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GOD AND THE FASCISTS
The Vatican Alliance with MUSSOLINI, FRANCO, HITLER, AND PAVELIC
By Karlheinz Deschner
Prometheus Books Copyright © 2013 Peter Gorenflos
All rights reserved.
THE VATICAN AND ITALIAN FASCISM
"We shall always remember with gratitude that which has happened for the benefit of religion in Italy, even if the good deeds performed by the party and the regime were not smaller—indeed, they may even have been greater."
—Pope Pius XI, 1931
"Your Excellency! The priests of Italy invoke over your person, your work as the restorer of Italy and founder of the Reich and the Fascist government the blessing of the Lord and an eternal halo of Roman wisdom and virtue, today and forever. Duce! The servants of Christ, the fathers of the peasantry honor you loyally. They bless you. They swear loyalty to you. With pious enthusiasm, with the voice and heart of the people we call: hail the Duce!"
—Father Menossi, January 12, 1938, Palazzo Venezia, to which seventy-two bishops and 2,340 priests broke out into shouting: "Duce! Duce! Duce!"
"It was all about earthly and temporary things, about kings and kingdoms, trials and disputes. Hardly any discussion of spiritual affairs was permitted."
—Bishop Jakob von Vitry, in the thirteenth century
The poor Son of Man possessed nothing he could lay his head on. And his disciples should pronounce the gospel without money in their belts. He would only allow them a walking staff and sandals, according to Mark. According to Matthew and Luke, he even forbade these. The biblical Jesus demands the renunciation of all possessions, and in the primitive Christian community, where his teachings and the style of his shared life with his disciples had to have the most continuing effect, there was also more than a hint of communism or, as Troeltsch puts it, the religious communism of love. And the New Testament even observes: "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had ... there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need."
But while Early Fathers such as Cyprian and, in particular, the noble Basil praised the communism of original Christianity, and while doctor of the church John Chrysostom was still preaching that "the community of property is more an adequate way of living for us than private property, and it is in accordance with nature," the loving communist seed of Christianity had already progressed to becoming "the most gigantic exploitation machine," as Kautsky wrote, "that the world has ever seen."
There is, admittedly, little known of the origin and distribution of church property. Until the fifth century, the Christian writers remained almost completely silent about a development that could not be reconciled with the evangelical ideal of poverty. Under Constantine, at the beginning of the fourth century, when the church suddenly surrendered the pacifism that it had represented for centuries, the money rain had definitely already begun. The emperor donated gold, churches, and palaces; his Christian successors awarded new endowments and immunities; what had previously flowed into sacred heathen sites was now being received by the Catholics. It also confiscated the temples and church property of the "heretics." And the assets that were left to it by clerical dignitaries, monks, and slaves constantly increased their possessions, especially as it became a custom to choose bishops from rich families. But many laypeople also left capital to the church since it was seen as the best guarantee of reaching eternal salvation.
After 475 CE, the Church of Rome gave a quarter of the entire church income to the bishop. The clergy received a quarter; the lower clergy, however, also had to depend on outside earnings. A quarter was distributed among the poor and a quarter used for maintaining church buildings. But it seemed as if the pope was consuming all four parts for himself alone for years. Gradually the ownership of massive property developed, which was termed patrimonium ecclesiae or patrimonium St. Petri. The Roman Church not only had massive possessions in Italy but also in Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Dalmatia, Africa, and even in the Middle East. After the fifth century, the bishop of Rome, whose "predecessors" had to preach the gospel barefoot and without money, had become the biggest landowner in the Roman Empire.
Then, during the reign of Steven III in the eighth century, a religious war led to the creation of the Papal States, those grotesque monstrosities that would separate the north and the south of Italy for more than a millennium. By using the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell and presenting a letter from St. Peter himself, the pope drove the Frankish ruler Pepin, whose usurped royal dignity the church had recognized and whose predecessor it had put in the monastery, to two crusades against the Lombards, who were threatening Rome. In 756 Pepin gave the conquered territories to St. Peter and his alleged successors, who thereby not only had massive estates but also had their own army at their disposal.
Now, however, the newly formed Papal States, which had arisen through two bloody wars, were given a more ideal origin. While Pepin still reigned, the so-called donatio Constantini, the Donation of Constantine, was fabricated, which was to tie in with the legend of Sylvester. According to this legend, the terrible persecutor of Christians, Constantine(!), was healed from leprosy, converted, and baptized by Pope Sylvester I, and, as a reward, Constantine richly thanked the pope by granting him imperial titles and rights not only with the Lateran, as was actually the case, but also with the city of Rome and even "all the provinces of Italy and the Western lands."
This notorious document, which presented the Papal States as a gift from the first Christian emperor, dated and signed personally, played a crucial role in the popes' battles with the emperors as "classic evidence." And with a view to this document, anyone who misappropriated curial property or even favored any such action in any way whatsoever was condemned by the church.
Hadrian I, who, out of fifty-five letters he wrote to Charlemagne, wrote forty-five that almost exclusively concerned the papal territories, was the first pope to refer to the forgery. In the twelfth century, it went into the Decretum Gratiani, which received the first place in the Corpus Iuris Canonici, the valid law book of the church until 1918. After the followers of Arnold of Brescia had already recognized the fraud, it was finally uncovered in 1440 by the papal secretary and humanist Laurentius Valla in a document that was published by Ulrich von Hutten in 1519. Roman Catholic historiography, however, did not admit the forgery until the nineteenth century. The Papal States, which had been considerably expanded under Innocence III at around 1200, were lost to the popes during their sojourn in Avignon. But by the beginning of the sixteenth century under Julius II, they had achieved their greatest expansion. The pope, who also took up arms to fight in the campaigns, went to war in almost every year of his reign. At the end of the eighteenth century, Napoleon's soldiers occupied the territory, Pius VI was taken to Valence as a prisoner, and the Papal States were divided up between France and Italy. Although they were restored by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, they were finally absorbed into the kingdom of Italy in 1870.
For at that time, the Italians occupied Rome on September 20, 1870, and declared it to be their capital. The pope, who had raised the white flag after a brief cannonade, lost his army and his "worldly" rule and even had to be protected by Italian troops from the enraged populace.
While the king moved into a papal palace on the Quirinal, Pius IX locked himself in the Vatican, sent all government mediators away, excommunicated all those involved in the "usurpation" of Rome on November 1, 1870, and regarded himself as a "prisoner."
Thereupon, Italy generously regulated the position of the pope with the Law of Guarantees of May 13, 1871. It declared his person to be "holy and invulnerable," guaranteed him authority over all Catholic superiors, permitted him a bodyguard, and gave him the use of the completely tax-exempted Vatican buildings and gardens, the Lateran, and the Castel Gandolfo, including the museums, libraries, and collections located there; these would, however, remain the sovereign territory or property of Italy. Furthermore, he was guaranteed complete freedom to exercise his spiritual office, the representatives of foreign governments at the Holy See were granted all the privileges usually accorded to diplomats, and Italian officials were banned from intruding into the papal palaces. And finally, as compensation for the loss of Papal State income, there was a tax-free endowment of 3.25 million lire in the form of an annual pension; however, this was declined by Pius IX and his successors—the "gifts of love" from the believers all over the world who were lamenting them as "prisoners" amounted to more.
The liquidation of the Papal States and the occupation of Rome by the Italians, the "crime," as Pius IX put it, led to the so-called Roman Question, for whose solution, according to the statement of the Italian politician Francesco Crispi, a man who had an inclination toward mediation, the greatest statesman of all time would be required.
During the First World War, for which the Vatican was partly responsible, the pope understandably did not sympathize with Italy. He supported the Central powers, which is why the Catholic French and Belgians in particular continuously cursed him as a "Boche" and the diplomats of Germany and Austria who had been accredited to him had to leave Rome in 1915. Indeed, the Italian government even made it a condition of their participation in the war, in the papal clause of the London agreement, that the Vatican stay away from the peace negotiations! But on the other side of the Central powers, the thought of a new Avignon was propagated during the war. The handover of one of the old spiritual principalities of Salzburg, Trento, Bressanone, or Liechtenstein to the pope as a papal state was considered. There was also discussion in this regard about one of the Calabrian or Dalmatian islands as well as Elba. But all plans of this nature remained unfulfilled after the Central powers' cause was lost and because the Vatican had supported them during the war, in particular in 1917, when the nuncio Pacelli conducted intensive peace negotiations on their behalf, the victorious states did not even think of lifting a finger to help the pope. And apart from that, Britain was antipapal; France, anticlerical; Russia, Bolshevist. And since in Italy itself the liberal regime seemed to be tipping toward a socialist or communist one, there was hardly any hope for a solution to the Roman Question.
In this nearly hopeless situation, the Vatican made its first contacts to a man to whom Konrad Adenauer sent a telegraph in 1929 saying that his name would be entered into the history of the Catholic Church written with golden letters—Benito Mussolini.
THE BEGINNINGS OF COOPERATION BETWEEN THE VATICAN AND FASCISM
"I decorate myself with the curses of priests as I would with a fragrant wreath."
—Benito Mussolini, 1920
"I recognize that the Latin and world-dominating tradition of Rome has its modern incarnation in Catholicism."
—Benito Mussolini, 1921
"Mussolini is making quick progress."
—Cardinal Ratti, 1921
Pope Pius XI, elected at the fourteenth ballot in 1922, had already been following the new party Partito Fascista with great interest as Cardinal Archbishop Ratti of Milan. It has, in fact, even been claimed that his predecessor, Benedict XV, had, in the last days of his life, "sent special attestations of his favor" to the then director of the Milan journal Popolo d'Italia.
Mussolini was certainly an atheist. His first essay, published in 1904 and titled "There is No God," was about the nonexistence of God. He called him a "monstrous product of human ignorance," and Jesus, if he ever even existed, "a small and mean (piccolo e meschino) person." And as late as 1919 the author of the anti-Catholic novel The Cardinal's Mistress drew up a strictly antichurch manifesto and swore in 1920 that he would literally spit on all dogmas. "There is no God," he professed. "From an academic point of view religion is nonsense; in practice it is immoral and the people it attaches itself to are sick." "Never," stresses G. A. Borgese in his excellent Mussolini book, "had a vendetta been declared so ruthlessly on Christian ethics and religiousness as by the Fascist theory of state and war. A merciless fight between the two powers seemed inevitable."
But only one year later, in the summer of 1921, the Fascist leader announced "that the only universal idea that exists in Rome today is the one that emanates from the Vatican." And on February 5, 1922, on the day Achille Ratti was elected pope, Mussolini, accompanied by two friends, rushed to St. Peter's Square, where the presence of the president, vice president and secretary of the Fascist Party attracted considerable attention. "Hardly had he arrived at the square," one of his companions said, "that the Duce was deeply moved by the grandiose spectacle presented by the incredible size of the crowd and the majesty of the Vatican building, which at this moment appeared even more solemn since it enveloped a deep secret within its walls. For a while the Duce remained silent, moved, as if he wanted to quantify the force of the picture before him, then he said: 'It is incredible that the liberal governments have not realized that the universality of the papacy, the heir to the universality of the Roman Empire, represents the greatest glory of the history and tradition of Italy.'"
Shortly after, Mussolini wrote in a letter: "As a citizen of Milan I share the joy of all Milanese about the election of Cardinal Ratti as Pope. Apart from the characteristics that I would call religious he also possesses those that make him agreeable to the mundane world. He is a man of profound historical, political and philosophical education who has seen much of other countries and is very familiar with the situation in Eastern Europe. I am of the view that relations between Italy and the Vatican will improve with Pius XI."
What was Mussolini thinking of? Had he been converted? Had he become a theist or even a pious Catholic? Not at all! He thought no differently of Catholicism than he had done when he assumed power. Even his public speeches confirm this. Even his major chamber report about the Lateran Pacts, that pitiful capitulation to the Vatican, is peppered with anti-Catholic digs. Mussolini not only rightly said of Christianity that, although it came into being in Palestine, it did not become Catholic until it reached Rome. He also bluntly declared at this solemn moment: "It is peculiar that I have had to have more Catholic newspapers confiscated in the last three months than in the previous six years put together!" And time and again he would speak some harsh words against the papacy and described himself as a Ghibelline and an unbeliever. But on the other hand, Mussolini knew that religion, as he had himself stated in his first atheist piece of writing, is "a trick of kings and oppressors to keep their subjects and slaves under control." And since the Duce had also given up Marxism in favor of an antisocialist and antiliberal position, since he was no longer demanding conscientious objection in fiery speeches or calling on working women to throw themselves in front of transport trains, Cardinal Achille Ratti was already able to say in 1921, a year before he was elected pope: "Mussolini is making quick progress and will crush everything that gets in his way with elemental force. Mussolini is a wonderful man. Did you hear? A wonderful man! He is a new convert. He comes from the extreme left and has the driving zeal of the novice.... The future belongs to him."
So began the cooperation between the Vatican and Fascism before the "March on Rome." Pius XI hinted at two years of negotiations concerning Mussolini's suggestions as early as December 23, 1922. And Mussolini stressed later that he had not waited for the Lateran Pacts with his policy on religion. "It starts in 1922, indeed in 1921! Read the speech I gave at the Chamber in June!"
After all, there were a lot of commonalities. Both sides fought against communists, socialists, and liberals. Both exercised authoritarian rule. The Grand Council of Fascism was also a clear imitation of the so-called Sacred College, and the Duce's successor was determined as clearly as that of the pope. Since Mussolini also abolished the freedoms of press and assembly, had crucifixes brought back to the classrooms, reintroduced religious education, protected the Catholic holiday processions, and released churches and monasteries that had been confiscated shortly afterward, they would have come to an agreement even if the atheist had not prayed to Madonna before a gathering of Fascists.
Excerpted from GOD AND THE FASCISTS by Karlheinz Deschner. Copyright © 2013 Peter Gorenflos. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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