In 2006, the Vatican opened its archives on the papacy of Pius XI. Drawing on these newly available materials, Kertzer sheds new light on the relationship, indeed partnership, of Fascism and the Vatican. By Kertzer's account, the 1920s and 1930s were not the papacy's finest hour.
In a challenge to the conventional history of this period, in which a heroic Church does battle with the Fascist regime, Kertzer shows how Pius XI played a crucial role in making Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship possible and keeping him in power. In exchange for Vatican support, Mussolini restored many of the privileges the Church had lost and gave in to the pope’s demands that the police enforce Catholic morality. Yet in the last years of his life—as the Italian dictator grew ever closer to Hitler—the pontiff’s faith in this treacherous bargain started to waver. With his health failing, he began to lash out at the Duce and threatened to denounce Mussolini’s anti-Semitic racial laws before it was too late. Horrified by the threat to the Church-Fascist alliance, the Vatican’s inner circle, including the future Pope Pius XII, struggled to restrain the headstrong pope from destroying a partnership that had served both the Church and the dictator for many years.