Clerical fascism

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Clerical fascism (also clero-fascism or clerico-fascism) is an ideology that combines the political and economic doctrines of fascism with clericalism. The term has been used to describe organizations and movements that combine religious elements with fascism, support by religious organizations for fascism, or fascist regimes in which clergy play a leading role.


The term clerical fascism (clero-fascism or clerico-fascism) emerged in the early 1920s in the Kingdom of Italy, referring to the faction of the Catholic Partito Popolare Italiano which supported Benito Mussolini and his régime; it was supposedly coined by Don Luigi Sturzo, a priest and Christian Democrat leader who opposed Mussolini and went into exile in 1924,[1] although the term had also been used before Mussolini's March on Rome in 1922 to refer to Catholics in Northern Italy who advocated a synthesis of Catholicism and fascism.[2]

Sturzo made a distinction between the "filofascists", who left the Catholic PPI in 1921 and 1922, and the "clerical fascists" who stayed in the party after the March on Rome, advocating collaboration with the fascist government.[3] Eventually, the latter group converged with Mussolini, abandoning the PPI in 1923 and creating the Centro Nazionale Italiano. The PPI was disbanded by the Fascist régime in 1926.[4]

The term has since been used by scholars seeking to contrast authoritarian-conservative clerical fascism with more radical variants.[5] Christian fascists focus on internal religious politics, such as passing laws and regulations that reflect their view of Christianity. Radicalized forms of Christian fascism or clerical fascism (clero-fascism or clerico-fascism) were emerging on the far-right of the political spectrum in some European countries during the interwar period in the first half of 20th century.[6]

Clerical fascism in Fascist Italy

Mussolini (far right) signing the Lateran Treaty (Vatican City, 11 February 1929)

In 1870 the newly formed Kingdom of Italy annexed the remaining Papal States, depriving the Pope of his temporal power. However, Papal rule over Italy was later restored by the Italian Fascist régime[7] (albeit on a greatly diminished scale) in 1929 as head of the Vatican City state;[7] under Mussolini's dictatorship, Roman Catholicism became the State religion of Fascist Italy.[7][8]

In March 1929, a nationwide plebiscite was held to publicly endorse the Treaty. Opponents were intimidated by the Fascist régime: the Catholic Action (Azione Cattolica) and Mussolini claimed that "no" votes were of those "few ill-advised anti-clericals who refuse to accept the Lateran Pacts".[9] Nearly 9 million Italians voted or 90 per cent of the registered electorate and only 136,000 voted "no".[10]

Almost immediately after the signing of the Treaty relations between Mussolini and the Church soured again. Mussolini "referred to Catholicism as, in origin, a minor sect that had spread beyond Palestine only because grafted onto the organization of the Roman empire."[11] After the concordat, "he confiscated more issues of Catholic newspapers in the next three months than in the previous seven years."[11] Mussolini reportedly came close to being excommunicated from the Catholic Church around this time.[11]

In 1938, the Italian Racial Laws and Manifesto of Race were promulgated by the Fascist régime, enforced to both outlaw and persecute Italian Jews[12] and Protestant Christians,[8][13][14][15] especially Evangelicals and Pentecostals.[13][14][15] Thousands of Italian Jews and a small number of Protestants died in the Nazi concentration camps.[12][15]

Pope Pius XI strongly objected to the new race laws for which he was praised by Jewish publications.[16]

Despite the Italian Dictator's Mussolini's close alliance with Hitler's Germany, Italy did not adopt Nazism's genocidal ideology towards the Jews. The Nazis were frustrated by the Italian forces refusal to co-operate in the round ups of Jews, and no Jews were deported from Italy prior to the Nazi occupation of the country following the Italian capitulation in 1943.[17] In Italian occupied Croatia, Nazi envoy Siegfried Kasche advised Berlin that Italian forces had "apparently been influenced" by Vatican opposition to German anti-Semitism.[18] As anti-Axis feeling grew in Italy, the use of Vatican Radio to broadcast papal disapproval of race murder and anti-Semitism angered the Nazis.[19] Mussolini was overthrown in July 1943, and the Nazi moved to occupy Italy, and commenced a round-up of Jews. Though thousands were caught, the great majority of Italy's Jews were saved. As in other nations, Catholic networks were heavily engaged in rescue efforts[citation needed].

Around 4% of Resistance forces were formally Catholic organisations, but Catholics dominated other "independent groups" such as the Fiamme Verdi and Osoppo partisans, and there were also Catholic militants in the Garibaldi Brigades, such as Benigno Zaccagnini, who later served as a prominent Christian Democrat politician.[20] In Northern Italy, tensions between Catholics and Communists in the movement led Catholics to form the Fiamme Verdi as a separate brigade of Christian Democrats in Northern Italy.[21] After the war, the ideological divisions between the partisans re-emerged, becoming a hallmark of post-war Italian politics.[22]

Examples of clerical fascism

Examples of dictatorships and political movements involving certain elements of clerical fascism include:

The government of General Franco in Francoist Spain had Nacionalcatolicismo as part of its ideology. It has been described by some[by whom?] as clerical fascist, especially after the decline in influence of the more secular Falange beginning in the mid-1940s and before the strong economic development, the Spanish miracle, of the 1960s.[citation needed]

Scholars who accept the term clerical fascism nonetheless debate which of the listed examples should be dubbed "clerical fascist", with the Ustaše being the most widely included. In the above cited examples, the degree of official Catholic support and clerical influence over lawmaking and government varies. Moreover, several authors reject the concept of a clerical fascist régime, arguing that an entire fascist régime does not become "clerical" if elements of the clergy support it, while others are not prepared to use the term "clerical fascism" outside the context of what they call the fascist epoch, between the ends of the two world wars (1918–1945).[24]

Some scholars regard certain contemporary movements as forms of clerical fascism, including Christian Identity and Christian Reconstructionism in the United States;[25] "the most virulent form" of Islamic fundamentalism,[26] Islamism;[27] and militant Hindu nationalism in India.[25]

The political theorist Roger Griffin warns against the "hyperinflation of clerical fascism".[28] According to Griffin, the use of the term "clerical fascism" should be limited to "the peculiar forms of politics that arise when religious clerics and professional theologians are drawn either into collusion with the secular ideology of fascism (an occurrence particularly common in interwar Europe); or, more rarely, manage to mix a theologically illicit cocktail of deeply held religious beliefs with a fascist commitment to saving the nation or race from decadence or collapse".[29] Griffin adds that "clerical fascism" "should never be used to characterize a political movement or a regime in its entirety, since it can at most be a faction within fascism", while he defines fascism as "a revolutionary, secular variant of ultranationalism bent on the total rebirth of society through human agency".[30]

See also


  1. ^ Eatwell, Roger (2003). "Reflections on Fascism and Religion". Archived from the original on 2007-05-01. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
  2. ^ Walter Laqueur, "The Origins of Fascism: Islamic Fascism, Islamophobia, Antisemitism" Archived 2008-01-14 at the Wayback Machine., Oxford University Press, 25.10.2006
  3. ^ Carlo Santulli, Filofascisti e Partito Popolare (1923-1926) (dissertation), Università di Roma - La Sapienza, 2001, p. 5.
  4. ^ Carlo Santulli, Id.
  5. ^ H.R. Trevor-Roper, "The Phenomenon of Fascism", in S. Woolf (ed.), Fascism in Europe (London: Methuen, 1981), especially p. 26. Cited in Roger Eatwell, "Reflections on Fascism and Religion" Archived 2007-05-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Feldman, Turda & Georgescu 2008.
  7. ^ a b c
  8. ^ a b Kertzer, David I. (2014). The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. New York: Random House. pp. 196–198. ISBN 978-0-8129-9346-2.
  9. ^ Pollard 2014, The Vatican and Italian Fascism, 1929-32: A Study in Conflict, p. 49.
  10. ^ Pollard 2014, The Vatican and Italian Fascism, 1929-32: A Study in Conflict, p. 61.
  11. ^ a b c D.M. Smith 1982, p. 162–163
  12. ^ a b Giordano, Alberto; Holian, Anna (2018). "The Holocaust in Italy". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 15 August 2018. In 1938, the Italian Fascist regime under Benito Mussolini enacted a series of racial laws that placed multiple restrictions on the country’s Jewish population. At the time the laws were enacted, it is estimated that about 46,000 Jews lived in Italy, of whom about 9,000 were foreign born and thus subject to further restrictions such as residence requirements. [...] Estimates suggest that between September 1943 and March 1945, about 10,000 Jews were deported. The vast majority perished, principally at Auschwitz.
  13. ^ a b Pollard, John F. (2014). The Vatican and Italian Fascism, 1929-32: A Study in Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 109–111. ISBN 978-0-521-26870-7.
  14. ^ a b Zanini, Paolo (2015). "Twenty years of persecution of Pentecostalism in Italy: 1935-1955". Journal of Modern Italian Studies. Taylor & Francis. 20 (5): 686–707. doi:10.1080/1354571X.2015.1096522.
  15. ^ a b c "Risveglio Pentecostale" (in Italian). Assemblies of God in Italy. Archived from the original on 1 May 2017. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  16. ^ See 'Scholars at the Vatican,' Commonweal, December 4, 1942, pp.187-188)
  17. ^ Gilbert (2004), pp. 307-308.
  18. ^ Gilbert (1986), p. 466.
  19. ^ Gilbert (2004), pp. 308, 311.
  20. ^ Cite error: The named reference Liberation p.178 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  21. ^ O'Reilly, Charles T. (2001). Forgotten Battles: Italy's War of Liberation, 1943-1945. Lexington Books. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-7391-0195-7.
  22. ^ Foot, John (March 2012). "The Legacy of the Italian Resistance". History Today. 62 (3).
  23. ^ Biondich 2007, p. 383-399.
  24. ^ Griffin 2007, p. 213-227.
  25. ^ a b Berlet, Chip (2005). "Christian Identity: The Apocalyptic Style, Political Religion, Palingenesis, and Neo-Fascism". In Griffin, Roger. Fascism as a Totalitarian Movement. New York: Routledge. p. 196. ISBN 0-415-34793-9. Retrieved 23 November 2014. Lyons and I put Christian Identity into the category of clerical fascism, and we also included the militant theocratic Protestant movement called Christian Reconstructionism... a case can be made for... the Hindu nationalist (Hinduvata) Bharatiya Janata Party in India (which grew out of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Hindu religious movement).
  26. ^ Berlet, Chip. "When Alienation Turns Right: Populist Conspiracism, the Apocalyptic Style, and Neofascist Movements". In Langman, Lauren; Kalekin-Fishman, Devorah. The Evolution of Alienation: Trauma, Promise, and the Millennium. p. 130. In the most virulent form, theocratic Islamic fundamentalism could be a form of clerical fascism (theocratic fascism built around existing institutionalized clerics). This is a disputed view...
  27. ^ Mozaffari, Mehdi (March 2007). "What is Islamism? History and Definition of a Concept" (PDF). Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. 8 (1): 17–33. Retrieved 23 November 2014. ‘Clerical fascism’ is perhaps the nearest concept which comes closest to Islamism.
  28. ^ Griffin 2007, p. 215.
  29. ^ Griffin 2007, p. 213.
  30. ^ Griffin 2007, p. 224.

Further reading

  • Various authors, ‘Clerical Fascism’ in Interwar Europe, special issue of Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Volume 8, Issue 2, 2007.
  • Walter K. Andersen. "Bharatiya Janata Party: Searching for the Hindu Nationalist Face", In The New Politics of the Right: Neo–Populist Parties and Movements in Established Democracies, ed. Hans–Georg Betz and Stefan Immerfall (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), pp. 219–232. ISBN 0-312-21134-1 or ISBN 0-312-21338-7
  • Stefan Arvidsson, Aryan Idols. The Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science. (University of Chicago Press, 2006) ISBN 0-226-02860-7
  • Partha Banerjee, In the Belly of the Beast: The Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India (Delhi: Ajanta, 1998). ISBN 81-202-0504-2
  • Charles Bloomberg and Saul Dubow, eds., Christian–Nationalism and the Rise of the Afrikaner Broederbond in South Africa, 1918–48 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989). ISBN 0-253-31235-3
  • Randolph L. Braham and Scott Miller, The Nazis Last Victims: The Holocaust in Hungary (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, [1998] 2002). ISBN 0-8143-2737-0
  • Bulajić, Milan (1994). The Role of the Vatican in the break-up of the Yugoslav State: The Mission of the Vatican in the Independent State of Croatia. Ustashi Crimes of Genocide. Belgrade: Stručna knjiga.
  • Bulajić, Milan (2002). Jasenovac: The Jewish-Serbian Holocaust (the role of the Vatican) in Nazi-Ustasha Croatia (1941-1945). Belgrade: Fund for Genocide Research, Stručna knjiga.
  • Ainslie T. Embree, "The Function of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: To Define the Hindu Nation", in Accounting for Fundamentalisms, The Fundamentalism Project 4, ed. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 617–652. ISBN 0-226-50885-4
  • Mark Juergensmeyer. The New Cold War?: Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). ( ISBN 0-520-08651-1)
  • Laqueur, Walter. 1966. Fascism: Past, Present, Future, New York: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-511793-X
  • Nicholas M. Nagy–Talavera, The Green Shirts and the Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Romania (Iaşi and Oxford: The Center for Romanian Studies, 2001). ISBN 973-9432-11-5
  • Walid Phares, Lebanese Christian Nationalism: The Rise and Fall of an Ethnic Resistance (Boulder, Colo.: L. Rienner, 1995). ISBN 1-55587-535-1
  • Leon Volovici, Nationalist Ideology and Antisemitism: The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1991). ISBN 0-08-041024-3
  • Livia Rothkirchen, "Vatican Policy and the ‘Jewish Problem’ in Independent Slovakia (1939-1945)" in Michael R. Marrus (ed.),The Nazi Holocaust 3, (Wesport: Meckler, 1989), pp. 1306–1332. ISBN 0-88736-255-9 or ISBN 0-88736-256-7
  • Falconi, Carlo (1970). The Silence of Pius XII. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, and Company.
  • Rhodes, Anthony (1973). The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators 1922-1945. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • Cornwell, John (1999). Hitler's Pope; The Silence of Pius XII. London: Viking.
  • Rivelli, Marco Aurelio (1998). Le génocide occulté: État Indépendant de Croatie 1941–1945 [Hidden Genocide: The Independent State of Croatia 1941–1945] (in French). Lausanne: L'age d'Homme.
  • Rivelli, Marco Aurelio (1999). L'arcivescovo del genocidio: Monsignor Stepinac, il Vaticano e la dittatura ustascia in Croazia, 1941-1945 [The Archbishop of Genocide: Monsignor Stepinac, the Vatican and the Ustaše dictatorship in Croatia, 1941-1945] (in Italian). Milano: Kaos.
  • Rivelli, Marco Aurelio (2002). "Dio è con noi!": La Chiesa di Pio XII complice del nazifascismo ["God is with us!": The Church of Pius XII accomplice to Nazi Fascism] (in Italian). Milano: Kaos.
  • Phayer, Michael (2000). The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930–1965. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
  • Phayer, Michael (2008). Pius XII, the Holocaust, and the Cold War. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
  • Schindley, Wanda; Makara, Petar, eds. (2005). Jasenovac: Proceedings of the First International Conference and Exibit on the Jasenovac Concentration Camps. Dallas Publishing.
  • Griffin, Roger, ed. (2005). Fascism, Totalitarianism and Political Religion. Routledge.
  • Biondich, Mark (2005). "Religion and Nation in Wartime Croatia: Reflections on the Ustaša Policy of Forced Religious Conversions, 1941-1942". The Slavonic and East European Review. 83 (1): 71–116. JSTOR 4214049.
  • Griffin, Roger (2007). "The 'Holy Storm': 'Clerical fascism' through the Lens of Modernism". Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. 8 (2): 213–227.
  • Biondich, Mark (2007a). "Controversies Surrounding the Catholic Church in Wartime Croatia, 1941–45". The Independent State of Croatia 1941-45. Routledge. pp. 31–59.
  • Biondich, Mark (2007b). "Radical Catholicism and Fascism in Croatia, 1918–1945". Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. 8 (2): 383–399.
  • Feldman, Matthew; Turda, Marius; Georgescu, Tudor, eds. (2008). Clerical Fascism in Interwar Europe. Routledge.
  • Rychlak, Ronald J. (2010). Hitler, the War, and the Pope (Revised and expanded ed.). South Bend: Our Sunday Visitor.
  • Novak, Viktor (2011). Magnum Crimen: Half a Century of Clericalism in Croatia. 1. Jagodina: Gambit.
  • Novak, Viktor (2011). Magnum Crimen: Half a Century of Clericalism in Croatia. 2. Jagodina: Gambit.
  • Kertzer, David I. (2014). The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. Oxford University Press.
  • Nelis, Jan; Morelli, Anne; Praet, Danny, eds. (2015). Catholicism and Fascism in Europe 1918-1945. Georg Olms Verlag.

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