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The Catholic Church and the Nazis

- Did the Church Support Adolf Hitler?

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(Last Updated:  16 Sep 2000 )


I have come across many claims on the Internet that the Catholic Church and the Pope at the time supported Hitler and the Nazis during World War II.

Here are paraphrases of some quotes from atheists I have corresponded with recently on this very issue, along with my responses.

The statements I respond to are in <red text, in brackets>.  My responses are in normal text.

Quick Index:  The Church Standing Up For Justice / "We Remember" / Mit Brennender Sorge / Hitler Excommunicated? / Links

> I am sure that an atheist living in Germany in 1943 who sees Jews being killed would know that that was wrong, and they would have a right to state that opinion. <

That's a good point.  It is certainly surprising that there was not more protest from parties on both sides of the philosophical fence in Germany (Christians and atheists) when it was time to stand up for the Jews.  But it's interesting to note that Albert Einstein (who was Jewish), reacting to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, was dismayed at the lack of outcry or assistance from secular establishments.  He said:  

"Only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty. Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty."
(Pinchas E. Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews, pg 251).

> The current pope just apologized for the pope during World War II being sided with Hitler in his anti-Jew campaign during WW2. <

By apology, do you mean last year's document We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah?  The apology in that document said nothing about a pope siding with Hitler, because no pope ever did side with Hitler.  That document discussed the history of Jewish-Christian relations.  It did contain an apology, but not of the sort you are getting at.  It quoted Pope John Paul II's letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente saying:  

"It is appropriate that, as the Second Millennium of Christianity draws to a close, the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those  times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel  and, instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the  values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal".

But the idea that any pope sided with Hitler in his anti-Semitism is absurd.

The pope immediately before World War II was Pius XI, who wrote an encyclical condemning National Socialism called Mit Brennender Sorge (On the Church and the German Reich, March 1937).  Some citations are included in this article below.

When that pope died in 1939 he was succeeded by Pope Pius XII, who had previously been Vatican Secretary of State.  In that role he frequently spoke out against the Nazis, including one notable speech to 250,000 people at Lourdes in 1935 where he said that the Nazis  

"are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel. It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of social revolution, whether they are guided by a false concept of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult."

As Pope he secretly worked to save as many Jewish lives as possible from the Nazis.  Jewish Rabbi Pinchas Lapide wrote that

"The final number of Jewish lives in whose rescue the Catholic Church had been the instrument is thus at least 700,000 souls, but in all probability it is much closer to ... 860,000." (Pinchas E. Lapide, 'Three Popes and the Jews', pp 227-228).

This is more than all other Jewish relief organizations in Europe, combined, were able to save.

> The pope at the time never claimed Hitler to be wrong.<

Well, maybe you should read Mit Brennender Sorge (On the Church and the German Reich, by Pope Pius XI, March 1937).  Here are some relevant extracts:  

"Whoever identifies, by pantheistic confusion, God and the universe, by either lowering God to the dimensions of the world, or raising the world to the dimensions of God, is not a believer in God. Whoever follows that so-called pre-Christian Germanic conception of substituting a dark and impersonal destiny for the personal God, denies thereby the Wisdom and Providence of God who "Reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly" (Wisdom viii. 1). Neither is he a believer in God."  (Section 7)
"Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community--however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things--whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds."  (Section 8)
"Whoever wishes to see banished from church and school the Biblical history and the wise doctrines of the Old Testament, blasphemes the name of God, blasphemes the Almighty's plan of salvation, and makes limited and narrow human thought the judge of God's designs over the history of the world: he denies his faith in the true Christ"  (Section 16)

< Hitler was never excommunicated, and remained a faithful Catholic until he died. >

Well, I have read (but cannot provide citations) that the conference of German bishops excommunicated all Nazis in 1930 and in the 1932 elections told Catholics not to vote for a Nazi.

Whether Hitler was personally formally excommunicated doesn't matter - the whole purpose of excommunication is to help the sinner recognize the seriousness of his sins so he will seek forgiveness and return to the Church.  To someone like Hitler, who didn't believe in the truth of Christianity, excommunication would be of no concern.  He had already put himself outside of the Church.

Other Information

For more on Hitler's religious attitudes, see my article Hitler - Christian, Atheist, or Neither?.
For more on the Catholic Church's opposition to the Third Reich, see my article Catholicism vs the Nazis.

Also check out my Christianity Historical Issues and Catholicism Historical Issues pages.

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