The Contradictory Actions of the Popes in the Thir

The Contradictory Actions of the Popes in the Third Reich
The Catholic Church, in the beginnings of the Third Reich, suffered a lot of damage. In a desperate attempt to let the Church survive in Germany, a lot of contradiction between the official statements and actual actions of the Catholic Church happened. One major contradiction was that the Church did not want to have anything to do with any actual killings and fascism that was a major principle of the Third Reich, but in order to keep the Church alive in Germany, they also had to give up something precious. Many of the expectations that the Catholic Church had for the new leader of Germany were missed, and the Church started suffering in many different ways.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, the Catholic Church feared that it was going to lose some of its power. In the beginning of his tyranny, Hitler sympathized with the Protestants, who, for some Catholics, were still just renegades that ought not to be accepted. The one, in Germany, dominant Protestant group - - the Lutherans - - were fond of quoting St. Paul's admonition: "The powers that be are ordained by God" (Flaherty 123). This sentiment scared some conservative Catholics who were against the Reich. They were led by pastors who were strongly paternalistic and patriotic and often suspicious of democratic reforms. In the years of the Weimarer Republik, the time between the World Wars, the Lutheran clergy found much to like in Hitler's doctrine of a new, powerful Germany, and some saw his program of positive Christianity as a godsend.
In 1931 the Nazis established the so - called Faith Movement of German Christians, a Nazi propaganda action to spread anti - Semitism in the Protestant Church. Reverend Joachim Hossenfelder, who was the advisor to the Nazis on church affairs, called it the "SA of Jesus Christ" (Flaherty 123). The SA was the "Sturmabteilung" (Stormtroopers), and they were known to be a very violent group of thugs, doing all the dirty work until Hitler came to power and Hitler's most favorite group came into existents, the SS, Schutz - Staffel (safety squadron). Hitler's positive Christianity was nothing else than just a program to get more young men to have confidence in the great FĂĽhrer and join the army. Hitler's growing influence among the Protestants worried leaders of the Catholic minority, who feared persecution if they continued to oppose the Nazis. When the day of voting for Hitler's Enabling Act came, the Catholics could chose between two options. They could either be a member of the Nazi organization, or being looked at as minors and so be persecuted. Therefore they saw no other way out of their misery, than to vote for Hitler. The fear of persecution was not just a day dream. Hitler was giving a speech to Catholics in Munich to find support for his Enabling Act, and Thomas H. Flaherty recapitulates that "the national government sees in both Christian denominations the most important factor for the maintenance of our society. The rights of the churches will not be diminished. But, that won't stop me from stamping out Christianity in Germany, root and branch. One is either a Christian or a German. One can't be both" (123). The Christian churches did not take this comment too seriously. They thought if they were accepted by the Party, they would survive and be allowed to practice freely. To show a gesture of their good will, the Catholic Bishops announced that their "previous general warnings and prohibitions [opposing the Nazi movement] need no longer be considered necessary" (Flaherty 124).
Being in a very uncomfortable position, the Church decided to work closer together with the Nazis. On July 20, 1933 the papal Secretary of State Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, signed the very contradictive Concordat with Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen in the Vatican. With the Concordat the Church wanted to protect its German clerics from persecution and forestall the establishment of Protestantism as the state religion. The Concordat allowed the Church to regulate her own affairs. All Germans were still allowed to profess and practice religion freely. The Church had all the rights to administer itself freely, they were guaranteed a legal status, property and role in education. In return Hitler wanted the Church to prohibit its clergy and organizations from taking part in German politics. Article 24 of the Nazi party program demanded "liberty for all religious denominations in the State so far as they are not a danger to. .. the moral feelings of the German race. The Party stands for positive Christianity" (Shirer 234). So the
Church saw at least some evidence that Hitler would not completely extinguish it, as they were being soaked up by the Party. Agreement was quickly found.
After the Concordat, Catholics in Germany were enthusiastic. They were allowed to practice their religion, and they could still be proud to be Germans. In churches, Christians sang the fascist Horst Wessel Song, prayers were spoken for the prosperity of the FĂĽhrer and the Reich, churches were decorated with swastikas; Nazi "Braunhemden" (Brown Shirts, SA members) were a common sight in churches; priests praised Hitler in their sermons and priests officially blessed flags that were used in the war. An American observer noted at that time as cited by Flaherty, "They have confidence in him. They feel the need for a strong hand upon the nation" (123).
Although everything seemed to be nearly perfect, Hitler's aspiration for the Concordat was just a small step for him to accomplish his goals to get rid of all churches. However Hitler did not strike at the body of Catholicism but at its soul. Priests and nuns were hauled into court to face false and foul charges like immorality and smuggling of foreign currencies which a Nazi controlled press circulated dutifully around the country, in order to stir up emotions against the churches. Priests were accused of working against the Party, and therefore against the prosperity of Germany. Five days after signing the Concordat, the Nazi's passed a sterilization law for disabled men, which was a violation of the Concordat. The Churches tried to protest against this horrible action against mankind, but the Nazis were too powerful to be stopped. Ultimately when war approached in Nazi - Germany, Robert Leckie writes, "Hitler realized that almost all the men he would need for his huge army were Christians, the campaign against Christianity was quickly dropped" (68). However, minor offenses against the church continued.
On Saturday, February 27, 1937, Pastor Zeldacher in Hamburg, an Austrian citizen, was interrogated by the Gestapo in connection with a Bible class he held on the 24th. Zeldacher was specifically criticized for using St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, Verse 11, as a text for his lesson. This verse said that the choice of Israel by God is unalterable. George C. Mosse writes about a newspaper report, published by the Nazis after the arrest of Zeldacher, saying, "Jesus was not an
Aryan but a Jew, and that despite Reichminister Kerrl's contrary opinion, it cannot be denied that Christ's sonship from God is the fundamental dogma of Christianity from the standpoint of a confessing Christianity" (248). Zeldacher was sent to a concentration camp. He was treated with brutality. He was called a Jew - Lover and Jew - Slave. After spending several weeks in the camp he was released, and left Germany for good.
The Vatican, being very confused with the behavior of the Nazi's, expressed its anger about the violations in many ways. Many telegrams were sent to and from the Vatican to correspond with the Nazis and find out what was wrong. Not getting any proper answer from the Nazis, Pope Pius XI decided, in March 1937, to publish the encyclical "cum cura ardente" (with burning care) expressing his grief and anger about all the violations of the Concordat and his disappointment that Nazi Germany had not honored the Concordat. Saul Friedlander knows that Pius XI was preparing another encyclical concerning anti - Semitism, taking an even stronger opposing standpoint against the Nazis, when he died in February 1939. (133)
After the death of Pope Pius XI, the former Cardinal Pacelli, the signer of the Concordat of 1933, became Pope Pius XII. In 1942 he organized an International Peace Conference, dealing with the problem of National Socialism, the Nazis, and World Peace. Although Pius XII knew about the concentration camps and even the mass killing camps in Poland, he only referred indirectly to the Nazis and their outrageous behavior in honoring Bishop Galen's successful stand against euthanasia, dealing with disabled men, without the Nazis putting him in a camp or putting him to silence for this outrageous outbreak of anti - Nazism. Instead of speaking out in the name of the church against the Nazis, Pope Pius XII decided to adapt a policy of silence. Shutting his eyes to the problem and not giving any papal advice concerning what to do with the Nazis, not showing mistrust and anger towards Germany and its policies, was for a long time his only public reaction. The first real intended speech against Nazi - Germany, although nobody realized it, was his Christmas speech of 1942. Nobody understood why he did not speak out against the Third Reich, since he knew what was happening, but Pius XII had a hard time acting against Germany since he was an extreme germanophile, as Saul Friedlander, a Vatican expert of that time, discovered, and could not allow Germany to stand in a bad light. His Christmas speech was more or less an act of despair, although not acting against the German people, but only against the Nazi government. Not only did the Popes fight against the Nazi problem. The underground in the Third Reich contained a number of different Catholic and other Christian resistance groups. One of the most well known groups that kept working against the Reich and is still in service were the Jehovah's Witnesses. In planning assassinations of Hitler and other leading members of the Nazi party, printing pamphlets and terror, they were on the red list of the Nazis and the SS. The DC, Deutsche Christen (German Christians) was active in printing pamphlets and spreading guerilla like assaults. The BDKJ, Bund der Deutschen Katholischen Jugend (Society of the German Catholic Youth) and the KJMV, Katholischer Jungmaennerverbund (Catholic Young Men Society) were minor groups, but still they were active the entire time of Hitler's reign and always kept resisting.
In the general history Pope Pius XI was always looked at as the Pope who allowed the Nazis to take control over Germany very easily in supporting the Nazis with their Enabling Act, giving them unlimited control, a dictatorship. In fact, Pope Pius XI would have never done any actions supporting the Nazis, or even Germany, if there had not been the Papal Secretary of State Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli who always kept the Pope from resisting against Germany. In supporting the Enabling Act and the Concordat the Pope followed just his principles in saving the church in a affected part of the world. His sole concern was towards all Catholics that lived in Germany and all men that were threatened with persecution in Germany. Shirer knows that the Pope saw on "the horizon of Germany the threatening storm clouds of destructive religious wars. .. which have no other aim. .. of extermination" (235). The Concordat of 1933 was also just an action to save the church in Germany, otherwise the Nazis would have looked at the Catholics as an hostile group and they would have ended up in the concentration camps just as every other enemy of the Reich. Behind both of these major actions supporting the Nazis in their rise was the major factor called Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli who represented also the Church in Germany and influenced Pope Pius XI greatly to support this. In fact Pope Pius XI never signed any of these documents, only Pacelli did with the authorization of the Pope. Pope Pius XI himself had strong feelings of mistrust and to some point even a certain hatred towards Nazi - Germany, as James Taylor and Warren Shaw know to report. He gave many markedly hostile speeches on the subject where Pacelli never took any part in. While Pius XI being Pope the connections towards Germany were as lose as possible. The Pope did not want to do anything with Germany if he did not have to. Shirer writes, "by the spring of 1937 the Catholic hierarchy in Germany, which, like most of the Protestant clergy, had at first tried to cooperate with the new regime, was thoroughly disillusioned" (235). One of the few things that Pacelli could not prevent the Pope from doing was to publish his encyclical "cum cura ardente" on March 14, 1937. This encyclical dealing with the fact that the Nazis in Germany were practicing euthanasia, prosecution of minorities and the position of the Catholic Church in Germany, was not an open statement directly saying to oppose everything the Nazis concerning. He begged more or less the Nazis to stop these crimes and their continuous warfare and to let peace rule Germany again. He saw a second World War coming up and thought of all Christians in the world. If Pacelli would have had more influence on the Pope, he would have never allowed him to publish such a contradicting document against their policy with the Third Reich. The Pope was also writing on another encyclical dealing with the Nazis themselves and their prosecution of the Jews. Because of Pacelli the Pope never spoke out openly against the Nazis, but in fact he supported George William Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago in launching unparalleled violence against Hitler and his fellows.
Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the former Secretary of State and quasi - ambassador to Germany, was elected Pope on March 2, 1939. He chose the name Pope Pius XII. Being extremely germanophile and being in a very influential position, he had a great influence on Pope Pius XI, as shown earlier. The first actions of Pius XII were in beginning to establish a very close relationship of the Vatican to the Third Reich. Just as his predecessor Pope Pius XI he also just wanted to maintain the church in Germany and to keep the church alive. He wanted to establish peace between Church and State. Saul Friedlander reports that Pius XII did not favor the National Socialism displayed by the Nazis, he was in fact always in a conflict with it as a matter of principle, although it hurt him personally a lot since he loved the German people. (5) He was looked at as a very highly gifted, very industrious and knowledgeable man. Being this very intelligent man, he saw the only way in dealing with the Nazis was in achieving compromises, to just keep the church alive. He had close contact to leading Nazis in Germany and always had busy telegram conversations about problems concerning the church and minorities. Up to Christmas time of 1942, there are no official records and no evidence found in the Vatican that the Pope did know about any mass killings. Up to then he did also not do anything big and of importance to change the situation in Germany for the church or minorities. His Christmas speech of 1942 though contained a strong opposing stand against the Third Reich and its policy of treating the Church and the Jews. The message though was so hidden, that nobody, not even the Nazis figured it out. Now, looking back to the past, we can find this passage dealing with the German warfare and mass killing very easily. Leckie gives us an excerpt of the original,
Humanity owes this vow to that infinite, suffering multitude of mothers, widows and orphans who have seen their lives robbed of light, strength and support. Humanity owes this vow to the countless exiles whom the hurricane of war has torn from their native homes, scattering them in foreign lands, and who could make the prophet's lament their own. Humanity owes this vow to hundreds of thousands of people who, through no fault of their own and solely of their nation or their race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction. Humanity owes this vow to the thousands of noncombatants - women, children, the sick, and the aged; those whom the air war - and we have, from the outset, often denounced its horrors - has deprived, without distinction, possessions, health, homes, refuges, and places of worship. (68)
During an International Peace Conference in the following year, however, the Pope did not speak out openly against the Nazis. The only hidden action against them was to honor Bishop Galen of Germany who took a successful stand against euthanasia and was not thrown into a camp. After World War II and after Hitler's reign, he was asked in a Christian College about the Concordat and the Nazis. Shirer quotes Galen describing the Nazis as "The arrogant apostasy from Jesus Christ, the denial of his doctrine and of His work of redemption, the cult of violence, the idolatry of race and blood, the overthrow of human liberty and dignity" (234).
We can now say that Pope Pius XII made many mistakes during and before his reign as Pope. The course of history would have probably taken another way if he had not had such a huge influence onto Pope Pius XI, being Pius' XI expert in questions concerning Germany and getting Pius XI to support the Enabling Act and the Concordat of 1933. Pius XII arrogance concerning Germany made him at that time at least a very dangerous man, being in a position where he had the power to change the course the Nazis would have gone. Pope Pius XI was always very concerned about the Nazis and their attitude, but being greatly influenced by his expert Pacelli, had no chance to not support the Nazis. Pacelli, later Pius XII, was in a key position that could have changed history and prevented a lot of cruelty if he would have had a more distant opinion about Germany.
A common question concerning members of the Catholic Church was always what would have happened if Pope Pius XI had taken a stronger stand against the Church. The fact of the matter is that he could not have changed a lot, because the Nazis have always been in the position of completely diminishing the Catholic Church. It would have made it harder for Hitler to get his Enabling Act passed, since many members of the German congress were Christian. The situation must have been really bad for the Catholic Church at that time in history, since Pius XI feared that the Catholic church could be eradicated by the Nazis, and that is why he supported the Enabling Act, in order to let it survive. The only thing that could have changed by opposing Hitler more, would be the church's current reputation after the war.
Benz, Wolfgang, and Pehle, Walter H. Lexikon des Deutschen Widerstandes. Frankfurt
a.M.: S. Fischer, 1994.
Flaherty, Thomas H. The New Order. Virginia: Time Life, 1989.
Friedlander, Saul. Pius XII and the Third Reich. New York: Knopf, 1939.
Leckie, Robert. Delivered from Evil. New York: Harper, 1987.
Mosse, George C. Nazi Culture. New York: Grosset & Dunlop, 1966.
Shirer, William S. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon, 1959.
Taylor, James, and Shaw, Warren. The Third Reich Almanac. New York: Taylor and Shaw, 1987.

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