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SAN DIEGO, July 13, 2010 ( .
Papal apologists often dismiss excommunication as a powerful
tool. Yet, the Catholic Church could have used it during the
Holocaust to persuade the faithful from refraining to
participate in any way in the persecution and murder of
Jews. Apologists even claim that none of the Nazi leaders
died as Catholics because they did not receive the
sacraments during their political career. I think they are
wrong, and they are misleading on both counts. The point is
that these leaders were not expelled from the Church, and
thus it is correct to state that they died as Catholics.
Hitler even received a solemn requiem after he died. The
Nazis, and particularly the SS may have tried to push
Germans away from the church but the reality is that despite
their strongest efforts, in December 1938 22.7% still
remained in the Catholic faith and by 1940 over 95% of the
German population were still tax-paying members of their
respective Protestant or Catholic churches.

Excommunicating a head of state might have been a dangerous
or risky thing to do, but it was the right thing to do,
particularly after 1942 when the extent and nature of the
genocide became known to the pope and some members of the
curia. Even though I think that excommunication would not
have changed Hitler or his policies, I do think that
excommunication of the entire Nazi leadership, in addition
to the threat of excommunication to any Catholics involved
in the business of mass murder, combined with strong,
specific, and clear instruction to Catholics to refrain from
denouncing, deporting and murdering Jews because it was a
crime and a mortal sin, may have worked toward the goal of
creating a moral revolt against genocide. Even if it had
failed, it would have at least cemented the Church.s moral
standing. In my opinion, it would have been particularly
effective for the ordinary men in the factories making
poison gas, or the train engineers taking Jews to the death
camps, or the members of the killing squads and their
helpers in Lithuania, the Ukraine, Poland, etc. who were
killing hundreds of thousands of Jews in forests and ravines
there. Or SS guards in the camps. These were not strongly
anti-religious men like Bormann or Hitler. These were men
who were going to Mass on Sunday and murdering Jews on

For true believers in Christianity, whose church had been
saying since the 15th century that there is no salvation
outside the church, excommunication is an effective threat.
If one truly believes in the teachings of the Church, then
one must believe that if you are excommunicated and die, you
won.t go to heaven. This would have been a frightening
thought to a true believer, and in 1942 there were a lot
more true believers in Europe than there are today. Sure,
this would have been a laughable matter to Hitler but I
seriously doubt the man driving the train to Auschwitz would
have taken it that way. In any case, I think that what
matters is also is in understanding in what way it was used
by the Church. The Church used this weapon before and after
the Nazi period, when it excommunicated all the communists
in the world in one stroke. The Church never stopped using
it because of fear. Even after Hitler came to power the
strength and potential of the Church cannot and should not
be underestimated. Just as the Catholic Germans were
supportive of the Church.s admonition to stay away from the
Nazis before the ban on membership in the Nazi party 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 not doing this the Church in essence
told the flock that .Thou shall not kill. or .Do not do to
others what you would not like to be done to you. did not
apply to Jews.

Gabriel Wilensky 

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