When Fascists Rescued the Vatican

The papal system of  faith marketing has had a curiously long run as ruler of kings and kingdoms.  And from centuries of propaganda and ceaseless self-marketing the world is encouraged to think of the Vatican as the heart and soul of Christianity, and think of Italy as obediently submissive to any eccentricity that waifs through its doors.  But true history has recorded many flaws and deceits in the  corporate structure of the Vatican’s spiritual politicizing.  One of the many bizarre twists in the long Vatican epic began in 1870 when the Kingdom of Italy removed Roman Catholicism as state religion.

We must remember that for centuries the  papal system had reigned as the biggest landowner of the Italian peninsula with claims extending well into Europe.  Much of the land acquisition had begun in 752 with the clever forgery by Pope Stephens III of an alleged letter bearing “saint Peter’s” name.  The counterfeit letter had been fashioned to lure the superstitious Pepin, king  of the Franks, into driving the Lombards out of Italy. To quote from Time Frames and Taboo Data, “Trusting the  pope and the authenticity of Peter’s letter, Pepin was lured into giving the pope exarchate (jurisdiction) of Ravenna–the real foundation of temporal power for the papacy.  Flushed with success at his deception of Pepin, the pope then forged Acts of St. Sylvester whereby additional claims on Italy were made.”

Some twenty years later Pope Adrian I called upon Pepin’s son Charlemagne for protection when the Lombard king, Desiderius, attacked papal territory.  Charlemagne defeated Desiderius and in holy gratitude Pope Adrian presented Charlemagne with a document spoken of as “the Document of Constantine“–which Adrian had forged.  The paper was essentially a deed in which the first Christian emperor allegedly gave  most of Italy to the papacy.  Charlemagne, like his father before him, fell for the scheme, and Adrian’s handling of the shady deal made him a major actor in the Vatican’s great land grabs, for which he is honored as one of the “great” popes. 

Over the centuries the Vatican endured many ups and downs, all the while growing holier in its suffering.  But in 1848 the then-pope, Pius IX, had to flee Rome due to  public uprisings, and he took up exile in the Castle of Gaeta in the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.  But he was able to return to the Vatican two years later in April of 1850, although French troops remained in Rome until 1870 to maintain the status quo throughout Italy.

But then on September 10th 1870, with the French troops gone, Italy declared war on the Papal States, and on the 11th the Italian army began its slow advance toward Rome, reaching the Aurelian Walls on the 19th and placed Rome under a state of siege.  In October the populace of Rome and the surrounding Campagna, a large area of mainly uncultivated plain surrounding Rome, voted for  a union with the kingdom of Italy.  The pope refused to accept the demand, and consequently became the victim  of his own political game for the people simply did not want him.  The Kingdom of Italy removed Roman Catholicism as state religion.

The savior of the Vatican  power structure appeared in 1929, however, in the form of  Benito Mussolini (who had been baptized by a Catholic priest only two years before, 1927).  Then Hitler made his own peace deal with the Vatican in 1933, and Roman Catholicism was back again as state religion.  This is not so strange, for the Fascists and the pope had many common interests, ambitions and lust for worldly power.  The Fascists looked to be unstoppable in the 1930s, and should their  political and military power have gained world control the reward for the pope would be to preside as the religious head of the world. 

Alas for the poor popes, their claims of papal infallibility didn’t stand the test.

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