In This Review

A Twentieth-Century Crusade: The Vatican’s Battle to Remake Christian Europe
A Twentieth-Century Crusade: The Vatican’s Battle to Remake Christian Europe
By Giuliana Chamedes
Harvard University Press, 2019, 440 pp

This pathbreaking book offers the first serious historical account of the modern diplomacy of the Catholic Church—an organization that for the first three-quarters of the twentieth century was more powerful than any other nonstate actor. The church, which viewed democracy with suspicion, began its international activities in 1917 with systematic opposition to Wilsonian liberalism and Soviet communism. In the interwar period, it signed “concordats” with any government—including fascist ones in Germany, Italy, and Spain, and also the newly independent Baltic states—that promised to deepen Catholic influence in family law (opposing divorce and, later, abortion), education (creating space for religious teaching), and civil society (where religious symbols would remain part of civic life) and to provide state support for the church. Famously, the church remained silent on the persecution and extermination of the Jews during World War II. After the war, the church became a consistent bulwark against communism. This became particularly important after the war, when the church reconciled with democrats and promoted Christian democratic parties in Europe in order to bolster resistance to the influence of the Soviet Union. The church took a more conciliatory stance on decolonization, rightly sensing that the developing world might be fertile ground for future expansion.