The Papacy of both Pius XI and Pius XII witnessed the forging of a complex relationship between Mussolini’s Fascist regime and the Holy See. At that time, the Catholic Church (Church) was in a weakened state under the stresses of Bolshevism, secularisation and anticlericalism. However, the signing of the Lateran Accords, signified the emergence of hope. The Accords put an end to the sixty-year dispute regarding the powers of the Pope over territories, initiating unprecedented cooperation between Church and State in Fascist Italy along with the creation of the sovereign Vatican City on 11th February 1929 (Ceci 132).
The historical debate over the widely held belief in the strained relationship between the Pope and Mussolini is founded on his 1929 speech to the chamber of deputies (Culhane 286), where he was highly critical of the Vatican. The prevailing view of historians is that the numerous critical speeches made against each other and the open disputes regarding “Catholic and Fascist conceptions of education” (Wolff 4), illustrates the strained relationship and limited benefits of the entente. However, a broader analysis of sources indicates that Mussolini may have significantly profited from the alliance, more than is typically assumed. The diaries of Count Ciano, Mussolini’s Foreign Minister, offers invaluable insight, as he was at the forefront in dealings with the Vatican. These entries, written during the pontificate of Pius XII, reveal the wartime diplomacy of Fascist Italy, thereby shedding light on the rationale for policy decisions and actions taken with the Vatican
This essay aims to explore the differing historical perspectives regarding the role the Church played in Fascist Italy. It will draw on a variety of sources, including periodicals from both Fascist and Catholic publications. By examining the Church’s role in gathering support for Mussolini’s domestic and foreign policies, it is the contention of this work that they were crucial in enabling him to achieve his agenda. Accordingly, this calls for a reassessment of the widely held perception that the Church vigorously resisted Mussolini’s Fascist regime. This revisionist view raises the question that will be examined in this essay: “To what extent did the Vatican help strengthen and legitimise the power of Mussolini’s Fascist regime between the years 1929-39?”