Hitler and the Catholic Church


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In August , for instance, they did not prevent the Center Party which, without being confessional, was recognized by the bishops as representing the Church from trying to make a deal with the National Socialists for a coalition against the Chancellorship of von Papen. In January the Center declined to participate in a Hitler government, and in the following electoral struggle took an active part against the National Socialists.

Nevertheless, on March 23 the Center deputies in the Reichstag consented to the legislation which established Hitler's unrestricted dictatorship. This step was taken at the instance of the President of the Center Party, Monsignor Kaas, and against the opposition of a minority led by former Chancellor Bruening. In his program Hitler uttered some amiable though in reality uncompromising words about the significance of the Christian religion to the state and nation. A few days later the bishops withdrew their warnings of and as being no longer relevant. Shortly before they reached any conclusion the Center and its sister organization, the Bavarian People's Party, decided to dissolve -- with the more or less gentle assistance of the Government.

Once the Concordat with the Reich had been signed, the premises of the Catholic associations, until then occupied by the police, were evacuated and permission was given for them to resume their activities. In the view of many leading Catholics, it only remained to determine the legal status of the associations in negotiations between the Government and the German bishops.

The relationship of Church and State would then -- possibly. Hitler had posed as a Catholic to help him become Chancellor. However, he hated all religion because:. The Protestant Churches. Only 2, clergy joined the Reich Church. The Nazis were also unsuccessful in getting people to join their new pagan church, the German Faith Movement. But there was a problem.

The church had historically granted the dioceses in the provincial states of Germany a large measure of local discretion and independence from Rome. Germany had one of the largest Catholic populations in the world, and its congregation was well educated and sophisticated, with hundreds of Catholic associations and newspapers and many Catholic universities and publishing houses.

Aged 41 and already an archbishop, Pacelli was dispatched to Munich as papal nuncio, or ambassador, to start the process of eliminating all existing legal challenges to the new papal autocracy. At the same time, he was to pursue a Reich Concordat, a treaty between the papacy and Germany as a whole which would supersede all local agreements and become a model of Catholic church-state relations. Such an arrangement was fraught with significance for a largely Protestant Germany.

Nearly years earlier, in Wittenberg, Martin Luther had publicly burned a copy of Canon Law in defiance of the centralized authority of the church. It was one of the defining moments of the Reformation, which was to divide Western Christendom into Catholics and Protestants. In May , Pacelli set off for Germany via Switzerland in a private railway compartment, with an additional wagon containing 60 cases of special foods for his delicate stomach. Shortly after he settled in Munich, he acquired a reputation as a vigorous relief worker.

He traveled through war-weary Germany extending charity to people of all religions and none. On September 4, , Pacelli informed Pietro Gasparri, who had become cardinal secretary of state in the Vatican—the equivalent of foreign minister and prime minister—that a Dr. Werner, the chief rabbi of Munich, had approached the nunciature begging a favor.

In order to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles, beginning on October 1, the Jews needed palm fronds, which normally came from Italy. But the Italian government had forbidden the exportation, via Switzerland, of a stock of palms which the Jews had purchased and which were being held up in Como. The episode, small in itself, belies subsequent claims that Pacelli had a great love of the Jewish religion and was always motivated by its best interests. Eighteen months later he revealed his antipathy toward the Jews in a more blatantly anti-Semitic fashion when he found himself at the center of a local revolution as Bolshevik groups struggled to take advantage of the chaos in postwar Munich.

Writing to Gasparri, Pacelli described the revolutionaries and their chief, Eugen Levien, in their headquarters in the former royal palace.

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The letter has lain in the Vatican secret archive like a time bomb until now:. The scene that presented itself at the palace was indescribable. The confusion totally chaotic, the filth completely nauseating; soldiers and armed workers coming and going; the building, once the home of a king, resounding with screams, vile language, profanities. Absolute hell. An army of employees were dashing to and fro, giving out orders, waving bits of paper, and in the midst of all this, a gang of young women, of dubious appearance, Jews like all the rest of them, hanging around in all the offices with provocative demeanor and suggestive smiles.

And it was to her that the nunciature was obliged to pay homage in order to proceed. This Levien is a young man, about 30 or 35, also Russian and a Jew. Pale, dirty, with vacant eyes, hoarse voice, vulgar, repulsive, with a face that is both intelligent and sly. This association of Jewishness with Bolshevism confirms that Pacelli, from his early 40s, nourished a suspicion of and contempt for the Jews for political reasons.

But the repeated references to the Jewishness of these individuals, along with the catalogue of stereotypical epithets deploring their physical and moral repulsiveness, betray a scorn and revulsion consistent with anti-Semitism. Not long after this, Pacelli campaigned to have black French troops removed from the Rhineland, convinced that they were raping women and abusing children—even though an independent inquiry sponsored by the U. Congress, of which Pacelli was aware, proved this allegation false. Twenty-three years later, when the Allies were about to enter Rome, he asked the British envoy to the Vatican to request of the British Foreign Office that no Allied colored troops would be among the small number that might be garrisoned in Rome after the occupation.

Pacelli spent 13 years in Germany attempting to rewrite the state concordats one by one in favor of the power of the Holy See and routinely employing diplomatic blackmail.


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Germany was caught up in many territorial disputes following the redrawing of the map of Central Europe after the First World War. Pacelli repeatedly traded promises of Vatican support for German control of disputed regions in return for obtaining terms advantageous to the Vatican in concordats.

Holocaust and Human Behavior

In his negotiations, Pacelli was not concerned about the fate of non-Catholic religious communities or institutions, or about human rights. He was principally preoccupied with the interests of the Holy See. Nothing could have been better designed to deliver Pacelli into the hands of Hitler later, when the future dictator made his move in In June , Pacelli became nuncio to all of Germany, with headquarters in Berlin as well as in Munich, and immediately acquired a glittering reputation in diplomatic circles.

He was a favorite at dinner parties and receptions, and he was known to ride horses on the estate of a wealthy German family. His household was run by a pretty young nun from southern Germany named Sister Pasqualina Lehnert. In Munich it had been rumored that he cast more than priestly eyes on this religious housekeeper.

Meanwhile, he had formed a close relationship with an individual named Ludwig Kaas. Kaas was a representative of the solidly Catholic German Center Party, one of the largest and most powerful democratic parties in Germany. Though it was unusual for a full-time politician, he was also a Roman Catholic priest.

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Hitler's Undeclared War on the Catholic Church

Yet while Kaas was officially a representative of a major democratic party, he was increasingly devoted to Pacelli, to the point of becoming his alter ego. In , Pacelli was recalled to Rome to take over the most important role under the Pope, cardinal secretary of state. The rancor between the Vatican and the state of Italy was officially at an end. A precondition of the negotiations had involved the destruction of the parliamentary Catholic Italian Popular Party.

Pius XI disliked political Catholicism because he could not control it. Like his predecessors, he believed that Catholic party politics brought democracy into the church by the back door. The result of the demise of the Popular Party was the wholesale drift of Catholics into the Fascist Party and the collapse of democracy in Italy. Pius XI and his new secretary of state, Pacelli, were determined that no accommodation be reached with Communists anywhere in the world—this was the time of persecution of the church in Russia, Mexico, and later Spain—but totalitarian movements and regimes of the right were a different matter.

Hitler, who had enjoyed his first great success in the elections of September , was determined to seek a treaty with the Vatican similar to that struck by Mussolini, which would lead to the disbanding of the German Center Party.

In his political testament, Mein Kampf , he had recollected that his fear of Catholicism went back to his vagabond days in Vienna. He was convinced that his movement could succeed only if political Catholicism and its democratic networks were eliminated. Into the early s the German Center Party, the German Catholic bishops, and the Catholic media had been mainly solid in their rejection of National Socialism. The hierarchy instructed priests to combat National Socialism at a local level whenever it attacked Christianity.

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You who have fallen victim to the deceptions of one obsessed with despotism, wake up! The vehement front of the Catholic Church in Germany against Hitler, however, was not at one with the view from inside the Vatican—a view that was now being shaped and promoted by Eugenio Pacelli. The country was reeling from successive economic crises against the background of the world slump and reparations payments to the Allies.

Hitler proved to be the only chancellor prepared to grant Pacelli the sort of authoritarian concordat he was seeking. But the price was to be catastrophic for Catholic Germany and for Germany as a whole. After Hitler came to power in January , he made the concordat negotiations with Pacelli a priority. The negotiations proceeded over six months with constant shuttle diplomacy between the Vatican and Berlin.

Hitler spent more time on this treaty than on any other item of foreign diplomacy during his dictatorship. The Reich Concordat granted Pacelli the right to impose the new Code of Canon Law on Catholics in Germany and promised a number of measures favorable to Catholic education, including new schools. In exchange, Pacelli collaborated in the withdrawal of Catholics from political and social activity.

The Catholic Church in Germany had no say in setting the conditions. It was Kaas, chairman of the party but completely in thrall to Pacelli, who bullied the delegates into acceptance.

Hitler's Undeclared War on the Catholic Church | Foreign Affairs

Again, Pacelli was the prime mover in this tragic Catholic surrender. The fact that the party voluntarily disbanded itself, rather than go down fighting, had a profound psychological effect, depriving Germany of the last democratic focus of potential noncompliance and resistance. In the political vacuum created by its surrender, Catholics in the millions joined the Nazi Party, believing that it had the support of the Pope.

In the future all complaints against the Nazis would be channeled through Pacelli. There were some notable exceptions, for example the sermons preached in by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, the Archbishop of Munich, in which he denounced the Nazis for their rejection of the Old Testament as a Jewish text. The concordat immediately drew the German church into complicity with the Nazis. Even as Pacelli was granted special advantages in the concordat for German Catholic education, Hitler was trampling on the education rights of Jews throughout the country.

At the same time, Catholic priests were being drawn into Nazi collaboration with the attestation bureaucracy, which established Jewish ancestry.

The Holocaust and the Catholic Church

Pacelli, despite the immense centralized power he now wielded through the Code of Canon Law, said and did nothing. The attestation machinery would lead inexorably to the selection of millions destined for the death camps. As Nazi anti-Semitism mounted in Germany during the s, Pacelli failed to complain, even on behalf of Jews who had become Catholics, acknowledging that the issue was a matter of German internal policy.

Eventually, in January , three German cardinals and two influential bishops arrived at the Vatican to plead for a vigorous protest over Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church, which had been deprived of all forms of activity beyond church services. Pius XI at last decided to issue an encyclical, a letter addressed to all the Catholic faithful of the world. But there was no explicit condemnation of anti-Semitism, even in relation to Jews who had converted to Catholicism.

Worse still, the subtext against Nazism National Socialism and Hitler were not mentioned by name was blunted by the publication five days later of an even more condemnatory encyclical by Pius XI against Communism. The encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge , though too little and too late, revealed that the Catholic Church all along had the power to shake the regime. However, Roman centralizing had paralyzed the German Catholic Church and its powerful web of associations.

In the summer of , as Pius XI lay dying, he became belatedly anxious about anti-Semitism throughout Europe.

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