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The Vatican Made Nazism
Did the Catholic Church help German Nazism? A look at
Just as, according to “We Remember,” the extermination of European Jews was an extreme manifestation of anti-Catholicism (!), so, according to the Vatican statement, leading German clerics fought Nazi antisemitism. Case in point: Bavarian Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber. (The Vatican statement’s praise for von Faulhaber is quoted and refuted later in this article.)
Not only does “We Remember” claim that the church fought Nazi antisemitism, but it quotes Pope John Paul II apparently absolving the Catholic hierarchy from responsibility for the belief (one of the foundations of Christianity) in Jewish culpability for the death of Jesus:
Reading this remarkable statement, one is compelled to ask: if Christians did not get their belief in Jewish culpability from the Christian church, pray tell where did they get it?
Many people, including some Jewish leaders, have praised Pope John Paul II and “We Remember” for facing up to ‘errors’ made during the Holocaust.
But if the Church never aided, and indeed opposed, the Nazis, and never accepted even non-racial, religion-based hatred of Jews, then to what errors would the Vatican need to face up?
Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, answered this question when he was a top advisor to John Paul II:
So Joseph Ratzinger claims that: a) Nazism was “anti-Christian”; b) Christianity erred only by “a certain insufficient resistance” (notice the modifier, “a certain,” which limits the insufficiency - i.e., it wasn’t so very insufficient!) to Nazism, not by complicity or active support; c) even this error resulted from individual Christian’s religious hostility to Judaism – “an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians” – which rather avoids the question: from whom did they inherit it, if not the church?
Church defenders, such as Vatican spokesman Peter Gumpel, argue that:
While Gumpel creates a false impression, the Nazis did renege on some parts of the Concordat, especially over issues involving control of schools. And the German Catholic church did sometimes criticize Nazi policies, for example regarding forced sterilization (which contradicts Catholic doctrine) but not, as the Vatican now claims, over Nazi treatment of the Jews and of anti-Nazis, Jewish and non-Jewish. (Just for the record, the Vatican signed the Concordat after the Nazis issued their forced sterilization law, so later church protests over forced sterilization have a hollow ring.)
The fact that German Catholic-Nazi relations were not always smooth sailing does not mitigate the horrific truth that:
* By voting to give Hitler dictatorial powers, the Catholic Centre party (Zentrum) made it possible for Hitler to set up his dictatorship with a phony appearance of legality;
* By then dissolving Zentrum, the German Church eliminated the powerful party, through which many Catholics had opposed Nazism and through which they were trying to continue opposing Nazism up until the moment Zentrum was dissolved;
* By rescinding the ban on Catholics joining the Nazi Party, the Church made Nazism the only church-approved vehicle for political action;
* By drafting and signing the Concordat, the Vatican literally (i.e., in the form of specific rules, laid out in the Concordat, such as Article 16) ordered German Catholics to support the Nazis, telling millions of Catholics not only in Germany but worldwide that the Pope was allied with Fascism, meaning that they must ally with it as well;
* By giving Hitler their vote-winning support for his Enabling Act, dissolving Zentrum, rescinding the ban on Nazi membership, and drafting/and signing the Concordat, the Vatican wrapped Hitler in a cloak of Vatican acceptance at a crucial moment, when the infant racist state was suffering extreme international isolation.
Put yourself in the position of a 1933 German Catholic as you read the text of the contract between Nazi Germany and the Vatican, the Reichskonkordat. (See Vatican's watered-down translation at http://tinyurl.com/8js9c )
The German Catholic Church has rescinded its ban on joining the Nazi Party. The Catholic Centre party (Zentrum) has obeyed Vatican orders and dissolved itself. In the Reichskonkordat, the Vatican has promised that German Catholic educators will teach children to love the Nazi state (Article 21). It has requested and received the Nazi dictatorship’s promise to enforce internal Church decisions (Article 10), voluntarily making the Nazis the policeman of the church. Cardinal Bertram of Breslau has called on Catholics to avoid all subversive or illegal -- illegal by Nazi definition! -- activities.
And even clearer: the Reichskonkordat has ordered German Bishops to be loyal to and honor the Nazi state, to cause their subordinates to do likewise, and to seek out and prevent any actions that might threaten Nazism (Article 16), thus rendering Catholic bishops adjuncts of the Nazi political police.
How would you respond? Isn’t the Pope infallible, and didn’t the Pope, through his delegated subordinate, sign the Reichskonkordat, which reads:
– Mandatory pledge for newly appointed Catholic Bishops, Reichskonkordat, Article 16, translation by Samantha Criscione
Prevent any harm!
Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote:
To be sure, there was “anti-Judaism” in the hearts of many Christians, but there was also anti-Nazism. With German Christians divided on Nazism, the Vatican intervened, committing every one of its thousands of German clerics to honor the Nazi dictatorship and hunt for actions that might harm it. Is Pope Benedict XVI, formerly the Vatican’s Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (previously called ‘the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition’), and before that a German professor of Theology, perhaps unfamiliar with the Reichskonkordat? Or is Ratzinger faulting German Catholics for offering “a certain insufficient resistance” to Vatican orders?
Peter Gumpel, the Vatican’s main spokesman regarding Pope Pius XII and the Nazis, argues that “the Vatican authority itself and the most astute Catholics” expected the Nazis to renege on some or all of what they promised in the Concordat.
What if Gumpel is correct? Is he aware of the implications? What if, as Gumpel argues, “the Vatican authority itself and the most astute Catholics” expected the Nazis to renege on some or all of the limited promises the Nazis made in the Concordat, meaning that the Vatican had Zentrum vote for the Enabling act, had the German bishops lift the ban on Nazi membership, negotiated the Concordat, and dissolved Zentrum even though they expected Hitler to renege on promises such as church control of Catholic schools? Then what was the motive of the Vatican and the German Catholic hierarchy for taking actions which put the Nazis firmly in power, effectively pushing Catholics to join the Nazi party, and giving Hitler a document, signed by the Pope, which committed the German church to honor the Nazi Reich and ferret out and oppose actions that “might endanger it”?
Gumpel says that the astute people in the Vatican knew Hitler would not respect church independence, but really it did not require much astuteness; just the ability to read. Article I of the Concordat states:
The key phrase here is “within the limit of those laws which are applicable to all.”
The Reichskonkordat was signed July 20, 1933, four months after the Vatican-controlled Centre party (Zentrum) gave its support to the Enabling Act, thus making Hitler the dictator of Germany with the right to issue laws without parliamentary approval. And Zentrum had dissolved itself on July 6 - two weeks before the signing of the pact. So a) there was no possible parliamentary opposition to the Nazis because there were no longer any functioning parliamentary opponents and b) even if there had been, the Catholic party had voted to give the Nazis the authority to rule by decree. Thus, the promise to respect the partial autonomy of the Catholic church (e.g., in the running of Catholic schools) within the limits of law meant within the limits of whatever the Nazis decided. Having given Hitler the power to make laws at whim, one did not have to converse directly with God to know that the promise of Catholic rights under law wasn’t worth beans.
As Samantha Criscione argues (see footnote ), read as the end result of negotiations between parties hammering out an accord through mutual concessions, the Reichskonkordat was a catastrophic Vatican defeat. A defeat because Hitler got everything. He got the Vatican’s unqualified promise that the German Catholic church would love and honor the Nazi state and actively work to prevent actions that might endanger it, while the church got a promise of partial autonomy as long as the Nazis decided to allow it! By this standard, Eugenio Pacelli, later to become Pope Pius XII, was in the running for Worst Negotiator in History, signing away everything in return for nothing at a time when the Nazis were internationally isolated and running a state that had catastrophic financial debts, i.e., when Hitler very much needed a friendship treaty with the Vatican.
But read differently, read as the pro-Nazi faction within the Catholic church giving Hitler a weapon to help him suppress German anti-Nazi sentiment, including, indeed especially, inside the German Catholic church, whose party (Zentrum) had once opposed Nazism - the Concordat was a great success. Of course, there was no guarantee that at some point the Vatican and the Nazis would not come into conflict, despite their agreement on social and political questions and common desire to crush anti-Nazism. Even a marriage based on mutual interest may end in divorce. C’est l’amour.
For the Vatican and the Nazis, job #1 was to crush anti-Nazism, i.e., to crush the ideas that had annoyed the Vatican for a hundred and fifty years, and this document, which ordered German clerics to serve as adjuncts to the Nazi political police was a vital weapon in Hitler’s hands.
Vatican support for Nazism was apparent during the 1930s. Despite efforts to white out the past, a pictorial record survived. The pictures accuse.
“On February 10,
1939, Pius XI died, at the age of 81. [Vatican Secretary of State
Eugenio] Pacelli, then 63, was elected Pope by the College of
Cardinals in just three ballots, on March 2. He was crowned on March
12, on the eve of Hitler’s march into Prague. Between his election and
his coronation he held a crucial meeting with the German cardinals.
Keen to affirm Hitler publicly, he showed them a letter of good wishes
which began, ‘To the Illustrious Herr Adolf Hitler.’ Should he, he
asked them, style the Führer ‘Most Illustrious’? He decided that that
might be going too far. He told the cardinals that Pius XI had said
that keeping a papal nuncio in Berlin ‘conflicts with our honor.’ But
his predecessor, he said, had been mistaken. He was going to maintain
normal diplomatic relations with Hitler. The following month, at
Pacelli’s express wish, Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, the Berlin nuncio,
hosted a gala reception in honor of Hitler’s 50th birthday. A
birthday greeting to the Führer from the bishops of Germany would
become an annual tradition until the war’s end.”
The Catholic Centre party’s support for the Enabling act, which gave Hitler dictatorial powers; the Centre party’s subsequent decision to dissolve itself; and the signing of the Nazi-Vatican Concordat two weeks later - these actions told Catholics it was OK to work with Nazis or even to be a Nazi. This was a big boost for Nazi forces, not only in Germany but worldwide. Case in point: the Croatian Ustashi. When the German Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, the Ustashi terrorist organization set up the so-called ‘Independent State of Croatia.’ The Ustashi attempted to wipe out Yugoslavia’s Jewish population and made a full-scale attack on the Serbs, who were members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, bitterly opposed by the Catholic hierarchy that was the mainstay of the Ustashi. The Ustashi state went to war against the Serbs:
The above-quoted report describes German commanders as being shocked by Croatian Ustashi barbarity. However, the Germans used equally brutal methods to destroy Jewish villages in the Soviet Union after the German Nazi invasion. Perhaps the Germans were shocked because the people being slaughtered were perceived as human, that is, they were not Jews...
The forced conversion of tens of thousands of Serbs to Catholicism by the Ustashi regime proves its fanatically Catholic character; hence the ‘Independent State of Croatia’ is commonly referred to as a ‘Clerical-Fascist’ state. Since the Vatican controlled the Catholic hierarchy worldwide, and since the Croatian Catholic hierarchy accepted papal infallibility and organizational direction, how can we explain the Ustashi’s Catholic violence except as an expression of the policies of the Church under Pope Pius XII?
The Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 10, 1941. According to the following report from the Yugoslav Embassy in Washington, Croatian Catholic Archbishop Stepinac helped the Ustashi terrorists create their pro-Nazi state. As in Germany, the stance taken by the Church hierarchy guided lower clergy and lay Catholics:
Could it be that the Jesuit scholars who wrote “We Remember” never read Cardinal Faulhaber’s 1933 Advent sermons? If so, let me assist. I have the full text in front of me. The Cardinal’s position was precisely the opposite of what the Vatican claims.
What the Nazis called ‘race culture’ consisted of indoctrinating the population in belief in a fictional but nevertheless superior and glorious German volk and an equally imaginary but nevertheless evil and subhuman people, the Jews, and their subhuman agents, the Slavs and blacks. This so-called ‘culture,’ which is essentially modern racism elevated to the status of official doctrine, was supported by Nazi-sanctioned quacks, called ‘race scientists.’ To claim that someone endorsed Nazi ‘race culture’ but opposed Nazi antisemitism would be as silly as claiming that someone endorsed anti-black racism but opposed hatred of black people.
Keeping this in mind, here is what Faulhaber wrote about Nazi ‘race culture’ in the Vatican-authorized translation of the Advent sermons, published immediately after Faulhaber delivered them:
Faulhaber was making it perfectly clear: the Catholic church should have no objection to Nazi antisemitism and glorification of a German so-called Volk. (I emphasized ‘should’ because, while the translation reads, “there is no objection,” as my colleague Samantha Criscione argues in an as yet unpublished text, in fact when Bavarian Cardinal Faulhaber delivered the sermons, a great many Bavarian Catholics did have objections to Nazi ‘race culture’ and ‘racial research’; so not only was Faulhaber endorsing the core of Nazi hate gibberish, but, as Ms. Criscione argues, he, as the ranking Bavarian cleric, was ordering the hierarchy to crack down on Catholics who challenged Nazi racism. Thus the sermons were a blow to the anti-Nazi movement in Germany. Rather than opposing the Nazis, Faulhaber sounded the charge against their opponents in the church.
Faulhaber did dispute the demand raised by some Nazis that Christians reject the ‘Old Testament’ (the Torah). This was a practical matter. According to Catholic doctrine, with the death of Jesus Christianity inherited the mantle of “the true Israel” from the Jews, meaning that Christian scripture was a continuation of pre-Christian Jewish scripture - the Torah. If Christians rejected the Torah, they rejected the possibility of being the “true Israel.”
Notice how, in the Advent sermons, Faulhaber went out of his way to stress that by accepting the Torah as the work of God, Christians were not therefore accepting the Jews:
So Faulhaber was not saying Christians should reject racist attitudes towards Jews. He was saying he had no problem with “race culture,” but hatred of Jews should not extend to pre-Christian Hebrew religious texts, which were a Christian legacy of heavenly origin, and anyway, had nothing to do with the Jews.
Point, game, set, match.
Catholic clergy and Nazi
officials, including Joseph Goebbels (far right) and Wilhelm Frick (second
from right), give the Nazi salute. Germany, date uncertain.
In 1933, under the leadership of its Cardinal Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli (who became Pope Pius XII), the Vatican negotiated a Concordat with Adolf Hitler. Catholic historian James Carroll writes:
As part of its Concordat with the Nazi regime, the Vatican had the huge Centre party, the Catholic party, which had previously opposed the Nazis, vote for the so-called ‘Enabling Act,’ which gave Hitler dictatorial powers, and then dissolve itself. Carroll writes:
In the above-quoted excerpt, Mr. Carroll seems to suggest that it was the “long-standing ambivalence” of the Catholic Church as an organization that had been, prior to the Reichskonkordat, “again and again... the source of impulses to protect Jews.” There are several problems with this.
First, the existence of a human impulse to decency, whether among Catholics or anyone else, is not proof of official policy. As a youthful participant in the US Civil Rights movement, I saw whites who objected to - and even took brave action to oppose - harsh treatment of black people. Such actions, while heartening, do not disprove the existence of an officially sanctioned system of abuse predicated on a theory (in this case, that blacks were supposedly less human). Similarly, of course many Catholics have been kind towards Jews and even drawn towards Jewish culture and thinking. But this does not contradict a 2,000 year policy of the Church hierarchy which has a) stigmatized Jews as “killers of Jesus,” which belief has fed and justified antisemitism, including the Nazi variety and b) discriminated sharply and/or subtly against Jews (e.g., the ghettos in which Jews were forced to live in the papal states) and c) conducted brutal campaigns against Jews (the inquisition is only one example.)
Second, the seeming ambivalence of the official Church is rooted in a doctrinal contradiction: since Christianity is presented as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, the Church hierarchy needs to have some Jews around, but it has not wanted them to prosper, or at least not for long, because ordinary Catholics might see that as evidence that God had not rejected the Jews for failing to accept Jesus as divine. This policy was first enunciated by St. Augustine, who cited Psalm 59: “Slay them not, lest my people forget: scatter them by thy power; and bring them down, O Lord our shield.”
In other words, don’t wipe them out, or at least not all of them, because Catholic doctrine presents the Bible (i.e., Jewish scripture) as predicting the coming of Jesus. But scatter them (i.e., don’t let them return to Judah, let alone have a state there) and bring them down (make sure they suffer) so that Christians will see what happened to the Jews because they rejected the doctrine that Jesus was divine. And, by all means, provide a steady stream of much-publicized Jewish converts as proof of the benevolence and divinity of Christianity, the acceptance of which constitutes, according to Church doctrine, the salvation of Jews.
Thus the Vatican is perfectly
capable of making statements against abuse of the Jews (who are presented as
constituting “our Abrahamic roots” which is not necessarily a statement of
brotherly affection, but can be one of religious self-justification!) even
as it encourages - sometimes in the same statements - abuse of Jews. I am in
the midst of writing a series on Pope John Paul II that deals in part with
the above-described phenomenon. Three articles are posted:
Priests give Hitler salute at a Catholic youth rally in the Berlin-Neukolln stadium in August 1933.
Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust
and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen]
Just as the Catholic Church hierarchy helped to establish and lead the Ustashi ‘Independent State of Croatia’ during World War II, so the Church helped neo-Ustashi leaders create a new independent Croatia in the 1990s.When, in June 1991, neo-Ustashi extremists launched the Yugoslav wars of secession by attacking federal troops in Croatia, the Church hierarchy painted a sympathetic picture of the secessionists. A few days after the Croatians declared war, the Pope sent a letter to the Yugoslav government demanding it not suppress the rebellion. On June 29th, the Pope spoke to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square:
Over the next four years, independent Croatia drove about 600,000 Serbs from their homes, with never a word from the Pope protesting this “suffocat[ion] with force [of ] the rights and legitimate aspirations” of Serbs. About half the Serbs were expelled from Croatia proper and the other half from the neighboring territory of Krajina, claimed by Croatia; the overwhelmingly Serbian population of the Krajina had opposed the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The most explosive and violent act of ethnic cleansing occurred in August 1995, when the Croatian army, led by US forces, drove a quarter million Serbian residents from the Krajina.
The media talks endlessly about a supposed massacre in Srebrenica, the existence of which is contested, whereas the media very rarely mentions the liquidation of Serbian Krajina, the greatest act of genocide in Europe since World War II.
Three years after the eradication of the Krajina, the Pope was in Croatia, kissing the soil and beatifying the notorious Cardinal Stepinac. At a time when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs, recently driven from their homes by the Croatian leaders, were living in poverty in refugee camps in Serbia, with no effort at reconciliation - let alone compensation - by Croatia, the Pope blessed the neo-Ustashi leaders with his presence and his words:
While beatifying Cardinal Stepinac, the Pope also beautified Croatian war crimes, speaking as if Croatia had not itself launched the wars of secession, and, in Orwellian fashion, praising Croatia for having a spirit of reconciliation:
He had met a genocide, and he called it love.
To read the case against Cardinal Stepinac, the man Pope John Paul II
beatified in Croatia, go to
Hitler praying after a rally in Vienna
Pope John Paul II’s claim (quoted below) that Nazism was a “Godless” movement is false, as suggested by Hitler’s own words (also quoted below)
Pope John Paul II gave a speech at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, in which he claimed the Holocaust was carried out by people with a “Godless ideology”:
But the German Nazis embraced both the Protestant and Catholic religions. Below is a quote from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Not only does he state that in the Nazi movement, “the most devout Protestant could sit beside the most devout Catholic, without coming into the slightest conflict with his religious convictions,” he also states that while the Nazis fought the Centre party (the Catholic party in Germany) during the 1920s, they did so for ‘racial’ and political reasons, not over religion. Later of course, in 1933, based on a decision taken in Rome, the Centre party went over to Hitler’s side and then dissolved itself. Hitler states that it was “the highest duty of the top leadership of the National Socialist movement to offer the sharpest opposition to any attempt” to involve the Nazis in fighting “Ultramontanism.” The term “Ultramontanism” is defined differently by different factions in the Catholic Church, but all agree that it means (at least) a Catholic Church organizationally/ideologically dominated by the Bishop of Rome, i.e., the Pope, who is viewed as infallible. So Hitler was saying the Nazis should *support* having the Pope dominate the Catholic Church even as he was fighting the Catholic party, the Centre party.
“When you see a cross...”
Above is a page from the Nazi children’s book, Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom). The caption reads, “When you see a cross, remember the gruesome murder of the Jews on Golgotha...”
Contrary to Pope John Paul II’s remarks when he spoke at Yad Vashem, the Nazis were not “Godless.” This headline from the infamously antisemitic Nazi periodical, Der Stuermer, reads, “Declaration of the Higher Clergy. So spoke Jesus Christ: You hypocrites who do not see the beam in your own eyes.” [from Matthew 7:3-5] The cartoon depicts a group of Hitler Youth. The caption reads, “We youth step happily forward facing the sun... With our faith we drive the devil from the land.” The devil in question was, of course, the Jews.
Hitler leaves the Marine Church in Wilhelmshaven.
Hitler at Nazi party rally
Note the (Lutheran) Frauenkirch or Church of our Lady in the background; the rally was staged as if to say Christianity was the foundation of the Nazi Party . Photo taken in Nuremberg, Germany (circa 1928).
[Posted at 20th Century History, from US Holocaust Museum]
Church & State
[Source: US Holocaust Museum]
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Bevor die Bischöfe von ihrer Diözese Besitz ergreifen, leisten sie in die Hand des Reichsstatthalters in dem zuständigen Lande bzw. des Reichspräsidenten einen Treueid nach folgender Formel:
Source: “Bekanntmachung über das Konkordat zwischen dem Deutschen Reich und dem Heiligen Stuhl. Vom 12. September 1933” [Proclamation on the Concordat Between the German Reich and the Holy See of 12 September 1933] on the Reichsgesetzblatt (RGBl.) [Reich Legal Gazette] , Part II, n. 38, 18 September 1933, p. 679, followed by the German and the Italian text of the “Konkordat,” ibid., pp. 679-690.
 The Pope’s Speech
at the Zagreb Airport, October 2, 1998, at
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