Good evening, father Angelo,
I am a fifteen-year-old boy and I would like to ask you a question: can one be both fascist and Catholic?
I personally respect Mussolini because of the public works he carried out, but most of all because of the Concordat of February 11, 1929, through which he restored Catholicism as State religion, after the French Revolution spread secularism all over the world.
Thank you in advance.
Answer by the priest
1. Many totalitarian regimes, both on the right and on the left, may have accomplished public works of a certain value. Such regimes are particularly interested in keeping a good reputation.
But a few good works are not sufficient to legitimize principles which are contrary to some of the fundamental rights of the person.
I do not want to go into the substance of which good things fascism has done. In the answer I am giving you, I will deal with the subject on a theoretical level, the level of principles.
2. I will answer keeping in mind what Pius XI wrote in the encyclical “Non abbiamo bisogno” (“We do not need”) issued on June 29, 1931.
The Pope pronounces himself on two issues: the first regards the State’s monopoly of education imposed by the Fascist Party; the second regards whether it was licit to impose the fascist oath to all people who worked in the so-called state jobs.
3. About the first point: Catholic associations were unwanted, because they were considered useless in a regime of state religion.
The consequence was that all Catholic associations were dissolved, or their dissolution was attempted.
4. Here is what the Pope said on the educational totalitarianism: “A conception of the State which makes the rising generations belong to it entirely, without any exception, from the tenderest years up to adult life, cannot be reconciled by a Catholic either with Catholic doctrine or with the natural rights of the family. It is not possible for a Catholic to accept the claim that the Church and the Pope must limit themselves to the external practices of religion (such as Mass and the Sacraments), and that all the rest of education belongs to the State.” (Pius XI, Non abbiamo bisogno, 52)
5. The primary responsibility for the education of children belongs to the parents.
Moreover, it should be recognized that, for what concerns the scope of religion, also the Church herself has an educational responsibility. The State comes after.
6. The role of the State is to promote the common good, which consists in a certain availability of goods so that people are in a position where they can pursue their fulfillment or perfection.
It is not the role of the State to make its citizens virtuous according to a certain model.
Before belonging to the State, everyone belongs to himself, to his own conscience, to his own family, and above all to God.
Every single person should enjoy the right of a licit autonomy in thought and self-expression.
7. For this reason Pope Pius XI, in the same encyclical letter, says that “he is a Catholic only in name and by baptism (in contradiction to the obligations of that name and to the baptismal promises) who adopts and develops a programme with doctrines and maxims so opposed to the rights of the Church of Jesus Christ and of souls, and who also misrepresents, combats and persecutes Catholic Action which, as is universally known, the Church and its Head regard as very dear and precious.” (Non abbiamo bisogno, 55)
8. The other big issue was the Fascist oath, that expressed itself in this way:
“I swear to execute without discussion the orders of the Duce and to defend the Fascist revolution with all my strength, and if necessary, with my blood.”
The words without discussion cannot be accepted.
Everybody is called to decide in conscience whether what is ordered to them is in line with God’s law.
If it is not, it is necessary to obey God first and then men.
For this reason, without mincing words, the Pope said that taking a similar oath was not licit: “Such an oath, as it stands, is unlawful.” (Non abbiamo bisogno, 57)
9. Anyway, knowing that some people would lose their jobs if they refused to take the oath, the Pope allowed it, including a clause “Saving the laws of God and of the Church” or “In accordance with the duties of a good Christian”.
Which meant the Fascist oath was emptied of most of its binding force.
10. Here are the Pope’s textual words: “Realizing the many difficulties of the present hour and knowing that membership in the party and the oath are for countless persons a necessary condition of their career, of their daily bread, and even of their life itself, We have sought to find a way which would restore tranquillity to these consciences, reducing to a minimum the external difficulties of the situation. It seems to Us that such a means for those who have already received the membership card would be to make for themselves before God, in their own consciences, a reservation such as “Saving the laws of God and of the Church” or “In accordance with the duties of a good Christian,” with the firm proposal to declare also externally such a reservation if the need of it arose.” (Non abbiamo bisogno, 59)
11. These two arguments are sufficient (but there would also be other arguments, such as the pretense of supremacy of own culture over the others and statolatry, both of which inevitably brought to clashes of civilizations and wars) to say that a Catholic could not endorse the Fascist ideology.
I wish you all the best, I will remember you to the Lord and I bless you.