THE VATICAN IN WORLD POLITICS
by Avro Manhattan, Copyright 1949 by Gaer Associations, Inc.


CHAPTER 9:

ITALY, THE VATICAN AND FASCISM


 In 1922, during the election of Pope Pius XI, an Atheist Italian agitator, standing in St. Peter's Square, is said to have remarked:

"Look at this multitude of every country! How is it that the politicians who govern the nations do not realize the immense value of this international force, of this universal spiritual Power?" (Teeling, The Pope In Politics.)

In that same year that same man assumed office and then built the first Fascist dictatorship, on the pattern of which, in the following decade, so many European nations were to be established. It was the alliance of these two men, Pius XI and Mussolini, that influenced so greatly the social and political pattern, not only of Italy, but also of the rest of Europe in the years between the two world wars.

The fact that Fascism was born and first established in a Catholic country, and that it began its official career in the very seat of Roman Catholicism, is neither mere coincidence nor a freak of history. It was due to various important factors of a religious, social, economic, and political nature, not the least of which was the presence and co-operation of the Vatican in this first experiment of modern Totalitarianism.

Before proceeding farther, however, it would be of great help to glance briefly at the background against which Fascism was born, and particularly the part played by the Vatican in the social and political life of pre-Fascist Italy.

The history of the relationship between pre-Fascist Italy and the Vatican, as in the case of Spain and the Vatican, was one of bitter hostility between State and Church; the former trying to rid itself and the nation from the encroachment of the Catholic Church upon national life, and the latter attempting by all means to maintain or recapture those privileges to which it considered itself entitled. It was the same struggle that we have encountered in Spain and will encounter in many other countries, between the Catholic Church and the secular State conceived and sponsored by Liberalism and the democratic principles of the nineteenth century. The only difference was that in Italy the struggle was rendered even more bitter by the fact that, in order to achieve her unification, Italy had to despoil the Catholic Church of the Papal States, which included Rome itself.

The Italian people---with particular regard to South and Central Italy---had been used to complete submission to the Catholic Church, which controlled practically every aspect of their lives. In the Papal States, the illiteracy, ignorance, and misery of the people were amongst the worst in Europe.

When Italy was first unified the Italian Government proceeded to set its house in order, and began to do so guided by the principles of Liberalism. It secularized education and the Press; it proclaimed freedom of speech, religion, and so on. The Catholic Church fought every measure with the utmost ferocity, proclaiming to the Faithful that Liberalism was a sin and that whoever voted for the secular State would automatically purchase for himself eternal damnation.

This attitude was maintained not only because of the secular character of the new Italy, but because the Papacy claimed that its States, with Rome, belonged to the Pope. Therefore, until the State returned Central Italy and Rome to the Pope (thus preventing the unification of Italy), the State and all Italians supporting it were enemies of the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church would have nothing to do with them. This in spite of the repeated efforts of the Italian Government, which on many occasions tried to open negotiations with the Vatican for an amicable settlement of the dispute.

Considering the times, circumstances, and the war that the Vatican continued to wage against the Italian State, the terms offered to the Vatican were more than generous, and should not have prevented the Church and State from reaching a satisfactory agreement. But the real motive behind the intractability of the Vatican, was that it wanted to harass, and eventually destroy, the newly born Liberal Italy, and substitute for it the Clerical Catholic Italy of the past. By keeping open the Roman question, as it was then called, it kept millions of Italians hostile to the Government and all its laws. By preventing the authorities from speaking with an overwhelming popular mandate it prevented them from making more drastic reforms in the programme of secularization.

This enmity of the Vatican to the Liberal Italy of the closing decades of the nineteenth century not only created a state of war, as it did in other countries in similar circumstances, but also forbade all Italians to participate in the democratic life of the nation and exercise their newly acquired right to vote. Pius XI issued a "Non expedit," which forbade Catholics, under pain of excommunication, to vote at the elections. But as millions of Catholics were leaving the Church and therefore did not obey, Leo XIII, in 1886, had to issue new instructions to the effect that this "Non expedit" did not permit any of the faithful to use their vote.

This extraordinary interference in the political life of a nation on the pretext of the Roman question was in reality the desperate effort of the Vatican to weaken the secularization of Italy and the Liberal forces, as well as all those other anti-clerical and revolutionary elements which were daily increasing throughout the country.

The Vatican's claim of the right to forbid Italians to vote was upheld well into the first decades of the twentieth century, and although it was slightly modified in 1905, and Catholic candidates participated in the elections of 1904, 1909, and 1913, the ban on Catholics taking part in the political life of the nation was not lifted until some time after the First World War. When the Vatican did grant Catholics the right to vote, it did not do so because it had been converted to democratic ideals, but because it had been forced by the changed times and the mood of the people. They not only continued to leave the Church en masse, but their anti-clericalist tendencies had increased a hundredfold since the first "Non expedit." This was due to the spreading of Anarchism and Socialism, which at the turn of the century began to take hold of the masses throughout the Peninsula, and which, by the time of the outbreak of the First World War, had already gained considerable political influence.

The principles of Socialism were fought with even greater ferocity than were those of Liberalism, with the result that those who embraced Socialism became even more anti-clerical than the Liberals. Italian Socialism, in fact, reached a point when it "made its very system and law out of opposition to the Church and religion" (Murri).

With Italy's entry into the First World War and the uprooting of millions of Italians who were sent to trenches and factories, Socialism took a greater hold of the country than ever before. When, immediately after the war had left its trail of economic, social, and political confusion and unrest, Socialism spread like wildfire, the Catholic Church became so alarmed that it searched desperately for some practical means by which to stop the surging Red tide.

The various anathemas of the Popes, the sermons of bishops and priests, and the devotion of the most backward stratum of society, were no longer enough. Something more up-to-date had to be found. So the Vatican at last reluctantly decided to allow Catholics to take part in the political life of the nation and organize themselves into a political party. The Party was created and led by a Sicilian priest, Don Sturzo, and it was called the Partito Popolare. The new Catholic Party soon spread all over Italy, becoming a powerful political factor to counter-oppose the Socialists.

Although a political means seemed to have been found by which the Red advance might be checked, the Vatican was far from having made up its mind on the best policy to pursue. For, as we have already said, there were two strong currents: one advocating battle against Socialism in the social and political field, the other advocating the adoption of more drastic measures.

The supporters of the second trend had become prominent since a new revolutionary Party appeared on the scene. It was led by an ex-Socialist Republican and Atheist, and was virulently anti-Socialist, anti-Bolshevist, anti-Liberal, and anti-democratic. It preached and practiced violence on a large scale, beating up and murdering all Socialists it came across and burning their property. Its name was Partito Fascista, and its leader was Mussolini. Its supporters consisted mainly of desperados organized into bands which undertook punitive expeditions against the Reds.

Soon all elements which had no reason to fear a social revolution---from super-nationalists to industrialists and, above all, the middle classes---began to support the new movement. In the Vatican a cardinal watched it with great interest, not so much because of its programme (for the movement was composed of numerous anti-clericals), but because it showed itself to be an instrument capable of fighting the Church's enemies with a weapon which the Church itself could not directly employ----namely, force. His name was Cardinal Ratti.

In 1922, just when the political forces of Socialism and of the Catholic Party were stabilizing themselves, having become the two great national parties, Benedict XV died. Cardinal Ratti, who was following Fascism with such keen interest, was elected Pope Pius XI.

With the coronation of Pius XI---who had a deep horror of Socialism and Bolshevism after having witnessed some of its aspects in Warsaw during the war, and who had no love for democracy---the Vatican's policy entered a new era. Pope Pius XI steered the political helm unhesitantly towards the new Party, making overtures by rendering it a great service even before its organized March on Rome.

The tragic plight of the Italian Parliament had a chance of being redressed by the formation of a coalition of all progressive (but not Radical) parties. Such a coalition would have been composed mainly of the Socialist Reformists and the Catholic Party. These could have formed a Government capable of checking all extremists, for the Catholic Party had social and political plans similar to those of other moderate movements.

The coalition would have had a reasonable chance of succeeding, and thus, by stabilizing the Government, would have prevented the Fascists from staging their march and seizing power. But Pius XI had decided otherwise. He determined to dissolve all Catholic political parties, not only in Italy, but all over Europe. He saw that Catholic parties, however strong, could not crush the Socialists, owing to the very fact that in a democratic State there exists freedom for political movements. Moreover, the progress of the Reds in Italy and other countries was becoming more and more alarming. New and drastic methods had to be employed. So when the coalition seemed on the point of giving concrete results and thus thwarting the march to power of the Fascists, the Vatican issued a circular letter to the Italian Hierarchy (October 2, 1922) bidding the clergy not to identify themselves with the Catholic Party, but to remain neutral. Such an order at such a moment could have only one meaning---repudiation of the Catholic Party and of its projected alliance.

This was the first direct move to come from the new Pope, directed towards paving the way for Fascism, which, after having organized a farcical march on Rome, assumed power on October 28, 1922, on the invitation of King Victor.

A few months later (January 20, 1923), Cardinal Gasparri, the Vatican Secretary of State, had the first of numerous secret interviews with Mussolini. During this meeting, the bargain between the Vatican and Fascism---as yet weak---was struck. The Vatican pledged itself to support the new regime indirectly by paralyzing the Catholic Party, which had become as serious an obstacle to Fascism as were the Socialists. This, providing the new Government continued its policy of destroying Socialism, protected the rights of the Catholic Church and rendered other services to Catholicism. Mussolini, aware of the Pope's goodwill towards his movement, tried to make of him an ally, and gave his promise. The Roman question was also discussed.

As first-fruit of the new alliance, Mussolini rendered a good service to the Vatican. The Bank of Rome, which was controlled by Catholics, and to which the Vatican's High Prelates and the Holy See itself had entrusted their funds, was on the brink of bankruptcy. Mussolini saved it---at the cost, it is believed, of approximately 1,500,000,000 lire, which the Italian State had to pay. Shortly afterwards, the first voices of the Italian Hierarchy in praise of the leader of Fascism could be heard. On February 21, 1923, Cardinal Vannutelli, Head of the Sacred College of Cardinals, paid public homage to Mussolini "for his energetic devotion to his country," adding that the Duce "had been chosen (by God) to save the nation and to restore her fortune."

Yet, while the Vatican was secretly bargaining with the Fascist Leader, and High Prelates were beginning to laud his movement, the Fascist squads were beating up and often murdering Catholic members of the Catholic Party who, throughout the country, went on opposing the undemocratic methods of Fascism, not stopping at murdering even priests (e.g., in August 1923 they murdered parish priest, Don Minzoni). Had the Socialists committed such an act, the Pope would have invoked the fulminations of God; but, as it was, he remained silent and uttered not a single word of protest against such outrages, continuing unperturbed along his new path of collaboration.

In the spring of 1923 Mussolini, planning to paralyze Parliament, wanted to compel the Chamber of Deputies to approve an electoral reform by which the Fascist Party would have been assured of at least two-thirds of the total votes in the future elections. Success in this would have been the first important step to open dictatorship. All democratic forces headed by the founder of the Catholic Party, the Popolari, Don Sturzo, followed by his 107 Catholic Deputies, refused to accept, and fought the proposal to their utmost. Catholic resistance in the Chamber seriously imperiled Mussolini's plan; indeed, it became one of the major obstacles barring his path to dictatorship. However, that was not all, for it gravely endangered the new policy on which the Vatican had embarked---namely, to help the new Fascist Party and to co-operate with it in clearing the way from any possible impediment to the creation of an Authoritarian State.

The Pope therefore wasted no time, and not many weeks had gone by since the Catholic Party's open opposition to Mussolini in the Chamber, when Don Sturzo received a peremptory order from the Vatican to resign and eventually to disband the Party (June 9,1923). Don Sturzo, although deeply shocked and for a time inclined to resist, finally bowed to the Pope's bidding, for besides being a member of the Church, he was also a priest. Although the Catholic Party was not dissolved, immediately, the loss of its founder and leader was a blow which gravely weakened it. With the disappearance of Don Sturzo and the sapping of his Party's strength, the first serious obstacle to Fascism's bid for blatant dictatorship was removed.

Immediately the most responsible members of the Catholic Hierarchy (particularly those who knew of the Pope's scheme) began a campaign of enthusiastic praise of Mussolini. This campaign reached its climax when Cardinal Mistrangelo, Archbishop of Florence, one of the supporters within the Vatican of the Pope's new policy, after a speech at a public reception in which he bestowed all the blessings of the Almighty on the Fascist leader and showered all the Catholic Church's thanks on him who had destroyed its enemies, in a moment of unbounded gratitude solemnly embraced the ex-Atheist Mussolini and kissed him on both cheeks.

The following year, under the direct personal instructions of the Duce, the Socialist leader, Matteotti, who was the bitterest opponent to Mussolini's bid for absolutism, was murdered by the Fascists. The indignation of the country was so great that the regime had never been so near to falling as it was during that crisis. In protest the Popular Party and the Socialists, after having withdrawn from the Lower House, asked the King for Mussolini's dismissal.

But, once again, the Vatican came to the rescue of the Fascist leader. At this juncture, when Socialists and Catholics were negotiating to bring into being a solid coalition and thus supplant the Fascist Government, Pope Pius XI came forward with a solemn warning to all Italian Catholics that any alliance with the Socialists, including the moderate brand, was strictly forbidden by the moral law, according to which co-operation with evil is a sin. The Pope said this, conveniently forgetting that such co-operation had taken and was taking place in Belgium and Germany.

Then, to complete the work of disruption, the Vatican ordered all priests to resign from the Catholic Party and from the political and administrative positions they held in it. This meant the complete disintegration of the Popolari, whose strength lay chiefly in rural districts held by priests.

In addition to this, the new Pope conceived what was to known as Catholic Action, which was placed under the direction of bishops and which was strictly forbidden to take part in politics. In other words, it was forbidden to fight the main actor in the political scene---namely, Fascism. Pope Pius XI asked all Catholics to join the new organization, thus inducing hundreds of thousands to withdraw their membership of the Popolari, which, besides being thus weakened by the Vatican, was mercilessly hammered by the triumphant Fascists.

These tactics of the Vatican lasted from 1923 until towards the end of 1926, when the Catholic Party, having lost its leader and having been continually rebuked by the Church and persecuted by the Fascists, was rendered illegal by Mussolini, and dissolved. From that movement the Fascist Government became what it had wanted to be---the first Fascist totalitarian dictatorship.

It was then (October 1926), and not by coincidence, that Pope Pius XI and Mussolini started on those negotiations which were concluded with the signature of the Lateran Treaty.

The Vatican and the new dictatorship, in spite of periodical misunderstandings, chiefly owing to the fact that the Fascists continued to beat up Catholics, irrespective of whether they were members of the old Catholic Party or of Catholic Action, praised one another openly and frequently. The following two quotations sum up the attitude of the Catholic Church towards Fascism at this period. On October 31, 1926, Cardinal Merry del Val, in his quality of Pontifical Legate, publicly declared:

"My thanks also go to him (Mussolini) who holds in his hands the reins of the Government in Italy, who with clear insight into reality has wished and wishes Religion to be respected, honored, practiced. Visibly protected by God, he has wisely improved the fortunes of the nation, increasing its prestige throughout the world."

And, to complete the picture, the Pope himself, on December 20, 1926, declared to all nations that "Mussolini is the man sent by Providence."

Such open praise and blessing by the Pope (who, incidentally, was one of the first to congratulate Mussolini on the failure of an attempt to assassinate him), the persistent help given to Fascism by the Vatican, and the liquidation of the Catholic Party at a moment when it might have prevented Mussolini from establishing himself in power had all cleared the way for a complete and unbridled dictatorship---the type of dictatorship, in fact, which Pope Pius XI wanted to see consolidated.

The Liberals with their secular laws, and the Socialists with their hatred for the Church---who, at the last election, in 1926, had been able, in spite of everything, to poll 2,494,685 votes or more than half of the total polling---had been entirely liquidated, their parties forbidden, their papers suppressed, their leaders imprisoned or exiled. The menace of the Red wave had been averted and the Church had been rendered safe, thanks to its new policy of alliance with a strong authoritarian regime.

Now, with all internal common enemies annihilated, the Church and Fascism undertook in earnest the task of improving their already excellent relationship. For, in spite of their de facto alliance, not everything was well between them. Clashes between Fascists and Catholics, often members of Catholic Action, and anti-clerical demonstrations continued to obscure the horizon. An official Pact between the Vatican and Fascism would have stabilized their respective spheres. A Concordat was therefore desirable. But the most important aim of the Pope at this juncture was that the Church should negotiate for settlement of the Papal States. Mussolini, who had already proclaimed that religion was entitled to respect, would agree to both a Pact and a Concordat.

The Duce, however, in spite of his success, was not yet very firmly established. Many ex-Popolari members and Catholics of the general public mistrusted him, and, in spite of the clear hint given to them by the Vatican, they hesitated to support him fully. Something that would appeal to the imagination of Catholic Italy was needed. And what better opportunity than to give freedom to the Pope to make a solemn alliance between Church and State, something that had been made impossible for half a century by the democratic Governments that had ruled the country? A Treaty and a Concordat would strengthen the regime in such a way that nothing short of social upheaval could then destroy it. In addition to internal consolidation, the prestige that it would gain abroad would raise the political status of Fascism throughout the Catholic world.

The negotiations which, significantly enough, were started with the dissolution of the Catholic Party in 1926 were concluded in 1929 with the signing of what has since been known as the Lateran Agreement.

We have already referred to the Lateran Treaty (Chapter 2), by which the Vatican was recognized as an independent sovereign State, and the Fascist Government undertook to pay a vast sum of money as compensation. The Agreement was acclaimed by the Catholic Church and Catholics throughout the world, and the prestige of Fascism grew by leaps and bounds everywhere.

But, in addition to acquiring its independence, which it had always refused under Liberal Governments, the Vatican had achieved another and no less important goal; it had restored the Catholic Church in Italy in accordance with Catholic principles that Church and State must not be separate, but, like body and soul, must co-operate together. A Concordat was signed by which the Catholic Church recovered all the former prominence which had been denied it by the secular State. Catholicism was at least proclaimed the only religion of the State; religious education was made compulsory in schools; teachers had to be approved by the Church, and only those textbooks "approved by the ecclesiastical Authority" could be used; religious marriage was made obligatory, "the civil effect of the Sacrament of matrimony being regulated by Canon Law"; divorce was forbidden; the clergy and religious Orders were subventioned by the State; books, Press and films against the Church were forbidden; and criticism or insult against Catholicism was made a penal offence. In short, the Catholic Church was reinstated as the dominant and absolute spiritual power over the whole nation.

The Vatican went farther. It again forbade all the clergy ( a good minority of whom, headed by the ex-leader of the Catholic Party, remained hostile to Fascism) to belong to or to support any political party whatsoever. Thus it was impossible for any clergy to join an anti-Fascist movement, and as all clergy were under the direct orders of the Vatican, the ally of Fascism, it is easy to imagine the meaning of the clause.

On the other hand, Fascism recognized Catholic Action, which "had to carry out its activity outside any political party and under the immediate dependence of the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church, for the diffusion and exercise of Catholic principles."

The meaning of these clauses forbidding the clergy and Catholic Action to take part in any political activity is made crystal clear by Article 20 of the Concordat; the Vatican undertook to prevent its clergy from being hostile to Fascism, and to see that its bishops should become watch-dogs for the safety of the regime itself.

Thus the Church became the religious weapon of the Fascist State, while the Fascist State became the secular arm of the Church. The Vatican had at last gathered the fruit of its new policy---annihilation of its great enemies (Secularism, Liberalism, Freemasonry, Socialism, Communism, Democracy); and restoration of the Catholic Church as the predominant spiritual power in the land.

As a proof of this after the Concordat was signed, Mussolini declared:

"We recognize the pre-eminent place the Catholic Church holds in the religious life of the Italian people---which is perfectly natural in a Catholic country such as ours, and under a regime as is the Fascist."

The Pope did not lag behind the Duce in the generosity of his praises. On February 13, 1929, Pius XI proclaimed to the world that Mussolini was "that man whom Divine Providence" had allowed him to meet, adding that the Lateran Treaty and the Concordat would have been impossible "if on the other side there had not been a man like the Prime Minister." On February 17, 1929, at a reception at the Vatican, the Papal Aristocracy and Hierarchy applauded Mussolini when he appeared in a film; and the following month all the cardinals in Rome declared in a film; and the following month all the cardinals in Rome declared in an address to the Pope that "that eminent statesman (Mussolini)" ruled Italy "by a decree of the Divine Providence." And, as a finishing touch, the Vatican Authorities ordered all priests to pray at the end of their daily Mass for the salvation of "the King and the Duce" ("Pro Rege et Duce").

Could there be a closer alliance between Church and State than that between the Vatican and the Fascist regime?

But soon clouds appeared once more on the horizon. Church and State, although fundamentally supporting each other, began to have serious quarrels. This was inevitable, for, each being totalitarian, they each wanted absolute and sole control over certain sections of Society---in this case youth. Pius XI claimed that, according to the Concordat, it was understood that the Church would have a bigger share in education, and that Catholic Action had to depend solely on the ecclesiastical authorities. Mussolini, on the other hand, wanted complete control over education and also wanted to control Catholic Action, as he did other organizations in the country.

The quarrel became so serious that Pius XI had to smuggle outside Italy an encyclical, Non Abbiamo Bisogno. In it the Pope did not, as was later asserted, condemn Fascism. Far from it. He simply denounced Fascist violence against Catholic Action and Fascist doctrines about the education of youth, which tended to place the supremacy of the State above everything, including the Catholic Church. The Pope then hastened to thank the Fascist regime for what it had done for the Catholic Church:

"We preserve and shall preserve both memory and perennial gratitude for what had been done in Italy, for the benefit of religion, even though no less and perhaps greater was the benefit derived by the Party and the regime."

Then he admitted that he had favored Fascism to such an extent that "others" had been surprised, thinking the Vatican had gone too far in reaching a compromise with the regime:

"We have not only refrained ourselves from formal and explicit condemnation (he declared) but on the contrary we have gone so far as to believe possible and to favor compromises which others would have deemed inadmissible. We have not intended to condemn the Party and the regime as such...We have intended to condemn only those things in the programme and in the activities of the Party which have been found to be contrary to Catholic doctrine and practice (Pius XI, Encyclical, Non Abbiamo Bisogno, 1931).

He admitted that the Fascist oath, being contrary to the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church, was to be condemned. But he soothed the conscience of any Catholic in doubt by saying that although the Church condemned the oath, Catholics should nevertheless swear allegiance to the Duce. They could do so, said the Pope, by taking the oath and, as they did so, mentally reserving the right not to do anything against "the Laws of God and His Church." The authorities who received the oath knew nothing about such mental reservations. Thus, hundreds of thousands of Catholics, assured by their supreme religious leader that they could swear to obey and defend the Fascist regime, gave their allegiance to Fascism without further ado.

Could the determination of the Vatican to support the Fascist regime, in spite of disagreements, go farther than that? We shall have occasion to see that the Vatican gave similar advice to German Catholics, easing their consciences with regard to their support of Hitler. No wonder that, in spite of everything, the Church and State gradually drew closer together and later co-operated even more openly than they had done before.

The first overtures came from Mussolini himself, when, in June 1931, he declared:

"I wish to see religion everywhere in the country. Let us teach the children their catechism...however young they may be..."

Mussolini could well afford to speak thus. The Catholic Church, after all, was more than co-operating with Fascism in schools, in camps, and in the Fascist Youth Institutions, where children had to say grace before each meal. The following is a typical sample, written, approved, and encouraged by the Church:

"Duce, I thank you for what you give me to make me grow healthy and strong. O Lord God, protect the Duce so that he may be long preserved for Fascist Italy (New York Times, January 20, 1938. See Towards the New Italy, T.L. Gardini).

The highest pillars of the Church began again to exalt the Duce and Fascism in the most blatant terms. Cardinal Gasparri, Italian Papal Legate, said in September 1932:

"The Fascist Government of Italy is the only exception to the political anarchy of governments, parliaments, and schools the world over... Mussolini is the man who saw first clearly in the present world chaos. He is now endeavoring to place the heavy Government machinery on its right track, namely to have it work in accordance with the moral laws of God."

At last the time for an official reconciliation was ripe. On February 11, 1932, Mussolini solemnly entered St. Peter's, and, after having been blessed with holy water, devoutly knelt and prayed. From then onwards the destiny of the Church and Fascism became more and more inseparable. The alliance was consolidated by the financial arrangements of the Lateran Treaty. About half the sum paid by Fascist Italy was in Government Bonds, which the Pope had promised not to sell for many years, and the Vatican's financial welfare therefore depended to a great extent on the preservation of Fascism.

Fascism and the Church worked hand in hand during the following two years, when all branches of life, especially youth, were subjected to a double bombardment by religious and Fascist teaching. In illustration, suffice it to say that textbooks in elementary schools had one-third of their space devoted entirely to religious subjects---catechism, prayers, etc.---while the remaining two-thirds consisted of praise for Fascism and war. Priests and Fascists leaders worked in with each other; the Pope and the Duce continued their mutual praise and became indeed two good companions bent on furthering the happiness of their peoples.

But Mussolini, who never gave anything for nothing, had not genuflected in St. Peter's because he had suddenly seen the Light. He had a plan for the success of which the help of the Catholic Church was needed. And in 1935 the first of a series of successive Fascist aggressions which finally led to the outbreak of the Second World War was ruthlessly carried out: Fascist Italy attacked and occupied Abyssinia.

It is not for us to discuss whether overcrowded Italy had or had not to seek for a "place in the sun." Undoubtedly her surplus population and other factors played a great role in the adventure, but what we are concerned with here is the part played by the Vatican, which once again became the great ally of Fascism. The reason by which Fascism tried to justify its aggression was the necessity for expansion. This had been the main thesis of Fascist propaganda for years, and was intensified during the summer of 1935, when Mussolini's intention to attack Abyssinia was already clear. As the Fascist version that Italy was within her rights to wage war seemed to be received by the Italian people with visible skepticism, and as their enthusiasm could not be greatly roused, the Vatican came to the help of the regime.

Once again Pius XI let his authority as a spiritual leader be used for a political purpose: that of tranquilizing those Italian Catholics who entertained doubts about whether the Duce's planned aggression should be supported. And so on August 27, 1935, when the campaign of preparation and propaganda was at its height, Pope Pius XI strengthened the specious Fascist excuse, stating that whilst it was true that the idea of war horrified him, a defensive war which had become necessary for the expansion of an increasing population could be just and right.

That was one of the first of a series of steps taken by the Vatican to support Fascist aggression, not only within Italy, but also abroad, and above all at the League of Nations, in whose hands lay the power to take appropriate measures to impede the attack. On September 5, 1935, the very day on which the League of Nations had to begin the debate on the Abyssinian problem, a nation-wide Eucharistic Congress was held in Teramo, attended by the Papal Legate, 19 archbishops, 57 bishops, and hundreds of other dignitaries of the Catholic Church.

Whether the date was mere coincidence is open to discussion. It was not coincidence, however, that these pillars of the Italian Catholic Church chose that day also to send a message to Mussolini (who at that time was being attacked by the League as well as by practically the whole world Press), in which they said: "Catholic Italy prays for the growing greatness of the beloved fatherland, rendered more united by your Government."

Not content with this, only two days later, while the discussions on the Italo-Ethiopian problem was at its most critical stage, the Pope himself put his weight on the side of Fascism. His timely intervention had two main objects in view: to help Fascism to arouse in the unwilling Italians a national enthusiasm for the approaching war, and, above all, to influence the proceedings of the League of Nations itself by indirectly making the Catholic representatives of the many Catholics countries who were members of the League understand that they should not vote against Fascist Italy. For, declared the Pope, although he was praying for peace, he wished that "the hopes, the rights, and the needs of the Italian people should be satisfied, recognized, and guaranteed with justice and peace."

On the following day, with the Pope's words still echoing in the ears of Catholic individuals and Catholic nations, the Duce himself declared to the world that Fascist Italy, while wanting peace, wanted a peace accompanied by justice. From then onwards Fascist propaganda quickened its drumming to a crescendo, seconded by the Vatican, until finally, on October 3, 1935, Abyssinia was invaded.

A cry of horror arose from all over the world, but not from the Vatican. The Pope kept his silence. As a Catholic writer stated afterwards, "practically without exception the whole world condemned Mussolini, all except the Pope" (Teeling, The Pope in Politics).

The Italian people received the news with very little enthusiasm, but Fascist propaganda tried to show that all nations were against Italy, not because of aggression, but because they wanted to keep the Italians in economic slavery. Urged by these arguments and the Vatican, they little by little began to support the adventure.

Fascist leaders harangued in public squares and Catholic priests and bishops in their churches, both busy asking the people to support the Duce. When Mussolini asked the Italian women to give up their gold and silver rings to the State, Catholic priests preached that they should give as much as they could. Many bishops and priests led the offering by giving to the Fascists the jewels and gold belonging to their churches, even offering the church bells so that they might be made into guns.

To quote only a few typical examples:

The Bishop of San Minato one day declared that "in order to contribute to the Victory of Fascist Italy" the clergy was "ready to melt the gold belonging to the churches, and the bells"; while the Bishop of Siena saluted and blessed "Italy, our great Duce, our soldiers who are achieving victory for the truth and for justice."

The Bishop of Nocera Umbra wrote a pastoral, which he ordered to be read in all his churches, in which he declared: "As an Italian citizen I consider this war just and holy."

The Bishop of Civita Castellana, speaking in the presence of Mussolini, thanked the Almighty "for having allowed me to see these epic and glorious days, sealing our union and our faith."

The Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Schuster, went farther and did all he could to bestow upon the Abyssinian War the nature of a holy crusade. "The Italian (Fascist) flag," he said, "is at the moment bringing in triumph the Cross of Christ in Ethiopia, to free the road for the emancipation of the slaves, opening it at the same time to our missionary propaganda." (T. L. Gardini, Towards the New Italy).

The Archbishop of Naples employed even the image of the Madonna, which was brought from Pompeii to Naples in a great procession. Ex-soldiers, war widows, war orphans, and Fascists all marched behind it, while Fascist war planes overhead showered down pamphlets in which the Virgin, Fascism, and Abyssinian War were all glorified at the same time. After this the Cardinal Archbishop himself jumped on a tank and solemnly blessed the excited crowd.

This was going on all over Italy. It has been reckoned by Professor Salvemini, of Harvard University, that at least 7 Italian cardinals, 29 archbishops, and 61 bishops gave immediate support to the aggression. And this, it should be remembered, when, according to the Concordat of 1929, bishops were strictly forbidden to take part in any political manifestation.

The Vatican's support of the first Fascist aggression did not stop there, for it organized support abroad as well. Almost all the Catholic Press the world over came out to support Fascist Italy, even in such countries as Great Britain and the United States of America. To quote a typical passage:

"The cause of civilization itself is involved, for the present at any rate, in the stability of the Fascist regime in Italy...The Fascist regime has done much for Italy...In spite of anti-clericalism...it has fostered the Catholic religion" (Catholic Herald).

And the Head of the Catholic Church in England went so far as to state:

"To speak plainly, the existing Fascist rule, in many respects unjust...prevents worse injustice, and if Fascism, which in principle I do not approve, goes under, nothing can save the country from chaos. God's cause goes under with it" (Catholic Times, October 18, 1935).

And finally, after the Abyssinians had been utterly subjugated, the Pope, to crown his continuous support of the war, after some sibylline remarks about a just and an unjust war, stated that he was partaking in "the triumphant joy of an entire, great and good people over a peace which, it is hoped and intended, will be an effective contribution and prelude to the true peace in Europe and the world" (Pope's speech, May 12, 1936).

With the conquest of Abyssinia a new country had been opened to both Fascism and the Church. Fascist armies were immediately followed by priests, missionaries, nuns, and the Catholic organizations, who began their work for the extinction of the religious creeds of the Abyssinians and their substitution by Catholicism. For, as the Cardinal of Milan had said, the Italian flag had opened "the road ....to our missionary propaganda." Or, as the Archbishop of Taranto declared, after having celebrated Mass on a submarine: "The war against Ethiopia should be considered as a holy war, a crusade," because the Italian victory would "open Ethiopia, a country of infidels and schismatics, to the expansion of the Catholic Faith."

The Abyssinian War gave the first mortal blow to the League of Nations and accelerated the process of a great venture which Fascism---Italian, German, and of other nations---in close alliance with the Vatican, initiated in a quest for Continental and World dominion. continue..... http://www.geocities.com/visplace/vatican9.htm

 NEWSLETTER INDEX

 CATHOLIC INDEX

 CHAPTER 10

 CONTENT