Pietro Tacchi Venturi SJ
Friday, April 17, 2015
ADSS 1.18 Fr Pietro Tacchi Venturi to Maglione: conversation with Mussolini
ADSS 1.18 Pietro Tacchi Venturi (1) to Luigi Maglione, Sec State.
Reference: AES 2300/39; personal memorandum.
Location and date: Rome, 02.05.1939
Summary statement: Conversation with Mussolini; Il Duce is in favour of the Pope’s project for a peace conference.
On Monday evening I had the opportunity of expressing to the Duce that His Holiness, greatly perturbed by the imminent danger of a tremendous conflagration, was meditating as to whether he should send a message to the five Powers, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Poland, inviting them to settle around a conference table the questions which were threatening to kindle a new war. (2) Before the Holy Father takes any decision, he wanted to know if the proposal would be agreeable to the Head of the Italian Government and had expressly invited me to find out.
Signor Mussolini visibly appreciated my words, and, becoming more serious, answered me with these precise words:
“It is a serious question and must be carefully examined; now it is late (it was 20.00) and I need a day to think about it; come back tomorrow and we shall talk about it together.” Then he added: “Germany cannot be under the delusion of being able to do to Poland what it did to the others without shedding blood; Poland will resist; will be overrun by the greater German power, and this will start a new international war.”
This evening at 18.30, as I was advised in the morning, he received me again and this is his reply:
The Duce said: “His Holiness’ idea pleases me; as far as I am concerned I approve it’ but before putting it into effect it is better to wait for the speech which Minister Beck will make on the 5th; a very short time to wait, as you see. (3) Then there are two ways of sending out this message: a diplomatic one thorough the Nuncios, or a public one through the Press; but”, he added immediately, “even following the second way, which I prefer, it would be opportune, before releasing the message, to bring it to the attention of those to whom it is directed through the Holy See’s Representatives. We would be able to know at once the reaction of the people interested.”
After this he expressed to me his opinion that such an action by the Roman Pontiff would without doubt receive the approval of the entire civilised world. “Because the Pope addresses himself to nations that not only are Christian but also in the main are Catholic. Even the two countries have a Protestant majority, have a Catholic population running to tens of millions; Germany must now have about forty million Catholics, An invitation made to all the Heads of the five Powers, without preference for any of them, could no displease anybody and could not be refused”. At this point I asked Duce what he thought Hitler would do; and he replied that he was inclined to think that Hitler would not refuse it. Then he added that in the invitation to the conference, without, however, going into too many details, it would be desirable to set out the aims clearly, that is to settle peacefully the questions which divide Germany and Poland, France and Italy and the others which are dependant on them; but then he modestly added: “enough, it is not up to me to give advice to the Pope.”
Thus ended the conversation about point 1, which was the more important of today’s meeting.
(1) Pietro Tacchi Venturi (1861-1956), Jesuit priest with close contact to Benito Mussolini. He remained one of the most significant channels of informal contact with Mussolini until August 1943.
(2) 01.05.1939. According to Tacchi Venturi’s diary, it seems that this meeting had been proposed for about a week at least. Tacchi Venturi was in face received by the Pope on 21.04.1939 at 10.00. On 23.04.1939 he wrote to Mussolini asking for an audience, which was granted to him for 01.05.1939 at 12.30, then postponed to 18.15 and in fact he was received for a few moments at 19.45. But the real meeting took place on 02.05.1939 at 18.45. (Jesuit Archives, Tacchi Venturi, Agenda, 1939).
(3) Józef Beck (1894-1944), Polish Foreign Minister (1932-39) addressed the Polish parliament and unambiguously refused all German demands on Poland as made by Hitler on 28.04.1939. See ADSS 1.26 notes.