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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 September, 2003, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Il Duce 'sought Hitler ban'
Benito Mussolini
Mussolini 'was angry at Hitler'

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini asked the Pope to excommunicate Adolf Hitler shortly before he went to Rome to seal their alliance in 1938, according to a Vatican document.

Details of Mussolini's secret request were found in the Vatican's recently opened secret archive which forms the basis of a book by Italian historian Emma Fattorini on the last days of Pius XI's papacy.

Ms Fattorini, a university professor in Rome, suggests the demand reflected the Italian leader's anger over Hitler's annexation of Austria in March 1938.

Although she also says Mussolini's actions may have been an attempt to set up the Church, in that if it did not act, he could accuse it of failing to listen to his warnings.

"Despite the many stop and go situations, we are in fact in the middle of full Italian-German accord - and it is this that makes the request for an excommunication so sensational," Ms Fattorini reportedly said.

She said the document - found in the archive opened in February - showed Mussolini was playing a "double game".

'Harsher measures'

Despite being baptised a Catholic by his mother, in his adult life Hitler was not a practicing Catholic.

It is thought however he would have been aware of the significance of an excommunication and would have avoided the ruling at all costs.

The account of the meeting in April 1938 was taken by Holy See representative Pietro Tacchi Venturi.

Mussolini had urged the Vatican to adopt harsher measures against Hitler, according to Mr Venturi's own account of their talks.

"The head of the government told P. Tacchi Venturi in a private meeting that with Hitler it would be advisable to be more energetic, without half measures; not now, not immediately, but waiting for the best time to adopt these more energetic measures, for example excommunication," the record says.

In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria and became a threat to Italian security - especially in Italy's German-speaking northern region.

However, Mussolini went on to sign a military alliance with Germany in 1939 and joined the war a year later.

It is not clear if the Church ever seriously considered excommunicating Hitler.

The Vatican archives relating to pre-war Germany were opened in a bid to counter charges that the Vatican did not do enough to prevent the Holocaust.

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