Book Talk: The Pope and Mussolini

David Kertzer ’69, Watson Institute Faculty Fellow; Paul Dupee University Professor of Social Science; Professor of Anthropology and Italian studies.
Join David Kertzer for a discussion of his 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. The book tells 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, includes reports from Mussolini’s spies inside the highest levels of the Church and will forever change our understanding of the Vatican’s role in the rise of fascism in Europe.


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  1. While I enjoyed the manner of the lecture I was continually struck by just how one-sided the presentation of the events were. Despite being an hour long, the lecture made no mention of:

    The encyclicals and other Papal documents that criticised fascism.
    The tracts that were secretly disseminated throughout Europe informing clerics to instruct their laity not to support the fascists.
    The persecution that the Church itself suffered at the hands of fascists.
    The tens of thousands of Jews who were personally rescued by the Papacy, let alone the hundreds of thousands of others who were saved by the Church throughout Europe.
    The personal testimony of many Jewish leaders throughout Europe at the time who praised the Vatican for their help.

    It's difficult to take this lecture seriously without even so much as a cursory mention of these events. There seems to be very little attempt to present the history in a balanced way. He has cherry-picked whichever particular and obscure documents were useful in weaving his tenuous narrative while ignoring any evidence to the contrary, no matter how glaring the evidence might be. Also, despite ignoring such important information, he seems to go out of his way to include information which isn't at all relevant to the topic, and which seemingly serves no other purpose than to prejudice the opinions of the audience. What was the purpose in highlighting that a Bishop took issue with the way women were dressing? Well, it's certainly a useful propaganda technique as it predisposes against the Church the opinions of a modern, sexually-liberated audience which, presumably, includes women, but what is its real relevance to the assertion that the Papacy was intimately involved with the fascist regime? Likewise, what was the purpose of showing that the Papacy wanted to reduce the influence of Protestant proselytisation in Italy? Does it help to prove his thesis at all? No, but it will surely stir up the anti-Catholic sentiments of a largely Protestant audience.

    This man gives a very sterile and calm lecture, and yet the actual content is little better than that of a polemic written by someone with an axe to grind. Furthermore, perusing through this man's bibliography only further confirms my suspicion that he's working with an anti-Catholic prejudice. Throughout his work, whether his books or articles, there seems to be two common themes: criticism of Catholicism, and sympathy for Communism. That's hardly the kind of track record that would establish a person as an objective scholar of Church history.

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