- Cattolici e fascisti: La Santa Sede e la politica italiana all’alba del Regime (1919–1925) by Alberto Guasco
This new book of Alberto Guasco, a professor of politics at the University of Turin and a researcher at the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Sciences in Bologna, joins the growing body of work that has taken advantage of recent access to the records of Pius XI’s pontificate. The reader may wonder why the book ends in 1925 rather than 1929, when the Lateran Pacts concluded a long era of difficult Italo-Vatican relations. The author answers that, as 1929 and the 1930s have received extensive treatment, an examination of the early 1920s brings back into view other important but neglected factors such as World War I. The year 1925, moreover, marks the resolution of the murder of the Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti, the end of Benito Mussolini’s vacillations, and the establishment of his Fascist dictatorship. By 1925, therefore, the Church and others understood much better the true nature of the Fascist beast.
Guasco paints the picture of a Church under both Benedict XV and Pius XI that was unsure of itself in its approach to Mussolini’s blackshirts. After the Bolshevik conquest of power in Russia and in the politically charged atmosphere of postwar Europe, Rome desperately searched for a political alternative to the ever-bolder left. Toward that end Benedict was open to the creation of a Catholic Party, the Popolari under don Luigi Sturzo, whereas the next pontiff was more skeptical. Pius, in contrast, preferred a less political solution in Italian Catholic Action. Furthermore, Guasco concludes that, for both Benedict and Pius, the Popolari failed to measure up to expectations as counterweights to the liberals and subsequently the [End Page 626] Fascists. Fragmented and quarrelsome, some advocating an alliance with the socialists and others favoring deals with the Fascists, the Catholic Party might have self-destructed even without the help of Mussolini and Pius.
But what of the Fascists themselves? Toward them the Church also was split. Some, like Francesco Borgongini Duca, who became the first nuncio to Italy in 1929, told the duce that “the enemies of the Church are the enemies of Fascism and those who fight the Church cannot be the true friends of Fascism.” On the other hand, Guasco illustrates how blackshirt violence gnawed at Rome’s estimation. Gabriele D’Annunzio’s 1919 “conquest” of Fiume alarmed many clerics; violent clashes between Mussolini’s men and leftists then added to the unease. But the Fascists also targeted Catholic activists, culminating in the vicious and murderous attack on the Popolare priest, Giovanni Minzoni, in August 1923. But by that time the Fascists were in power and had expressed their willingness to resolve the differences—the so-called “Roman Question”—between the state and the Church. The party of don Sturzo and don Minzoni was doomed.
Guasco’s Cattolici e fascisti is a solid work based on admirable archival research and with reference to recent studies by Lucia Ceci, Giovanni Sale, and others. Of special importance and merit, the book concludes with 150 documents, many archival and most in print for the first time, with Guasco’s comments and references.