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(Last Updated: 15 Jun 2000 )
Recently I had a discussion with a correspondent who asserted that the Catholic Church did not oppose the Nazis, and that the Concordat signed between the Vatican and the German government in 1933 meant that Catholics in Germany were not able to oppose the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. This article is based upon my response to those assertions. For more about the Catholic Church, Hitler, and the Nazis, see my articles The Catholic Church and the Nazis, and Hitler - Christian, Atheist, or Neither?
This first question is mainly related to Articles 16 and 32 of the Concordat. Article 16 dealt with Bishops taking an oath of loyalty to the nation. I have attempted to demonstrate below that this did not prevent the Church from recognising and responding to the immoral activities of the German government. Article 32 excluded clergy from belonging to political parties, but it should be pointed out that the Supplementary Protocol to the Concordat expanded upon Article 32 to say that the Article "does not involve any sort of limitation of official and prescribed preaching and interpretation of the dogmatic and moral teachings and principles of the Church." It was these moral teachings that the Nazis contravened so radically and that the Church staunchly upheld, as I try to show here.
Having read the Concordat it seems apparent to me that the Church's concern was simply religious in nature and was motivated by concern for the welfare of souls in its care. All the articles seem reasonable and prudent and in no way support the racism or violence of the Nazis.
Although some may argue that German Catholics might have done more in resisting Hitler, I think it is misleading to say that the Concordat prevented Catholics from opposing the persecutions.
There were many Catholic martyrs killed for resisting Hitler or who died in concentration camps for helping the Jews. Several of these have been honoured by Pope John Paul II in recent years. Examples include Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Saint Edith Stein. There is also Father Rupert Mayer, who preached that one could not be both a Catholic and a Nazi. See http://www.holycross.edu/departments/library/website/hiatt/hero5.htm for some biographical information on these martyrs, and for evidence that the Concordat, while intended to secure rights for the Church in Germany, did not prevent Catholics from opposing the violation of those rights. Besides, once the concordat was signed, Hitler broke its provisions almost straight away, in spite of saying upon his ascension in 1933 that "The national Government sees in the two Christian religions [Catholicism and Protestantism] the most important factors for the maintenance of our folk. Their rights will not be touched."
There are plenty of resources documenting
the activities of Catholics in opposition to Hitler's policies. One
example among many is the German bishops' common pastoral letter of June
26, 1941, which included the following:
Similarly, in February 1936, in a sermon given at Xanten, Bishop Count von Galen made the following comments regarding the numerous martyrs from the period of the Church's struggle in the Third Reich:
These citations, and several others, can be found at http://www.cdn-friends-icej.ca/antiholo/struggle.html.
The Nazis certainly knew how the Church felt. In Germany in 1935 Hermann Goering said:
Besides, it is a fact that the Churchdid speak out directly against the Nazis. In 1930 Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) arranged a series of articles in L'Osservatore Romano that strongly criticized Nazism. The October 11, 1930 article said:
In 1935 at Lourdes in France, Cardinal Pacelli told an estimated 325,000 pilgrims, including many Germans, that:
After becoming Pope Pius XII, Pacelli spoke and wrote frequently against racism. The Nazis arrested, imprisoned or executed anyone caught listening to Vatican Radio because of its anti-Nazi message.
The New York Times editorial for Christmas 1941 said:
Pius, according to the Times, had "placed himself squarely against Hitlerism."
The October 11, 1942 Editorial of the Times of London said:
After the Pope's 1942 Christmas broadcast to the world, the German SS analysis of his message said:
And of course there is the encyclical promulgated before the war in 1937 by Pope Pius XI, which was drafted by Eugenio Pacelli before he became Pope, Mit brennender Sorge. The English subtitle was "Encyclical on the Church and the German Reich". In contrast to what some have said about the lack of criticism of the Nazis from the Vatican, this was one of the strongest condemnations of a national regime that the Holy See had ever published. It was written in German rather than Latin, and was smuggled into Germany, secretly distributed, and read at the Masses on Palm Sunday, March 14, 1937. It condemned the persecution of the Church in Germany and also the neopaganism of Nazi theories, the idolizing of the state, and the use of race to judge human value. It starts off by discussing the Concordat, and, with particular relevance to our discussion here, has this to say in Article 5:
I have cited some relevant sections from this encyclical on another webpage about the Catholic Church and the Nazis, but Article 8 in particular bears repeating as a direct rebuttal of the Nazi world-view:
One last citation about the Church's willingness to speak out against the Nazis (although there are many more) comes from Rabbi Pinchas Lapide, who defended Pope Pius XII from similar accusations in his book Three Popes and the Jews (the emphasis is mine):
Could the Church have done more? Perhaps. But in looking at this issue we should never forget the difficulties and perils of witnessing to the truth in those dangerous times.
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