Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

Did the Catholic Church Help German Nazism? A Look at the Record

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 (the Reichskonkordat), 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.

by Jared Israel

"Antagonism to the Jews of today must not be extended to the books of Pre-Christian Judaism" (Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber in the Advent Sermons, delivered in 1933).

The Vatican's definitive statement, We Remember: Reflections on the Holocaust, claims that Nazism was the antithesis of the Catholic church:

"At the level of theological reflection we cannot ignore the fact that not a few in the Nazi Party not only showed aversion to the idea of divine Providence at work in human affairs, but gave proof of a definite hatred directed at God himself. Logically, such an attitude also led to a rejection of Christianity and a desire to see the Church destroyed or at least subjected to the interests of the Nazi state.

"It was this extreme ideology which became the basis of the measures taken first to drive the Jews from their homes and then to exterminate them. The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-semitism had its roots outside of Christianity and, in pursuing its aims, it did not hesitate to oppose the Church and persecute her members also" (Published online at http://tinyurl.com/bxszb).

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 anti-semitism. 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 anti-semitism, 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 [Yeshua the Messiah]:

"In the Christian world -- I do not say on the part of the Church as such -- erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people" (Pope John Paul II, quoted in We Remember: Reflections on the Holocaust http://tinyurl.com/bxszb).

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, prior to being Pope Benedict XVI, answered this question when he was a top advisor to John Paul II:

"'Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah (Holocaust) was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians'" (Joseph Ratzinger as quoted by Abe Foxman in an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) press release welcoming Ratzinger's election as Pope -- quoted on boston.com http://tinyurl.com/hfpob).

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?

The evidence shows that:

A) The Catholic church hierarchy, acting under Vatican orders, played the decisive role in making Hitler the dictator of Germany.

B) Subsequently, the Catholic hierarchy was active in Nazi movements outside Germany, for example in the Balkans, where the church was the institutional base of the Nazi puppet State of Croatia.

C) Although at Yad Vashem, in the year 2000, Pope John Paul II described the Nazis as having "a Godless ideology," in 1933, when it mattered, the Vatican ordered German Catholics to love, honor, obey and protect the Nazis.

Adolf Hitler converses with the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop
Cesare Orsenigo, at a New Year's reception in Berlin.
(January 1, 1935) [Photo source, US Holocaust Museum]

During the 1920s, the church-controlled Centre party (Zentrum) did clash with the Nazis. As Hitler wrote (see quote below) their quarrel was over politics, not Catholic religious teachings. The Nazis themselves claimed they were fighting against atheism, specifically Bolshevist atheism, which they depicted as a Jewish-created movement. In attacking the Jews, the Nazis routinely employed Christian symbolism and traditional Christian anti-semitic arguments, with which Europeans were already indoctrinated, making it an easy sale.

On March 23, 1933, the Nazi government put forward the Enabling act, giving Hitler the authority to create new laws without parliamentary approval, thus making him the dictator of Germany. This was after the Nazi-staged Reichstag fire; after the banning of the huge Communist party and subsequent arrest and murder of thousands of communists and other anti-Nazis; and amidst a campaign of violent anti-semitism. To become law, the Enabling act needed a 2/3 parliamentary vote. Before the vote, Hitler addressed the Reichstag (parliament) saying the Nazis were fighting for Christianity:

"While the Government is determined to carry through the political and moral purging of our public life, it is creating and insuring prerequisites for a truly religious life. The Government sees in both [Catholic and Protestant] Christian confessions the most important factors for the maintenance of our folkdom. It will respect agreements concluded between them and the States. However, it expects that its work will meet with a similar appreciation. The Government will treat all other denominations with equal objective justice. It can never condone, though, that belonging to a certain denomination or to a certain race might be regarded as a license to commit or tolerate crimes. The Government will devote its care to the sincere living together of Church and State" (http://tinyurl.com/g8gh3).

To their credit, the Social Democrats for once took a strong stand, opposing the Enabling act. Hitler needed a 2/3 majority, so the balance lay with Zentrum, the Catholic Centre party. If Zentrum voted no or even abstained, Hitler would have been defeated.

Zentrum leader Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, a close friend and advisor to Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, addressed the Reichstag. Far from attacking the Enabling act and disputing Hitler's claim that Nazi measures were "prerequisites for a truly religious life," Kaas endorsed the Enabling act. Zentrum and smaller allied parties voted 'yes,' and the act became law.

According to National Catholic Reporter correspondent John Allen, a liberal Catholic and student of Vatican history (he wrote a biography of Joseph Ratzinger), on March 28, 1933, four days after Zentrum voted to make Hitler the dictator of Germany,

"the German bishops rescinded their ban on Nazi party membership. On April 1, Cardinal Adolf Bertram of Breslau addressed German Catholics in a letter, warning them "to reject as a matter of principle all illegal or subversive activities". To most Catholics, it looked as if the church wanted a modus vivendi with Hitler [Yes, I suppose when you vote to make a Nazi maniac dictator of your country it would appear that you want a modus vivendi with said maniac -- Editor.]

"The same impression [! -- Editor] was created a few weeks later when Hitler held a plebiscite to endorse his decision to pull Germany out of the League of Nations, which received the endorsement of the Catholic press and of several Catholic bishops" (http://tinyurl.com/jj2g4).

Three and a half months later, on July 6, 1933, the Catholic church's Centre party, Zentrum, dissolved itself.

Two weeks after that, the Vatican and the Nazi government signed their Concordat, putting the official Vatican stamp on the alliance of the German church and the Nazi state. Article 16, reproduced below, required that Catholic bishops swear to honor the Nazi government, to make their subordinates honor it, and to hunt for and prevent action that might endanger it.

The following translation of the very important Article 16 of the Reichskonkordat was authorized by the Vatican:

"Article 16

"Before bishops take possession of their dioceses they are to take an oath of fealty either to the Reich Representative of the State concerned, or to the President of the Reich, according to the following formula:

"'Before God and on the Holy Gospels I swear and promise as becomes a bishop, loyalty to the German Reich and to the [regional -- EC] State of...I swear and promise to honor the legally constituted Government and to cause the clergy of my diocese to honor it. In the performance of my spiritual office and in my solicitude for the welfare and the interests of the German Reich, I will endeavor to avoid all detrimental acts which might endanger it'" (http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_ss33co.htm).

Read thoughtfully, the Vatican-authorized translation of Article 16 (above) is damning. Even so, it is a false translation, with the falsifications lessening the horror of what the Vatican was ordering German bishops to do.

Below is Samantha Criscione's accurate translation, with the relevant differences highlighted. So that you may make your own comparison, we have posted the original German text in footnote [1].

"Article 16

"Article 16 Reichskonkordat ("Concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich"), July 20, 1933

"Samantha Criscione, translator

"Copyright 2008. This translation may not be reposted or otherwise published in any form without the permission of Samantha Criscione. To inquire, write emperors-europe@tenc.net

"Before bishops take possession of their dioceses, they perform an oath of allegiance in the hand of the Reichsstatthalter [Governor of the Reich, the representative of Hitler in the Reich provinces, whose task was to guarantee the implementation of Hitler's political directives -- SC] in the regional State concerned, or of the President of the Reich, according to the following formula:

"'Before God and on the Holy Gospels I swear and promise, as becomes a bishop, loyalty to the German Reich and to the [regional] State of....I swear and promise to honour the Government formed in accord with the Constitution and to cause my clergy to honour it.

"'In dutiful solicitude for the welfare and the interest of the German State, I will, while exercising the religious post that has been assigned to me, strive to prevent any harm that could threaten it.'" [2]

As Samantha Criscione explains in a work in progress, (see footnote 2), here are the differences:

First, the Vatican translation omits the crucial statement that the bishop's post has been assigned to him.

Second, the Vatican takes the statement, of which the accurate translation is, "I will...strive to prevent any harm that could threaten it," meaning that the Vatican is ordering bishops to seek out ("strive") and repress ("prevent") action that could harm the Nazis, and translates it "I will endeavor to avoid all detrimental acts which might endanger it," which would mean the Vatican was only ordering bishops to avoid engaging in anti-Nazi acts, themselves. A demand for pro-actively defending Nazism is softened, in the Vatican translation, to a demand for passively avoiding doing the Nazis harm. A world of difference.

Catholic clergy and Nazi officials, including
Joseph Goebbels (far right) and Wilhelm Frick
(second from right), give the Nazi salute. Germany,
date uncertain. [Photo source, Holocaust Museum]

Notice that the Vatican required German bishops to "honor the legally constituted Government." The Vatican was publicly asserting that the Enabling act, which could not have won a 2/3 vote absent the Zentrum (the Catholic Center party) and some smaller allies, made the Nazi dictatorship "legally constituted." So first the Catholic hierarchy fights to get the Centre party to vote for the Enabling act (because there was an internal fight over this that Monsignor Kaas, who was Pacelli's agent in Zentrum, won), thus giving the dictatorship a pseudo legality, and then the Vatican orders the German church to honor the Nazi Reich because... it was legally constituted!

In the Concordat, the Nazis pledged, among other things, to give certain Church organizational decisions the force of criminal law. For example:

"Article 10

"The wearing of clerical dress or of a religious habit on the part of lay folk, or of clerics or religious who have been forbidden to wear them by a final and valid injunction made by the competent ecclesiastical authority and officially communicated to the State authority, is liable to the same penalty on the part of the State as the misuse of military uniform."

Church defenders, such as Vatican spokesman Peter Gumpel, argue that:

"As the Vatican authority itself and the most astute Catholics foresaw, Hitler never had any intention of respecting the Concordat, rather, with the exception of the strictly liturgical or para-liturgical functions, the rest of the Church's activities were systematically hampered and later gradually suppressed" (Quoted by the Catholic news agency, ZENIT, at http://tinyurl.com/qh2a5).

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 this especially violent strain of 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. 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 (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:

"In dutiful solicitude for the welfare and the interest of the German State, I will, while exercising the religious post that has been assigned to me, strive to prevent any harm that could threaten it" (Mandatory pledge for newly appointed Catholic Bishops, Reichskonkordat, Article 16, translation by Samantha Criscione).

Prevent any harm!

Joseph Ratzinger, when he was Pope Benedict XVI, wrote:

"...it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity [the Holocaust] on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians."

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:

"It [i.e., "The German Reich" -- Editor] acknowledges the right of the Catholic Church, within the limit of those laws which are applicable to all, to manage and regulate her own affairs independently, and, within the framework of her own competence, to publish laws and ordinances binding on her members" (Reichskonkordat, Vatican-authorized translation, http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_ss33co.htm).

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, 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.


[1] German text of Article 16 of the Reichskonkordat:

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:

“Vor Gott und auf die heiligen Evangelien schwöre und verspreche ich, so wie es einem Bischof geziemt, dem Deutschen Reich und dem Lande .... Treue. Ich schwöre und verspreche, die verfassungsmäßig gebildete Regierung zu achten und von meinem Klerus achten zu lassen. In der pflichtmäßigen Sorge um das Wohl und das Interesse des deutschen Staatswesens werde ich in Ausübung des mir übertragenen geistlichen Amtes jeden Schaden zu verhüten trachten, der es bedrohen könnte.”

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. 

[2] From Falsifications in the translations and analyses of the Reichskonkordat, by Samantha Criscione.  A work in progress, to be published on the website, Emperor’s Clothes.


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