The campaign and the racist-anti-Semitic measures gave rise to no slight difficulties with the Holy See, contributing to the formation of a state of unease and tension between the Vatican and the fascist government. For some time it had been accentuated in the spirit of Pope Pius XI – author of the Lateran Pacts with Mussolini and of the concordat with Hitler – alongside the so far clearly predominant concern for the communist danger, and sometimes hinted at overwhelming, that for Nazi-Fascist totalitarianism. The Pope’s words on May 4, 1938, on the occasion of Hitler’s visit, against the raising of “another cross that is not the cross of Christ” in Rome were significant. In the summer of 1938 a series of speeches by the pope associated racism with the theme of “exaggerated nationalism”,
Receiving the pilgrimage of the French Confederation of Christian trade unions, Pius XI spoke expressly against state totalitarianism: the state cannot be truly totalitarian because it is unable to give the individual what he needs for interior perfection, for the salvation of the soul.. A truly totalitarian regime in fact and in law is that of the Church, because man, as a creature of God, belongs totally to the Church which is God’s representative.
The controversy surrounding the questions of race had given rise to some difficulties between Catholic Action and the Fascist Party. A communiqué published on August 20 by the Stefani agency announced that between the secretary of the National Fascist Party and the president of the central office of Italian Catholic Action it had been decided to abide by the agreements of September 1931, which the communiqué itself reproduced. The Osservatore Romano of 25 August added that simultaneous membership of the Catholic Action and the Fascist Party had also been declared completely admissible. Having some Italian and foreign newspapers commented on the communiqué of 20 in the sense that Catholic Action had recognized for its apolitical nature to be extraneous to the racial theme, the(August 24) replied that this theme, as it had been considered by the Holy Father, was not of a political nature, but a spiritual one.
The end of the year 1938 and the beginning of the following year were marked in the Italian ecclesiastical world by various pastoral documents of bishops dealing with the question of race and the Semitic one, with some divergence between them if not of strictly doctrinal positions, at least of formulations, of intonation and practical attitude. Particularly noteworthy was the homily delivered on November 13 by the cardinal archbishop of Milan in the cathedral, very rigid with regard to German racism and ending with the invitation to the genius of the Italian lineage and to the wisdom of our government for cooperation with divine grace that he wanted to keep “this Nordic heresy that depresses us” away from Italy.
The most delicate point was that of the prohibition of marriages between “Aryans” and “non-Arians”, given that, according to the Concordat, religious marriage has full civil effects in Italy. Precisely these civil effects were expressly denied, in this case, by a bill approved by the Council of Ministers on 10 November 1938 and the contradiction with the Concordat was noted by the Roman Observer.on the 15th which had been preceded by a diplomatic note of protest on the 13th. Pius XI had already addressed the head of government and the king emperor with two autographs (4th and 5th November). Only the second replied, saying generically that what the pontiff expounded “would be taken into the utmost account for the purposes of a conciliatory solution of the two points of view”. The solution did not come, on the contrary the tension increased. After a second and a third note of protest (November 22, December 4), Pius XI, on Christmas Eve, in the usual address to the Sacred College, referring particularly to the next decade of the Conciliation, expressed his gratitude towards “the most noble sovereign and his incomparable minister “, indicated which reasons for his present concern: the hostility against the Catholic action that had taken place in various places (and also against the cardinal archbishop of Milan, whose pastoral he approved); thevulnus inflicted on the Concordat by the Italian racial laws; honors in Rome to “a cross enemy of the Cross of Christ”. The Church did not change its practice in the celebration of marriages with “non-Aryans”, which, moreover, were no longer civilly transcribed.
However, these demonstrations by the pontiff, undoubtedly significant, did not lead to a profound and lasting alteration of the relations between Church and State in Italy. It should also be noted that, in the meantime, in the Spanish question – although Pius XI abstained from official demonstrations and indeed preferred not to talk too much about it – the highest spheres of the Italian Catholicism. La Civiltà Cattolica, in September 1937, upheld the juridical and moral legitimacy of the Francoist insurrection, and also justified the voluntary interventions in favor of national Spain. And the Roman Observerhe proved, especially in the last period of the war, to be openly favorable to Franco. The final victory of Franco, between January and March 1939, which was a great international success of the fascist government, was also greeted with sympathy by the new Pope Pius XII, who was indeed Cardinal Pacelli, elected on March 2, 1939. Pius XI he died on February 10, on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Conciliation for which the pontiff had prepared a speech (which has remained unpublished), which he cared very much about and which seems to have been such as to be anything but pleasing to fascism. The successor Pius XII came to the throne with provisions favorable to maintaining good relations with the fascist government. But the putting on the Index, followed shortly after (April 24, 1940) by the Opera omniaby A. Oriani, whose edition had been promoted and edited by Mussolini himself, who had declared Oriani “forerunner of fascism”, illustrates the limits of these provisions.