With the interpretation that the Vatican was primarily critical about fascism are Pope Pius XI and historians cleaning up thoroughly.
Pope Pius XI. (1922-1939) is well known to most by his encyclical "Mit brennender Sorge" (English: "With Burning Concern"). The fact that he protested strongly against the discrimination against Jews is what historians call a "comforting narrative". On the contrary: "The Vatican played a central role in making the Fascist regime possible and keeping it in power," wrote a historian.
A prerequisite for investigations concerning the period under Pius XI was the opening of the Vatican archives in 2006. For more than seven years, historians have been researching there and in other archives.
An the beginning are the career and presuppositions of two men who shaped the Europe of the 1920s and 1930s: Achille Ratti, later pope Pius XI, and the fascist leader "Duce" Benito Mussolini.
Historians are portraying Pius XI. as an choleric power-man, feared by his colleagues, temper and stubborn. With these properties he was not dissimilar to the "Duce". Very vividly about the appearance of the dreaded papal temper tantrums: "Finally, he stood up and protested, screamed as loud as he could. He gasped and almost burst from anger..."
Cardinal Ratti became the head of the Roman Catholics at a time when the papacy had still not overcome one of its lowest points in history: During 1870, the church state got militarily annexed and Rome was declared to be the Italian capital. Humiliated and disempowered, the following Popes had to remain within the confines of today's Vatican state.
The First World War had overthrown Italy into a serious political and economic crisis; the socialists lost power. Mussolini, with the march to Rome in 1922, seized power. Against this background and under the impression of the October revolution in Russia, which worried about Communism throughout Europe, historians explain how the disastrous partnership between the Church and the fascists could come about.
This collaboration reached its peak in the Lateran Agreements concluded in 1929. They regulated the Constitution of the Vatican and the relations between the Church and the Italian State (Concordat). In addition, the Treaties included a financial compensation for the loss of the Church State.
Pius XI. counted on the Fascists because he hoped for the best possible protection for his church: he expected little from the traditionally close church-center party. With democracy as such, the pope did not much care about. He wanted to strengthen the Catholic Church again. Very important for him was the Catholic Action, the youth organization of his church.
Mussolini was aware about the Pope, whose intercession was politically important to him in almost one hundred percent Catholic Italy. With the help of sugar and whips, Mussolini was aware of the Pope whose intercession was politically important to him in almost one hundred percent Catholic Italy: the Fascist's leader, with the help of sugar and whips, ensured that the Fascist Party was officially friendly to Pius, who often teeth-crunching, made publicity for the Fascist Party by showing a good face to the evil game.
This did not work all the time. If the case happened that it did not work, fascist beating groups acted with brutal violence against priests and Catholic activists. They destroyed church institutions, beaten priests or forced them to drink castor oil - a perfidious and embarrassing torture which has been in vogue in Italy. Several times a foaming Pope made phone calls to Mussolini, protesting against such an action. He then Mussolini hid himself behind the alleged "People's temper" of his fascists and made demands.
But at least to a certain point, the pact also paid off for Pius XI He looked for Mussolini's support in order to prevent unpleasant book appearances and to enforce the "decent" behavior of women (for example, about offensive bathing clothes).
The Pope was silent on the anti-Semitic racial laws adopted in 1938. It was not easy for him, the racist theories from the Nazis and Fascists stood in contradiction to Christian doctrine.
In "With Burning Concern" the persecution of the Jews did not get mentioned, emphasize historians. On the other hand, the "Duce" granted the church privileges. Thus every fascist youth group had a priest, church expenses were paid with tax money, and Catholic clergymen always took a place of honor at state events.
Again and again this balance of benefits and costs threatened to tilt. On the other hand, Pius XI. Mussolini openly criticized in speeches or paused the signing of a document sulkingly. The Pope, for example, took the splendid reception which Mussolini Adolf Hitler prepared in Rome in 1938. Pius XI. Hitler and the Nazis hated Hitler's tendency to paganism, and he repeatedly complained to the Duce about the bad treatment of Catholic clergy in Germany.
There were several papal adlates for the balance between the two difficult leaders. Among them is Pietro Tacchi Venturi, an antisemitic Jesuit priest, who often served as a mediator and tried to maintain the relationship between Pope and Duce. The inglorious role of Catholic newspapers such as the Jesuit magazine "La Civilta Cattolica" also describes "The First Deputy". The paper kept bobbing against Jews and Protestants.
According to the latest findings, a papal adviser is not well off: Pius XI. Cardinal Secretary Eugenio Pacelli - his successor, Pope Pius XII. (1939-1958). Pacelli's role was that of a "system holder" in the effort to preserve Mussolini's favor. The events described in "The First Deputy" could have a definite influence on the possible canonization of Pacelli. Toward the end of his life Pius XI. Apparently, that he had miscalculated: the racial laws, which were also applied to formerly Jewish Catholics, and the massive persecution of the Jews shocked the pope.
When he turned to Mussolini, he was scorned by the fact that the Fascists would not treat the Jews as badly as the church had done in the past. Pius XI was already seriously ill. Secretly at a recent encyclical, which should contain sharper criticism of fascism and racism. But there was no more. He died on February 10, 1939.