Presentation of David Kertzer’s
Presentation of David Kertzer’s The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe (Random House 2014).
Panelists: David Kertzer (Brown University), Ruth Ben-Ghiat (New York University), Robert Maryks (Journal of Jesuit Studies & Series of Jesuit Studies, Editor-in-Chief), Mark Weitzman (Simon Wiesenthal Center)
From National Book Award finalist David I. Kertzer comes 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, including reports from Mussolini’s spies inside the highest levels of the Church, will forever change our understanding of the Vatican’s role in the rise of Fascism in Europe.
The Pope and Mussolini tells the story of two men who came to power in 1922, and together changed the course of twentieth-century history. In most respects, they could not have been more different. One was scholarly and devout, the other thuggish and profane. Yet Pius XI and “Il Duce” had many things in common. They shared a distrust of democracy and a visceral hatred of Communism. Both were prone to sudden fits of temper and were fiercely protective of the prerogatives of their office. (“We have many interests to protect,” the Pope declared, soon after Mussolini seized control of the government in 1922.) Each relied on the other to consolidate his power and achieve his political goals.
In a challenge to the conventional history of this period, in which a heroic Church does battle with the Fascist regime, Kertzer shows how Pius XI played a crucial role in making Mussolini’s dictatorship possible and keeping him in power. In exchange for Vatican support, Mussolini restored many of the privileges the Church had lost and gave in to the pope’s demands that the police enforce Catholic morality. Yet in the last years of his life—as the Italian dictator grew ever closer to Hitler—the pontiff’s faith in this treacherous bargain started to waver. With his health failing, he began to lash out at the Duce and threatened to denounce Mussolini’s anti-Semitic racial laws before it was too late. Horrified by the threat to the Church-Fascist alliance, the Vatican’s inner circle, including the future Pope Pius XII, struggled to restrain the headstrong pope from destroying a partnership that had served both the Church and the dictator for many years.
The Pope and Mussolini brims with memorable portraits of the men who helped enable the reign of Fascism in Italy: Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, Pius’s personal emissary to the dictator, a wily anti-Semite known as Mussolini’s Rasputin; Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy, an object of widespread derision who lacked the stature—literally and figuratively—to stand up to the domineering Duce; and Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, whose political skills and ambition made him Mussolini’s most powerful ally inside the Vatican, and positioned him to succeed the pontiff as the controversial Pius XII, whose actions during World War II would be subject for debate for decades to come.
With the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy, the full story of the Pope’s complex relationship with his Fascist partner can finally be told. Vivid, dramatic, with surprises at every turn, The Pope and Mussoliniis history writ large and with the lightning hand of truth.
David I. Kertzer is the Paul Dupee, Jr. University Professor of Social Science and professor of anthropology and Italian studies at Brown University, where he served as provost from 2006 to 2011. He is the author of nine books, including The Popes Against the Jews, which was a finalist for the Mark Lynton History Prize, and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He has twice been awarded the Marraro Prize from the Society for Italian Historical Studies for the best work on Italian history. He and his wife, Susan, live in Providence, Rhode Island.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is Professor of Italian Studies and History at NYU. She writes, teaches, and lectures on modern European and Italian cultural and political history, Italian film and visual culture, Italian Fascism, and Italian colonialism and its postcolonial legacies. As a scholar, mentor, and organizer of events, she is dedicated to interdisciplinary inquiry. Along with her numerous book chapters and articles, she is the author or editor of four books: Fascist Modernities: Italy 1922-45 (Berkeley, 2001, 2004; Italian translation: La cultura fascista. Bologna: Mulino, 2000, 2004); Gli imperi: dall’antichità all’età contemporanea (edited, Mulino, 2009); Italian Colonialism (edited with Mia Fuller, New York, 2005, 2008); and Fascism’s Empire Cinema: Histories and Journeys of Italian Conquest and Defeat (to be published by Indiana University Press). Her current book project is Italian Prisoners of War and the Transition from Dictatorship (under contract from Princeton University Press). The 2011-2012 Fellow in Italian Studies at the Collegio Carlo Alberto, she is the recipient of Guggenheim, Fulbright, NEH, Mellon, and other fellowships and has been a Professeur invité at the Ecole Normale Supérieure.
Mark Weitzman is Director of Government Affairs and the Director of the Task Force against Hate and Terrorism for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He is also the Chief Representative of the Center to the United Nations in New York, and was the Founding Director of the SWC’s Museum of Tolerance, New York. Currently Mr. Weitzman is also a participant in the program on Religion and Foreign Policy of the Council on Foreign Relations and a longtime member of the official Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Group of New York.
Mr. Weitzman is a winner of the 2007 National Jewish Book Award for best anthology for Antisemitism, the Generic Hatred: Essays in Memory of Simon Wiesenthal which he co-edited and contributed to. Forthcoming this winter from the Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University is Jews and Judaism in the Political Theology of Radical Catholic Traditionalists. Recent publications include the chapters Magical Logic: Globalization, Conspiracy Theory and the Shoah, which appeared in the 2012 volume Holocaust Denial: the Politics of Perfidy, edited by Robert Wistrich (an earlier version was published by the Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2009) and Antisemitism and Terrorism on the Electronic Highway which appeared in the book Terrorism and the Internet: Threats — Target Groups — Deradicalisation Strategies (IOS Press for NATO, 2010). Dismantling the Big Lie: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which he co-authored with Steven L. Jacobs, the first full refutation of the infamous Protocols, was published in 2003 and has been translated into Arabic and Japanese. He published the Wiesenthal Center’s annual electronic report, Digital Hate and Terrorism (2000-2013).
Robert A. Maryks, Ph.D. (2006) in History, Fordham University, is Associate Professor at CUNY and Visiting Scholar at the Jesuit Institute of Boston College. He has published on various aspects of the history of the Jesuits, including Saint Cicero and the Jesuits (Ashgate, 2008), The Jesuit Order as a Synagogue of Jews (Brill, 2009), and Pouring Jewish Water into Fascist Wine (Brill, 2011). He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Jesuit Studies and Brill’s book series of Jesuit Studies.