God and the Fascists
By Karlheinz Deschner
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
By the time you read the title, you’ll either be intrigued or alienated. God and the Fascists: The Vatican Alliance with Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Pavelic, by Karlheinz Deschner is a polarizing book. On closer inspection, Deschner has written a powerful and damning critique of Vatican foreign policy during the pontificates of Pius XI and Pius XII. Before diving into Deschner’s book, his thesis must first be unpacked, especially for an American audience. Written in 1965, amidst the reforms of Vatican II, Deschner asserts that the Vatican and members of its upper echelons gave moral and political support to the various fascist regimes in Europe. He centers his scorn on the Vatican, not on Catholics in general. The Vatican is a sovereign nation-state, albeit really tiny, and operates like its fellow nation-states. It is a truism that nation-states have behaved in amoral or evil ways, usually to guarantee their own self-preservation. The Vatican is unique in that is both a nation-state and the administrative center of a world religion. One should compare the political arrangements of other cities like Mecca (the heart of Islam) and Salt Lake City (the heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Because of the Vatican’s unique status, it is hard to call its rulers victims.
The challenge of critiquing a book like this and agreeing with its premise is that one can get lumped into the vague term: Anti-Catholic. In the United States, anti-Catholicism has been a centuries old tradition, practiced by the majority denominations of Protestantism. Whether its the Irish, the Poles, or the Mexicans, the American WASP majority found new and innovative ways to behave like bigots towards those not sharing their religious affiliation. When one critiques the excesses, foibles, and hypocrisies of the Catholic Church, one faces being thrown in the pile with the likes of lowbrow comic hack Jack Chick or strident atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Strange bedfellows indeed.
After an abbreviated introduction, Deschner asserts that the Vatican had common cause with Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco. What was the Church like in 1922? Both fascism and the Vatican were against modernism, socialism, Bolshevism, and the Jews. According the Deschner, the Vatican supported Mussolini even before he became Il Duce. After assuming power, Mussolini bailed out the Vatican Bank and agreed to suppress the Catholic Party. (The same thing would happen in Germany.) Because of the Vatican’s uniqueness as a nation-state, it acted as a force for moral legitimacy when it supported these regimes. This is the Pope here, not some bloodthirsty atheist Bolshevik like Stalin! Stalin is a heartless murderer and he needs to be stopped at all costs.
The Vatican would go on to support the fascist regimes of Mussolini and Francisco Franco in France, along with Hitler’s National Socialism and Ante Pavelic of Croatia. The Vatican didn’t mind if Mussolini was an atheist or that Hitler had his own neo-pagan eccentricities, since both had able battalions to combat European Bolshevism. The myth of Vatican resistance to Nazi atrocities is thoroughly debunked. Coupled with orders from Rome saying all good Catholics should obey their leaders, lower-level priests suffered for rebelling against tyranny and oppression. Among those who suffered: French Catholics, Polish Catholics, Orthodox Croatians, and countless others.
Pope Pius XII remained suspiciously silent. While Deschner sometimes oversells the premise, alluding to papal puppet-masters and having the Vatican culpable for the Great War, the mountains of evidence remain damning. Countless pastoral letters are cited as well as numerous quotes from pro-fascist clergy and bishops.
Then there’s the issue of blood libel. It is a term that means the Jews are guilty for killing Christ. Did the centuries of Catholic power in European nations offer fertile potting soil for the emergence of fascism? Something to ponder as one reads this book. Following the horrors of World War II, the Vatican repealed its accusation of blood libel against the Jews in 1965. Nearly twenty years! One would think a nation-state so committed to fighting the evils of Mussolini and Hitler would have instantly thrown out blood libel in 1946?
When one reads this well-researched, passionately argued indictment, one can’t help but despair. Perhaps the best solution the “Roman Problem” is for the Vatican to be stripped of its political power. Nation-states act in their own self-interest, prone to bouts of situational ethics and retconning their mythologies to jibe with popular opinion. If the Catholic Church is so concerned with helping the poor and leading by example, it should dump its status as a sovereign state. Without the trappings of political power and the Pope’s absolute monarchy, it wouldn’t be so easily distracted by charismatic tyrants and extremist ideology. Karlheinz Deschner’s book is a good first step towards real institutional reform and should be on every freethinker’s bookshelf.
Out of 10/8.9