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The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe

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PULITZER PRIZE WINNER From National Book Award finalist David I. Kertzer comes the gripping story of Pope Pius XI’s secret relations with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. This groundbreaking work, based on seven years of research in the Vatican and Fascist archives, including reports from Mussolini’s spies inside the highest levels of the Church, will forever change our PULITZER PRIZE WINNER From National Book Award finalist David I. Kertzer comes the gripping story of Pope Pius XI’s secret relations with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. This groundbreaking work, based on seven years of research in the Vatican and Fascist archives, including reports from Mussolini’s spies inside the highest levels of the Church, will forever change our understanding of the Vatican’s role in the rise of Fascism in Europe.   The Pope and Mussolini tells the story of two men who came to power in 1922, and together changed the course of twentieth-century history. In most respects, they could not have been more different. One was scholarly and devout, the other thuggish and profane. Yet Pius XI and “Il Duce” had many things in common. They shared a distrust of democracy and a visceral hatred of Communism. Both were prone to sudden fits of temper and were fiercely protective of the prerogatives of their office. (“We have many interests to protect,” the Pope declared, soon after Mussolini seized control of the government in 1922.) Each relied on the other to consolidate his power and achieve his political goals.   In a challenge to the conventional history of this period, in which a heroic Church does battle with the Fascist regime, Kertzer shows how Pius XI played a crucial role in making Mussolini’s dictatorship possible and keeping him in power. In exchange for Vatican support, Mussolini restored many of the privileges the Church had lost and gave in to the pope’s demands that the police enforce Catholic morality. Yet in the last years of his life—as the Italian dictator grew ever closer to Hitler—the pontiff’s faith in this treacherous bargain started to waver. With his health failing, he began to lash out at the Duce and threatened to denounce Mussolini’s anti-Semitic racial laws before it was too late. Horrified by the threat to the Church-Fascist alliance, the Vatican’s inner circle, including the future Pope Pius XII, struggled to restrain the headstrong pope from destroying a partnership that had served both the Church and the dictator for many years.   The Pope and Mussolini brims with memorable portraits of the men who helped enable the reign of Fascism in Italy: Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, Pius’s personal emissary to the dictator, a wily anti-Semite known as Mussolini’s Rasputin; Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy, an object of widespread derision who lacked the stature—literally and figuratively—to stand up to the domineering Duce; and Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, whose political skills and ambition made him Mussolini’s most powerful ally inside the Vatican, and positioned him to succeed the pontiff as the controversial Pius XII, whose actions during World War II would be subject for debate for decades to come.   With the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy, the full story of the Pope’s complex relationship with his Fascist partner can finally be told. Vivid, dramatic, with surprises at every turn, The Pope and Mussolini is history writ large and with the lightning hand of truth.   NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE   “Kertzer has an eye for a story, an ear for the right word, and an instinct for human tragedy. This is a sophisticated blockbuster.”—Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Revolutionary Summer   “A fascinating and tragic story.” —The New Yorker “Revelatory . . . [a] detailed portrait.”—The New York Review of Books


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PULITZER PRIZE WINNER From National Book Award finalist David I. Kertzer comes the gripping story of Pope Pius XI’s secret relations with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. This groundbreaking work, based on seven years of research in the Vatican and Fascist archives, including reports from Mussolini’s spies inside the highest levels of the Church, will forever change our PULITZER PRIZE WINNER From National Book Award finalist David I. Kertzer comes the gripping story of Pope Pius XI’s secret relations with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. This groundbreaking work, based on seven years of research in the Vatican and Fascist archives, including reports from Mussolini’s spies inside the highest levels of the Church, will forever change our understanding of the Vatican’s role in the rise of Fascism in Europe.   The Pope and Mussolini tells the story of two men who came to power in 1922, and together changed the course of twentieth-century history. In most respects, they could not have been more different. One was scholarly and devout, the other thuggish and profane. Yet Pius XI and “Il Duce” had many things in common. They shared a distrust of democracy and a visceral hatred of Communism. Both were prone to sudden fits of temper and were fiercely protective of the prerogatives of their office. (“We have many interests to protect,” the Pope declared, soon after Mussolini seized control of the government in 1922.) Each relied on the other to consolidate his power and achieve his political goals.   In a challenge to the conventional history of this period, in which a heroic Church does battle with the Fascist regime, Kertzer shows how Pius XI played a crucial role in making Mussolini’s dictatorship possible and keeping him in power. In exchange for Vatican support, Mussolini restored many of the privileges the Church had lost and gave in to the pope’s demands that the police enforce Catholic morality. Yet in the last years of his life—as the Italian dictator grew ever closer to Hitler—the pontiff’s faith in this treacherous bargain started to waver. With his health failing, he began to lash out at the Duce and threatened to denounce Mussolini’s anti-Semitic racial laws before it was too late. Horrified by the threat to the Church-Fascist alliance, the Vatican’s inner circle, including the future Pope Pius XII, struggled to restrain the headstrong pope from destroying a partnership that had served both the Church and the dictator for many years.   The Pope and Mussolini brims with memorable portraits of the men who helped enable the reign of Fascism in Italy: Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, Pius’s personal emissary to the dictator, a wily anti-Semite known as Mussolini’s Rasputin; Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy, an object of widespread derision who lacked the stature—literally and figuratively—to stand up to the domineering Duce; and Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, whose political skills and ambition made him Mussolini’s most powerful ally inside the Vatican, and positioned him to succeed the pontiff as the controversial Pius XII, whose actions during World War II would be subject for debate for decades to come.   With the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy, the full story of the Pope’s complex relationship with his Fascist partner can finally be told. Vivid, dramatic, with surprises at every turn, The Pope and Mussolini is history writ large and with the lightning hand of truth.   NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE   “Kertzer has an eye for a story, an ear for the right word, and an instinct for human tragedy. This is a sophisticated blockbuster.”—Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Revolutionary Summer   “A fascinating and tragic story.” —The New Yorker “Revelatory . . . [a] detailed portrait.”—The New York Review of Books

30 review for The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe

  1. 4 out of 5

    Max

    Kertzer shows how the relationship between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini played into the rise of Fascism and anti-Semitism. Mussolini demanded absolute power and the pope demanded a dominant position for the Church. Both men were headstrong adversaries who cooperated as needed. Both sacrificed principle to achieve their goals. Their fears, desires, deals and surrounding intrigues would weigh heavily on Italy’s fate particularly that of the nation’s Jews. Mussolini started his political career Kertzer shows how the relationship between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini played into the rise of Fascism and anti-Semitism. Mussolini demanded absolute power and the pope demanded a dominant position for the Church. Both men were headstrong adversaries who cooperated as needed. Both sacrificed principle to achieve their goals. Their fears, desires, deals and surrounding intrigues would weigh heavily on Italy’s fate particularly that of the nation’s Jews. Mussolini started his political career as an anti-Catholic socialist. As a supporter of Italy’s entry into WWI he broke with the socialists. He fought in the war and joined fascist groups in 1917. By 1919 he was leading the fascists and formed the National Socialist Party in 1921. Succeeding by violence and intimidation in a politically fractured Italy, his forces marched into Rome in 1922. He demanded and was appointed prime minister by the king. He was now the most powerful person in Italy. The Vatican was still living in the past. It still laid claim to the Papal States taken from it in 1870 when Italy formed. The dispute meant no formal relation existed between the Vatican and Italy. In fact the Pope would not venture into Rome which he did not recognize as part of Italy. Achille Ratti, a cardinal from a humble background in a small northern Italian town, became Pope Pius XI in 1922. He led a conservative Catholic view that was strongly anti-socialist and anti-Semitic. On top of traditional Catholic demonizing, Jews were now held responsible for bolshevism which Pius XI considered the Church’s biggest threat. While skeptical of Mussolini’s faith, Pius XI saw him as way to expand the church’s influence. Mussolini likewise saw the church as a way to cement his own. They began an escalating series of quid pro quos. Mussolini granted the Church more power, freedom and praise in exchange for the Church’s support for him. All the while Mussolini’s goons took out dissidents, Catholic or otherwise. Pius XI dismissed these attacks on anti-fascists in his Church as the work of thugs outside of Mussolini’s control. The pope would not criticize Mussolini since he felt the Church needed him to secure its position in Italy. Behind the scenes through envoys there was a constant tug of war between Mussolini and the Pope for power, but the pope was playing Mussolini’s game. Unknown to the pope, Mussolini had placed spies throughout the Vatican hierarchy. Their daily reports to Mussolini covered Vatican internal discussions and even included accounts of pederasty committed by senior Vatican officials. In 1929 the Holy See and Mussolini signed the Lateran Accords. The Vatican gave up its claim to the Papal States legitimizing Italian authority in Rome in exchange for recognition as the state religion of Italy and cash. Pius XI was happy and Mussolini thrilled as his power continued to be validated. But soon after, Mussolini made official statements that implied the Church’s rights were at his (Italy’s) pleasure. The pope was angered but did little. While the pope rarely consulted his staff, key members were ardent Mussolini supporters who intervened on Mussolini’s behalf when possible. Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who became Vatican Secretary of State in 1930, was a staunch anti-bolshevist and anti-Semite who was particularly deferential to Mussolini. Pacelli would become Pope Pius XII upon Pius XI’s death. Mussolini wanted no doubt as to who was really in charge. Mussolini quickly stopped political activity in any part of the Church unless it favored him. The Church’s rights were held to be strictly spiritual. When Mussolini shut down the Catholic Action youth group in 1931 Pius XI was furious. He got Mussolini to let the group operate but only with the stipulation that all Catholic Action youth leaders had to meet Mussolini’s approval. Anyone critical of him would be dismissed. Mussolini was turning the Church youth group into his support group. In 1932/33 Pius XI would expend his political capital pressing Mussolini to prohibit “Immodestly” dressed women, to stop Protestant groups from organizing and to closely monitor Communists and Jews. In 1933 Hitler became the new chancellor of Germany. Pius XI at first was skeptical of him. One in three Germans was Catholic. Hitler needed Catholic support. Germany’s ambassador to the Vatican conveyed Hitler’s backing for the Church to the pope. But most of all Hitler’s denunciations of bolshevism pleased Pius XI. German Catholic bishops had unanimously denounced the Nazis. The Vatican instructed the bishops to cease opposition to Hitler. The pope’s order undercut the opposition Catholic Center Party which then quickly fell apart. The Vatican signed a concordat with the Nazi government “guaranteeing” the Church’s rights in Germany in exchange for Catholic support. The Nazi’s program of forced sterilization of “defectives” was announced about the same time, which the Church ignored though clearly a violation of Church doctrine. Hitler did as he pleased and began closing Catholic schools. Hitler played the pope just as Mussolini had. The pope blamed anti-clerical Nazi elements not Hitler himself. Just as with Mussolini, Vatican Secretary of State Pacelli was much more deferential to Hitler than was the pope. Catholic conspiracy theories about Jews such as their comprising the leadership of Russia were widely published in official Church periodicals. Thus Hitler’s anti-Semitic harangues, for example that 98% of Soviet leadership was Jewish, made perfect sense to Germany’s large Catholic population. In fact Jews comprised 6% of the Russian leadership in the 1920’s and less thereafter. In 1935 Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. Pius XI was against the war but as usual fell in line. Pacelli and other top Vatican staff supported Mussolini’s colonialist war. The war was essentially genocide. Villages were firebombed, villagers wiped out with poison gas and their water supplies poisoned. Most of the free world including FDR and Americans were horrified. The Church made sure its publications in America backed Mussolini targeting the large Italian-American community. Italian victory in 1936 changed Mussolini. His ego overwhelmed him. He now believed himself invincible. The Spanish civil War in 1936 drew Mussolini and Hitler closer together greatly disturbing Pius XI. The Pope now saw that half of Catholic schools in Germany had been closed. Pacelli however still considered the communist threat paramount. He visited the US and met with FDR two days after the US election. FDR later said that Pacelli reminded him of Father Coughlin. Pacelli warned FDR of a Communist takeover of the US. Pacelli’s real reason for the visit was to shore up his personal support from the four American cardinals. Pius XI was old and failing and Pacelli wanted to be and would be his successor. By 1937 almost all Catholic schools in Germany had been closed and the Nazi’s began immorality trials of Catholic priest, monks and nuns for sexual deprivation. Finally the Vatican reacted. At the request of German bishops, an encyclical, watered down to not mention the Nazis by name, was issued critical of German violations of their concordat. It was read in German churches and it infuriated Hitler. Hitler closed Catholic publishing houses and seized diocesan files, which many bishops burned in advance. The Vatican now opposed Hitler, but still strongly supported Mussolini. In March 1938 Hitler took over Austria. Austria’s Cardinal Innitzer lauded the Führer and pledged his allegiance to the German cause. Mussolini who had wanted Austria under Italian control said nothing. The pope was stunned by both men’s response. Pius XI forced Innitzer to publicly retract his support of the German takeover. Pacelli as usual tried to make sure that neither the Germans or Mussolini were too upset by the Pope’s position. In May 1938 Hitler visited Rome for five days. Mussolini arranged huge celebrations. Swastikas were everywhere. He and Hitler paraded through the city. They swore their allegiance to each other as supporters including many clergy cheered. In July 1938 Mussolini began his anti-Semitic campaign. The Church and fascists differed on their definition of Jews. Mussolini aped Hitler. His anti-Semitism was race based. The Church’s anti-Semitism was based on religion and culture. The pope wanted Jews to convert. If they would become good practicing Catholics they were part of the fold and no longer a problem. Church doctrine did not embrace the concept of race. There was only one humanity. The pope decried what he called “extended nationalism” angering Mussolini. The practical issue was marriage between converted Jews and other Catholics. Mussolini’s laws outlawed this but the pope believed the Church controlled marriage as agreed to in the concordat of 1929. Again the pope’s instincts gave in to his staff eager to kowtow to the powerful Mussolini. In August a secret deal was reached giving Church approval to Mussolini’s anti-Semitic laws in exchange for a “promise” that Catholic Action members could remain Fascist party members. In September 1938 Jewish teachers in Italy at all levels were fired and Jewish children were prohibited from attending public school. The Church did not object, even though the Pope gave a speech in which he lamented the new laws. The Vatican hierarchy excised those remarks from published versions of the speech. Pacelli and other Vatican officials again did everything to avoid friction with the Fascist government by covering up or modifying anything controversial the pope said or wrote. Some important Church officials, such as Jesuit Superior General and virulent anti-Semite Wlodimir Ledochowski, actually believed Mussolini’s new laws were right, although they did not want to appear to criticize the pope. One prominent ardent Mussolini supporter was Milan Cardinal Schuster who at first publically praised the new laws. But amazingly on November 13, 1938, four days after Kristallnacht stunned the world; he spoke out excoriating the laws and characterizing Mussolini as a Hitler neophyte embracing a pagan creed. He instantly went from Fascist favorite to Fascist target. Many northern Italians wondered if one day Hitler’s racism would target them. But Schuster’s change of heart had no impact. The laws were not changed and Mussolini’s staff worked with its key ally in the Vatican, Pacelli, to mute any outburst from the pope. In February 1939, the 82 year old Pius XI passed away. Lying on his desk was a speech and an encyclical he planned to issue on the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Lateran accords. Months before he had asked an American Jesuit priest, Father LaFarge, to help define the Catholic position on racism. The pope had been impressed with LaFarge’s writing on black racial issues in America. The result was the encyclical that opposed racism. Ledochowski as LaFarge’s superior read it first and made every effort to delay it, water it down and keep it from the pope. The pope got it anyway but his untimely death meant it would never be issued. Pacelli made sure it would disappear entirely. He had the Vatican Printing Office destroy all copies of Pius XI’s speech. Pacelli became Pius XII. Only after Pacelli’s death in 1958 would Pope John XXIII release parts of Pius XI’s planned speech and only in 2006 was the full text disclosed. Under Pius XII, the Vatican became conciliatory and actively sought to improve relations with Mussolini and the Nazis. Pius XII removed the head of Catholic Action which Mussolini had long wanted but an obstinate Pius XI would not do. Even years later when Mussolini fell from power and was arrested Pius XII did not challenge the anti-Semitic laws. This revealing Pulitzer Prize winner is the result of seven years research into Fascist Italy and Vatican archives that only became available ten years ago. Kertzer dug deep producing a history rich in detail and convincing in its depiction of the relationship between the Church and Mussolini. His portrayal of Pius XI shows a conflicted unsophisticated pontiff easily handled by his subordinates. His account challenges long held beliefs about the role of Cardinal Pacelli as Vatican Secretary of State. Pacelli better known as Pope Pius XII is being considered for sainthood. Kertzer gives us a compelling study for those with an interest in the Church’s role in anti-Semitism and the consolidation of power by the Fascist and Nazi regimes.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    The result of David Kertzer’s research is that there is no longer reason to wonder about the Vatican’s position regarding Mussolini and the rise of Fascism. This well documented narrative tells how a very limited, backward looking, authoritarian Pope gave inches and then feet and miles in order, as he saw it, to protect the church. There is plenty to show Pope Pius as an enabler to Mussolini. It begins his withdrawal of support for the Center Catholic Party which hobbled Mussolini’s strongest opp The result of David Kertzer’s research is that there is no longer reason to wonder about the Vatican’s position regarding Mussolini and the rise of Fascism. This well documented narrative tells how a very limited, backward looking, authoritarian Pope gave inches and then feet and miles in order, as he saw it, to protect the church. There is plenty to show Pope Pius as an enabler to Mussolini. It begins his withdrawal of support for the Center Catholic Party which hobbled Mussolini’s strongest opposition and left its former members vulnerable. While anti-clerical Fascist thugs beat up priests, Pius complained to Mussolini about how women dress. The Pope condemned the Nazi takeover of Austria and the character of the Vienna’s archbishop who signed all of Hitler’s decrees (as Pope Pius had essentially done for Mussolini) only to soften his public comments and try to take them back. The Vatican was silent in the run up to the Racial Laws, and when they were on the horizon, the Pope tried to negotiate the weakest of all exceptions. It is emblematic that before his great speech where he would finally condemn Fascism, he died; years later, the speech was revealed to be as tepid as all that preceded it. The Pope’s supporters might point to the Lateran Accords as an achievement, but Kertzer shows how this compromised the Church’s integrity and ended its high ground. Pius XI’s worst legacy may have been the elevation of those who would bend to his will. This led to the election of his successor, Eugenio Pacelli, sycophant to the end, who took the name Pius XII. This election thrilled Fascists and Nazis alike. While it is not the focus of this book, King Victor Emmanuel similarly fails the Italian people. He signs every bill Mussolini gives him. When the Racial Laws go into effect, worried about his health, he has his Nazi son-in-law from Germany plead an exception for the his physician. The author spent 7 years sifting through documents. I was surprised at the anti-Semitic statements in church newsletters and clerical speeches that surely had been available prior to the 2006 opening of the Vatican’s pre-war archives. The Author’s Note on the resources indicates how much information is there to mine. Hopefully someone will write on Mussolini’s surveillance system, organizational behavior in the Vatican and the rise of Pius XII for the general reader. Kertzer has accomplished his goal (p. 411) of writing a book not only for experts, but also those who know little of this history. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in this period.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    The Pope and Mussolini by David Kertzer won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2014. To be clear this book does not really fit cleanly into the biography genre, it is history. There are no backstories of Mussolini or Pope Pius XI as children. Rather the story covers the years from 1922 to 1944 with the Pope and Mussolini and fascism as the core focus.Beyond the good writing this was an enlightening read for me. I had a sizable knowledge gap on Italy’s history between 1922 and 1944. This book is The Pope and Mussolini by David Kertzer won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2014. To be clear this book does not really fit cleanly into the biography genre, it is history. There are no backstories of Mussolini or Pope Pius XI as children. Rather the story covers the years from 1922 to 1944 with the Pope and Mussolini and fascism as the core focus.Beyond the good writing this was an enlightening read for me. I had a sizable knowledge gap on Italy’s history between 1922 and 1944. This book is contextual. It does not spend much time on obscure figures and there are appearances by King Victor Emmanuel, Hitler and numerous Cardinals and Vatican clergy. We learned that Ambrogio Ratti, who became Pius XI, was a librarian with a passion for mountain climbing when he became the compromise selection for Pope following Pius X’s death. We find that he did not seek out the limelight but was unabashedly anti-Semitic and a sexist. Two traits that were not so uncommon within the highest ranks of the Catholic Church a hundred years ago. Pius curried favor with Mussolini to strengthen his position and the Vatican — whose existence was more tenuous than I knew. There weren’t even any official diplomatic ties between the Vatican and the Italian government or with the royalty. The bad blood began when Victor Immanuel II assumed the title as the King of Italy some six decades earlier. So in 1922 Mussolini’s fascist thugs began intimidating — and even murdering political leaders with Catholic political ties — opponents and his fascists took control of the government. The new Pope sought to reconcile with Mussolini and this relationship - while cool - aided both men and their interactions are the central thesis of the book. The papacy viewed Jews as the enemy and Mussolini gained the legitimacy he sought as the Italian public was 95% Catholic. It is hard to understand exactly why the Papacy’s views were so anti-Semitic but it appears to have been the case for millennia. Towards the end of Pius’s life he made it clear that the Fascists were taking things too far and he was publicly against Mussolini’s war in Ethiopia. He certainly could have been mellowing and also conscious that history would might otherwise judge him harshly. Most of us are more familiar with Mussolini . Not much of his early life is discussed in this book. Mussolini was originally a Socialist and after the Great War became a Fascist when the post-war power vacuum was created. It was easy for the Fascists to cast blame on the Catholic clergy, Jews and existing governmental leaders. He and his party employed intimidation much earlier than the parallel regime that was forming in Germany. Hitler was said to have had a picture of Mussolini in his office and even modeled The Beer Hall Putsch after Mussolini’s coup in 1922. Mussolini for his part was disdainful of Hitler and underestimated him — as did so many others. Mussolini’s relationship with Pius was an expedient one. He often became agitated when the Pope made political statements even mildly critical of Mussolini’s government. I surmise Mussolini would have offed Pius if he could have gotten away with it. Mussolini was a known womanizer which is discussed to some degree and his behavior did not please the Pope. Mussolini comes across in the book as less of an ideological Fascist and more of a classic narcissist. Interestingly it was his young lover Clareta Petacci, not his wife, who was shot in 1945 alongside him by Italian partisans. The lovers had been traveling incognito with a group of German soldiers as they all were trying to cross the border out of Italy into Alps before they were stopped by the partisans. The Germans made a deal, we give you Mussolini, and you let us cross the border. Mussolini and his lover were ignominiously hung, upside-down, in the Piazza in Milan. 4 to 4.5 stars. This was a well researched book and a fast read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    I highly recommend this book for serious history buffs who read a lot of nonfiction and enjoy a high level of detail about the many people who played a part in historical events. I also recommend it for more casual readers of nonfiction who have a strong interest in this subject and time period. I say that with the warning that there are a lot of people involved, and it can be difficult to keep track of them and their roles and backgrounds. Kertzer is a meticulous researcher with expert knowledge I highly recommend this book for serious history buffs who read a lot of nonfiction and enjoy a high level of detail about the many people who played a part in historical events. I also recommend it for more casual readers of nonfiction who have a strong interest in this subject and time period. I say that with the warning that there are a lot of people involved, and it can be difficult to keep track of them and their roles and backgrounds. Kertzer is a meticulous researcher with expert knowledge of Italian history. The book gives much more extensive coverage of people and events than the title implies. At times it's fascinating, at other times it's a bit too thorough, but it's always extremely well written and documented. There is a wealth of notes at the back of the book, as well as numerous photographs throughout the book that greatly enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of the material. I found it especially interesting that Pius XI and Mussolini shared some personality traits. Of course, Mussolini's manifested in a more extreme fashion, but both men were ruthless and narcissistic.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Judith E

    Italian history and the rise of fascism is not a part of history with which I am familiar. Author Kertzer’s massive research reveals the manipulations Pope Pius XI and Mussolini engaged in to bring Italy into WWII on the side of the Nazis. The early 20th century brought the two together over their great fear of communism/liberalism/Jews/Protestantism/Masons-just to name a few. I am neither a Catholic nor a participant of an organized religion so I was amazed at the layers of Catholic ‘government Italian history and the rise of fascism is not a part of history with which I am familiar. Author Kertzer’s massive research reveals the manipulations Pope Pius XI and Mussolini engaged in to bring Italy into WWII on the side of the Nazis. The early 20th century brought the two together over their great fear of communism/liberalism/Jews/Protestantism/Masons-just to name a few. I am neither a Catholic nor a participant of an organized religion so I was amazed at the layers of Catholic ‘government’ and the Vatican’s ruling class. The back-biting and in-fighting resembled a middle school student council. Pope Pius eventually found himself on a runaway train unable to redirect the scourge of anti-semitism and at the end of his life he felt deep failure of his dealings. Hopefully, his belief in forgiveness led him through the pearly gates. This is not a light read, but extremely detailed and thorough. The Italian names can be very confusing and by the end I completely lost the ability to keep them straight. But for those who are interested in historical fact, this book is supreme. Deserving of it’s Pulitzer.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    In "The Pope and Mussolini", David Kertzer informs the reader that while the deceased Pius XI was lying state in February 1939, Benito Mussolini chose to visit his mistress Clara Petacci and made love to her not once, not three times but twice. In other words, the book is lurid and in many instances Kertzer chooses to trust some highly sleazy sources. Nonetheless, despite its rather disreputable approach, I am giving the book it four stars because the author David Kertzer marshals much impressiv In "The Pope and Mussolini", David Kertzer informs the reader that while the deceased Pius XI was lying state in February 1939, Benito Mussolini chose to visit his mistress Clara Petacci and made love to her not once, not three times but twice. In other words, the book is lurid and in many instances Kertzer chooses to trust some highly sleazy sources. Nonetheless, despite its rather disreputable approach, I am giving the book it four stars because the author David Kertzer marshals much impressive evidence in support of his primary thesis. Kertzer argues that during his time as leader of Italy, Mussolini had a strong relationship with the Vatican during the pontificate of Pius XI that was highly beneficial to both. Despite their close collaboration, the two parties hated each other. Mussolini who was an atheist thought the clergy were unworldly who needed to be disciplined occasionally so as to be brought into order. The Vatican thought that Mussolini was a nasty thug. Nonetheless the partnership held through all crises because both sides gained so much from it. In Kertzer's view, Mussolini needed the endorsement of the Vatican which he as a usurper of legitimate authority desperately needed. The Vatican in return received money, power and recognition. Kertzer is particularly good at explaining the controversial Lateran Accords of 1929 which recognized the Vatican as an independent state with formal boundaries thus ending a seventy-year period in which the Kingdom of Italy and the Vatican had refused to recognize each other following the seizure of the Papal States by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. Mussolini secured the deal by being generous up front. He offered to make Roman Catholicism the official religion of the Kingdom of Italy, to allow priests to conduct religious education in Italy schools and to financially support Catholic Institutions such as schools and hospitals. The only material change that the Vatican made to Mussolini's proposal was that it be enacted as a treaty between two sovereign states as opposed to a simple piece of parliamentary legislation. Kertzer is less convincing in his contention that the entente with the Vatican was beneficial to Mussolini. He states that the scandal resulting from the assassination in 1924 of the Socialist parliamentarian that Giacomo Matteotti assassination might have brought Mussolini down and that the strong endorsement of the Roman Catholic Church was key to Mussolini's survival. I suspect that with or without the Vatican's help Mussolini would have weathered the storm but Kertzer is correct to note that the support from the Vatican was loud and clear. Kertzer says nothing new about Mussolini but presents a very original and nuanced portrait of Pius XI. Pius XI emerges as a decent man but one profoundly out of touch with his era. He never used a telephone in his life and urged his clergy not to do so either. He considered Protestantism to be a serious threat to the Roman Catholic Church in Italy. However, on the issue most dear to Kertzer, Pius XI was principled and courageous. He believed profoundly that Jews were doing no harm to Italy and refused to consider them as an inferior race. To the end of his live, he defended the right of his church to convert Jews and to allow them to marry individuals who had been born into the Catholic Church. The disturbing thing about Kertzer's version of events is that he portrays Pius XI as being very isolated within the Curia in his distaste for Hitler and his opposition to Mussolini's decision to pass racial laws similar to those in Nazi Germany. Kertzer may be overplaying his hand as he endeavours to show that a significant number of the anti-Semites were pederasts. However, he does seem well documented on the basic point that anti-Semitism was common in the higher clergy. I have less confidence when Kertzer implies that following the death of Pius XI, Eugenio Pacelli (later XII) made a deal with a group of cardinals positively disposed towards the Nazis in order to ensure that he would be elected in the conclave. It is possible that the story is true but it is more likely that Kertzer is once again trusting dubious sources. Despite my reserves, "The Pope and Mussolini" is an excellent book that presents a very provocative interpretation of the pontificate of Pius XI. The reader however must maintain a critical mind.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    April 28, 2020 2nd time through - this one for a book group discussion. Highly readable and informative. August 8, 2015 I won this book through a Goodreads Giveaway! I knew nothing about this subject at all, but had recently done a concentrated read on WWI, so this book picked up close to the end of WWI. I'm not Catholic so don't know much about it's history, and this book did a great job of explaining what was going on in the Vatican during a very tumultuous time in between WWI and WWII and the rise April 28, 2020 2nd time through - this one for a book group discussion. Highly readable and informative. August 8, 2015 I won this book through a Goodreads Giveaway! I knew nothing about this subject at all, but had recently done a concentrated read on WWI, so this book picked up close to the end of WWI. I'm not Catholic so don't know much about it's history, and this book did a great job of explaining what was going on in the Vatican during a very tumultuous time in between WWI and WWII and the rise of Fascism and Nazism. I continue to be dumbfounded at the racism that existed toward the Jews, and what Mussolini and Hitler were able to do - all while many people had the opportunity to speak up and try to do something, Pope Pius XI included. This book was very readable and an eye opener.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    My first impression of this book surprised me because I felt a glimmer of sympathy for Mussolini for having to deal with such an intractable man as Pius XI. That sympathy quickly dissipated under the barrage of Mussolini's Facist policies. Unfortunately, I never felt any sympathy for Pius XI at all. He may have meant well, but knowing that he could have helped with the downfall of Mussolini in the early days, instead, he lent his considerable support to the Duce which led me to question the pope' My first impression of this book surprised me because I felt a glimmer of sympathy for Mussolini for having to deal with such an intractable man as Pius XI. That sympathy quickly dissipated under the barrage of Mussolini's Facist policies. Unfortunately, I never felt any sympathy for Pius XI at all. He may have meant well, but knowing that he could have helped with the downfall of Mussolini in the early days, instead, he lent his considerable support to the Duce which led me to question the pope's thinking. As the book progressed, I got the idea that Pius XI would have done anything to insure the supremacy of the Roman church. He may have detested Mussolini's dealings with Hitler, but he was never willing to risk losing the benefits of the Lateran Accords for the Church. He might have changed his mind about Mussolini, but by 1939 it was too late. The first part of the book was the most interesting. By the time it reached the discourse on the racial laws, I felt overwhelmed by the characters involved. The strident rationalizations about why some anti-Semitism was permissible churned my stomach. Finally, the author included some information about the Church under Pius XII who had served as his predecessor's Secretary of State. Appeasement seemed to dominate his thinking--anything not to infuriate Mussolini or Hitler. This is a well-researched book, but the problem is that many of the characters are reprehensible as is so much of this period in history.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard Moss

    The Pope and Mussolini is David Kertzer's fascinating account of the secret dealings between the Italian dictator and Pius XI. These were uncomfortable bedfellows. Mussolini had shown no signs in his early career of wanting to revive the Catholic Church's fortunes - in fact as he started off as a socialist, the opposite was true. His fascist lackeys had also spent much time beating up and terrorising hostile priests. Pius XI also showed no great personal enthusiasm for Il Duce, and his cult of per The Pope and Mussolini is David Kertzer's fascinating account of the secret dealings between the Italian dictator and Pius XI. These were uncomfortable bedfellows. Mussolini had shown no signs in his early career of wanting to revive the Catholic Church's fortunes - in fact as he started off as a socialist, the opposite was true. His fascist lackeys had also spent much time beating up and terrorising hostile priests. Pius XI also showed no great personal enthusiasm for Il Duce, and his cult of personality, but he was prepared to compromise himself and the Church in exchange for a boost to its fortunes. Mussolini created the Vatican State to give the Pope extra status, and revived the Roman Catholic Church's role in civic life from the courtroom to the classroom. Protestant books were suppressed, girls in gym lessons were made to dress more demurely. In return, Mussolini got more than just silent compliance from the Catholic Church. Its backing gave his regime legitimacy and helped Mussolini entrench himself as dictator. And there is clear evidence of direct collaboration between Church and regime against what both saw as common enemies - Protestants, communists and crucially - and shamefully - Jews. Pius XI did have qualms about some of the antisemitic laws Mussolini pursued. He had deep misgivings about the more pagan-inclined Hitler, but he still saw the Jewish community as a threat to the Catholic Church. His opposition was more sophistry than substance. And Kertzer shows there was a significant strand of antisemitism in the higher echelons of the Church. Indeed, the Church was far from wedded to democracy - Mussolini's authoritarianism had an appeal to a clergy that believed in absolute obedience. This is a meticulously-researched and fast-paced account with a large cast of characters. Kertzer lays to rest the suggestion that Pius XI bravely resisted fascism. There were signs towards the end of his life that private disquiet about antisemitic laws would turn to public opposition. But we'll never know how that might have ended, as his death brought the election of Pius XII - an even more complicit prop for the Fascists. The quality of Kertzer's research justifies his Pulitzer. It's not his fault that the recent sex abuse scandals has reduced the shock value of a Catholic establishment prepared to put the interests of the Church ahead of what's morally right.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carl R.

    [CAVEAT: As I reread this piece, it struck me that people might interpret it as anti-Catholic. It's certainly negative as far as Vatican City and its corrupt operations during the time period involved is concerned, which is true to the book under review. However, like most American Catholics, I see a huge gulf between my Catholic parish life and what happens in Rome, so I didn't intend it as a screed against the church as a whole.] Kertzer struck a bonanza when the Vatican released decades of doc [CAVEAT: As I reread this piece, it struck me that people might interpret it as anti-Catholic. It's certainly negative as far as Vatican City and its corrupt operations during the time period involved is concerned, which is true to the book under review. However, like most American Catholics, I see a huge gulf between my Catholic parish life and what happens in Rome, so I didn't intend it as a screed against the church as a whole.] Kertzer struck a bonanza when the Vatican released decades of documents in 2006. He doesn't explain why they did so, but we all benefit. Can't wait for the next release because many questions remain. He begins this story of The Pope and Mussolini immediately after the Great War. 19th century European nationalism left the Roman Catholic church feeling bruised, battered, and wronged. By 1870, The Italian army had appropriated huge swaths of what the church had considered its territory in the name of the new Italian nation. The Holy See was now confined to a 100 acres in the center of Rome, an island in the midst of an Italian nation they refused to recognize. In fact, they didn't officially do so until 1929. Anti-clerical sentiment had banished religion from the public schools and, to the church's mind, put the clergy on the fringes rather than in the center of public life. Then, post WWI turmoil flummoxed the fledgling nation. The economy was a mess. Returning soldiers had no jobs. Many of the same conditions that made Hitler possible in Germany made Mussolini possible in Italy. Big difference, though. At least in the beginning, according to Kertzer. Mussolini had no real political philosophy or program. He'd been a socialist (almost a communist) for a while, but sensed that they didn't have the power point at their command, so he switched from left to right. He figured out that since the church feared socialism/communism above all things this side of the Devil--except maybe Jews and Protestants, of which there were few in Italy--he'd acquire huge leverage if he could position himself as the man who stood between socialism and the true religion. With the help of his black-shirt thugs, he engineered an election or two and ended up as Il Duce (Leader) in 1922. Crosses and pictures of the Pope went back into the classrooms. Was the church worried about his totalitarian tendencies? Nope. They never trusted democracy anyhow. It seemed to lead to separation of church and state, which seemed to the autocratic Pius XI and his cohort a violation of Christian principles. Top down was good enough for the church, so it should be good enough for Italy. And the rest of the world for that matter. Given that Vatican mind-set, it was relatively easy for Mussolini to buy off the church and lead it around by its mitre for quite a while. He lavished funds on individuals, helped repair churches and cathedrals damaged by the war, and allowed all sorts of religious education to proceed. His thugs often attacked religious youth groups and newspapers if they contradicted his policies, but he claimed the deeds were done by rogues he was trying to stamp out. He'd make a few arrests, but never imprisoned anyone. His network of secret police became a key area of cooperation. The Vatican had spies, too. Had had for a long time. Now they could work together to ferret out common enemies. Sweet. All of this went along fairly well for nearly twenty years. Things started getting rocky with the rise of Hitler. It wasn't so much the Jewish question. Mussolini had nothing, really, against the Jews. He had a Jewish mistress and no history of persecuting them. The church claimed it had nothing against them either. Yeah, they'd killed Christ and were out for world domination, but if they'd convert they'd be welcome. Pius XI and the rest continued to claim they weren't anti-semites, just against the Jews as they existed. (If that sounds familiar, maybe you've heard the arguments about how the church is not anti-gay. We love them. If they'd just stop being gay. . .) However, he saw it necessary to ally with Hitler, which meant embracing at least part of his racist philosophy. And, indeed, there were those in high Vatican positions who were virulently and unapologetically anti-semitic, Pius XI was getting fed up when he died and was about to say so. He even wrote it all down, but died before he could publish it and Pius XII suppressed it. That summarizes how all this got started. I was familiar with how it ended for Il Duce, but not for the Pope(s) involved. It's a shameful story of appeasement that makes Neville Chamberlain look like a war monger. According to Kertzer, there is a movement to canonize Pius XII, and given the nature of those isolated old white men who are able to rationalize and twist anything to their point of view, as well as to the odd and freaky nature of canonization itself, it could happen. Watch.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vikas Lather

    David Kertzer can simply be regarded as one of the most finest historians of the Twentieth Century. This book should be more widely known than it is. It is quite difficult to come up with another name who could justice to illustrate extremely complicated relationship between Benito Mussolini and the Pope Pius XI, and how Catholic Church supported the rise of Fascism in Italy.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    This book is a history of the relationship between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini, anchored around the Lateran Accord of 1929, which made peace between the Italian government and the Papacy and which helped legitimate Mussolini's fascist regime. This is not a flattering account of the Pope or the Catholic Church generally and it fuels arguments about the importance of the Church in legitimating both the Fascist regime in Italy and the Nazi regime in Germany, although that came more after the This book is a history of the relationship between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini, anchored around the Lateran Accord of 1929, which made peace between the Italian government and the Papacy and which helped legitimate Mussolini's fascist regime. This is not a flattering account of the Pope or the Catholic Church generally and it fuels arguments about the importance of the Church in legitimating both the Fascist regime in Italy and the Nazi regime in Germany, although that came more after the time of this account and involved Pope Pius XII rather than Pope Pius XI. In this sense, it is a parallel story to that of "Hitler's Pope" by John Cornwell which was published in 1999 - although Kertzer's book is more persuasive than Cornwell's, The popes did not cause either Mussolini or Hitler and it is unclear how far they could oppose these dictators or how the course of history might have changed had these prelates been vertebrates. There are a number of disturbing lines of argument in Kertzer's book that concern the tradition of political power in the Vatican, the prevalence of centralized - indeed totalitarian autocracy -- in the Church hierarchy, the long tradition of church antisemitism, the poor treatment of women, and the scandalous treatment of children and young boys (scandals around the world in later years, especially in Ireland and the US). Regarding the particular relations between the Church and the fascist government, Kertzer is fair enough in wondering about the need for prudence and noting that had the Church more strongly opposed Mussolini, things could have gottern much worse rather than better. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, especially with the unsealing of secret archives. The same arguments have been made about Pius XII, Hitler, and the Holocaust, although for that relationship it is less clear what could have been worse relative to what actually happened. This is a highly unflattering view of the Catholic Church that will not be surprising to many, especially in the US, where the church has been proficient in producing former Catholics. It is also unflattering to fascism as well, although in parts of the book, Mussolini comes across as more reasonable that the Pope and his Cardinals. It is also hard to avoid the book's nod to the present, in its telling the story of a crude but savvy populist strongman who could turn a good phrase in public speeches and enlisted the aid of formal religion in building domestic support. It did not work out so well for Mussolini. Overall, Kertzer presents a well told and reasonable account of some fascinating history.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    to hunt down, now where's my sleuthing kit...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Thoroughly researched and expertly written this book details the relationship between Pius XI and Mussolini in the run up to WWII. It does not present a flattering picture of the pope who was anxious to see the development of a Fascist Catholic Italy. He saw that through Mussolini the Church could regain much of the power it had lost in the previous century, and Mussolini realized that with the support of the Church he could become very powerful, very quickly. The pope appreciated Mussolini's wi Thoroughly researched and expertly written this book details the relationship between Pius XI and Mussolini in the run up to WWII. It does not present a flattering picture of the pope who was anxious to see the development of a Fascist Catholic Italy. He saw that through Mussolini the Church could regain much of the power it had lost in the previous century, and Mussolini realized that with the support of the Church he could become very powerful, very quickly. The pope appreciated Mussolini's willingness to censor books and cinema, to restrict the dress codes of women, and to prevent Protestants from proselytizing. Through Mussolini he saw religious education re-introduced in schools, crosses placed in government buildings, and ultimately the recognition of Vatican City as an independent nation. He had no issue with the absence of freedoms for the people under Mussolini because he believed that democracy, especially freedom of speech, was inconsistent with the absolute power required by the Church. He looked upon the Medieval times when the Church was without rivals as the high point of history. Mussolini in turn was willing, in spite of his strong anti-clerical upbringing and his disdain for religion, to take small steps to appease the Church in exchange for its support for his fascist government. The two men occasionally clashed over issues - especially the Catholic Action group which Mussolini saw as having too much influence that was outside of his control, and usually concessions could be found. However, as Mussolini became more megalomaniacal and infatuated with Hitler and Nazi Germany, the pope realized that he had less and less influence on what was happening in Italy and Europe. This book was fascinating. I love a well-written and informative history book and this was both of those things. Kerzer spent close to a decade researching and writing this book. Nearly 100 pages of notes at the end show how meticulous and broad his research was. I received this book as a goodreads first-reads giveaway.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    It's been quite awhile since I've read anything about the history of the Catholic Church. While it is one of my favorite subject areas the older history of centuries past is much more entertaining as it is removed from present day considerations and affect. Reading the history of the Church in the 19th and 20th centuries isn't quite as amusing as that history and its consequences live with us today. Nevertheless, I do read it as it is very informative and can, at times, be amusing and entertaini It's been quite awhile since I've read anything about the history of the Catholic Church. While it is one of my favorite subject areas the older history of centuries past is much more entertaining as it is removed from present day considerations and affect. Reading the history of the Church in the 19th and 20th centuries isn't quite as amusing as that history and its consequences live with us today. Nevertheless, I do read it as it is very informative and can, at times, be amusing and entertaining but not nearly as much as the Renaissance history of the Church. This book is a history of both the Church and Italy in roughly the first half of the 20th centuries and covers the rise of Fascism and Mussolini and his relationship with the Church and the pope at that time, Pius XI and ends with the election and early days of Pius' successor Pius XII the first pope of my memory. This is a history that strikes close to home and while the book was what I expected and was very good what I learned was not. From my reading of Church history it would appear that in the fields of science, politics, and social evolution every position the Church took was always the wrong one. If anybody needs convincing that the Church is the recipient of Divine Protection then all you have to do is study its history. Inspite of possessing leadership over the centuries that were the living examples of every corruption and vice known to man the Church has survived and flourished. How that was managed for nearly 2,000 years defies being a mere fluke of probability theory. Somebody has to have been protecting that institution because it sure wasn't the men charged with that responsibility. In this history we have the continuation of this author's work covered in "Prisoner of the Vatican" which dealt with the Church's loss of the Papal States and then Rome in 1870 and the subsequent juvenile temper tantrum thrown by Pius IX and all the successor popes up to Pius XI. When XI became pope in the early 1920's Mussolini had just risen to power. Mussolini was now the prime minister of a country that was 99% Catholic but was also significantly anti-clerical due to the middle of Italy being ruled by priests for centuries. However, Mussolini needed to have his rule and Fascism legitimized and contrary to the anti-clerical positions of the fascists Mussolini decided the Church could provide him with the support he needed. A deal was proposed and accepted, if the Church would recognize the government, Fascism, and Mussolini then Mussolini would restore the Church to many of its former positions and power in Italy. The Church accepted and one of history's most unholy alliances was formed. You might ask why but that question is posed based on our present understanding of the Church and its leadership. Up until 1860 the pope was both the religious leader of the world's Catholics and the king of most of central Italy. The pope was a religious and temporal ruler and an absolute ruler at that. In 1860 the pope lost the Papal States to the Unification movement of Garibaldi and Savoy but he held on to Rome until 1870 when the Unification forces decided enough was enough and invaded and took Rome. I believe the invasion took all of about 45 minutes to be successful. From that time until 1929 the popes refused to leave the confines of the Vatican until their Papal Kingdom was restored. What this illustrates is that the Church and the pope were not interested in republican forms of government. They equated democracy and communism as twin evils and thought the only form of government that was successful and efficient was totalitarian government, preferably with the pope as the totalitarian. In the deal with Mussolini the idea was that it was a reasonable compromise. It had been nearly 50 years since the loss of Rome and nobody was coming to the aid of the pope so the likelihood of the Papal States being restored was not very good. However, this Mussolini guy was offering to put the Church back in power in much the same way as it had been. So the Church was viewing this as a joint partnership with a man they thought they could manipulate. As a consequence the Church became very pro fascist and the more dictatorial Mussolini became the more comfortable and familiar the government became to the Church. This relationship continued on with the highpoint being the formal Conciliation between the Church and the Italian government in 1929. The Church was enjoying a great deal of influence and power in Italy and all seemed to be going well until Hitler arrived on the political scene. At this time a lot of the uglier side of the Church and its leadership is revealed. The most unpleasant of this ugliness is the Church's anti-Semitism. Many, maybe most, of the Church hierarchy was anti-semitic with the Jesuits leading the charge. The Church even had a tradition of anti-semitic practices so when the racial laws were introduced in Germany and then in Italy the Italian partnership began to crumble. The Church attempted to rationalize its acceptance of the Italian racial laws as long as they didn't penalize people simply on the basis of biology. A Jew could be confined to a ghetto not simply because he was a Jew but because Jews were a threat to the homogeneity of the Christian community. A Jew that converted to Catholicism was, to the Church, no longer a Jew and should be exempt from the racial laws. This is where the real conflicts between the Church and the fascists started to get heated. The final straw was regarding the marriage restrictions. The racial laws banned marriages between Jews and Christians and refused to recognize converted Jews to be anything but Jews. The Church made repeated attempts to get exemptions in this situation and Mussolini wouldn't listen. This issue is what brought the partnership to near destruction. The pope was in the process of finishing an encyclical on the evils of racism when he died. Pius XII killed that encyclical in his attempt to heal the dispute with Mussolini and Hitler. What is really disturbing is to learn that articles and speeches by Church leaders were used by the Germans and the Fascists to justify their treatment of the Jews. In this regard the Church bears intellectual complicity with these monsters for the Holocaust. After reading this book one loses all understanding of Church leaders as being religious figures. All of these men behaved like petty bureaucrats, politicians, and schemers. God and religion are mentioned like commodities these men are trying to sell to a gullible bunch of consumers and sheep as they were perceived by the hierarchy. That the Church hierarchy had no use for democracy or republican governments is easy to see and understand and once again the Church chose the wrong horse in this history but yet it survives. How? Only God knows.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor Cowan

    I imagine Historian David Kertzer as the now grown child once featured in 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' He details the collaboration between two crafty weavers, Pope XI and Mussolini, who deceive their way to unearned power. Kertzer reasons they could never have subsidized such massive evil without the usual two key factors: a) utterly vacant inner lives of those eager to be 'led' b) crowds of frightened followers unable to think or act for themselves. Kertzer parades their conniving. He strips t I imagine Historian David Kertzer as the now grown child once featured in 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' He details the collaboration between two crafty weavers, Pope XI and Mussolini, who deceive their way to unearned power. Kertzer reasons they could never have subsidized such massive evil without the usual two key factors: a) utterly vacant inner lives of those eager to be 'led' b) crowds of frightened followers unable to think or act for themselves. Kertzer parades their conniving. He strips their hypocrisy. Eleanor Cowan, author of : A History of a Pedophile's Wife: Memoir of a Canadian Teacher and Writer

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stefania Dzhanamova

    Rome, 1939. Elderly and having barely survived circulatory failure the previous year, Pius XI begged God to grant him a few more days. The Pope had summoned all of Italy’s bishops to Rome to hear his final message in St. Peter’s Basilica on February 11, 1939. It would mark the tenth anniversary of the Lateran Accords, the historic agreement that Pius XI had struck with Mussolini, ending decades of hostility between Italy and the Roman Catholic Church. With that agreement, the separation of churc Rome, 1939. Elderly and having barely survived circulatory failure the previous year, Pius XI begged God to grant him a few more days. The Pope had summoned all of Italy’s bishops to Rome to hear his final message in St. Peter’s Basilica on February 11, 1939. It would mark the tenth anniversary of the Lateran Accords, the historic agreement that Pius XI had struck with Mussolini, ending decades of hostility between Italy and the Roman Catholic Church. With that agreement, the separation of church and state that had characterized modern Italy from its founding sixty-eight years earlier had finally co to an end. In 1922, Achille Ratti, newly appointed cardinal, had been the surprising choice to succeed Pope Benedict XV. He took the name Pius XI. The same year, amid widespread violence, Mussolini became Italy’s prime minister. Since then the two men had come to depend on each other. The dictator relied on the Pope to ensure Catholic support for his regime, providing much needed moral legitimacy. The Pope counted on Mussolini to help him restore the Church’s power in Italy. For ten years, the both men were headstrong adversaries, focused on achieving absolute power, but ready to cooperate with each other for mutual gains. While the Pope gave Mussolini his blessing and the population’s respect, Mussolini reinstated the Church as an important factor in state government. In 1939, however, thinking back over those years, Pius XI felt a deep regret because he had allowed himself to be led astray. Mussolini considered himself a god, and had embraced Hitler, whom the pope despised for undermining the Church in Germany and creating his own pseudo-religion. In the early morning hours of February 10, Pius XI took his last feeble breath. Across the Tiber, Mussolini greeted the news of the pope’s death with a grunt of relief. The successor of Pius XI, Pius XII, was – fortunately for Mussolini– a very different sort of man: a diplomat and a sycophant, who was ready to support the new regime to further establish his own power. David I. Kertzer explains how the relationship between Pope XI and Benito Mussolini played a key role in the rise of Fascism and anti-Semitism in Italy. The Pope and Mussolini is a brilliantly written and researched work that traces the relationship to the smallest detail and includes a big set of very interesting characters. Worth a read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cora

    "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." - Pope Pius XI, September 1938 "It is impossible for the Catholic fascist to renounce that antisemitic conscience which the church had formed through the millennia." - Italian Fascist Roberto Farinacci THE POPE AND MUSSOLINI is a damning account of Vatican complicity in the rise of fascism, not out of cowardice or hypocrisy but in the name of principle. Since the "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." - Pope Pius XI, September 1938 "It is impossible for the Catholic fascist to renounce that antisemitic conscience which the church had formed through the millennia." - Italian Fascist Roberto Farinacci THE POPE AND MUSSOLINI is a damning account of Vatican complicity in the rise of fascism, not out of cowardice or hypocrisy but in the name of principle. Since the fall of Rome to the Italian state in 1870, the popes had been in self-imposed captivity in the Vatican, refusing to recognize Italy as a nation-state and fulminating against liberalism, democracy, and the alleged perfidy of the Jews. Catholics were forbidden to vote or hold office in Italy until 1919, when Benedict XV backed the explicitly Catholic Popular Party. So things stood when a compromise candidate, Cardinal Achille Rotta, was elected Pope in the year 1922. Rotta had been a Vatican librarian with a fondness for mountain-climbing until Benedict asked him to represent the Vatican in Poland in 1918. His time there coincided with the Soviet invasion in 1920, and he left deeply convinced that socialism was a profound threat to Christendom and that it was the fault of a vast Jewish conspiracy. (Of course, these views were widely held among the Vatican elite.) Mussolini, who came to power later in 1922 in his famous march on Rome, had a long history of anti-clericalism and a string of mistresses, but he was an opportunist and quickly made it clear that he was willing to deal with the Vatican. Pius saw an opportunity for a deal that could reverse the indignities that republican Italy did to the church. If Mussolini was eliminating democracy and individual liberty, so much the better--the church opposed such things. Let the Fascists embrace Catholic teaching and have their secret police enforce Catholic social values, and Italy might be redeemed by confessional totalitarianism and become a holy bulwark against Jewish socialism. As a result, when fascist thugs murdered Mussolini's critics, the pope stood fast by the regime and forbade Catholics from allying with socialists to bring down the regime. Remarkably, when fascists murdered priests, the Vatican stated that such instances were caused by bad apples without the sanction of the regime--even as the regime refused to punish those responsible. Mussolini was happy to use the secret police to cover up pederasty by high-ranking Vatican officials, to teach Catholicism in state schools, and to punish Italian Protestants because the benefit of being sanctified by the pope himself was incalculable to the regime. The pope ignored the murder of Italian dissidents, but his conscience was not entirely silent. When he discovered that women wore scandalously skimpy bathing suits at the beach or participated in gymnastics events wearing backless leotard, he was sure to notify the regime of his deep concern for Italian morality. Similarly, he and other Catholic leaders were concerned that the regime did not take the threat from the Jews seriously enough. In the 1920s, the Vatican leadership was the most anti-Semitic element of Italian society. As he ruined so many things, Hitler ruined this happy alliance between the pope and the Duce. He initially signed an alliance with the church, but did not seriously wish to permit alternate centers of power in Germany. In 1931, the pope nearly split with Mussolini over threats to Catholic Action, a lay organization that Pius saw as crucial in Catholicizing Italy. Now Hitler conducted mass trials of Catholic clergy and went after Catholic schools, an even broader threat to the Vatican's influence in Germany. Moreover, Hitler's racial ideology troubled Pius. The reason why is crucial--not because of sympathy for the Jews, but because Nazi (and soon Italian) racial laws applied to all Jews regardless of their religion. This threatened existing Jewish converts to Catholicism and the universality of Catholic teaching. So the Vatican in fact supported anti-Semitic legislation as consistent with centuries of tradition, but only if they did not apply to converts. (In fact, the Vatican under Pius XII urged that deal to the Italian regime as late as 1943, _after_ the fall of Mussolini.) Hitler was unwilling to play ball, and the rise of Nazi Germany meant that Mussolini soon had to worry more about pleasing Hitler than pleasing the pope. Hence the final years of the pope's life were filled with acrimony against the Duce. (If only Pius had found a self-effacing fascist dictator, his vision might have been realized.) But by this time the rest of the Vatican hierarchy was convinced that conflict with Hitler and Mussolini could only hurt the Church. Led by Vatican Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, they watered down Pius's objection to the regime. An encyclical against racism was destroyed by Pacelli after Pius' death in 1939. Pacelli then became Rotta's successor (under the name Pius XII) after promising to play nice with the dictators. Kertzer's account is thorough and he clearly has the goods. While I sometimes found the detail a little dry, usually the book is livened up with the large personalities involved (Mussolini, of course; but also Galeazzo Ciano and Pope Pius XI was no slouch in the ego department). Befitting a book on the Vatican, I also found entertaining the casuistry of intelligent people straining at gnats while swallowing camels. (This review is far from a complete summary of the sins involved.) I also found it an invaluable contribution to my understanding of the rise of fascism in Europe, and worth reading for anybody who is interested in the history of Italy, Christianity, or World War II.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Miebara Jato

    The Pope and Mussolini is a well-researched account of the relationship between Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy, and the Catholic Church in Rome. From this book, we now know, in sharp contrast to popular propaganda, that the Vatican was not only supportive of Mussolini's fascist regime but was a guiding force in many of the Fascist cruel policies, including the racial laws. What's made amply clear in this book is that the fascist ideology was inspired by Catholic tradition – the au The Pope and Mussolini is a well-researched account of the relationship between Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy, and the Catholic Church in Rome. From this book, we now know, in sharp contrast to popular propaganda, that the Vatican was not only supportive of Mussolini's fascist regime but was a guiding force in many of the Fascist cruel policies, including the racial laws. What's made amply clear in this book is that the fascist ideology was inspired by Catholic tradition – the authoritarianism, the intolerance of opposition and the profound suspicion of the Jews. Mussolini started his political career dehumanizing the Church, bearing the nickname "mangiaprete -- priest eater". At one public debate, for instance, he argued against the existence of God. In fact, the Church was one of Mussolini's early targets. He called for seizing the property of religious congregations and ending state subsidies for the Church. But Mussolini was smart enough to later realized a hardline stance against the Church will not endear him to Christians. He, therefore, changed lanes and supported the Catholic Church, not with genuine intentions, but as a means to power. In a similar vein, Mussolini's political beliefs were erratic. He started as a socialist but ended up as a fascist. As a young fascist, he quickly rose in the ranks in the movement, eventually creating and leading the Fascist Party. While Mussolini and his fascist gangsters were spreading their violence and intimidation, the Bolsheviks had taken power in Russia. The Communists revolution in Russia was a lesson European countries wouldn't want to learn the hard way. In Italy, however, the socialists were already making progress towards achieving such a goal. In many northern cities, industrial workers seized factories, and calls for an end to “bourgeois” democracy and the installation of a workers’ state were bandied about. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, landowners, and the Italian elites that were most threatened by (or that most detested) the communists were more or less helpless. Mussolini's fascist gangs became willing tools to do the dirty work. In the spring of 1920, the socialist leagues organized an agricultural strike. When the government did nothing to intervene, the local landowners turned to the fasci. The armed fascist bands—wearing their trademark black shirts and black fezzes—sacked socialist chambers of labour and other left-wing targets. The fascist militias were loosely organised. Mussolini did not directly control the gangs but relied on local fascist bosses to do his dirty work. But as the national leader of the Fascist Party, Mussolini successfully cultivated the impression as the only politician capable of putting an end to the Socialist threat and restore order in Italy. The break down of social order gave the Fascists the opportunity to plot their path to power by every means possible--preferably insurrection. So in 1922, Mussolini convened a meeting of heads of the Fascist militias to finalize plans for such an insurrection. On October 16, Fascist forces gathered in different locations for a march on Rome, aimed at seizing the central government ministries. The incumbent prime minister, Luigi Facta, had recommended a military option to disperse the squadristi and arrest the Fascist leaders. The King, Victor Emmanuel III, previously agreed to the military action but backed out the following day. Left with few options, the King invited Mussolini to form a government. "The thirty-nine-year-old blacksmith’s son had become the most powerful man in Italy". The year was 1922. The same year Benito Mussolini came to power, Cardinal Achille Ratti, a librarian, mountain-climber and admirer of Mark Twain, was elected Pope (Pope Pius XI). The relationship that the Pope and Mussolini built afterwards is the crux of this book. "For all their obvious differences, the pope and Mussolini were alike in many ways. Both could have no real friends, for friendship implied equality. Both insisted on being obeyed, and those around them quaked at the thought of saying anything that would displease them. They made an odd couple, but the pope had quickly come to recognize the benefits of casting his lot with the former priest-eater. As a result, within a year of the March on Rome, the Fascist revolution had become a cleric-Fascist revolution. A new partnership had begun." Pius and Mussolini aided and accommodated one another, each doing the other's bidding in an intricate quid pro quo fashion. The Church offered Mussolini and his fascist regime support in exchange for the regime to grant the Church more freedom, power, and cash. The height of the relationship was the signing of the Lateran Accords in 1929. In that agreement, the Vatican gave up its claim to the Papal States legitimizing Italian authority in Rome in exchange for recognition as the state religion of Italy. The relationship between Mussolini and Pope Pius XI, however, was not always a rosy affair; and what was left for its complete break down was merely a matter of time. The final nail in the coffin was Mussolini's naive subservience to Hitler, and Mussolini's unwillingness to intervene on behalf of the Church as Hitler in 1937 closed almost all Catholic schools in Germany and began immorality trials of a Catholic priest, monks and nuns for sexual deprivation. Kertzer succeeded in making a serious and difficult historical topic accessible to the general reading public. A scholarly work, no doubt, but written like a sensational novel. And to realise that the author spent seven years studying and sifting through thousands of documents not only from Italian state archives but also church documents which have been fully available only since 2006 is impressive. Highly recommended.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Heiner

    My second book of David Kertzer, and as with his last book, I went through every single page of small print end notes (this book had almost 80 pages worth). Kertzer spent 7 years of his life researching the Vatican Archives that were opened for him to build the valuable narrative that this book captures. As I said in my last review of a Kertzer book, it is clear that Kertzer is wounded by Catholicism in general and the papacy in particular, especially in regards to perspectives on the Jews and th My second book of David Kertzer, and as with his last book, I went through every single page of small print end notes (this book had almost 80 pages worth). Kertzer spent 7 years of his life researching the Vatican Archives that were opened for him to build the valuable narrative that this book captures. As I said in my last review of a Kertzer book, it is clear that Kertzer is wounded by Catholicism in general and the papacy in particular, especially in regards to perspectives on the Jews and the Jewish Question. That said, his feelings only occasionally leak into the text, and always in a fairly mild way. Kertzer is primarily a historian and storyteller, and perhaps why I enjoy his work so much is because I'm not coming to him to give me basic knowledge about Catholicism, the Roman Question, Pius IX, Mussolini, or World War 2. I know enough about those subjects that I can sit back and enjoy this text, rich in detail about all these questions, particularly in a narrow slice of time that the book treats of. If you don't have a basic knowledge, the book may seem to be a jeremiad against the Church, but for those of us who know Church history, it was only the latest, and perhaps mildest, chapter in a 2000 year span. No manmade institution has ever lasted so long. Which begs the question: Is it truly a manmade institution? Not a question the book ever asks or answers, but one that hangs at its conclusion for the perceptive reader. I have only come more and more to understand the pivotal role and time that H.H. Pope Pius IX lived in and how many aspects of life in Europe and life in the world flow from the times he lived in, especially the 1848 Revolutions and the 1870 invasion and annexation of the Papal States. (regarding King Victor Emmanuel III): "But he came to respect Mussolini's drive, his ability to end the country's chaos, his lack of personal venality, and his dream of restoring Italy's greatness." (p. 34) (regarding Pius XI): "'He wears his tiara even when he goes to bed,' joked one of the priests in the Vatican." (p. 39) (regarding Pius XI's views on his household): "'I don't want to have to remind you: German precision, German silence, but not German cuisine.'" (p. 41) (Pius XI, regarding Mussolini): "Providence makes use of strange instruments to bring good fortune to Italy." (p. 49) (from Pius XI's "Ubi Arcano"): "No merely human institution of today can be as successful in devising a set of international laws which will be in harmony with world conditions as the Middle Ages were in the possession of that true League of Nations, Christianity." (p. 49) (quoting from La Civilta Cattolica): "Fascism seeks to place spiritual values once again in the place of honor they once occupied, especially as required by the battle against liberalism, to restore the most conspicuous of these, religious upbringing and the nation's Catholic inspiration." (p. 57) "In dealing with the pope, Mussolini continued his well-calibrated mix of pressure and reward. As Fascist bands continued to attack local Popular Party leaders and headquarters, Mussolini cast himself as the only person able to control these overzealous Fascists. At the same time, he showered the Church with cash and privileges. He pushed through a new law allowing police to fire any editor whose newspaper belittled either the pope or the Catholic Church. He bowed to the Vatican's request that only books approved by the Church be used to teach religion in the schools. He agreed to close down gambling halls. He provided state recognition to the Catholic University of Milan, announced his opposition to divorce, and moved to save the Bank of Rome, closely tied to the Vatican, which was on the verge of bankruptcy. Crucifixes were back in the country's classrooms, and Church holidays were added to the civil calendar. He came up with generous funds to rebuild churches that had been damaged during the war. The list went on and on." (p. 63) "...he (Mussolini) denied Methodists permission to construct a big church in Rome and rejected the YMCA's proposals to build centers in Italy." (p. 65) (regarding the 1924 election): "'This is the lsat time that there'll be an election like this. The next time I (Mussolini) will vote on behalf of everyone." (p. 66) "'We will give it (Italy) this tranquility, this calm through love if possible, and with force, if it becomes necessary.'" (p. 77) "The pope's (Pius XI's) reference to Mussolini as the man sent by Providence would be repeated by bishops, priests, and lay Catholics thousands of times in the years to follow." (p. 111) "Pius XI thought it undignified to be photographed with visitors, royal or not." (p. 137) (regarding Pius XII) "...he won a rare dispensation and was allowed to live at home through the rest of his studies." (p. 150) (regarding the Spanish Civil War and the actions of the so-called "Loyalists") "Seven hundred priests, monks, and nuns were killed. Priests' ears were cut off and passed around as if they were trophies from a bullring. Nuns' rotting remains were dug up from their graves and left exposed - French newspapers published photographs." (p. 243) "...when wearing his Fascist uniform, the Duce seemed a commanding figure, but on those rare occasions when he saw him in civilian dress, he looked like a 'sturdy peasant' and 'a very rough customer.'" (p. 245) (quotes from Chicago Archbishop George Mundelein from a speech to clergy): "'Perhaps you will ask how it is that a nation of sixty million intelligent people will submit in fear and servitude to an alien, an Austrian paper hanger, and a poor one at that, and a few associates like Goebbels and Goring, who dictate every move of the people's lives.'" (p. 261) "'Despite all of his eminent qualities, Cardinal Pacelli does not seem to have a very firm mind, nor a very strong will." (p. 270) "'...he who strikes Catholic Action strikes the pope, and he who strikes the pope dies." (p. 298) "What made the past months so painful to the pope was his realization that his dreams of turning Italy into a confessional state - one where the machinery of the authoritarian regime would be at the service of the Church - had been so naive." (p. 358) "While Pius XI was 'gladiatorial, defiant, commanding and uncompromising,' his successor was 'persuasive, consoling, appealing and conciliatory.'" (p. 385) (quoting Pius IX): "You are not fully Christian unless you are Catholic, and you are not fully Catholic unless you are Roman." (p. 425) "But by the 1930s the United States had solidified its place not only as a major, thriving center for Roman Catholics and the Church but as the single largest financial source of support for the Holy See." (p. 465)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Leasha

    Seriously surprising history. Pius XI could not be more unlike Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both vowed to protect the church through the turbulent 30s and 40s, but their approaches could not have been different. Bonhoeffer challenges me because I doubt I could muster his courage. Pius XI challenges me because I could very well be the appeasing coward he was. READ THIS BOOK. Learn the things.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mila

    Very comprehensive; if your goal is to learn more about Italian fascism and the Catholic church you should read this! I am shocked I learned barely any of this growing up in Catholic school. It's a history catholic institutions must reckon with.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    Highly detailed, informative and written in a sure hand, this biography manages to weave Mussolini and Pope Pius XI together in a real story of dictatorship, deceit and cowardice. While it doesn't necessarily feel like a history book, it certainly is exactly that - except presented to you in the enticing package of a story about humans: as they were, as they are and as they will probably never cease to be. I only gave it 4 stars because of its slow-ish pace, but that is a minor flaw and should i Highly detailed, informative and written in a sure hand, this biography manages to weave Mussolini and Pope Pius XI together in a real story of dictatorship, deceit and cowardice. While it doesn't necessarily feel like a history book, it certainly is exactly that - except presented to you in the enticing package of a story about humans: as they were, as they are and as they will probably never cease to be. I only gave it 4 stars because of its slow-ish pace, but that is a minor flaw and should in no way stop you from reading this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Ridiculously well researched. I was captivated from start to finish. This was a fascinating and informative read...also, so many similarities between what's happening today in the US with evangelicalism and Trump. Definitely worth the read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

    Today, I visited St. Peter’s Basilica, where over a hundred popes are entombed. This book exhumes two of them and confesses their sins to his readers. In 2006, the Vatican archives were opened for the period of Pius XI’s reign, including daily logs of meetings and thousands of other documents. Records of the Italian fascist regime are also now available. The author of this book conducted seven years of records research, including the collection of over 25,000 pages of documentation. The Catholic Today, I visited St. Peter’s Basilica, where over a hundred popes are entombed. This book exhumes two of them and confesses their sins to his readers. In 2006, the Vatican archives were opened for the period of Pius XI’s reign, including daily logs of meetings and thousands of other documents. Records of the Italian fascist regime are also now available. The author of this book conducted seven years of records research, including the collection of over 25,000 pages of documentation. The Catholic Church has a long history of demonization of Jews, going back to shortly after Christianity’s origins as a Jewish sect. In 1555, Pope Paul IV issued a papal bull ordering all Jews to live in ghettos. Jews could have only limited contact with Christians and were confined to the most menial occupations. Jews, the Pope argued, had been condemned by God to eternal slavery for their sin of murdering Jesus and refusing his teachings. It wasn’t until 1870, with the Italian conquest of Rome, that Jews were fully liberated from the city’s ghetto. But this didn’t end the Church’s condemnation of the people whose genetic material was shared with Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and the 12 Apostles. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, which was closely overseen by the Vatican, denounced the Jews mercilessly, in one of many scathing articles calling them “eternal insolent children, obstinate, dirty, thieves, liars, ignoramuses, pests and the scourge of those near and far...” Many other church publications also vilified Jews. And while Jews were scorned, Benito Mussolini was embraced. After one assassination attempt on Mussolini, Pius XI let him know of his immense joy in learning that he was “safe and sound, thanks to Jesus Christ’s special protection.” With the Lateran Accords, the Pope and the Duce entered into a peculiar partnership. Each saw himself as heading a totalitarian organization, a term they both acknowledged. The Pope was eager to use the fascist’s power to resurrect the Catholic State and Mussolini was eager to use the power of the Church to solidify his own rule in a predominantly Catholic country. Each had much to gain from cooperation, although each also had misgivings about the other. Pius XI didn’t live long enough to see the inevitable result of fascism. He was succeeded by Pius XII, who sought even more congenial relations with Mussolini and Hitler. At the end of WWII, disgraced by his close association with the fascist regime, Italy’s king abdicated the throne and Italians opted to send the royal family into exile. But unlike the king, Pius XII escaped any blame for the disaster that befell Italy, the six million Jews who were murdered, and the 60 million fatalities of a brutal war. In a different war, what has been called the “Pius War”, arguments have raged over Pius XII’s responsibility for not condemning the holocaust. Pius XII died in 1958, after which the Church took a new direction, embracing inter-religious understanding and freedom of speech. As for Pius XI, this book documents that the Vatican under his direction “played a central role in making the fascist regime possible and in keeping it in power. Italian Catholic Action worked closely with the fascist authorities to increase the repressive reach of the police. Far from opposing the treatment of Jews as second-class citizens, the Church provided Mussolini with his most potent arguments for adopting just such harsh measures against them. As shown here, the Vatican made a secret deal with Mussolini to refrain from any criticism of Italy’s infamous anti-Semitic racial laws in exchange for better treatment of Catholic organizations. ...That the Duce and his minions counted on the men around the Pope to keep Pius XI’s increasing doubts about Mussolini and Hitler under control is a story embarrassing for a multitude of reasons, not least the fact that the central player in these efforts was... the man who would succeed Pius XI. There is no cause dearer to Church traditionalists today than seeing (Pius XII) proclaimed a saint.” Mussolini was a violent bully—no one has suggested otherwise. In this book, David Kertzer has brought to light evidence that Pius XII was not a saint, but an accomplice.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bob H

    A breakthrough, authoritative work on the papacy of Pius XI, who served as pope in the period between the two world wars. (This is one of an excellent series on the 19th and 20th Century popes by David Kertzer.) It was a crucial period, in which Pius had to deal with Mussolini: the latter needed the Catholic church to establish and maintain his legitimacy, and Pius needed to re-establish the papacy as a sovereign identity. Papal re-establishment was crucial. The popes had governed central Italy - A breakthrough, authoritative work on the papacy of Pius XI, who served as pope in the period between the two world wars. (This is one of an excellent series on the 19th and 20th Century popes by David Kertzer.) It was a crucial period, in which Pius had to deal with Mussolini: the latter needed the Catholic church to establish and maintain his legitimacy, and Pius needed to re-establish the papacy as a sovereign identity. Papal re-establishment was crucial. The popes had governed central Italy -- the Papal States -- but had been in self-confinement in the Vatican after 1870, when the Risorgimento brought the Italian army to Rome. September 20, the date of the city's fall, was an Italian national holiday and one point of friction, as were papal church properties (the basilicas, Castel Gandolfo and such) scattered around Rome and central Italy. Pius and Mussolini would conclude the Lateran Accords of 1929, which would re-establish the Vatican as a sovereign city-state able to receive and send diplomats again, and reconfirm the Church's external properties and its place as the Italian state religion. It had been a fraught relationship between Pius and Mussolini. Mussolini, a Socialist by early background, hadn't been too religious, and his ascension as head of government would cause a tense relationship with the pope. Both had weaknesses to be addressed and favors to gain. The book does show how the pope backed Mussolini during a crisis -- Mussolini's thugs abducted and murdered the Socialist party leader, Giacomo Matteotti, and caused an uproar until the Catholic press shifted its support behind the new government. Pius had problems as well, as two senior figures in the Vatican were pederasts, of whom Mussolini's secret police were well aware. The book is also a biography of Pius XI, born Achille Ratti, tracing his early career and rise to the papacy in 1922. The book also is something of a biography of Mussolini, notably including his family and mistresses. We also learn much about Eugenio Pacelli, whose rise to papal nuncio to Germany and Vatican secretary of state would loom large in Pius XI's later papacy. With the Lateran Accords in place, Pius had sought a number of concordats with other regimes; Pacelli's negotiations with the new Hitler government would be controversial and something of an accommodation. In both Germany and Italy, anti-Semitism would become more and more an issue for Pius XI to cope with, both because of Germany's pressure on Mussolini, and longstanding Catholic anti-Jewish doctrine. The book is critical in tracing the Church's early role in what would later become the Holocaust. Pius XI would increasingly chafe under this, and when he died in 1939, a draft speech and encyclical were on his desk, which Pacelli would seize and put out of sight. Suffice to say that Pacelli was elected Pius XII. It's a clearly-written and intriguing story, and an important history of the papacy in a critical period in history. It sheds light on a number of vivid secondary figures in the Church, the Fascist party, and Italian government. (Kertzer thoughtfully provided a list of key characters, publications and organizations of the period). Highest recommendation.

  27. 4 out of 5

    George

    The book sheds a light on a period often forgotten about, the relations between the Holy See and the rising Fascist regime in Italy, focusing on the years from Mussolini's March on Rome to 1938, the death of Pope Pius XI. While showing that the initial support of the Fascist movement by the early papacy turning into disappointment as the papacy develops, the author also demonstrates that Pius XI was surrounded by dignitaries who opposed the Pope's desire to publicly denounce the actions of the re The book sheds a light on a period often forgotten about, the relations between the Holy See and the rising Fascist regime in Italy, focusing on the years from Mussolini's March on Rome to 1938, the death of Pope Pius XI. While showing that the initial support of the Fascist movement by the early papacy turning into disappointment as the papacy develops, the author also demonstrates that Pius XI was surrounded by dignitaries who opposed the Pope's desire to publicly denounce the actions of the regime. It becomes clear however that the Pope was foremost concern was to protect Catholics -while discrimination against Jews was still tolerated- and Catholic organizations. These polices were largely continued under his successor, Pope Pius XII who formerly (as Cardinal Pacelli) served as the Secretary of State during the 1930s. The book also demonstrates the widespread antisemitism of the Catholic Church at that time, ranging from Catholic media to the Superior General of the Jesuits and Vatican officials. It also sheds a light how the Fascist regime used Cardinal Pacelli to pursue Pius XI to be conciliatory towards Mussolini at a time when the Pope would personally approve newspaper articles prior to their publication. Speeches critical of the regime were edited as were statements concerning the war against Ethiopia or laws introduced by the government. Statements praising the nascent government up to a point claiming that Mussolini was send by divine providence were endorsed. Commonly Pope Pius XI is praised as being in opposition to the Fascists, but this seems to be only true referring to the National-socialist regime in Germany and to the Mussolini regime following the introduction of antisemitic laws which violated article 34 of the Concordat. In addition, the book also sheds light on the convictions held by Pacelli prior his ascendancy to the papacy - very important in the light of his papacy and current calls for his canonization which focuses on his role as Pope during 1939 and 1945 - years which are the most controversial of his pontificate.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    This is not about the pope and the Holocaust; that's the next pope, Pius XII. For the unfamiliar, Pius XI is the pope who signed the concordat with Mussolini which gave Vatican City official recognition by Italy and the RC state church status in Italy. In exchange, the Pope agreed to officially support the disbanding of Italy's Catholic-oriented political party and to agree for restraints on the broad social involvement of Catholic Action, a rough equivalent to a souped-up Knights of Columbus. He This is not about the pope and the Holocaust; that's the next pope, Pius XII. For the unfamiliar, Pius XI is the pope who signed the concordat with Mussolini which gave Vatican City official recognition by Italy and the RC state church status in Italy. In exchange, the Pope agreed to officially support the disbanding of Italy's Catholic-oriented political party and to agree for restraints on the broad social involvement of Catholic Action, a rough equivalent to a souped-up Knights of Columbus. He also agreed to give tacit support, via Italian bishops, to most specific actions of Il Duce. After an early test or two, the agreement seemed strong ... until Mussolini got cozy with Hitler. Especially when he got anti-Jewish laws passed in Italy, and quoted the RC's own past history of anti-Semitism as part of support for this, they started fraying. At least from the Pope. Most Italian bishops continued to support the Duce. Shortly before he died, Pius XI had drafted an official statement he wanted to give to bishops at a conclave. Recognizing he might not live, he had copies prepared for distribution. The statement apparently would have sharply questioned the Vatican's relationship with Mussolini. But, he died that night. And, the Duce got the man who became his successor, Pius XII, then the Vatican Secy of State and chamberlain to Pius XI, to round up all copies of the statement. It was never sent. It probably would have made little difference, though Kertzer doesn't get into alternative history. The support of Catholic bishops for the Duce, plus Pius XII's rabid anti-Communism, assuming he would have been the successor if Pius XI died a month or a year later, would have seen to that. This is part of a series of excellent books Kertzer has written about the relationship of individual popes and the papacy to Jews in Italy. Anything he writes is worth a good read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Inknscroll

    (My review from BookTV; spoiler included) When I listened to David Kertzer present his book on BookTV, I found it to be a unique picture of a turbulent period that became frightening, and it had a fascinating panorama of people often forgotten in history. It is a well-researched history, and "The Pope and Mussolini" was not presented as anti-Christian (& not anti-Christian Catholic). It is solely recapturing the time period of the 1920s & 1930s in Italy mostly prior to Hitler's rise &, then, as H (My review from BookTV; spoiler included) When I listened to David Kertzer present his book on BookTV, I found it to be a unique picture of a turbulent period that became frightening, and it had a fascinating panorama of people often forgotten in history. It is a well-researched history, and "The Pope and Mussolini" was not presented as anti-Christian (& not anti-Christian Catholic). It is solely recapturing the time period of the 1920s & 1930s in Italy mostly prior to Hitler's rise &, then, as Hitler rose to power (mostly before WW2). The Pope in this book is not Pope Pius 12th who was in power when Hitler was in power. Rather, it is focused on the Pope, Pius XI, who served prior to Pope Pius 12th. Pope Pius XI served during the turbulent and anti-democratic sentiments that affected both Italy and parts of Europe. This Pope had to learn to work with the new leader, Mussolini, who had risen to power through force and intimidation. At first, Pope Pius XI was positive and thought Mussolini could bring good change to Italy through economic reforms & etc. But, then, after a few years, this Pope began to observe that Mussolini was becoming a brutal dictator, wanted war, and wanted to align himself with another more brutal, rising dictator, Hitler. Finally, Pope Pius XI, who was struggling with his health, decided to draft a speech to speak out against Mussolini's policies & etc. Suddenly, the Pope's health deteriorated and he died suspiciously right before he gave his important speech. Of course, this has led to some conspiracy theories. Although my review is based on the author's review on BookTV, I have not been able to look at this book in person, yet. However, the author stated that it was thoroughly researched, and he was able to use newly opened Vatican archives on that time period, also. I look forward to reading how this turbulent history unfolded and led up to WW2.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    A very detailed review of how Achille Ratti, Pope Pius XI, came to aid and abet Benito Mussolini in gaining control over the Italian State in the early twenties. They both came to power in the same year, 1922 - the one of a temporal realm, the other of a spiritual one and found a use to which they could put one another. The Pope used Mussolini to reach an agreement on the permanent return of, at least, the Papal States as an independent state and, in return, agreed to back Mussolini's Fascist di A very detailed review of how Achille Ratti, Pope Pius XI, came to aid and abet Benito Mussolini in gaining control over the Italian State in the early twenties. They both came to power in the same year, 1922 - the one of a temporal realm, the other of a spiritual one and found a use to which they could put one another. The Pope used Mussolini to reach an agreement on the permanent return of, at least, the Papal States as an independent state and, in return, agreed to back Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship. Mussolini, on the other hand, recognized the importance of having the Pope's co-operation and agreed to support a Catholic state in Italy under the banner of Fascism with many benefits for the religion. With the Lateran Accords, Mussolini was assured a stable Italy supported by the Church and the Church, in turn, saw an end to anticlericalism and the brutalizing of its priests by the Fascists. All of this worked out well for both sides until Mussolini became more and more closely aligned with Hitler and National Socialism and started leading the country on a path to war. When he instituted the anti-Jewish laws at the behest of the Nazis, the Pope began to break with the Fascist leader. He was subsequently hailed as a great spiritual leader for his stand but it should be noted (and the author does) that his objection was not against the laws as a whole but only as they applied to Jews who had converted to Catholicism and been baptized. This Pope does indeed seem to have been distressed by all of the events he found himself involved in and sincerely seems to have tried to do what he thought best for the Church. It is hard to look back from an era of such changed views and make judgments. Still, an old adage kept going through my mind as I read, "If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas."

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