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SAN DIEGO, July 25, 2010 ( - When
thinking of the reason why the German Catholic Church
thought it proper to lift the ban on membership in the Nazi
Party in 1933 one needs to think of what the church stands

If the church felt that the Nazi ideals were not
compatible with Catholic ideals, as was the stated reason
for the ban, then one needs to think of what changed that
prompted the lift of the ban. I don.t think that the church
was simply lifting the ban to protect democracy, as some
church apologists claim. The church was never interested in
protecting democracy. 

Cardinal Pacelli, then the Vatican
Secretary of State and later Pope Pius XII, had no qualms in
prompting the disbanding of the powerful Catholic Center
Party in Germany, who could have stood up and made a
difference against the Nazis. But even if the church cared
about democracy, it would not have lifted the ban unless it
thought that it was the right thing to do. 

Imagine today that the Ku Klux Klan became an official political 
party in the United States, and began to have traction on a 
platform based on discrimination against Jews, blacks, gays, or
anything else. What would the church advise the faithful to
do? Would they support the KKK for the sake of supporting
democracy and freedom of speech? 

The Kulturkampf, the
cultural struggle between Otto von Bismarck and the Catholic
Church in the 1870s is a perfect example of what the church
should have done vis--vis the Nazis as well. The Church
opposed Bismarck, and the church eventually won, despite the
many setbacks on the way. The church stood for what they
believed was right in 1870. They could and should have kept
the moral high ground and done the same thing against Hitler
in 1933, even if that meant another struggle. The difference
is that in 1870 Bismarck opposed the Catholic Church, while
in 1933 Hitler opposed the Jews. 

On the second round the
Church was not on the receiving end. Even though the
Concordat was not intended to mean an endorsement or support
of Nazi policies, that was actually the way the German
Church and German Catholics widely perceived it to mean. The
reason why they joined the Nazi party in droves was not just
because the party was successful. They joined because they
agreed with its ideals, and because once the Vatican signed
the Concordat and the church lifted the ban German Catholics
assumed that meant it was then all right to join, and that
is precisely what they did.

Apologists for the church justify Vatican support for Nazi
Germany in 1933 by claiming that in 1933 the majority of
Germans supported the Nazis, and that fighting the Nazis
would have been tantamount to suicide. Neither claim is
true. The Catholic Center Party was very strong and in a
coalition would have actually defeated the Nazis. We have
Cardinal Pacelli to thank for the dissolution of the
Catholic Center Party and for making Hitler.s absolute
takeover of power possible. Even after Hitler came to power
the strength and potential of the Church cannot and should
not be underestimated. 

The Catholic Church prospered greatly
under the Weimar Republic, increasing the number of priests
to over 20,000 for 20 million Catholics, as opposed to
sixteen thousand pastors for 40 million Protestants.
Catholic organizations of every kind multiplied; new
monasteries were built, new religious orders were founded,
new schools were established. As the historian Karl Bachem
said in 1931, .Never yet has a Catholic country possessed
such a developed system of all conceivable Catholic
associations as today.s Catholic Germany.. Some apologists
for the church claim that the Concordat was signed not to
protect church interests, but instead and in particular to
protect the Jews. This is a preposterous claim. The
Concordat was meant to protect church interests, not Jews.

Just as the Catholic Germans were supportive of the Church.s
admonition to stay away from the Nazis before the ban was
lifted, they would have remained that way if the Church had
continued to keep the ban in place or at the very least
advised the faithful clearly, repeatedly and in no uncertain
terms that the Nazi ideology was evil and incompatible with
Catholic teachings. By failing to do this the Church tacitly
approved what was being done to the Jews.

It.s true that neither Cardinal Pacelli nor Pope Pius XI
could have known what was coming, that they were making a
pact with the devil (although they must have known Hitler
and Nazi ideology were evil), that it would protect the
church from the forthcoming Nazi terror (which in any case
it didn.t and even then the church did not repudiate the
pact), and even less, that it would help them protect all in
need, especially the Jews. The latter claim never crossed
their minds.

Cardinal Pacelli might have been concerned about excesses
against Jews in Germany, and even discussed it. But actions
speak louder than words, and he said very few words and
acted even less. Pope Pius XI might have warned Mussolini
that the racial laws might make him angry, perhaps even
violently so. Yet, the racial laws stood, the pope never got
past that and didn.t do anything about it other than
complain about the treatment of Jews who had converted to
Catholicism. The Vatican newspaper L.Osservatore Romano may
have declared that the church would defend the Jews, which
of course surely looked good as it was later reported on the
New York Times, but they had also declared at about the same
time (June 1938) that the Jews "usurp the best positions in
every field, and not always by legitimate means," cause "the
suffering of the immense majority of the native
populations," hate and struggle against the Christian
religion, and favor Freemasons and other subversive groups.

Father Rosa in the L'Osservatore Romano article called for
"an equable and lasting solution to the formidable Jewish
problem," but counseled to do so through legal means. But
this was no fluke, as there was a long history of
antisemitism in this publication. Previously they had
declared that "Antisemitism ought to be the natural, sober,
thoughtful, Christian reaction against Jewish predominance"
and, according to the paper, true antisemitism "is and can
be in substance nothing other than Christianity, completed
and perfected in Catholicism." 

Gabriel Wilensky 

Six Million Crucifixions:
How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the
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