O Papa e Mussolini, A
História Secreta de Pio XI e a Ascenção do Fascismo na Europa,
deDavid I. Kertzer - Individual Editora, ISBN 978-989-8730-17-6
NOTA DE LEITURA
Aqui está um livro bem investigado e bem escrito, que prende o leitor pois lê-se como um romance.
O Papa Pio XI não sai lá muito bem na fotografia, pois quando se preparava para dar um golpe na sua “cooperação” com o regime fascista, faleceu sem o fazer. Nos 17 anos em que conviveu com Mussolini (mas só se encontraram pessoalmente uma só vez) apoiou o regime, aceitando a diferença que o Duce fazia entre o fascismo italiano e o nazismo alemão.
Mussolini tinha de certo modo “comprado” o Papa com os Acordos de Latrão assinados em 11 de Fevereiro de 1929, que firmaram o reconhecimento mútuo das relações entre a Santa Sé e o Governo Italiano.
O Papa exigiu depois o respeito da Acção Católica e dos seus dirigentes, que Mussolini concedeu, fingindo-se bom católico.
Pio XI não ficou já nada satisfeito com a visita a Itália de Hitler. Mas as grandes divergências surgiram quando Mussolini introduziu as leis raciais contra os Judeus, pois então já não conseguiu distinguir entre o racismo italiano e o racismo alemão. Nem sequer aceitou a exigência do Vaticano que queria fossem aceites os casamentos entre dois católicos, um dos quais de raça judia.
Para perseguir os judeus, usou o pretexto de que a Igreja Católica fizera o mesmo durante séculos, o que tinha foros de verdade. Como dizia o dirigente fascista Farinacci: “Nós católicos fascistas consideramos o problema hebraico um problema estritamente político e não religioso e, em matéria de política, cada um tem e defende as suas ideias. Mas dizemos para conforto da nossa alma que se, como católicos, nos tornámos anti-semitas, devemo-lo aos ensinamentos que nos vêm da Igreja, ao longo de vinte séculos […]”
A Igreja Católica abriu o caminho ao Holocausto em http://arlindo-correia.com/060614.html
Antes de falecer, o Papa preparara um discurso criticando o Governo, que ficou secreto na altura e só veio a ser conhecido dezenas de anos mais tarde.
O Autor inclui no livro a descrição do conclave que elegeu Pio XII. E toma abertamente posição contra a possível canonização deste Papa, que, no entanto é pedida por muita gente, na linha das canonizações de Papas do séc. XX:
Papa Pio X - Pio X foi beatificado em 3 de Junho de 1951 e canonizado em 29 de Maio de 1954.
Paulo VI - beatificado em 19 de Outubro de 2014.
João XXIII – beatificado em 3 de Setembro de 2000 e canonizado em 27 de Abril de 2014
João Paulo II – beatificado em 1 de Maio de 2011 e canonizado em 27 de Abril de 2014.
Entre as fontes do Autor, estão também os diários de Claretta Petacci, a última amante de Mussolini, que morreu com ele - Mussolini segreto: I diari di Claretta Petacci http://arlindo-correia.com/200110.html
Thursday 6 March 2014
The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe – review
David Kertzer's nuanced book investigates an unholy alliance between fascism and the Catholic church
In 1938, Pope Pius XI addressed a group of visitors to the Vatican. There were some people, he said, who argued that the state should be all-powerful – "totalitarian". Such an idea, he went on, was absurd, not because individual liberty was too precious to be surrendered, but because "if there is a totalitarian regime – in fact and by right – it is the regime of the church, because man belongs totally to the church". As David Kertzer demonstrates repeatedly in this nuanced book, to be critical of fascism in Italy in the 30s was not necessarily to be liberal or a lover of democracy. And to be antisemitic was not to be unchristian. The Pope told Mussolini that the church had long seen the need to "rein in the children of Israel" and to take "protective measures against their evil-doing". The Vatican and the fascist regime had many differences, but this they had in common.
Kertzer announces that the Catholic church is generally portrayed as the courageous opponent of fascism, but this is an exaggeration. There is a counter-tradition, John Cornwell's fine book, Hitler's Pope, on Pius XII (who succeeded Pius XI in 1939) exposed the Vatican's culpable passivity in the face of the wartime persecution of Italian Jews. But Kertzer describes something more fundamental than a church leader's strategic decision to protect his own flock rather than to speak up in defense of others. His argument, presented not as polemic but as gripping storytelling, is that much of fascist ideology was inspired by Catholic tradition – the authoritarianism, the intolerance of opposition and the profound suspicion of the Jews.
Pius XI – formerly Achille Ratti, librarian, mountain-climber and admirer of Mark Twain – was elected Pope in February 1922, eight months before Mussolini bullied his way to the Italian premiership. For 17 years the two men held sway over their separate spheres in Rome. In all that time they met only once, but they communicated ceaselessly by means of ambassadors and nuncios, through the press (each had his tame organ) and via less publicly accountable go-betweens. From the copious records of their exchanges Kertzer has uncovered a fascinating tale of two irascible – and often irrational – potentates, and gives us an account of some murky intellectual finagling, and an often startling investigation of the exercise of power.
The accession of Mussolini, known in his youth as mangiaprete – priest-eater – didn't bode well for the papacy. The fascist squads had been beating up clerics and terrorising Catholic youth clubs. But Mussolini saw that he could use the church to legitimise his power, so he set about wooing the clergy. He had his wife and children baptised. He gave money for the restoration of churches. After two generations of secularism, there were once again to be crucifixes in Italy's courts and classrooms. Warily, slowly, the Pope became persuaded that with Mussolini's help Italy might become, once more, a "confessional state". Only gradually did it become clear how much the church might lose in the process. Pius fretted over inadequately dressed women – backless ballgowns and the skimpy outfits of female gymnasts were particularly worrisome. Mussolini played along, solemnly declaring that, in future, girls' gym lessons would be designed only to make them fit mothers of fascist sons. He was accommodating in aiding the Pope's war on heresy – banning Protestant books and journals on demand. But Mussolini was creating a heresy of his own. Schoolchildren were required to pray to him: "I humbly offer my life to you, o Duce." In January 1938, he summoned more than 2,000 priests, including 60 bishops, to participate in a celebration of his agricultural policy. Neither the Pope nor his secretary of state were happy, but they feared offending the dictator. And so the priests marched in procession through Rome. They laid wreaths, not at a Christian shrine, but on a monument to fascist heroes. They saluted Mussolini as he stood on his balcony and attended a ceremony where they were required to cheer his entrance, to pray for blessings upon him and roar out "O Duce! Duce! Duce!" That the fascists (beginning with their precursor, Gabriele d'Annunzio) had appropriated ecclesiastical rituals and liturgies could perhaps be taken as a compliment to the church, but to recruit its priests for the worship of a secular ruler was to humiliate God's vicar on earth. Mussolini was cock-a-hoop. It was easy to manipulate the church, he told his new allies in Nazi Germany. With a few tax concessions, and free railway tickets for the clergy, he boasted, he had got the Vatican so snugly in his pocket it had even declared his genocidal invasion of Abyssinia "a holy war".
When it comes to the "Jewish question", Kertzer demonstrates that the Pope's failure to protest effectively against the fascist racial laws arose not simply from weakness, but because antisemitism pervaded his church. Mussolini scored a painful hit when he assured Pius that he would do nothing to Italy's Jews that had not already been done under papal rule. Roberto Farinacci, most brutal of the fascist leaders, came close to the truth when he announced: "It is impossible for the Catholic fascist to renounce that antisemitic conscience which the church had formed through the millennia." And Catholic antisemitism was thriving. Among Pius's most valued advisers were several who – as Kertzer amply demonstrates – saw themselves as battling against a diabolical alliance of communists, Protestants, freemasons and Jews. Avoiding overt partisanship, Kertzer coolly lays out the evidence; he describes his large and various cast of characters, and follows their machinations. We meet the genial Cardinal Gasparri who, narrowly missing the papacy himself, became Pius's secretary of state, handling the negotiations that led in 1929 to the Lateran Accords between the Vatican and the regime. Gasparri, a peasant's son who had risen far, considered Mussolini absurdly ignorant and uncouth; Mussolini thought him "very shrewd". We meet the Jesuit father, Tacchi Venturi, Pius's unofficial emissary, a firm believer in conspiracy theories, who claimed to have been nearly killed by an antifascist hitman (the story doesn't stand up). We meet Monsignor Caccia, Pius's master of ceremonies, who was known to the police and to Mussolini's spies for luring boys to his rooms in the Vatican for sex, rewarding them with contraband cigarettes. And we meet the motley crew familiar from histories of fascism: the doltish Starace, Mussolini's "bulldog"; Ciano, plump and boyish and, in the opinion of the American ambassador, devoid of "standards morally or politically"; and Clara Petacci, the girl with whom Mussolini spent hours of every day on the beach. Some of this is familiar territory, but what is new, and riveting, is how fascists and churchmen alike were forced into intellectual contortions as they struggled to justify the new laws. "Racism" was good. "Exaggerated racism" was bad. "Antisemitism" was good, as long as it was Italian. "German antisemitism" was another thing entirely.
Eventually Pius XI drew back from this casuistry. Kertzer describes the old pope on his deathbed, praying for just a few more days so that he could deliver a speech with the message that "all the nations, all the races" (Jews included) could be united by faith. He dies. Cardinal Pacelli – suave, emollient and devious, where Pius XI was a table- thumper who had no qualms about blurting out uncomfortable truths – clears his desk, suppresses his notes and persuades the Vatican's printer, who has the speech's text ready for distribution, to destroy it so that "not a comma" remains. Eighteen days later Pacelli becomes Pope Pius XII. It is a striking ending for a book whose narrative strength is as impressive as its moral subtlety. •
Lucy Hughes-Hallett's The Pike: Gabriele d'Annunzio has won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction, the Costa biography award and the Duff Cooper prize.
The New York Review of Books
April 23, 2015
The Pope Who Tried
by David I. Kertzer
The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe
During the past fifty years, most of the debate on the Catholic Church’s relationship with fascism has focused on the wartime period and the Vatican’s response to the Holocaust. Did the virtual silence of Pius XII, who became pope in early 1939, about the mistreatment and extermination of Europe’s Jews facilitate Hitler’s Final Solution, as his critics insist, or was it, as Pius’s defenders maintain, a heroic act of self-discipline that prevented Nazi reprisals against the many thousands of Catholic institutions that were secretly hiding and helping Jews’
The debate, as Pius XII inches his way toward sainthood, has become somewhat sterile since it depends partly on difficult-to-prove arguments about what might have happened had he spoken out.
One of the many virtues of David Kertzer’s The Pope and Mussolini is that it reframes the discussion by shifting attention away from World War II and looking closely at the papacy of Pius XII’s predecessor, Pius XI, who became pope in 1922, the year that Benito Mussolini came to power, and died in early 1939, several months before Hitler invaded Poland. Taking advantage of the gradual opening of Vatican archives, Kertzer offers us a much more detailed portrait of the inner workings of the Vatican in this period. The many revelatory incidents, documents, and scenes he adds to the story are bound to reanimate the older debate on Pius XII.
When Mussolini seized power in his so-called March on Rome in October 1922, Achille Ratti, a scholarly librarian and former archbishop of Milan, had only recently become Pope Pius XI. The Catholic Church had not been particularly supportive of fascism during its rise. Mussolini, after all, had started out his career as an outspoken atheist and anticlerical firebrand. The Church supported its own specifically Catholic party, the Partito Popolare, or Popular Party, which competed with both the Socialists and the Fascists.
To the pope’s surprise, on taking power Mussolini immediately began a concerted campaign to win the Church’s support. He used his first speech to Parliament to articulate his vision of a Fascist society that placed the Church at the center of Italian life: the Fascist Party would be the unquestioned authority in political life and the Church would be restored to its primacy over the spiritual life of the nation. Mussolini followed up his speech with a series of concrete actions: crucifixes were placed in every public school classroom, courtroom, and hospital room; insulting a priest or disparaging the Catholic religion was made a criminal offense; Catholicism became a required subject in public schools; and considerable state funds were spent on priests’ salaries, as well as Church-run schools overseas.
This represented a remarkable departure’not just for Mussolini but for Italy. The battle to create a united Italian state had been fought, in part, at the expense of Church power, and resulted in the end of the pope’s temporal rule over Rome and much of central Italy. It took the popes decades to realize that Italy was a permanent reality that they needed to accept. Mussolini offered them the possibility of doing so on highly favorable terms. Almost immediately he began secret negotiations for a treaty between the Vatican and the Italian state. This concordat, known as the Lateran Treaty, was signed in 1929; it made Catholicism Italy’s state religion and compensated the Church for its lost territories with a generous financial settlement. Pius XI was so pleased with the treaty that he referred to Mussolini as the ‘man sent by providence.’
The general outlines of this story have always been matters of public record, but Kertzer’s book deepens and alters our understanding considerably. The portrait that emerges from it suggests a much more organic and symbiotic relationship between the Church and fascism. Rather than seeing the Church as having passively accepted fascism as a fait accompli, Kertzer sees it as having provided fundamental support to Mussolini in his consolidation of power and the establishment of dictatorship in Italy.
The Vatican’s first and perhaps most important contribution was the dismantling of the Popular Party, which in the first years of fascism remained one of the greatest obstacles to dictatorial rule. As Mussolini began to negotiate the Lateran Treaty, he made it clear that he considered it an intolerable contradiction for the Church to enter into a partnership with his regime while at the same time fielding an opposition party that criticized it. Just eight months after the March on Rome, Pius XI forced Father Luigi Sturzo, the founder of the Popular Party, to resign as party secretary.
Kertzer writes that Pius XI may have had a crucial part in supporting Mussolini at a moment when he might well have fallen from power. In 1924, Italy held elections that were badly marred by violence, intimidation, and fraud. Not surprisingly, the Fascists obtained a majority, but the Popular Party and the Socialists, braving impossible conditions, held on to significant minorities. When the Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti denounced the conduct and outcome of the elections, he was kidnapped and murdered in downtown Rome. The Matteotti killing shocked the Italian middle and upper-middle classes, who suddenly began to rethink their support of fascism. As the investigation unfolded, the opposition suddenly regained vigor. Mussolini went into a kind of personal crisis, seeming to regard his own resignation as inevitable. Even pillars of the Italian establishment like the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera now called on him to step down. What was left of the Popular Party, the Catholic party, was also calling for a new government. This would almost certainly have required a coalition between the Catholics and the Socialists.
The Vatican, instead, decided to support Mussolini. An internal political briefing from this period stated: Catholics could only think with terror of what might happen in Italy if the Honorable Mussolini’s government were to fall perhaps to an insurrection by subversive forces and so they have every interest in supporting it.
Pius XI, through his personal emissary, Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, sent Mussolini a private message of encouragement and solidarity. On a more concrete level, the pope also silenced Father Sturzo, who although no longer the head of the Popular Party remained a prominent public figure denouncing fascism. Sturzo was ordered to stop publishing his views and reluctantly agreed to leave Italy.
Without a unified opposition, the crisis passed and Mussolini regained his footing. ‘If Mussolini was not deposed as a result of the Matteotti crisis,’ Kertzer writes, it was because the opposition’not least due to the pope’s constant efforts to undermine any possible alliance to put an end to Fascist rule’failed to offer a credible alternative. Lacking this alternative, neither the king nor the army was willing to act.
In 1926, all opposition parties were forced to dissolve, including, of course, the Popular Party, which the pope accepted without difficulty. As Father Sturzo wrote in protest, the pope was getting rid of the one party ‘that is truly inspired by Christian principles of civil life and’today serves to limit’the arbitrary rule of the dictatorship.’
It is perhaps surprising to some today that the pope would not have been more concerned about killing off Italy’s Catholic party and its democracy as well. But for the Vatican, democracy was hardly a positive value and it had only reluctantly allowed the creation of the Popular Party in 1919. After all, the movement toward parliamentary democracy in modern Europe had gone hand in hand with a series of other movements calling for reforms that would break the Church’s power in much of European society: freedom of speech, individual rights, separation of church and state, public secular education, the confiscation of Church lands, and equal rights for other religions or even those who held no faith at all.
With the Lateran pact, both the Vatican and the Fascist regime saw themselves as having entered into a form of partnership. The Vatican turned to Mussolini to ban books the Church found offensive and to prevent Protestants from trying to spread their faith. In return, Mussolini expected the Church to support the dictatorship. Having done away with opposition political parties, fascism would instead hold public referendums in which voters were asked to vote yes for the regime and for a preselected slate of candidates for Parliament. Before the first referendum in 1929, the pope, as Kertzer shows, insisted on vetting the potential candidates, rejected some three quarters of them as insufficiently Catholic, and demanded a new list that was ‘free from any tie with Freemasonry, with Judaism and, in short, with any of the anticlerical parties.’
The pope considered this extraordinary request a fulfillment of the Lateran Treaty. As a Vatican letter to Mussolini explained:
In this way the Duce will place’the most beautiful and necessary crown atop the great work of the treaty and the concordat. He will show one more time that he is (in conformity with what His Holiness recently called him) the Man sent by Providence. When the regime complied, Italy’s priests literally led their congregations to the ballot boxes.
It is shocking to see the Vatican insisting on the exclusion of Jews from political life nearly ten years before the Fascist regime introduced anti-Semitic legislation, in 1938. In what are likely to be the most controversial parts of Kertzer’s book, he shows that some elements of the Vatican were urging fascism toward anti-Semitism well in advance of its own decision to make a public issue of race. The Jesuit father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, Pius XI’s emissary to Mussolini, a man who thus had the ear of both the pope and the dictator, was a rabid anti-Semite who appears to have firmly believed that ‘the worldwide Jewish-Masonic plutocracy’ was the Church’s greatest enemy. As Kertzer writes:
In September 1926 Tacchi Venturi gave the Duce a recently published fifteen-page pamphlet, Zionism and Catholicism, which had been dedicated to the Jesuit himself. The pamphlet, after recalling that God condemned the Jews to wander the earth and cursed them for rejecting Jesus, turned to the more immediate dangers the Jews posed. ‘No one can doubt,’ its author warned, ‘the Jewish sect’s formidable, diabolical, fatal activity throughout the world.’
There is no indication that the Duce paid much attention to the pamphlet or that it reflected the views of the pope. But Tacchi Venturi made no secret of his views, and they obviously didn’t diminish his standing as one of the pope’s most trusted advisers. Belief in the Jewish conspiracy was a widely held and entirely respectable position in the Catholic Church of the 1920s and 1930s. On reading Kertzer’s book, one would have to say that some form of anti-Semitism’the tendency to regard Jews as a troublesome minority fundamentally hostile to the Church’was the norm at the highest levels of the Vatican in the 1930s.
The intensity of this belief varied considerably, moving along a spectrum from mild to virulent anti-Semitism. Pius XI was on the milder end. He recalled with fondness his days in Milan when he received Hebrew lessons from a local rabbi to help him with his Bible studies. He regarded anti-Semitic legislation in Italy, where Jews were a mere one in a thousand of the population, as unnecessary, but he accepted that some countries where Jews were far more numerous might need to take measures to avoid Jewish ‘dominance.’ When he was papal nuncio to Poland, he warned that much of the disorder that followed World War I was the result of the Poles falling into the clutches of the evil influences that are laying a trap for them and threatening them’. One of the most evil and strongest influences that is felt here, perhaps the strongest and the most evil, is that of the Jews.
In 1928, Pius XI endorsed the decision of the Vatican’s Holy Office (the successor to the Inquisition) to suppress the Catholic organization called the Friends of Israel. Although devoted to the eventual goal of converting the Jews, the group called for the Church to treat the Jews with greater respect and sympathy. Its members included thousands of priests, 278 bishops, and nineteen cardinals.
The group evidently went too far when it called on the Church to abandon the tradition of referring to Jews as Christ-killers and to give up the traditional Easter prayer referring to the ‘perfidious Jews.’ Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, the head of the Holy Office, a former Vatican secretary of state and one of the most powerful cardinals in Rome, insisted that the Friends of Israel had been unwitting tools of the Jews’ plan to ‘penetrate everywhere in modern society’to reconstitute the reign of Israel in opposition to the Christ and his Church.’ After meeting with Pius XI, Merry del Val reported that the pope shared his view that ‘behind the Friends of Israel one finds the hand and the inspiration of the Jews themselves.’
One of the most valuable achievements of Kertzer’s book is that it creates an institutional portrait of the Vatican. While it deepens our understanding of individual historical figures’Pius XI, but also his secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pius XII’it shows extremely well that even in an autocratic organization like the Vatican, the pope does not always act alone. There is a permanent bureaucracy with deep institutional biases and tendencies that can often shape and mold papal action.
Kertzer’s evidence makes it clear that it became almost irrelevant whether Pius XI was or wasn’t anti-Semitic or pro-fascist. He was surrounded by a powerful group at the Vatican who shared authoritarian, antidemocratic political views and whose thought was deeply permeated’to varying degrees’by anti-Semitism.
Perhaps the most dramatic account in The Pope and Mussolini is the story of how, during the last years of Pius XI’s papacy, he apparently underwent a transformation: he soured on fascism and became disillusioned with Mussolini and disgusted by Hitler. Unlike his principal advisers, he seems to have gradually understood that fascism was not just another conservative movement but a dangerous pagan ideology that was deeply at odds with Christianity. ‘Tell Signor Mussolini in my name,’ the pope told the Italian ambassador to the Holy See in 1932, ‘that I do not like his attempts at trying to become a quasi- divinity and it is not doing him any good either’. Sooner or later people end up smashing their idols.’
During these years the Vatican bureaucracy worked hard to suppress, weaken, water down, or quash virtually all the pope’s criticism of Mussolini or Hitler in order to smooth over or avoid diplomatic conflict. In 1935, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, Pius XI denounced it as an ‘unjust war,’ ‘unspeakably horrible’ in front of a group of religious nurses who had come for a papal audience.
In Rome, the curia set about adulterating the pope’s remarks so as to obfuscate their real meaning when they appeared in L’Osservatore romano. ‘Here I cut a word, there I add another,’ recalled Domenico Tardini, a high-level official in the Vatican secretary of state’s office, noted proudly in his diary. ‘Here I modify a sentence, there I erase another. In short, with a subtle and methodical effort we succeed in greatly softening the rawness of the papal thought.’
Similarly, when America, an influential Jesuit magazine in the US, published a strong criticism of Italy’s war in Ethiopia, the Italian government went behind the pope’s back by protesting to Wlodzimierz Ledóchowski, the general superior of the Jesuit Order, a man known for his pro-fascist leanings and virulent anti-Semitism. Ledóchowski obliged by replacing America’s anti-fascist editor with one who supported the regime.
Pius XI was mortified that Mussolini invited Hitler to Rome in May 1938 and turned the entire city into a welcoming platform for the author of Mein Kampf, plastering the city of the popes with swastikas. Pius, in a very clear gesture, left Rome during Hitler’s visit and closed the Vatican Museums, preferring to avoid what he called ‘the apotheosis of Signor Hitler, the greatest enemy that Christ and the Church have had in modern times.’
And when, during the summer of 1938, it became clear that Mussolini was ready to follow Hitler in adopting an official policy of biological anti-Semitism, the pope was scathing. He told a group of students about the dangers of ‘exaggerated nationalism,’ insisting on the essential unity of the human race and lamenting Mussolini’s aping of Hitler. ‘One can ask how it is that Italy, unfortunately, felt the need to go and imitate Germany.’
Terrified by the prospect of a major public condemnation of Mussolini’s new racial policy, the regime asked for the help of Father Ledóchowski, who as head of the Jesuits was one of the most powerful figures in the Church. ‘I went to see the general of the Jesuits,’ Italian ambassador Pignatti later explained, ‘because in the past’he did not hide from me his implacable loathing for the Jews, whom he believes are the origin of all the ills that afflict Europe.’
Ledóchowski described in letters what he regarded as the feelings of desperation within the Vatican. The closest advisers of Pope Pius XI, he wrote, had come to regard him as in dangerous decline, making ill-advised remarks without consulting them. ‘Cardinal Pacelli was at his wit’s end: ‘The pope no longer listens to him as he once did. He carefully hides his plans from him and does not tell him about the speeches he will give.’’
As a result, the pope’s advisers were trying to silence him. When he told a group of Belgian Catholics, ‘Anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually we are all Semites,’ the Vatican made sure that those remarks were missing from the account of the pope’s remarks in L’Osservatore romano. Kertzer attributes the censorship of the pope to Cardinal Pacelli, who as secretary of state was effectively running the Vatican during Pius XI’s final illness.
While old and very sick, Pius XI was clearly thinking seriously about the problem of race and came across a book called Interracial Justice, by an American Jesuit named John LaFarge, who had worked with African-American congregations during his ministry. The pope was struck by LaFarge’s call for racial tolerance and asked him to write an encyclical on the subject. ‘Say simply what you would say if you yourself were pope,’ he said. But LaFarge’s superior, Jesuit General Ledóchowski, made sure that this did not happen. He appointed two more experienced theologians (whose views were much closer to his own) to help LaFarge draft the encyclical. Rather than forward it to the pope, Ledóchowski sat on it for several months, cutting and modifying, until he produced a much shorter draft that was very far in spirit from LaFarge’s Interracial Justice but that kept some of the original intent and was called ‘On the Unity of Humankind.’ Ledóchowski did not pass on this document to the pope until he was just weeks from death and too sick to do anything with it.
During these same months, Vatican officials succeeded in preventing a break with Mussolini’s government over the racial laws that were passed in the fall of 1938. The Church’s main objection was to the laws’ biological definition of race, which did not exempt Jewish converts to Catholicism, mixed marriages between Jews and Catholics, or their children. But it was difficult for the Church to object to the overall message of the racial laws, since after all, the regime, as the Fascist press enjoyed pointing out, was not doing anything that the Church had not done for centuries and continued to advocate in some of its most authoritative publications.
In May 1937, more than a year before the passage of the racial laws, the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà cattolica published an article on ‘The Jewish Question and Zionism,’ making its point of view clear from the start: ‘It is an evident fact that the Jews are a disruptive element due to their spirit of domination and their preponderance in revolutionary movements.’ A year later, precisely when the regime was beginning to prepare its own racial laws, La Civiltà cattolica published a long, enthusiastic article on newly introduced anti-Semitic legislation in Hungary. ‘In Hungary,’ the journal explained, the Jews have no single organization engaged in any systematic common action. The instinctive and irrepressible solidarity of their nation is enough to have them make common cause in putting into action their messianic craving for world domination.
As Kertzer writes:
Hungarian Catholics’ anti-Semitism was not of the ‘vulgar, fanatic’ kind, much less ‘racist,’ but ‘a movement of defense of national traditions and of true freedom and independence of the Hungarian people.’
Thus, despite his evolving thoughts on racism, Pius XI was not really able to mount a comprehensive critique of the racial laws, limiting himself to a rather weak, general plea for Christian mercy. ‘We recognize,’ said Pius, ‘that it is up to the nation’s government to take those opportune measures in this matter in defense of its legitimate interests and it is Our intention not to interfere with them.’ But according to Kertzer, ‘the pope felt duty-bound to appeal to Mussolini’s ‘Christian sense’ and warn him ‘against any type of measures that were inhumane and unchristian.’’
In a memo the Fascist government assured the Vatican that the Jews, in a word, can be sure that they will not be subjected to treatment worse than that which was accorded them for centuries and centuries by the popes who hosted them in the Eternal City and in the lands of their temporal domain.
Despite his serious misgivings over the fate of converted Jews, Pius XI eventually accepted the compromise worked out by his senior advisers, which was really no compromise at all: all Jews, including converted Jews, were subject to the legislation.
During the final months of his life, Pope Pius XI, despite being near death, worked feverishly on an address he hoped to give to the Italian bishops on the tenth anniversary of the Lateran Treaty, scheduled for March 1939. He hoped, Kertzer shows, to use the occasion to offer a tough criticism of the regime and the ways it had violated the concordat with the Vatican.
Pius XI felt strongly enough about this speech that he insisted on having copies of it printed up in case he was not well enough to deliver it. Among other things it contained a reference to ‘all peoples, all the nations, all the races, all joined together and all of the same blood in the common link of the great human family.’ He ended up dying a few weeks before the scheduled meeting with the bishops.
Rumors began to reach both Mussolini and his foreign minister and son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano, who had good informants inside the Vatican, about the existence of an explosive document the pope had left behind. As Kertzer writes:
Learning of Mussolini’s concern, Pacelli moved quickly. On February 15 he ordered the pope’s secretary to gather up all written material the pope had produced in preparing his address. He also told the Vatican printing office to destroy all copies of the speech it had printed, copies that Pius had intended to give the bishops. The vice director of the office gave his assurance that he would personally destroy them, so that ‘not a comma’ remained.
Pacelli acted two days after learning of Ciano’s worries that the text of the pope’s speech might get out. Pacelli also took the material that Ledóchowski had sent the pope three weeks earlier ’what has since come to be known as the ‘secret encyclical’ against racism’eager to ensure that no one else would see it. The words the pope had so painstakingly prepared in the last days of his life would never be seen as long as Pacelli lived.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. When the Pulitzer Prizes were announced this week, the award for biography went to David Kertzer for his book "The Pope And Mussolini: The Secret History Of Pius XI And The Rise Of Fascism In Europe." Relying in part on recently released archives, the book challenges the commonly accepted narrative that the Catholic Church fought heroically against the Italian fascists in the 1920s and '30s. Kertzer says Pope Pius cooperated closely with Mussolini for more than a decade, lending his regime organizational strength and moral legitimacy. It was a particularly curious alliance, he notes, since Mussolini himself was a committed anti-cleric. But both sides benefited from the bargain. As World War II approached and Mussolini began to persecute Italy's Jewish population, Pius came to regret his bargain with the Duce and considered a public break with the regime. The story of why that never happened makes for a dramatic ending to Kertzer's book, which is now out in paperback. David Kertzer is a professor of social science, anthropology and Italian studies at Brown University and the author of nine previous books. I spoke to him about the pope and Mussolini last year, when the book was published in hardback.
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DAVIES: David Kertzer, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with a couple of basics here. You know, a lot of us may think of Mussolini's fascism as sort of the Italian wing of Nazism, but, you know, in fact, Mussolini's ascension to power preceded Hitler's, and his fascist movement made a lot of headway long before, you know, Hitler was a significant figure in Germany.
Let's just start with some basics. Tell us who Mussolini was and what the fascist movement was about, how it got going.
DAVID KERTZER: Well, you're right, Mussolini did - not only did he precede Hitler, but he became a role model for Hitler, who kept a bust of Mussolini in his office in the 1920s as he was plotting his own rise to power. Mussolini came from a modest background in sort of central-northern Italy, a actually heavily anarchist, left-wing kind of area, and his family was part of that.
His father was a left-wing blacksmith. He himself rose to be one of the top leaders of the radical part of the socialist movement. Mussolini edited the National Socialist newspaper right before the First World War, and then broke with the socialists over the war, and around the time of the First World War, founded his fascist movement.
It was founded as a kind of nationalist movement, but also an anti-socialist movement. The important thing to remember here is the Russian Revolution had just taken place in 1917. So much of Europe was terrified by the prospect of a spreading Bolshevik revolution.
DAVIES: And, of course, Mussolini comes to power in the early '20s. Now let's talk about the other figure at the center of this story, Pope Pius XI. Tell us where he came from, what kind of man he was.
KERTZER: Achille Ratti - that was his name before becoming pope - came from a heavily Catholic area north of Milan - so, in northern Italy. He early on decided he wanted to be a priest. When he became a young priest, he quickly got involved as a librarian, a kind of church librarian, and became head of a major church library in Milan when he was chosen by the then-pope to come to Rome to become head of the Vatican Library. And he was in the Vatican Library when, out of the blue, the then-pope, Benedict XV, called on him right at the end of the First World War to be his personal emissary to Poland. He went to Poland, where the communists, the Bolshevik troops, actually, were about to try to invade Warsaw. They were repelled, but it made a big impact on Monsignor Ratti.
And he became a very visceral anti-communist as a result of that and some other experiences. When he - then in 1921, he was chosen to become archbishop of Milan, a very important position in the church and was named a cardinal. And he had barely become cardinal when the pope, Benedict XV, died in early 1922. And he was the rather surprising compromise choice to become pope in February of 1922.
DAVIES: So he becomes Pope Pius XI. As a pope, he was a rather strong-headed authoritarian figure, wasn't he?
KERTZER: Yes. He was someone who had a very keen sense of the dignity of the papal office. He, for example, insisted on eating alone. He wouldn't allow his assistants or other priests or other clergy to eat with him. He insisted when his sister and brother wanted to see him once he became pope, they had to refer to him as Your Holiness, not by his name, and they could only see him by appointment.
And the cardinals and others who came to see him really lived in fear not only of his temper, but he was just a very demanding - he had very high standards and did not tolerate any behavior that he regarded as not up to those standards.
DAVIES: All right, one more piece of history we need to understand. here. You know, we think of Italy as a very Catholic country, and it was in the 1920s. But the church and the Italian government had inherently contentious relations. Explain the background here.
KERTZER: Yes, I mean, one thing people don't really often understand is Italy is a rather young country. It only formed in 1861, and Rome only became part of it in 1870. The unification of Italy only became possible by doing war with the Papal States and with the pope, so that when Rome was taken away from the pope by military force in 1870, the then-pope, Pius IX, proclaimed himself a prisoner of the Vatican, retreated to the Vatican, excommunicated the king and the leaders of the Italian government and forbade good Catholics from recognizing its legitimacy, running for office or even voting in parliamentary elections. So that at the time that Mussolini came to power in 1922, there had been now, for about six decades, this war between the church and the Italian state.
DAVIES: Mussolini had strong feelings about religion and clerics, didn't he?
KERTZER: Yes. He, you know, coming from the kind of background he did - although, as you mentioned, of course, Italy was a very Catholic country, at least from a formal point of view, 99 percent of the population was Catholic. But there was also a very strong anti-clerical tradition in Italy. So he grew up basically being very anti-clerical.
The first thing he ever wrote as a young journalist was an article called "God Does Not Exist." He referred to priests as parasites and black microbes, and so he really couldn't have been more anti-clerical type. And the initial program of the Fascist Party, when it was first begun in 1919, called for a expropriation of much church property and certainly not doing away with one of the fundamental principles of modern Italy, namely the separation of church and state.
So one of the fascinating things of this story, I think, is how, in a very brief period of time, Mussolini came to realize the importance of enlisting the pope's support.
DAVIES: So, when Mussolini is elected to Parliament in 1921, he gives a speech, and this violent anti-cleric shocks so many people by embracing the idea of a Christian nation. Why would Mussolini see that as in his and the fascists' interests?
KERTZER: Well, it was a shocking speech. And for this fierce anti-cleric to say one of the great bases of the greatness of Italy is the fact that it's the world headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, and Italy needed to treasure that identity. And the reason was he was nothing, if not an opportunist.
And he was able to calculate - what would it take for him to come to power and to be able to stay in power? Now, of course, his main opposition was the left, the socialists, the communists. But, in fact, one of the largest parties at the time that would be an obstacle to him was a Catholic party that had been newly formed, only in 1919, called the Popular Party - very popular among Catholics, had the support of local clergy throughout much of the country, elected a large fraction of Parliament. Yet for him to come to power, he needed to somehow overcome them, as well.
DAVIES: So he sees a political opportunity in embracing the church. Why would the pope, Pius XI, see it in his interest to ally with the fascists?
KERTZER: Well, as we were discussing earlier, the popes had seen the Italian government as enemies, basically. They had rejected the notion of separation of church and state. They had lost their privileged position in society. And they had always called that system illegitimate.
They saw - Pius XI began to see at least the possibility that Mussolini might be the person sent by God - a man of providence, as he would later refer to him as - who would reverse all that, who would end the separation of church and state, restore many of the prerogatives of the church. And at the same time as the pope was very worried about the rising socialist movement, again in the wake of the Russian revolution, and saw Mussolini as the man who was the best bet, perhaps, to prevent a socialist takeover of Italy.
DAVIES: And neither man had any particular affection for liberal democracy either.
KERTZER: That's right. Of course, Mussolini, for him, the parliamentary system was part of what was holding Italy back. And for the pope, the popes had never been fond of parliamentary democracy for a variety of reasons. One was if they were going to make a deal with the government, they felt - and this was something the pope had expressed - the - how were they to be sure that the next Parliament wouldn't just reverse whatever the previous Parliament had voted in, whereas with a strong man like Mussolini, things would be different, a real deal could be made.
DAVIES: And the church believed in, you know, an authoritarian view, I suppose, of personal conduct, too. I mean, they had very clear moral scriptures and liked the idea of them being rigidly enforced.
KERTZER: Yes, you know, later on, the pope, in fact, would say, you know, the true, one true totalitarian organization is not the Fascist state or the Fascist Party. It's the Roman Catholic Church. And you have to realize the big break that would come with the Second Vatican Council around 1960.
But back in the 1920s, 1930s, the church still held and the pope still held to a quite medieval vision that believed there should not be freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. These were all bad things.
DAVIES: So Mussolini becomes the dictator, and the Catholic Church generally supports him. And then in 1929, they reach a historic agreement. Tell us what that was about.
KERTZER: Yes. So, beginning, actually, shortly after this crisis in 1924 and 1925, the pope agrees to enter into secret negotiations with Mussolini about coming up with a agreement that would put an end to this decades-long dispute between the Italian government and the Catholic Church. It's carried out by an envoy of the pope and a representative of Mussolini. And this leads to the agreement, which is referred to as the Lateran Accords because it was announced at the St. John of Lateran Church on February 11, 1929, which puts an end to the disagreement between the church and the Italian state, and which provides a variety of benefits to the Catholic Church and basically ends the separation of church and state in Italy.
DAVIES: David Kertzer's book "The Pope And Mussolini" won the Pulitzer Prize for biography this week. We'll hear more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're listening to my interview recorded last year with historian David Kertzer. His book, "The Pope And Mussolini," won a Pulitzer Prize this week. It's also out in paperback.
As Mussolini became more entrenched in power, how did his behavior and self-image change?
KERTZER: Well, this is now the story of the 1930s, after the agreement with the church, and Mussolini is getting to lose contact with reality; he's surrounded by sycophants of various types. He's created this incredible cult of the Duce, so there are big slogans all over sides of homes and barns and whatnot - Mussolini is always right, Mussolini ha sempre ragione, Mussolini is always right, and he began to have delusions of grandeur.
One of the things he would do, in 1935, he thought Italy should have an empire and so launches an invasion of Ethiopia. The other thing, of course, that's happening is in January 1933, Adolf Hitler comes to power in Germany. And there's this kind of complex relationship between Mussolini, who regards himself as the big brother, and Adolf Hitler, who initially at least saw Mussolini as his role model. And over the next years, of course, this relationship would tighten, but eventually, of course, it would change direction, and Mussolini would come to be the secondary figure in what turned out to be a disastrous relationship for Italy and for the world.
DAVIES: Mussolini at one point wanted to ban the handshake?
KERTZER: Yes, so Mussolini thought the Italians needed to be hardened, and he launched what he called an anti-bourgeois campaign. And among the things he banned, or tried to ban, anyway, was people shouldn't shake hands, they should give the Roman salute, you know, raising their arm and their hand up in the air.
This, like some of the other things he tried to do along these lines, was difficult for many Italians to get used to.
DAVIES: Right, but probably suggests a certain disconnect with reality, in a way.
KERTZER: Yes, he had the head of the Fascist Party of this time, a man named Achille Starace, was kind of his circus master, who kept coming up with these ideas of rituals, mass rituals and other kinds of rites that he thought would make the Italians ever more devoted to their duce, which is the kind of Latiny term of leader that the Italians used to refer to Mussolini.
In fact, Mussolini required being referred to as DUCE, D-U-C-E, it's spelled, and it had to be written in capitals in the newspapers by the 1930s. It couldn't just be written in the normal way.
DAVIES: So you have Mussolini, this megalomaniacal figure, and he wants mass demonstrations. He wants mass organizations that adore him. And then you have this big institution, the Catholic Church. And it seems that there are many, many occasions at which priests would be involved at fascist public demonstrations, and fascist officials would be involved in church affairs. So he kind of had the imprimatur of the church.
KERTZER: And you write that Pope Pius XI at times was troubled by this idea of the Duce presenting himself as a god, but in the main, the church supported him.
Yes, the church continued to support him. One of the, I think, the dramas that I try to tell in my book that we can now know really for the first time because it's only recently that the Vatican archives for this period opened up, is the - that Pius XI had increasing doubts about Mussolini, especially both his megalomania and his increasing embrace of Hitler, whom this pope, Pius XI, despised.
And - but despite those worries, at least until the last months of his life, he was reluctant to lose the benefits that came from the alliance that the church had with the - with Mussolini and the Fascist regime.
DAVIES: Yeah, I want to focus on Germany and the pope's change of heart in a bit. But when Mussolini decided that Italy needed an empire, and so he launched this invasion of Ethiopia, and the world was treated to these horrible displays of Italian planes bombing Ethiopian villages, dropping, you know, chemical weapons, there was quite an outcry. How did the church respond to this?
KERTZER: Well, this actually was one of the crucial periods of church support for the Fascist regime because when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, which was in early October 1935, the League of Nations proclaimed a boycott. Actually, Ethiopia was a member nation of the League of Nations. They proclaimed a boycott of Italy. And so Mussolini felt internationally isolated and needed not only internal church support but also something I was able to discover through these newly available documents in Rome, was able to use the Vatican to help him abroad, to, for example, prevent the United States from joining in the boycott, which was extremely important to him.
DAVIES: So the pope had his - had Catholic cardinals around the world, including in the United States, essentially lobbying in support of Italy and its policies.
KERTZER: Yes, I mean I'm - you know, I teach at Brown University here in Providence, R.I., and I think the Italian-American community here was typical. It was very pro-Fascist, pro-Mussolini. They were proud of Mussolini, who seemed to put Italy on the map. And Mussolini organized in December of 1935 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 Providence, R.I., hundreds and hundreds of Italian-Americans gave up their wedding rings to the consul of the fascist Italian government, who represented Rome here in Providence, but similar things happened elsewhere. 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.
DAVIES: 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?
KERTZER: Yes. 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 in 1932, was 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.
DAVIES: So why didn't they meet more?
KERTZER: 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. 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.
DAVIES: My guest is historian David Kertzer, author of "The Pope And Mussolini," which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in the biography category. It's also out in paperback. 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. And our film critic, David Edelstein, reviews the Iranian film "About Elly." That's all after a break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. 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 1920'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 1930s, 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.
KERTZER: Yes. So in 1934, Hitler 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? 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.
DAVIES: And didn't get the pope anywhere?
KERTZER: No. 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.
DAVIES: 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?
KERTZER: 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.
DAVIES: 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?
KERTZER: Well, there were about 35,000 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 1920s 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.
DAVIES: This wasn't something that was a longstanding, you know, core commitment of Mussolini's.
KERTZER: No. 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 was 1933, in which he specifically said that he did not see any problem about Jews and did not believe in racial theories.
DAVIES: And what was the pope's attitude on what was called the Jewish question?
KERTZER: 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.
DAVIES: David Kertzer's book, "The Pope And Mussolini," won the Pulitzer Prize for biography this week. We'll hear more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're listening to my interview recorded last year with historian David Kertzer. His book, "The Pope And Mussolini," won a Pulitzer Prize this week. It's also out in paperback.
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. And Pope Pius XI, you know, had a change of heart about his longstanding alliance with Mussolini. Kind of take us through his transformation.
KERTZER: Well, in May of 1938, Hitler 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 of 1938, Mussolini 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.
DAVIES: 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?
KERTZER: 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.
DAVIES: 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.
KERTZER: That's right. 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, 1938 - 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.
DAVIES: 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?
KERTZER: Yes. 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, 1939. 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. 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 - 300 copies - of the speech to give all the Italian bishops when they came. Mussolini wanted these destroyed.
DAVIES: So do we know what was in the speech?
KERTZER: 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.
DAVIES: 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?
KERTZER: 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 in 1943, Mussolini 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 35,000 Italian Jews, by this time there were about 10,000 Jews from Germany and other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe who had escaped to Italy.
Of these, something like 8,000 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.
DAVIES: 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?
KERTZER: 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. If you think of Italy right after the war, they had been fascists for 20 years. They had been allies of Hitler. Italian forces had fought alongside of Nazi forces in the eastern front in the Soviet Union and in Africa and elsewhere, the Balkans.
Italy needed to remake its history. And it was rather shameless in remaking its history into an anti-fascist history. Politically, the most important actor at the time was the Christian Democratic Party that would emerge from the war as the major political force in Italian politics, would rule Italy for decades. For them, it was absolutely essential that the church be seen as part of anti-fascism, not as part of the collaboration with fascism.
And so - but at the same time, it was more generally, given that a great majority of Italians were part of fascism in one way or another, it was in everybody's interest to come up with a new narrative and not to look too skeptically at these new stories, even though people who lived through them knew how off base they actually were.
DAVIES: Well, David Kertzer, it's been interesting. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
KERTZER: My pleasure.
DAVIES: David Kertzer is a professor of social science, anthropology and Italian studies at Brown University. His book, "The Pope And Mussolini," won the Pulitzer Prize for biography this week. It's also out in paperback. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new Iranian film "About Elly." This is FRESH AIR.