Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Church and State

(Published in Il Popolo d'Italia, December 2, 1934)

By Benito Mussolini

The whole history of Western civilization, from the Roman Empire to modern times, from Diocletian to Bismarck, teaches us that when the State undertakes a fight against a religion, it is the State that will lose in the end. A fight against religion is a fight against the impalpable and the intangible; it is open warfare against the spirit in its most profound and most significant form, and it is by this time fully proven that the weapons at the disposal of the State, no matter how sharp they may be, are powerless to inflict any mortal blows on the Church—and by the Church I mean especially the Catholic Church—which always emerges triumphant after engaging in the most bitter conflicts.

A State can only be victorious in a fight against another State. It can then cement its victory, for example, by imposing a change of regime, a territorial cession, a payment of indemnity, the disarming of the army, or a determined system of political or economic alliances. When fighting against a State, the State is confronted with a material reality that can be seized, struck, mutilated, transformed; but when fighting against a religion it is impossible to locate a particular target: passive resistance on the part of the priests or the faithful is enough to frustrate the most violent attacks by a State. Bismarck, in the eight years of his Kulturkampf, unhappy with the dogma of papal infallibility in religious matters, arrested dozens of bishops, closed hundreds of churches, dissolved many Catholic organizations, and even sequestered their funds; he unleashed a campaign of anti-Roman ideas with the famous slogan "Away from Rome!" and the outcome of this persecution was that one hundred Catholic deputies won seats in the Reichstag, the figure of Windthorst became popularized throughout the world and the moral resistance of the German Catholic world was put on display. In the end Bismarck, the founder of the German Empire, capitulated before Leo XIII, calling him the arbiter of an international dispute and writing him a letter that began with word "Sire". Equally unfortunate was the policy of Napoleon I toward the Church. One of the most serious errors of the great Corsican was that he wished to brutalize two popes and the Vatican.

In the Fascist conception of the totalitarian State, religion is absolutely free and independent in its own sphere. The crazy idea of founding a new religion of the State or of subordinating to the State the religion professed by all Italians has never entered our minds. The duty of the State does not consist in trying to create a new gospel or other dogmas, nor in overthrowing old gods in order to replace them with others called blood, race, nordicism, and the like. The Fascist State does not consider that its duty requires it to intervene in religious matters, and if does happen, then it is only when religion touches on the political or moral order of the State. In modern times and in the countries of white civilization, the State can only assume one of two logical attitudes towards the established Churches: either ignore them, while tolerating all, as happens in the United States; or form a relationship with the Church, through a system of agreements or concordats, which has been done very successfully in Italy. The history of relations between Church and State in Italy from 1870 to 1929 is especially indicative. The Italian State approved the so-called Law of Guarantees, which was never accepted by the Pope. The Italian State adopted a policy of ignoring the Catholic Church. The famous formula of Cavour ("free Church in a free State") was insufficient for a Catholic country like Italy, which also has the privilege of being the seat of a religion with four hundred million adherents in all parts of the world. Cavour's formula was succeeded by the geometric formula of Giolitti, who defined the State and the Church as two never-meeting parallel lines. The so-called Leftist parties began to specialize in demagogic and vulgar acts of anti-clericalism, which brutally penetrated some urban areas, but such propaganda did not effect the great masses of Catholics. It was truly an untenable situation, but despite the separation there were still unofficial contacts between the Quirinal and the Vatican, imposed by the necessities of common life in certain circumstances, such as, for example, the meeting of the cardinals for the succession of the Throne.

In 1929 all of this came to an end with the signing of the Lateran Treaty and the Concordat, which settled the relations between the State and the Holy See, sufficiently and definitively resolving the Roman Question. Six years have passed since February 11, 1929. In the aftermath of the agreements there was no shortage of skepticism by some people. Such skepticism came to a head in 1931, when the agreements were subjected to the wear and tear of a conflict pertaining to the issue of educating the youth. The conflict had several phases, some of them very sharp and lasted several months. But by early September we came to a mutual agreement that satisfied both parties. The dispute may be regarded as the "trial by fire" for the Lateran Pacts. Since then there have been no disturbances; civil and religious peace has been enjoyed by the Italian people. Moreover, a friendly cooperation has developed between the two powers, which both care about the same object: the people. Fascist doctrine is clear on the matter: the State is sovereign and nothing can be outside or against the State, not even religion in its outward expressions and practices, and this is why the Italian bishops take an oath of allegiance to the State; on the other hand, the Church is sovereign in its specific field of activity: the care and salvation of souls. There are moments and activities where the two forces meet. In such cases collaboration is desirable; it is possible and it is productive. How grotesque would it be if a council of cardinals busied itself with the caliber of cannons or the tonnage of cruisers! It would be just as ridiculous if a ministerial cabinet decided to legislate in matters of theology or religious dogma. A State that does not wish to spread spiritual disturbance and create division among its citizens must guard against intervention in matters which are strictly religious. What happened in recent times in Germany is proof positive of the good wisdom of Fascist doctrine and practices. No State is more totalitarian and authoritarian than the Fascist State. No State is more jealous of its sovereignty and its prestige, and precisely for that reason the Fascist State does not feel the need to interfere in matters which are outside its competence and extraneous to its nature. All those who have traveled down this road have, sooner or later, been forced to recognize their error. In my speech before the Second Quinquennial Assembly of the Fascist Regime, I intentionally declared that he who undermines or disturbs the religious unity of a people commits a capital crime against the Nation.