Raffaella Perin – The Popes on Air

Describe your book

The book offers the first wide-ranging study on the history of Vatican Radio from its origins (1931) to the end of World War II based on unpublished sources. The opening of the Vatican Archives on the records regarding Pope Pius XII has allowed light to be shed on the most controversial pontificate of the 20th century. The research provides an original point of view on the most relevant questions such as the relationship of the Holy See with the new media in the mass society; the relation of the Catholic Church with the Fascist regimes and Western democracies; the Vatican position towards the total war and its attitude towards anti-Semitism and the Shoah.

Pius XII’s government of the Church has been analysed through the reconstruction of the relations between Vatican Radio and the Roman Curia; the study of the strategic, propagandistic and diplomatic use of Vatican Radio by the Holy See during World War II; the analysis of the broadcasts, through what was decided to spread, the ways in which news were disseminated and the choice of the most suitable moment to do it; yet even through what they decided not to say, the silences of the Vatican in front of the tragic events of the war. 

Pius XII became more and more aware of the strategic use he could make of the radio and Vatican Radio history told in this book reflected the doubts, the reticence, the prudence towards a war that had highlighted all the contradictions not only of the international situation created during the Twenties and Thirties but above all of the position assumed by the Catholic Church in that short period of time in which sudden and unexpected changes have been produced.

Why did you decide to publish it with a university press?

Fordham University Press is renowned inside and outside of the United States and they are in contact with the world of education and research to which my book is especially addressed to.

Who, or what, aspires you?

When I do research on the history of the Catholic Church, I like to take a scholarly approach by trying to understand the deeper motivations that drove Popes, or in general Catholic clergy and institutions, to make some choices rather than others. The judgment I try to make is never moralistic, but as historical as possible. The challenge that excites me every time I approach new research is to search and find the sources and then to be able to interpret them with a historical method.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A good piece of advice I received was: write in a way that everyone can understand, so that your thinking can appear clear even if articulate.

What piece of advice might you give to young academics looking to follow in your footsteps?

The advice I give to my Ph.D. students is to gain experience abroad in different universities or research institutes, learn languages and try to study the historical context well so as to ask the right questions of the sources.

What’s next? 

My next research is about two members of the Society of Jesus who stood out for different reasons. The first, best known, is Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi, the Jesuit who acted as a liaison between the Vatican and Mussolini in the 1930s and during World War II. The second is Emmanuel Mistiaen, a Belgian Jesuit who was one of the main characters in the book The Popes On Air as a French-speaking speaker for Vatican Radio.

Raffaella Perin is Associate Professor of History of Christianity at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan. The Popes on Air: The History of Vatican Radio from Its Origins to World War II is published by Fordham University Press.