NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t


It’s commonly thought that the Catholic Church fought heroically against the fascists when Benito Mussolini’s party ruled over Italy in the 1920s and ’30s. But in The Pope and Mussolini, David Kertzer says the historical record and a trove of recently released archives tell a very different story. It’s fascinating, Kertzer tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies, “how in a very brief period of time, Mussolini came to realize the importance of enlisting the pope’s support.” In 1933, fascist rallies typically began with a morning mass celebrated by a priest, and churches and cathedrals were important props in the pageantry. Kertzer says Pope Pius XI cooperated closely with Mussolini for more than a decade, lending his regime organizational strength and moral legitimacy. It was a particularly curious alliance he notes, since Mussolini himself was a committed anti-cleric. But both sides benefited from the bargain. As World War II approached and Mussolini began to persecute Italy’s Jewish population, Pius came to regret his bargain and considered a public break with the regime. The story of why that never happened makes for a dramatic ending to Kertzer’s book. “Later on,” Kertzer says, “the pope would in fact say that the one true totalitarian organization is not the fascist state or the fascist party, it’s the Roman Catholic Church.” MORE