Thursday, June 29, 2023

Today on the Almanac, we consider the Roman Catholic response to Mussolini in the papal encyclical published by Pope Pius XI on this day in 1931.

It is the 29th of June, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm your guest host, Sam Leanza Ortiz.


Today we fast forward from the Reformation to the twentieth century, but while the setting is different, the themes are actually quite similar.

We’ll be looking to Rome, where a pope under threat remains wary of a temporal leader, though this leader, Benito Mussolini, was a far more sinister character than Charles V, and the Vatican’s response was far more powerful – we’ll open a window to this clash in the papal encyclical, Non abbiamo bisogno, (in English “we have no need”) that was released on this day in 1931.

The pope in question was Pius XI, who was elected pope at about the same time Mussolini became prime minister in 1922.

Both men were deeply political, though where Mussolini embraced totalitarian tactics, Pius XI    developed a distaste for harsh governments in Poland where he served as a priest during the Polish-Soviet War.

Aside from their personal differences, Mussolini and Pius XI represented perceived enmities between the Italian state and the Roman Catholic Church.

The concept of an Italian state was, frankly, quite new in 1922, and its unification in 1861 left the papacy in an uncomfortable position. Italy’s French liberators, interestingly led by the second Bonapartist regime, came close to kidnapping one of Pius’s predecessors, but the conflict settled when the remaining Papal States were subsumed under this new state of “Italy.”

The “Roman question” remained, however, leaving many to wonder who exactly had temporal jurisdiction over Rome.

This question animated Church/State relations under the early Fascist regime, but Mussolini seemed willing to play the political game by doling out favors. He bailed out a bank in which the Vatican was a major stakeholder and supported the Catholics within the Fascist party.

What he was not willing to do was accept threats, real or perceived, to the future of fascism and its hold over Italian youth.

Over the course of the decade, as happens in all unstable regimes barreling toward totalitarianism, street violence erupted across Italy between members of the Fascist party and the umbrella group for Catholic organizations known as Catholic Action.

Keen to keep order within their camps, Mussolini and Pius XI came to the negotiating table in 1926 when street violence reached a fever pitch. Disbanding Catholic Action was a nonstarter for the pope, who believed it to be “essential to the creation of a more Christian society and the formation of a new generation of Catholic lay leaders .”

The result of these negotiations was the Lateran Pact of 1929, in which:

  • The papacy officially recognized Italy as a sovereign state with Rome as its capitol.
  • The Italian state recognized the papacy as sovereign over Vatican City.
  • Bishops serving in Italy were required to take an oath of loyalty to the Italian state.
  • Religious instruction was to be permitted in all schools.

Outside of these formalities, Catholic Action remained a hurdle to the total allegiance of Italian youth to the Fascist regime, especially as its membership grew in the years following the Lateran Pact.

Aggravated by this, the Mussolini regime started attacking Catholic Action in the press, claiming it was a cover for illegal activity and that the Fascist government would be a faithful friend to the Church, rendering Catholic Action unnecessary.

The axe came down on May 29, 1931, when all Catholic youth organizations were to be disbanded.

Pius XI was outraged, and the Holy See quickly set to work drafting this encyclical that was dated to the 29th of June, the feast day for Saints Peter and Paul, though it was not released to the public until the 5th of July.

The encyclical is a searing critique of Mussolini’s actions, claiming that “in no state of the world has Catholic Action been so hatefully treated, so truly persecuted…as in this, Our Italy, and in this, Our episcopal seat of Rome.”

Though he condemned the Fascists of “Statolatry,” Pius XI was careful not to burn the bridges he’d spent the decade building, citing that the only aim “has been to point out and condemn all things in the [program] and in the activities of the party which have been found to be contrary to Catholic doctrine and Catholic practice,” namely the scope of Catholic activities is not to be limited to the external practices of religion, but is to extend to the whole of life’s activities.

While the fascists became upset at the Church’s nod to its universal status, which implicitly rejected their preferred status of the Church as a vassal of the Fascist regime, support for the Church rolled in from around the world.  

The encyclical eventually achieved its intended effect later that summer, when Catholic Action was reinstated, existing to this day as a popular lay organization, and Pius XI continued to hold the feet of the fascists to the proverbial fire until his death in 1939.


The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary, from Micah 7:

18 Who is a God like you,

forgiving iniquity and passing over rebellion

for the remnant of his inheritance?

He does not hold on to his anger forever

because he delights in faithful love.

19 He will again have compassion on us;

he will vanquish our iniquities.

You will cast all our sins

into the depths of the sea.

20 You will show loyalty to Jacob

and faithful love to Abraham,

as you swore to our ancestors

from days long ago.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of June 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

This show has been produced by Christopher Gillespie.

This show has been written and read by Sam Leanza Ortiz, who has no need for fascists regimes, but could go for an ice-cold gelato. This Texas heat is brutal.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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