Mussolini and the Church; rivals or collaborators?

Essay by AsterixA, February 2003

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'Rivals' or 'Collaborators'? Which description of the relationship between Fascism and the Church 1922-39 is the more accurate?

The Italian Church played a large part in everyday life and had done for a very long time. Over 9/10th of the population was Catholic. Because of this the Church had a huge sway in the feelings and beliefs of the people of Italy. There was a complex structure of financial, educational and welfare organisations set up and run by the Church. Many ordinary people came to their local Priests for information, advice and news, which further strengthened the bond between the Church and its congregation. This was especially true of rural areas. However, their had been friction between the state and the Church for over half a century when several Italian states had united, forcing the Papal States and Rome into the merger. The Pope refused to recognise the Italian states and this remained the case until 1922.

From the merger in 1870 Liberals had predominantly run the governments of Italy. These Liberals tended to favour a more progressive economic and social policy than the Church liked. They also made efforts to expand state education in order to dismantle the affect of backward looking Catholicism.

The Popes condemned Liberalism, though their main fear post-1890 was the expansion of Socialism. To them fascism seemed a better choice than liberalism as a blockade to socialism and Bolshevism. The Church did share some ideas with the fascists in that they both felt a need for discipline, hierarchy and order in a leading body, as well as agreeing on a need for hostility towards liberals and communists and sharing a reactionary view of women and the family. There were certainly some in the Church who believed that corporatism was a good tool in eliminating class...