By Kidane Alemayehu (from my manuscript፡ “MY JOURNEY WITH THE UNITED NATIONS AND QUEST FOR HORN OF AFRICAN UNITY AND JUSTICE FOR ETHIOPIA”)
My concern with the Fascist war crimes in Ethiopia and the Vatican’s complicity dates back to my younger days when I was told stories by my father about the war he participated in Eastern Ethiopia, the Ogaden. My recent engagement with the Ethiopian cause for justice was triggered by an event that occurred soon after the accession to the throne by Pope Benedict XVI who, immediately after his election as the prelate of the Catholic Church, made it his primary duty to travel to his home country, Germany, and visit a synagogue in Nuremburg where he was reported to state that the Nazi holocaust against the Jews was an unimaginable crime. This created, in my mind, an irresistible urge to submit a letter of appeal dated August 18, 2005 to His Holiness reminding him about one other issue that has been awaiting justice for a long time and that the Ethiopian people deserved a Vatican apology. Please see Annex 1. Unfortunately, I never received a response and Pope Benedict XVI is in retirement as I write this book.
Vatican’s Complicity with the Fascists
It is always a source of wonder as to how it was possible for the most populous Christian entity i.e. the Catholic Church could form a partnership with a highly criminal political organization, the Fascist Party applying an inhuman political system in Italy as well as the nation it had invaded, namely, Ethiopia and its colonial empire i.e. Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia. Although there are some who deny this fact such as the journalist/author, Zewdie Retta, in his book entitled: “Ye Haile Selassie Mengist” (translation: The Government of Haile Selassie), the fact on the basis of the abundant evidence, remains that the Vatican was definitely complicit with Mussolini and his Fascist Party.
The Vatican’s complicity with the Fascists commenced in 1922 when Pope Pius XI and Mussolini started moves towards laying down concrete steps for collaboration in a mutually beneficial manner. There are numerous sources of evidence proving beyond any reasonable doubt as to Pope Pius XI’s and the Vatican’s complicity with the Fascists. The following are provided as examples:
- Avro Manhattan, “The Vatican in World Politics”, (1):
- Cardinal Ratti was elected as Pope Pius XI in 1922.
- After his coronation, Pope Pius XI…”who had no love for democracy…..steered the political helm unhesitatingly towards the new (Fascist) Party, making overtures by rendering it a great service…..” On October 2, 1922, the Vatican issued a circular letter…. bidding the clergy not to identify themselves with the Catholic Party thereby paving the way for a national recognition of Fascism. Following the dissolution of its own Catholic Party, the Vatican, under the leadership of Pope Pius XI, joined hands with Mussolini’s Fascist party in finally getting rid of the Socialist, and Liberal parties in Italy. By 1926, “….The Fascist Government became what it had wanted to be – the First Fascist totalitarian dictatorship.”
- “The negotiations which significantly enough, were started with the dissolution of the Catholic Party in 1926 were concluded in 1929 with the signing of what has since been known as the Lateran Agreement by which the Vatican was recognized as an independent sovereign state, and the Fascists Government undertook to pay a vast sum of money as compensation.” The Agreement was acclaimed by the Catholic Church and Catholics throughout the world, and the prestige of Fascism was greatly enhanced. The Lateran Agreement, therefore, provided the foundation for the close collaboration between Pope Pius XI and Mussolini paving the way for the Fascist dictatorship in Italy as well as its unbridled subsequent international adventures including its invasion of Ethiopia.
The Lateran Treaty being signed by Benito Mussoline and Cardinal Gasparini
- Mussolini’s response was to arrange the payment of 1,500,000,000 lire to the Bank of Rome which was on the brink of bankruptcy at the time. The Bank of Rome was under the control of the Catholics, and the funds of the Vatican’s High Prelates and the Holy See itself were entrusted to it.
- “It was the alliance of these two men, Pius XI and Mussolini, that influenced so greatly the social and political pattern, not only of Italy, but also of the rest of Europe in the years between the two world wars.”
- Once the Lateran Agreement was signed and the Vatican achieved its financial and political objectives with the Fascists, it vigorously undertook its share of promoting the Fascists within Italy as well as internationally:
- Cardinal Vannutelli, Head of the Sacred College of Cardinals paid a public homage to Mussolini by stating: “….that the Duce (Mussolini) had been chosen (by God) to save the nation and to restore her fortune.”
- On February 13, 1929, Pope Pius XI “proclaimed to the world that Mussolini was “the man whom Divine Providence” had allowed him to meet….”
- All priests were ordered to pray daily for the King and the Duce (“Pro Rege et Duce”).
- “….children had to say grace before each meal: a typical example:
“Duce, I thank you for what you give me to make me grow healthy and strong. O Lord God, protect the Duce so that he may be long preserved for Fascist Italy”.
- “Thus the Church became the religious weapon of the Fascist State, while the Fascist State became the secular arm of the Church. The Vatican had at last gathered the fruit of its new policy—annihilation of its great enemies (Secularism, Liberalism, Freemasonry, Socialism, Communism, Democracy); and restoration of the Catholic Church as the predominant spiritual power in the land.”
- “He (Mussolini) had a plan for the success of which the help of the Catholic church was needed. And in 1935 the first of a series of successive Fascist aggressions which finally led to the outbreak of the Second World War was ruthlessly carried out: Fascist Italy attacked and occupied Abyssinia.”
- “After the conquest of Abyssinia, the Pope expressed his joy in his speech of May 12, 1936 by stating: “……the triumphant joy of an entire, great and good people over a peace which, it is hoped and intended, will be an effective contribution and prelude to the true peace in Europe and the world.”
- Catholic countries’ representatives at the League of Nations were directed not to vote against Fascist Italy.
- The Italian Papal Legate, Cardinal Gasparri, the Bishops of San Minato, Nocera Umlara, Civita Castellana, Milan, and Naples blessed the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia.
- The Archbishop of Tarano declared: “ The war against Ethiopia should be considered as a holy war, a crusade” because the Italian victory would “open Ethiopia, a country of infidels and schismatics, to the expansion of the Catholic faith.”*
- “Many bishops and priests led the offering by giving to the Fascists the jewelry and gold belonging to their churches.”
- “Fascist armies were immediately followed by priests, missionaries, nuns, and Catholic organizations.”
- It is surprising that the Archbishop of Tarano alleged Ethiopians to be “infidels and
schismatics”. He should have known that according to the bible, The Acts, chapter 8 vs 26-39, it was an Ethiopian that was christened so soon after the resurrection of Jesus Christ (in the year 34 AD according to the traditions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church). What were the ancestors of the Archbishop doing in those days? Was it not the Romans who inflicted so much suffering and finally hanged Jesus Christ. Did Pilate’s (the then Roman Governor of Israel) washing his hands absolve him from causing the historic injustice? On top of all that was it not the Romans that, for a number of years, persecuted and killed Christians including some of the highly renowned disciples?
- T.L Gardini,(2)
Cardinal Schuster of Milan stated: “The Italian (Fascist) flag is at the moment bringing in triumph the Cross of Christ in Ethiopia, to free the road for the emancipation of the slaves, opening it at the same time to our missionary and propaganda.”
- Teeling, (3)
“Practically without exception the whole world condemned Mussolini, all except the Pope (Pius XI).”
- 5. Slavembini (4)
7 Italian Cardinals, 29 Archbishops, and 61 bishops gave immediate support to the aggression (against Ethiopia).
- Corriere della Sera, January 10, 1938
In his address to archbishops, bishops and priests, Mussolini admired: “the efficient cooperation given by the clergy during the war against the Abyssinians…remembering with particular sympathy the example of patriotism shown by Italian bishops, who brought their gold to the local office of the Fascist Party…”(5)
- Manchester Guardian, February 12, 1929: “Pope Pius XI is credited with much admiration for
Mussolini.That the Italian clergy as a whole are pro-Fascist is easy to understand, seeing that
Fascism is antinationalist, authoritarian, anti-liberal, and anti-Socialist force.”(6)
- Martindale, the Jesuit scholar representing the Pope, confirmed that the secretary of state at the
Vatican, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII), offered Haile Selassie 1 million (Sterling
Pounds) on behalf of Italy in return for his abdication.”(7)
- Sbacchi continued to state: “Bishop Andre Marie Elie Jarosseau, Haile Selassie’s
former tutor and a man who had influence over him, also invited the exiled ruler to recognize Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia. By submitting to Italy he could rule with Italian consent.” P. 124 (Sbacchi’s sources: “Times (London), 29 April 1938; Le Petit Parisien, 22 August 1939; La Garonne, 22 August 1939; Bernoville, Monseigneur Jarosseau et la Mission des Gallas, p. 360” p. 127) (8)
- New York Times, February 13, 1937: “Earlier today the Pontiff (Pope Pius XI) had
given his recognition of Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia by bestowing his apostolic benediction upon Victor Emmanuel as “King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia.” (9)
- Statement by an eye-witness, Dr. Syoum Gebregziabher, author of “Symphony of my Life”, 2012:
“From my book you can note, how one of the Catholic priest took the personal responsibility to entice me to be a priest! How we the seminarian marched outside Harar in a heavily Moslem country protected by Fashist military to attend church every week! Picture P. 63. This was a clear policy of the Catholic Church in support of Fascism. The establishment of “Collegio Ethiopico” within the Vatican compound was to train and indoctrinate Ethiopian seminarian. We were then told that if we become good potential priests, we will be eligible to go to Rome for further education (indoctrination”! There was a definite crusade to propagate Catholicism in Ethiopia with the help of fascism based on Aparthaid policy I had faced on my way to priesthood!”
In addition, Dr. Syoum Gebregziabher stated in his letter to me dated July 19, 2012:
“…In 1948 my uncle Gebremeskel Habtemariam (Dejasmach) mentioned in the book; not only protested the Vatican collaboration with Mussolini; but officially dropped his Catholicism and joined and embraced the Ethiopian Orthodox Church!”
- Contrary to the abundance of evidence proving Pope Pius XI’s complicity with Mussolini and the
Fascists, Zewdie Retta claims, (10) that the Pope, in his speech to graduating nurses, expressed, as an aside to his formal speech a statement to the effect that he objected to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. However, in addition to the evidence provided above, Rev Dr. Mikre-Sellassie G/Ammonuel quotes Gaetano Salvemini, in his book.
“To anyone reading without close attention, Pius XI’s address to the nurses gives an impression of condemning not only war but also this particular was as an abominable crime. In actual fact it does not condemn the imminent war. It condones it as a war of self-defense. In addition it puts in a plea for indulgence and leniency should Mussolini, in the exercise of his rights of self-defense, exceed the limits of moderation.”(11)
- In his book: Church and Mission in Ethiopia During The Italian Occupation”, 2014, p.149, Rev. Dr. Mikre-Sellassie G/Amanuel states further:
“…the Pope very clearly expressed his love and wholehearted support to Italy and the
- Another eyewitness account by the 97-year old, General Lema Gabremariam a participant in the war Maichew in 1936 states, in his open letter to Pope Francis I:
“ … the battle of Maichew, 1936… was my first experience of war. I witnessed the deadly poison gas, yperite raining from aircrafts, which was a routine of the Fascist warfare. As a result of the acidic-rain, my eyes were affected and I was nearly blinded and made unconscious.
…When I regained my consciousness, I found myself in the middle of heaps of dead bodies of humans and pack animals…..
There are proofs that some (Vatican) Cardinals and clergy rallied behind fascism, among them the Cardinal of Milan, Alfredo Ildefons Schucter. In addition to his anti Ethiopia campaign, the Cardinal was photographed with war generals with others were photographed next to tanks, machineguns, and the army, which were on their way to invade Ethiopia.
As your Holiness is aware, His Holiness Pope Bendict XVI had apologized to the Jewish people in the year 2000 for failing to take action in challenging the Nazi, though the Vatican had not collaborated with Hitler. What would God say when the Vatican confessed to the Jews, but not to Ethiopians?
I have learned about your reputation through the mass media that you are a man of many firsts. I hope and pray that you will add more to your great achievement by apologizing to the Ethiopian people and peace loving people at large.”
- Karlheinz Deschner, “God and the Fascists”, 2013, p. 44:
“Even Catholic papers flatly admitted that Pisus XI had permitted colonial. The conscience of the world condemned Italy’s vigorous approach.” Gert Buchheit also wrote in 1938: “What did the Papcy do? ….The Church demanded that the bishops hand in their gold crosses and hains…..Yes, the Pope even gave the Duce (Mussolini) the frozen assets in Germany so that Italy could purchase the necessary raw materials…”
- David I Kertzer, “The Pope and Mussolini”, 2014, pp405/6:
“The Vatican (Pope Pius XI) played a central role both in making the Fascist regime possible and in keeping it in power…..The central player in the effort to keep Pope Pius XI (in check) was Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli – later Pope Pius XII.”
- Jeff Pearce, “Prevail”, 2014, pp117/8:
“…By mid-September (1935), Eugenio Pacelli, Cardinal Secretary of State (and later Pius XII) sent word to Musolini that the Pope (Pius XI) would not stand in the way of an invasion (of Ethiopia). As Professor Christopher Duggan noted in Fascist Voices, “The Church provided overwhelming backing for the war, with seven cardinals, twenty-nine archbishops, and seventy-five bishops offering public endorsements to the press.”
From the preponderance of the evidence provided above, there should be no doubt whatsoever that Pope Pius XI and the Fascist Mussolini were in league in the Fascist aggressions including the invasion and the war crimes in Ethiopia. Therefore, the campaign for a formal and public Vatican apology as well as the restitution of properties such as 500 documents presently in its custody to the Ethiopian people is fully justified. For more details, please see: www.globalallianceforethiopia.org.
(1) Manhattan, Avro, “The Vatican in World Policies”, 1947;
(2) Gardini, T.L., “Towards the New Italy”;
(3) Tuling, “The Pope in Politics”;
(4) Salvemini, Gaetano, “Il Vatican eil Fasismo”
(5) Corriere della Sera, January 10, 1938;
(6) Manchester Guardian, February 12, 1929;
(7) Sbacchi, Alberto, “Ethiopia Under Mussolini”, p. 123;
(8) Ibid, p.124;
(9) New York Times, February 1937;
(10) Retta, Zewdie, “YeQedamawi Haile Selassie Mengist”, 2012;
(11) G/Amanuel, Mikre-Sellassie, “Church and Missions in Ethiopia During The Italian Occupation”
2014, p. 148.
(12) G/Ammanuel, Kesis; Dr. Mikre-Sellassie, “Church and Mission in Ethiopia During The Italian Occupation”,
2014, p. 149