter and his alleged" successors, who thereby not only had massive estates but also had their own army at their disposal.
        Now, however, the newly formed Papal States, which had arisen through two bloody wars, were given a more ideal origin. While Pepin still reigned, the so-called donatio Constantini, the Donation of Constantine, was fabricated, which was to tie in with the legend of Sylvester. According to this legend, the terrible persecutor of Christians, Constantine, was healed from leprosy, converted, and baptized by Pope Sylvester I, and, as a reward, Constantine richly thanked the pope by granting him imperial titles and rights not only with the Lateran, as was actually the case, but also with the city of Rome and even "all the provinces of Italy and the Western lands:"
        This notorious document, which presented the Papal States as a gift from the first Christian emperor, dated and signed personally, played a crucial role in the popes' battles with the emperors as "classic evidence." And with a view to this document, anyone who misappropriated curial property or even favored any such action in any way whatsoever was condemned by the church.
        Hadrian I, who, out of fifty-five letters he wrote to Charlemagne, wrote forty-five that almost exclusively concerned the papal territories, was the first pope to refer to the forgery. In the twelfth century, it went into the Decretum Gratiani, which received the first place in the Corpus Iuris Canonici, the valid law book of the church until 1918. After the followers of Arnold of Brescia had already recognized the fraud, it was finally uncovered in 1440 by the papal secretary and humanist Laurentius Valla in a document that was published by Ulrich von Hutten in 1519. Roman Catholic historiography, however, did not admit the forgery until the nineteenth century. The Papal States, which had been considerably expanded under Innocence III at around 1200, were lost to the popes during their sojourn in Avignon (for most of the 14h century). But by the beginning of the sixteenth century under Julius II, they had achieved their greatest expansion. The pope, who also took up arms to fight in the campaigns, went to war in almost every year of his reign.
        At the end of the eighteenth century, Napoleon's soldiers occupied the territory, Pius VI was taken to Valence as a prisoner, and the Papal States were divided up between France and Italy.

Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 27
        Although they were restored by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, they were finally absorbed into the kingdom of Italy in 1870. And apart from that, Britain was antipapal; France, anticlerical; Russia, Bolshevist. And since in Italy itself the liberal regime seemed to be tipping toward a socialist or communist one, there was hardly any hope for a solution to the Roman Question.
        Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 30
        And since the Duce had also given up Marxism in favor of an antisocialist and antiliberal position, since he was no longer demanding conscientious objection in fiery speeches or calling on working women to throw themselves in front of transport trains, Cardinal Achille Ratti was already able to say in 1921, a year before he was elected pope: "Mussolini is making quick progress and will crush everything that gets in his way with elemental force. Mussolini is a wonderful man. Did you hear? A wonderful man! He is a new convert. He comes from the extreme left and has the driving zeal of the novice.... The future belongs to him."
        So began the cooperation between the Vatican and
        (Italian) Fascism. …
        Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 31
        As early as October 22, 1922, the Vatican called on the"
        Italian hierarchy not to identify with the (anti-Fascist)
        Catholic Party but to remain neutral, which was
        undoubtedly tantamount to supporting Mussolini,"
        who assumed office on October 28.
        Nearly three months later, on January 20, 1923, the cardinal secretary of state started secret talks with him." The Vatican committed to shutting down the Partito Popolare, the Catholic Party, since they could expect a much more radical attack on liberals, democrats, and communists by the Fascists. Mussolini guaranteed their abolition and the preservation of church "rights."
        Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 31-2
        The first service the ex-socialist rendered to the Holy See was a financial one.
He saved the "Banco di Roma:' to which the curia and many of its prelates had entrusted large amounts of money, from bankruptcy by stepping in with approximately 1.5 billion lire at the expense of the Italian state." �
        "When Fascists were attacking and murdering members of the Catholic Party at that time, including priests such as Father Don Minzoni, the pope did not utter a syllable in protest." On the contrary, he crucially accommodated Mussolini at the same time. Because when the latter wanted to abolish parliament by means of electoral reform in early 1923, an act bitterly opposed not only by liberals and democrats but also by the founder and leader of the Catholic Party―Sicilian clergyman Don Sturzo―and 107 Catholic members, the pope ordered Don Sturzo to resign on June 9, 1923, and even pushed for the dissolution of the Catholic Party." Although it did continue to exist for a while, it was affected considerably by the removal of its leader. And directly afterward, the highest representatives of the Catholic hierarchy, especially those who were in the know about the pope's new policies, quite openly briefed for Mussolini; indeed, the archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Mistrangelo, showered him with thanks in a public speech ten days later, embraced him, and kissed him on both cheeks."
        Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 34-5
        Tellingly, the negotiations began in 1926. Because this was the year the pope finally surrendered the Catholic Party, the liberals and socialists, who had just received more than 50 percent of all votes, were banned, their newspapers suppressed, their leaders arrested, and, in general, all legal guarantees were abolished.
        ….
        The agreement signed on February 11, 1929, increased the standing of the Fascists phenomenally on the one hand, as soon later the concordat with Hitler's Germany would the prestige of the Nazis; on the other hand, it provided great benefits to the Roman curia. It relinquished the restoration of the Papal States once and for all―for almost one and a half millennia the allegedly indispensable basis of their independence and freedom that had cost countless wars―and recognized the Kingdom of Italy under the dynasty of the House of Savoy with Rome as its capital, it is true, but in return, the pope received unlimited territorial and personal sovereignty over the Vatican City and, as additional compensation, the monstrous sum of one billion lire in government bonds and 750 million lire in cash.
        Mussolini & the Papacy The Vatican and Italian Fascism 36-7
        Apart from the political pact, the Fascists also concluded a concordat with the curia in which they also made unusual concessions. Catholicism became the state religion, church marriage equal to civil marriage, divorce impossible, and religious education compulsory at all elementary and high schools as the "foundation and crowning achievement of public education." Anti-church books, newspapers, and films were banned; criticism and insulting of Catholicism were made punishable by law. Indeed, the state committed itself to coordinating its entire legislation with canon law. Of all the concordats that Pius XI had concluded until that time (with Latvia in 1922, Bavaria in 1924, Poland in 1925, Lithuania in 1927), the concordat with Fascist Italy was the most beneficial to the curia. As Francesco Nitti wrote, it extinguished two centuries of domestic development and abolished the intellectual independence of the country.
        The church rejoiced. On February 13, 1929, the pope once again praised Mussolini as the man "who was sent to us by Providence" and shortly after ordered the clergy to say a prayer "for the King and the Duce" ("Pro Rege et Duce") at the end of daily mass."
        On February 17, there were particularly solemn services in all the major cities in Italy in the presence of prominent prelates, high-ranking party leaders, and the military. Fascist and church flags were flown next to each other, bands played the national anthem and hymns, and the bishops gave sermons in which they glorified the pope and Mussolini."
        On March 9, Pius XI received the diplomatic corps accredited to him and declared himself to be "extremely happy." It was the most pleasant and gratifying audience he had ever given." And on the same day the cardinals wrote to him in a message that Mussolini was governing "on behalf of Divine Providence:"
        And of course the entire Catholic world was jubilant, especially pious Germany, where a second Fascist state would soon do its deal with the church.
        Konrad Adenauer, the meritorious sponsor of the Nazi Party (p. 93), sent the Duce a moving congratulatory telegram.' And such a forthright admirer of Hitler as Cardinal Faulhaber (p. 141 ff.) was already welcoming the pact with Mussolini "with trumpets of joy." "What the first Peter experienced: said Faulhaber in a sermon, alluding to the liberation of Peter in the Bible, "has been repeated with his successors throughout world history and today with the 261st Peter. . . . Now the prayer of the Church has been heard. The hour of redemption has arrived. The angel of God has struck at the door of the Vatican prison with a hammer: open up, ye ancient gates! How this answer to our prayers must strengthen our trust in prayer! . . . No, it is not a dream. The iron door that leads from the Vatican into the city has opened, and let us say with Peter: The Lord has brought this about . . . , the Lord, who has rescued the successors of Peter from their imprisonment. It is not the work of Man, it is a deed of God."" Which was bitingly commented on by the journal Altkatholisches Volksblatt: "It is more amusing that Mussolini has suddenly turned into Christ Himself:"

Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 40-41
        “It was impossible to avoid conflict entirely between two such totalitarian institutions as the Vatican and Fascism. They started especially at the beginning of the thirties. But Pius XI, who complained bitterly about it in his encyclical "Non Abbiamo Bisogno," would not entertain condemning the party. "We have not only distanced ourselves from formal and detailed judgments, but have actually come to the conviction that compromises are possible. We have therefore favored compromises that others deemed unacceptable. It is not Our intent to condemn the party and the regime. . . . We make every effort only to condemn those things in the manifesto and actions of the party that are in opposition to Catholic teaching and practice."
        “The pope and the Duce praised each other, and Italian children said the prayer that had been composed by the church: "Duce, I thank you for making it possible for me to grow up strong and healthy. 0 dear God, protect the Duce so that Fascist Italy may keep him for a long time." In fact, the books in Italian primary schools at the time consisted of one-third parts of the catechism and prayers and two-thirds glorification of Fascism and the war that was about to be unleashed.
        THE ABYSSINIAN WAR-WITH PAPAL APPROVAL AND THE COMPLETE SUPPORT OF THE ITALIAN HIGH CLERGY
        "In view of the fateful bond between Italy and the Vatican, the Italians deserve the honorary title of Assistants and Helpers of God.' We work together with God in this national and Catholic[!] mission of good, especially at this moment at which the flag of Italy carries forward
        the cross of Jesus on the battlefields of Ethiopia in triumph. . . . Peace and divine protection to the brave army that sheds its blood for the sake of opening the gates of Ethiopia to the Catholic faith and Roman culture!"
        ―Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster of Milan"°
        The main reason for the invasion of Abyssinia, which had been accepted into the League of Nations in 1923 under the patronage of the Fascist government, was the excessive population of Italy. Italy was a "people without space" and, for this reason, as it said in countless Catholic newspapers, not least in the Vatican Jesuit newspaper Civilta Cattolica, the Abyssinian adventure was morally justified.
        Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 42
        For this paper, which has been reproducing the official opinion of the "Society of Jesus" for more than a century and is one of the most important church journals, clarified the moral preconditions of economic colonization just at the time of the Abyssinian War in such a way "that Catholic moral theology definitely does not condemn every violent act of economic expansion." On the contrary, a state that has exhausted its resources and tried all peaceful ways may "attain its right through violent conquest" in cases of extreme need.
        ...
        A further reason for war was Italy's need to spread the blessings of the Christian Western culture. "It is Italy's mission," wrote the Viennese Catholic journal Schonere Zukunft, for instance, "to carry Christian culture and Occidental [Western] civilization to the center of the black part of the earth and thereby help the Abyssinian people achieve morality and wealth." And so they started with bombs and grenades and, as even the Catholic Germania reported, sprayed gas from the army airplanes of the "assistants and helpers of God: so that, before long, thousands of poisoned Abyssinian women and children were lying in the English military hospitals."'

Mussolini & the Papacy The Vatican and Italian Fascism 43
        Mussolini wanted the fight. He wanted to conquer. "No," he declared, "even if Abyssinia were handed to me on a silver plate, I want it by means of a war."The Vatican was completely in agreement with the Fascist raid.
        On August 27, when the Italian war (arbitrary invasion of Abyssinia) preparations were running at full speed.,., the pope announced- interwoven in many calls for reason and peace- that a defensive war(!) for the purposes of the expansion(!) of a growing population could be just and right.
        The Viennese Catholic journal Reichspost published the following commentary on this from a "competent source": "Rarely has the Holy Father spoken so precisely and referred so clearly to a current situation as on the danger of war between Italy and Abyssinia. This makes it clear how much this question is on the Pope's mind, how much he has thought about it. By clearly[!] declaring a defensive war and, beyond this, even a colonial war as long as it is kept within reasonable limits and is for the benefit of a growing population, to be not unjustified, Pope Pius XI consciously wants to grant Italy a natural law within these paraphrased limits and as part of this incomplete human right a right also to conduct an Abyssinian expansion."'
        Soon after the pope's speech, four weeks before the invasion, the cardinal's legate once again celebrated Mussolini as "the man of Providence" at the national Eucharist Congress. And since it was the League of Nations that was dealing with the Abyssinia problem and the Duce was being condemned from almost all sides, nineteen archbishops and fifty-seven bishops sent him a telegram, published in the Osservatore Romano, that read: "Catholic Italy prays for the increasing size of its beloved fatherland, which is more united than ever under your government."
        Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 43
        When it (Mussolin's totally unjustified aggression against Abyssinia ) started on October 3, 1935, the enthusiasm of the high (R.C.) clergy was almost boundless. While fifty-two League of Nations states condemned the Italian actions as an illegal war of aggression, the episcopate in the land of the pope supported the party speakers from their pulpits and called upon the people to donate for victory. The prelates themselves offered up their golden bishop's crosses, necklaces, rings, medals, and watches, and some, such as Cardinal Lavitrano of Palermo, placed their gifts personally in the hands of the Fascist party secretary."The entire Italian press glorified their sacrificial joy.'
        .
        The archbishop of Parma exhorted the Catholics to march at the head of the most zealous and loyal citizens, and he did not hesitate to say, "the Fatherland is In a state of siege."'37
        The bishop of Cremona banned "pointless discussions on the justification of the war" and concluded by decreeing prayers for the government, the soldiers, and even the Abyssinian people.'"
        The fact that the hypocrisy of these circles is boundless is also shown by the pastoral letter of Bishop Cola from the Umbrian dioceses of Nocerae Gualdo, who praised the Fascist slaughter as "a just and holy matter" and declared that Italy had "a great civilizing mission to fulfill for the semi-feral and mentally and religiously backward people."

Mussolini & the PapacyThe Vatican and Italian Fascism 46
        The archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Schuster, who blessed the troops that were marching out in front of Milan Cathedral, compared Mussolini with Caesar, Augustus, and Constantine and taught Italian schoolchildren that the work of the Duce was "God's answer from Heaven." Many other high clergy blessed cannon and bomber airplanes during the campaign and endorsed the war in the name of the Catholic Church."'
        According to Professor Salvemini from Harvard University, at least seven Italian cardinals, twenty-nine archbishops, and sixty-one bishops supported the Fascist raid immediately, ignoring the concordat concluded in 1929 that strictly banned the bishops from any political activity."'