Mussolini’s dealings with the Church

Church-State Disagreements

Until 1870, the Pope held control over the Papal States, which were the regional territories outside of city walls. However, during the Franco-Prussian War, the French Army which was stationed in Rome to protect the churches was sent to Prussia to protect France. As a result, King Victor Emmanuel II was able to take control of Rome, unifying Italy.

Angered by their loss of power, there was negative sentiment between the Church and the state for the next sixty years.

Why would Pope Pius XI support Mussolini's Fascist Government?

When Mussolini was elected to Parliament in 1921, he made a speech embracing the idea of a Christian nation. Pius XI began to think that Mussolini might be the person sent by God to end the separation of church and state and restore the Church's power.

The Popes disliked parliamentary democracy as it meant it was difficult for the church to make a lasting agreement with the government, they were opposed to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion as it impacted their power. These all aligned with Fascist ideology.

How did Mussolini improve the Church-State Relationship?

Early Years (1923)

Mussolini began to improve the relationship between the Church and the state that had been sour since the Franco-Prussian War.

  • Clerical salaries were increased.

  • Religion was reinstated into primary school education.

  • The crucifix was restored in school classrooms and courtrooms.

Lateran Pacts (1929)

Upon negotiating the Lateran Pacts, he took even bigger steps to build a good relationship with the Church.

The Lateran Treaty

  • recognised the Vatican City as a sovereign state

  • Pope Pius XI recognised Rome as the Capital of the Kingdom of Italy

Financial Conventions

  • The Church was given 750 million lire as compensation for the lands lost during the Italian unification.

  • The Church was also given 100 million lire in bonds, making the church the largest holder in state bonds.

The Concordat

  • Recognised Catholicism as the sole religion of the state

  • Church marriages were recognised by the state

  • The Church had control over divorces

  • The state was allowed to veto major Church appointments

  • Religious Education was now also implemented into Secondary Schools.

  • The state accepted the existence of Catholic Action, which was an international body that the Church had set up in 1863 in order to defend itself.

However, these agreements were not popular among all Fascists, and especially not among all of the Priests.

  • Radical fascists considered the concordat a betrayal of the aims of Fascism due to the large influence and power of the Church.

  • Not all members and ranks of the Church were supportive of Fascism. When the Archbishop of Milan openly praised Fascism, 300 of his Priests circulated open letters of protest saying that good Catholics do not accept Fascism.

Conflicts in the 1930s

  • There was a lot of conflict between the Fascist state and the Church in the 1930s.

  • Mussolini’s actions were labelled as “heretical” by the Church.

    • They disliked that Mussolini insisted on and made it law that he is referred to as ‘DUCE’, as he was treated like a God.

      • It seemed that Fascist religion was literally Mussolini.

    • In 1931, Mussolini and the Pope disagreed over Catholic Action

      • Fascists believed it held too much influence, so they closed some branches.

      • As a result, the Pope published a critical encyclical called “Non-Abbiamo Bisogno”, meaning “We have no need”.

      • Mussolini disliked the political involvement of the Church, and the Pope decided to reach a compromise with the State— Catholic Action would run strictly religious, educational and recreational activities and it became decentralised.

  • In 1938, the Pope criticised the anti-Semitic policies implemented by Mussolini which were inspired by Nazi-Germany.