The Pope and Mussolini

  • by David I. Kertzer
  • Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
  • 14 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 20th-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 Mussolini is history writ large and with the lightning hand of truth.

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What the Critics Say

"David Kertzer has an eye for a story, an ear for the right word, and an instinct for human tragedy. They all come together in The Pope and Mussolini to document, with meticulous scholarship and novelistic flair, the complicity between Pius XI and the Fascist leader in creating an unholy alliance between the Vatican and a totalitarian government rooted in corruption and brutality. This is a sophisticated blockbuster." (Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Revolutionary Summer)
"A capstone on David Kertzer’s already crucial work, The Pope and Mussolini carefully and eloquently advances the painful but necessary truth of Vatican failure to meet its greatest moral test. This is history for the sake of justice." (James Carroll, National Book Award–winning author of Constantine’s Sword)
"The Pope and Mussolini is a riveting story from start to finish, full of startling, documented detail, and nobody is better prepared to tell it than David Kertzer." (Jack Miles, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of God: A Biography)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A good listen

Very very very good account of the relationships of Pope Pius XI and the future Pius XII with Benito Musillini and to a lesser degree, Adolph Hitler.

Pius XI originally was please to find a working partner in Il Duce as he saw the chance for the Vatican to grow in influence against Pius XI's two ideological enemies, the Protestant Movement and Communism. Additionally Pius XI did not believe in a representational type of government.

Where Pius XI began to have serious rifts with Musillini was over the newly passed anti-Semitic laws. Pius XI believed that christian compassion should extend to the Jews. Additionally, Pius XI also held different ideas when it came to baptized catholic jews.

The future Piux XII, the papal secretary of state, favored strong ties to Mussilini and by extension, Adolph Hitler. Upon XI's death, XII ordered the total ban on the yet unpublished XI's papal encyclical which was viewed as very unfavorable to Hitler and Musillini. Both XI and XII have "a lot of 'splanin to do." Pius XII always had a cloud of antisemitism hanging over his head and this book greatly adds to that belief

Buyer beware tho ..... Lots and lots of Italian names most of which are superfluous to the main story.
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- Alan

A critical assessment, but fair

After my husband and I watched the film, "Il papa nella tempesta," I wanted to read about the rise of anticlericalism in Italy and the role the Church played in the war. I couldn't have asked for a better book to answer many of my questions. (And it raised just as many new ones, which is what a good history lesson should do).

(1) "The Pope and the Dictator" introduces the dramatis personae, particularly Achille Ratti, who became Pius XI, and Mussolini, along with many Vaticanos. Kertzer renders a vivid picture of daily life in Italy at the time. This section ends with the signing of the Lateran Accords in 1929: "For Italy's Jews, (this) prompted nervousness and fear. Little more than half a century earlier, the demise of the Papal States had liberated them from the pope's ghettos. Now they were worried what the future might bring."

(2) "Enemies In Common," discusses just that, including the way Church and State regarded Jews, Protestants, Germany, and how each alternately strengthened and threatened the interests of the other.

(3) "Mussolini, Hitler, and the Jews" takes us into the papacy of Eugenio Pacelli, now Pius XII, and the darkest days of the war. (His papacy is still a hotly debated subject, and several works exist which give conflicting views. A rabbi has written a defense, and a British journalist has written an excoriation, just to name two of the books).

In all, Kertzer is quite critical of the Church, and rightly so. But there is enough blame and shame to go around during this monstrous time in European history.

I didn't finish the audio book because the narrator was so awful. I bought the print book, which is nice in that it is illustrated, heavily annotated, and has maps of Rome for those of us who are not intimately acquainted with the city's layout at the time.

Kertzer has a passion for Italy and for research, and his writing is excellent. I'd happily read another of his books.
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- Die Falknerin "Painter, musician, bibliophile..."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-28-2014
  • Publisher: Random House Audio