Mussolini asked Pius XI to excommunicate Hitler
- The following article, attributed to Tom Rachman of the Associated Press,
appeared on page A30 of the Sunday, September 28, 2003 edition of The
Arizona Republic. Despite many ideological similarities between the German
and Italian governments, relations between the two countries were not always
smooth prior to the Second World War or even during it. One issue that must
have produced some tension was the status of the South Tyrol, which was
transfered from the dismembered Austria-Hungary Empire to Italy under the
terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, despite having a German-speaking
population. This doubtless conflicted with Hitler's goal of uniting all
German-speaking people in one state. The Italian government also included
some Jews in positions of authority and maintained ties with Jewish fascist
groups in Palestine. While the German government also encouraged Zionism,
it eventually convinced Mussolini to take some token anti-Jewish measures at
home. Religion, as this article shows, was also handled differently. Hitler
and Mussolini were both nominally Catholic, but Hitler had to deal with a
country about evenly split between Catholicism and Lutheranism and didn't
want to provoke religious trouble at home. Mussolini, on the other hand,
concluded a formal treaty with the Vatican in 1929, abolishing effective
claims of church authority in civil affairs but cementing Catholicism as
the state religion.
MUSSOLINI SUGGETED CHURCH EX-COMMUNICATE HITLER
Rome--Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini once privately suggested the Vatican
consider excommunicating Adolf Hitler, a historian said Saturday, citing a
document recently disclosed by the Holy See.
Experts were surprised by the document but said Mussolini's remark came in
April 1938, the year before he sealed a wartime alliance with the Nazi leader.
Professor Emma Fattorini pointed out that Hitler had invaded Austria
shortly before Mussolini's reported remark. The Italian dictator was worried
about his own borders, she said.
She speculated that Mussolini's aim was to "weaken Hitler and have more
power himself, to do it in a way that the church would stop Hitler a bit."
The Hitler-Mussolini relationship was always ambivalent, she said.
"They love each other, they hate each other, they study each other," she said.
The Vatican document describes an April 10, 1938, meeting between the
Rev. Pietro Tacchi Venturi, the go-between for the Holy See and Mussolini,
and Pope Pius XI. Tacchi Venturi told the pope about his private talks with
Mussolini three days earlier.
According to the document, Mussolini had advised the Vatican envoy "that it
would be worthwhile with Hitler to be more forceful, without half-measures;
not right away, not immediately, but waiting for the most opportune moment to
adopt more forceful measures, for example, excommunication."
Hitler was born into a Catholic family but did not practice the faith.
It was not clear how the Vatican reacted to Mussolini's suggestion.
Fattorini said the Holy See has not released other documents that would help
explain the case.
Dennis Mack Smith, the author of a Mussolini biography, said the Italian
leader often made casual suggestions of this type, reflecting his initial
doubts about Hitler.
"He's not too keen on him in 1938," Mack Smith said. "Hitler actually asked
Mussolini for a formal alliance in the course of 1938, but Mussolini
doesn't accept this until 1939. Until then, it's something Hitler wanted, but
something Mussolini didn't want. He was trying to keep his distance a bit."
In February, the Vatican opened to researchers archives covering its
relations with Germany from 1922 to 1939; many other documents are still
secret. The Holy See made the 1922-39 documents available years ahead of
schedule in a bid to deflect criticism that it was silent in the face of the
>This is very interesting. As a result of my studies
>of that period, I am very inclined to say that Hitler
>was more pro-Mussolini than Mussolini was pro-Hitler.
>From early on in his movement, Hitler suppressed any
>talk about South Tyrol simply because it would step on
>the toes of Mussolini.
>Mussolini, however, had all sorts of aspirations that
>ran counter to Hitler's. Mussolini in fact regarded
>Austria as a part of Italy's zone of influence and
>Italian foreign policy in the 1920s clearly reflects
>this. So the Anschluss was really a setback for the
>Mussolini, despite the fact that by 1938 the two
>fascist powers were working fairly closely together.
>But there had been other differences as well. It's a
>little-known fact that in th emid-1930s when Mussolini
>invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Italy and Germany were
>at odds over Austria and as a resulty the only country
>that provided weapons to the Ethiopians was . . . Nazi
>Germany. Mind you, the Germans didn't have a chance
>to send in very much and it was all small arms, so far
>as I know. Still, all the liberal democracies that
>yowled so much about Italian aggression did nothing to
>aid the Ethiopians. The only arms the Ethiopians
>recieved were from supposedly the most "racist"
>country on earth.
Fascinating stuff! I remember reading in <Hitler's War>
that many high level officials in the German government
didn't think highly of the alliance with Italy. In
particular, Rommel held the Italian government in contempt.
There was one exchange in which an Italian official pointed
out to him that unlike Germany, Italy had never lost a
war. Rommel replied that unlike Germany, Italy had never
ended a war on the same side as it started, except in
those wars when it changed sides twice. True to form,
the Italian government switched sides in September 1943
and arrested Mussolini.