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on 13 April 2016
This book is basically a leftist, anti-Christian,character assassination hit piece. It is very similar in tone to the John Cornwell Hitler's Pope book.The author asserts that in order to appease Italian Catholics Mussolini made a deal with the Pope in which the Vatican got everything it asked for, and in return the Pope endorsed fascism, [quote] "The pope had seen something in Mussolini he liked. Despite all their differences, the two men shared some important values. Neither had any sympathy for parliamentary democracy. Neither believed in freedom of speech or freedom of association. Both saw Communism as a grave threat".

In reality Pius XI had denounced fascist persecution.

In his 1935 book Sawdust Caesar: The Untold Story of Mussolini and Fascism,George Seldes wrote a chapter on Mussolini and the Pope that stated "The Pope declared Catholicism and Fascism incompatible.Mussolini declared Fascism and Catholicism incompatible. Both are right. After two years of trying to render unto the Duce the things which are the Duce's and unto God the things that are God's, the real crisis had come and both sides realized that there can be no friendship between two opposing ideologies." Sawdust Caesar is a biography of Mussolini prior to WWII and so it does not have the politically correct neo-liberal filter that is inherent in our modern day media. At the time of the book’s writing, Mussolini was being touted as a legitimate leader throughout the world.David Kertzer seems to be deliberately misrepresenting historical evidence for his own purposes.
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on 28 December 2014
This is a revelation, even handed, academically sound, and compelling. The Vatican has a lot to answer for. Would Jesus have turned a blind eye to the mass executions to save the temple?

Not for one second, if we are to believe his Word. He would have sacrificed himself and everything he had. This book should be required reading in every school in the Christian world.

To do anything else would be to hide the sordid truth, for the sake of protecting those in power.
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on 25 March 2014
Dark doings in the Vatican, a villain called Tacky (Tacchi) Venturi, covert meetings, sexual encounters and a fair amount of innocent blood spilt. This could be from the pen of Dan Brown?

Well no, not really and for many reasons. Incredible though it may seem the story is basically true. Even the tale of Tacchi Venturi running from a room with blood pouring from his neck is verifiable from many sources. It is probably even true that the knife (or letter opener) which his lover had plunged into the diabolical Jesuit was still lodged in place. Also, this book is far, far too well written to have been written by Mr Brown. Although, to be fair there is a tendency for Popes to die in `simple iron beds', an over use of a cliché that is one reason David Kertzer only gets four stars for this mostly excellent book. I should stress that this is a minor complaint, there are less clichés in the 411 pages of the Pope and Mussolini than there are on any single page of the Da Vinci Code.

I imagine that despite relating what is mostly verifiable history, David Kertzer will have offended an awful lot of people in what many may see as a biased report on a very important period of ecclesiastical history. I am not a Catholic and so cannot really say how offended I might have been if I was, but I can offer an opinion on the level of bias. A history book without bias is a bit like a meal without spices. Perhaps good for you, but I would never call it a good dish. What is served here is very appetising and obviously comes from a biased position. An intelligent reader will understand this and be able to draw their own opinion from the facts presented, perhaps put in context by a little reading around the subject.

For Kertzer the challenge was to cast a not too kind light on a man generally seen as a good Pope. In my opinion Pius XI owes his favourable reputation largely to preceding Pius XII. The later Pope Pius was beyond any reasonable defence an unpleasant figure (please see postscript below). He may (perhaps) have not deserved the title of `Hitler's Pope', but he was certainly a racist (he really did ask the allies not to allow black troops into Rome) and he really was an anti-Semite, no matter what justifications can be found for individual statements or actions, the mass of hateful comments cannot be excused or denied. Finally, Pius XII really did facilitate (not just fail to prevent) the sending of thousands of Jews to their deaths in concentration camps. Even the dullest of greys can appear brilliant white when placed next to the darkest pitch black.

Ardent Roman Catholics might argue that Pius XI was perfect in every way. I came to this book believing him to be basically a good man who must have had some failings. I finished the book feeling much the same way. In fact given the moderate bias I perceive in David Kertzer I actually found myself feeling a little more sympathetic to Pius XI and to his church in what must have been a very difficult time for them. If I was a Catholic I might even be tempted to say that as Achille Ratti aged and his very sharp wits began to desert him, his God found it easier to influence him and speak through him against the horror that was Italian fascism and the far worse excesses of Nazi Germany.


When I wrote this review in March I suspected that the Pope and Mussolini would cause some level of offence. Since then many commentators have reacted against the perceived attack on the Roman Catholic church. By and large these reactions have not made me change my opinion in any way. However, a few of the comments have struck home and in the spirit of fairness I think it is worth adding a few caveats to my review.

In particular the criticism of Pius XII (in Kertzer's book and mirrored in my review) has provoked some helpful comments given in his defense. I owe an Amazon reviewer (Clement Finn) thanks for the following points:

It is true that Pacelli had a Jewish friend in childhood and as Pius XII he helped the Mendes family in various ways. This is evidence against my rather glib assertion that he was an anti-Semite. Of course it is quite possible for someone to hate the Jewish race and like (or even love) individual Jews. Anti-Semitism is based on dislike of a caricature of 'Jewishness'. Obviously some Jews may not fit into that caricature (indeed it is likely that none do) but as the anti-Semite believes the caricature to be a true representation of Jews in general this is what defines their anti-Semitism (not actions against any given individual). That said, the story of Guido Mendes is strong anecdotal evidence that Pius XII was not anti-Semitic and should be laid against the equally anecdotal evidence used against him.

More significantly Clement Finn pointed out some apparent errors that have been identified in quotes from Pius XII. The first was a famous quotation from 'Hitler's Pope' and which is re-quoted by Kertzer. This relates to Pacelli's confrontation with the Bolshevik rebels in Munich, Pacelli is quoted as saying "Jews like all the rest of them.." which I was convinced was an anti-Semitic sentiment. Apparently the Italian phrase used was 'i primi' means 'the first ones'. This could give the famous quotation a different spin, something like 'the first ones who appeared were Jews'. My Italian is not up to analysis of the primary sources... if anyone with better Italian could comment I would be grateful, meanwhile it does suggest spin by Cornwell against Pius XII.

Clement Finn also gave me a link which casts some doubt on the assertion that Pius XII never spoke out against the racial policies of the Nazi's. Pius XII is widely quoted as saying in 1943 that he condemned "the hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own, and solely because of their nationality have been condemned to death or progressive extinction". The critics of Pius XII (I would count myself as one) usually take this as the most mild of criticisms that could in fact have been leveled at both sides, with somewhat noxious ambivalence. However, Goldhagen (see defends the Pope by saying that the word he used (stirpe) was synonymous in common usage with the Jewish race and so could only have been taken as a direct attack on Nazi policy (with no ambivalence). Again I would welcome the comments of native Italian speakers.

Kertzer's book is not directly about Pius XII and I remain far from convinced that the reputation of this particular Pope can be retrieved. However, I must admit on the basis of discussions on Amazon I must now retract the statement in my review that 'The later Pope Pius was beyond any reasonable defense an unpleasant figure'. Clearly a reasonable defense can (and has) been made.
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on 27 April 2014
Very interesting study. It shed new light for me on a period of Italian history of which I thought I was aware but obviously not, having read read this thoroughly detailed account of relationship between the Catholic Church and Mussolini's Fascist regime.
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on 4 July 2014
An excellent book that in effect shows the path followed by Pius XII of collaboration between church,fascism and the Nazis.A must read for anyone who still thinks the church is benign.
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on 19 June 2014
Enjoyed reading this book which explores the relationship of the Vatican with Mussolini and the role it enjoyed with the Axis powers.
The Vatican is not always squeaky clean.
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on 19 April 2014
The book is worth a top rating. I chose the book, because I'm anglo-Italian and have always been interested in past events in Italy. This is also the second book that I have read by David Kertzer. I would highly recommend this book to my avid reader friends.
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on 28 April 2014
Excellent expose of the Catholic Church's collaboration with Mussolini (and Hitler) largely drawn from their own Vatican files. Highly recommended.
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on 4 December 2014
Excellent research. Two powerful men, with basically the same agenda, Control of the People! What a page turner
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on 15 September 2014
It was exciting and very well written and hugely informative
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