Mussolini and the Church

There were many reasons why Mussolini and the Catholic Church should have a strained relationship; from Mussolini’s perspective the Church was a major obstacle in achieving his goal of a totalitarian Fascist state. From the Churches perspective, fascism and Mussolini looked like an impious threat which could threaten the entire social order.

Regardless of their differences, they both needed each other as well. Mussolini was in a relatively fragile position and the support of the Church would aid him massively, with most Italians looking to the Catholic Church for spiritual guidance. At the same time, with the threat of communist revolution lurking in the mind of Pope Pius XI after what happened in Russia, the Church badly wanted someone who could safeguard against revolution of this kind.

To show Mussolini that the Church was prepared to make a deal with him, Pius XI withdrew Papal support of the PPI three weeks before the 1922 election. The PPI were the Catholic party within parliament, and were one of the major parties in parliament leading up to the election. Being a right wing conservative group, the PPI was competing with the fascist party for the same social groups, and by withdrawing support from the PPI Mussolini was sent a very clear message for when he got into power.

Mussolini seems to have been very open to this idea, as in January 1923 Cardinal Gasparri, Pius Xi’s Secretary of State, held secret meetings with Mussolini, where they discussed agreements which offered Mussolini continued indirect support for fascism in exchange for Mussolini’s sustained attacks against the left.

On top of this, he used a large amount of state funds to rescue the Bank of Rome from near bankruptcy and made concessions in schools in his educational reforms later that year, incorporating religious instructions into the curriculum. Schools were potentially one of the most contentious issues between the Church and the Fascist regime, as both relied heavily on indoctrination of youth to establish their own values amongst young people. As a result there was a lot of conflict between the two groups over this issue, but overall the mutual fear and hatred of communism seems to have outweighed this wish.

In June of that year, Sturzo, the leader of the PPI, was ordered by the Pope to disband the Catholic Party. Being a priest, he really had no other option than to resign, which he did with great reluctance. This essentially eliminated the PPI as a political force, and many Catholics were now happy to support the Fascists instead.

However, despite seemingly harmonious relations between the two groups, there was still a ominous undertone, and whenever fascists would speak of the ‘totalitarian state’, Church officials would feel very nervous. As time went on, clashes between fascist and Catholic youth organisations became ever more frequent, and the PPI still had strong support from some rural areas.

Mussolini, now stronger than before, felt he had the support to try and solve the so called ‘Roman Question’ once and for all. He officially made membership of the PPI illegal and began negotiations with the papacy for a more formal treaty – The Lateran Pacts.


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