The Pope and Mussolini

The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe
Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
Length: 14 hrs and 10 mins
Categories: History, Europe
4.5 out of 5 stars (306 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize Winner
Named One of the Best Books of the Year by San Francisco Chronicle 

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’ 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.

©2014 David I. Kertzer (P)2014 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Revelatory...[a] detailed portrait of the inner workings of the Vatican in this period... The general outlines of this story have always been matters of public record, but Kertzer’s book deepens and alters our understanding considerably. The portrait that emerges from it suggests a much more organic and symbiotic relationship between the Church and fascism. Rather than seeing the Church as having passively accepted fascism as a fait accompli, Kertzer sees it as having provided fundamental support to Mussolini in his consolidation of power and the establishment of dictatorship in Italy.” (The New York Review of Books)

"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)

What listeners say about The Pope and Mussolini

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    4 out of 5 stars

It is not narrated well - the delivery does not keep it as captivating as this book should be

It is an incredible story that if narrated by the right person can be very captivating.

6 people found this helpful

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Great factual review

Gives new meaning to the phrase 'politics makes strange bedfellows '
Surprising how recent Catholic history has evolved
Well researched and written
Enjoyed tempo and reader

3 people found this helpful

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worth the time keeping the characters straight

loved the detail and perspective. after a few chapters the names were easy to remember because the writing was so specfic to each person invojved. great reminder of the periles faced and choices made that informs the world today

1 person found this helpful

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Thoroughly investigated story

Awesome clarity and historical authenticity. Very well written and narrated. A historical eye opener rich in detail

1 person found this helpful

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ONLY HUMAN

David Kertzer reminds the world that organized religion is only human. Religions are subject to the goodness and sins of human nature. Whether one believes in a Supreme Being or not, actions of organized religion are freighted with human error. Kertzer is only one of many who have exposed the perfidy of organized religion. His target, in “The Pope and Mussolini, is the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Ratti becomes Pope Pius XI during the ascension of European Fascism and Nazism in the 1920s and 30s. Ratti is characterized as a pedantic, conservative, and sometimes bellicose Christian believer in, and defender of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Pius XI agrees to support the government of Benito Mussolini in 1929 in return for the creation of an independent Papal State in Rome. Mussolini agrees to pay the church approximately $100 million for formally confiscated church land. Pope Pius XI acquires for himself and future Popes the right of independent rule, religious interpretation, and Christian doctrinal dictatorship. In return Mussolini gains the support of the Roman Catholic Church, the dissolution of Catholic political parties, and a title as II Duce, “The Leader” of Italy. At the stroke of a pen, Mussolini becomes a hero of Italian Catholics (over 90% of the population) and the totalitarian leader of Italy.

Pius XI compromises his morals and paves the way for Pius XII, a closet Christian anti-Semite, who becomes a Hitler’ collaborator by tacitly endorsing the immoral belief of religious purity. Though not widely known at the time, Cardinal Pacelli acted as a “too clever” intermediary between the German and Italian governments to undermine the growing discontent of Pope Pius XI with Germany’s treatment of Christians and Jewish converts to Christianity. Pope Pius XI commissions a new Catholic encyclical to condemn German treatment of Catholic citizens but dies before publication. Pope Pius XII (Cardinal Pacelli) buries the last encyclical of his predecessor in the archives of the Vatican library.

3 people found this helpful

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Fascinating History of Collaboration Between Popes and Fascism

Shocking and well documented study of ways in which Popes and Mussolini used each other to advance their political objectives and feared to dispute Hitler and betrayed democracy and Jews. Only objection was use of flashbacks made it sometimes hard to follow when listening to narrative.

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Award winner

I selected this book because it won the Pulitzer Prize. It was better than I imagined. The author did a tremendous amount of research. He is excellent story teller. He discovered collaboration by some Catholic leaders that has been covered up.

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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.

5 people found this helpful

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Amazing account of a pivotal period

Riveting account of a pivotal period of the 20th century. Contrary to some reviews, I thought the narrator did a fabulous job of communicating the characters and personalities of various protagonists. The author did a brilliant job assembling so much information into the account with cohesive flow. It was routinely difficult to stop lstening. A key lesson: Career politicians will universally abandon core values in exchange for political advancement. Sometimes even Popes.

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A Great Narrative

This shocking story was weaved quite well. The rise of fascism was portrayed in a well researched volume.

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  • 08-18-19

loved it

An excellent and interesting history of pre-war Italy. Good narration (when speed up a bit in the app).