Friday, April 15, 2011

Adolf Hitler and Pope Pius XII, Nazism and Catholicism

I’m probably going to regret this post, but I’ll post it anyway. Either I’m going to get ganked by trolls, or I’ll be ignored.

The occasion for my foray into this subject comes about from some recent exchanges between Atheists and Theists as follows;
Atheist: “Religion is evil and it is responsible for killing more people in history than anything else”.

Theist, “If you want to measure how evil something is by a body-count, atheism wins hands down. For example, consider Hitler, WW2 and the Holocaust.”

Atheist, “…but Hitler was a Catholic, and the Roman Catholic Church fostered and nurtured Nazism.”

Theist “…but Hitler rejected Catholicism by the time he entered adult life, and there’s no way you can fit the ideology of Nazism into the Christian Gospel…”



“…but…” Etc. etc. etc.

As I started to research the topic, the first thing I found (and this should surprise no one) was the stark polarization of opinion. Also, most of the statements expressed on the Internet were sharply polemic and some were much better informed than others - they ranged from the tee-shirt slogan level to actually referring to historical documents.

Noting the evident distance between the two sides and being an armchair football fan (my “home” team has a good chance of promotion into the English Championship this year) I could not resist the temptation to report on this as if it were a football match. It is not that I intend to be flippant with such a weighty matter, but the alternative could be yet another boring diatribe that nobody wants to read.

The Referee
That’s me. I am not a Roman Catholic, and I don’t intend to become one quite yet. However, I do self-identify as a Christian and I value truth and truthfulness highly (there’s a whole theology behind that, which derives from Exodus 20:16 and John 8:32, but that’s another story). Suffice it to say that I might not be entirely neutral, but I do want to see fair play.

The Teams
The following cast might not include all the major players and it certainly does not attempt to rank them in order of importance, but it does cover the ones I came across in my inquiries.

The Antis
Austin Cline, an Atheist, who argues that the Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Pius XII, was instrumental in bringing Nazism to power, and the recent apologies of Pope John Paul II “sent mixed signals”.

Thomas Keyes takes a similar line and asks why Hitler’s Catholic upbringing failed to deter him from fulfilling his genocidal ambitions.

Rolf Hochhuth, who is best known for his 1963 drama The Deputy, which indicts Pope Pius XII for his failure to take action or speak against the Holocaust. The controversy surrounding The Deputy prompted the Roman Catholic Church to publish the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (ADSS), which I’ll address on the "other" side.

Michael Phayer, who criticized the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (ADSS) as Papal propaganda.

Telepastor John Hagee, who “…claimed that Adolf Hitler's antisemitism derived especially from his Catholic background, and that the Catholic Church under Pope Pius XII encouraged Nazism instead of denouncing it” (Hagee’s book Christian Countdown, pp 79-81, as reported on

The Pros
Dean Mischewski (who self-identifies as “Kiwi Catholic”) provides substantial quotes in two highly readable articles “Did the Church Support Adolf Hitler” and “Adolf Hitler – Christian, Atheist or Neither?”. Mischewski should be credited with garnering his quotes from a variety of sources, though he relies heavily on Pinchas E. Lapide and a currently unlinked (and often quoted) article by Kevin Davids.

Dennis Barton and his site includes an apparently well-informed post, “The Catholic Response to Nazism”, but the material is not sourced.

Pinchas E. Lapide, who wrote “Three Popes and the Jews”.

The Four Jesuit Priests, who the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (ADSS) published in 11 volumes from 1965 to 1981; Pierre Blet (France), Angelo Martini (Italy), Burkhart Schneider (Germany), and Robert A. Graham (United States).

Kenneth L Woolard, author of the article “Blaming the Wartime Pope” published in Newsweek 30 March 1998, and reproduced by permission here.

The Others
I should mention two personal friends of mine; Andrew, an atheist; and Esther, a German-speaking Catholic who has recently lived in Berlin. They are both splendid people who have discussed this issue with me, and they help me put a human face to both sides of the argument.

There’s a large crowd of supporters on both sides, which is responsible for the expected applause, taunts and barbs; some of which are entertaining, some of which are inventive and many of which are plainly ignorant and intentionally offensive.

The Inspirational leaders have spoken enough for themselves. Successive Popes have spoken to their devotees on one side, and the other receives its lights from the likes of Dan Brown, Richard Dawkins and Richard Hitchins.

The Match
1889 – Adolf Hitler is born and baptized into a Catholic family. He was schooled by Catholic Priests in the strongly Catholic Bavaria and served as an altar-boy in the Catholic Church.

The Antis make a penetrating pass down the right wing by asking why Hitler’s strong Catholic upbringing failed to inoculate him from the evil that he would ultimately perpetrate.

The Pros block the incoming cross by noting that Hitler was schooled by teachers with various convictions, but his history teacher fostered the myth of Aryan racial supremacy, which Hitler fell in love with.

The Antis push down the middle, and press the question about why the ostentatiously religious Germany harbored the deep-seated cultural anti-Semitism that Hitler fed upon.

GOAL The Pros call for a foul when the Antis quote the Protestant, non-Catholic Martin Luther (“On the Jews and their Lies”) to bolster the notion that Germany’s anti-Semitism was endorsed by the Church. The referee waves away the protests and the Antis score in the ensuing confusion.

Anti: 1 - Pro: 0

1920 to 1926-ish – Hitler abandons Christian beliefs

The Pros take the ball out of the centre circle, arguing that Hitler might have been exposed to Catholicism as a child, but he had rejected Catholic beliefs as an adult.

The Antis scramble to organize their defense, a produce a litany of Hitler quotes, such as the following from Mein Kampf
"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."
Another one is from a speech in 1922
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter."

The Pros marshal their attacks on both wings.

On the right wing, they convincingly argue that Hitler’s express statements run contrary to Catholic beliefs. Mischewski notes the “…example that springs to mind of the contrast between Jesus and Hitler is that Christ said the meek shall inherit the earth. Hitler on the other hand called the Nazis "lords of the earth" because of "the genius and the courage with which they can conquer and defend it" (Mein Kampf, Vol 2, Ch 14).” The Pros conclude, interestingly, that Hitler did not hold to Christian beliefs, but he wasn’t an atheist either because he believed in a divine providence that favored the supremacy of the Aryan race.

On the left wing, the Pros timeline Hitler’s public pronouncements and conclude that he publicly courted Catholic opinion in his quest for power, but took a highly pragmatic view of propaganda. In other words, he was not above lying as a legitimate means to get what he wanted. In his private writings, Hitler despised Christianity, and there are a number of his opinions listed by Mischewski under “Quotes Establishing Hitler’s Non-Christianity”. After 1935, Hitler viewed Christianity as a threat to Nazi domination.

GOAL The Pros put forward a convincing and well-documented assault, drilling the ball into the bottom left-hand corner with the argument that Hitler did not hold Christian beliefs, and was, in fact, vehemently anti-Christian as he entered adult life.

Anti: 1 - Pro: 1

1926 to 1939 – Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of WW2

Much midfield skirmishing.

Dennis Barton documents the rise of the Nazi Party and its interactions with the Catholic Party and others, such as the Orthodox Jews. In 1933 after his successful election “…Hitler asked for a Concordat with the Holy See to regulate the rights of Church and State in Germany. The Holy See signed Concordats with 40 states between 1919 and 1939, so this was not an unusual request. Germany promised freedom of religion, including in publishing and the running of schools, whilst not making any unreasonable demands in return. There was no reason to refuse.” In 1937, the Pope protested against the suppression of Catholicism in Nazi Germany the Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Sorrow). Also, the same year “…the American Cardinal Mundelein viciously attacked Hitler and other Nazi leaders. When the German government protested, the Pope refused to reprimand the Cardinal. The Cardinal's attack swung the views of many Americans in favour of help for Britain when the Second World War started”. (, but it’s not well sourced, alas!).

Attempts by the Antis to prove that the Pope did nothing to criticize Nazism, or that the Roman Catholic Church was in cahoots with the Nazis, lack penetration.

No score.

1939 to 1945 – WW2

Rivers of real an virtual ink have been spilled on the documented history of WW2, and I don’t intend to repeat it all here.

One instance is brought up by the Pros in defense of the Pope’s actions; the protest by the Dutch Churches in February 1942. “Protestant and Catholic leaders of Nazi-occupied Holland prepared a letter condemning the deportation of Jews to death camps in “the East.” But only the Catholic bishops, "following the path indicated by our Holy Father,” read the letter aloud from the pulpit despite threats from the Nazis. As a result, occupation forces swept Holland's Catholic convents, monasteries and schools, deporting all Jews who had converted to Christianity — something they had not done before. When word of this reached Rome, the pope withdrew a four-page protest he had written for the Vatican newspaper and burned it. As the 11 volumes on the war years published by the Vatican archives make clear, Jewish as well as Christian groups pleaded with the pope not to make a public protest because it would only intensify the Nazi persecution. The pope's crime — if that is what it is — is that he chose the role of diplomatic peacemaker…” (

GOAL The Pros score with a deflection.

Anti: 1 - Pro: 2

The Pros redouble their efforts by claiming that the Roman Catholic Church enabled many Jews to escape the Holocaust. The most famous and widely quoted (and misquoted) claim of Lapide is that "The Catholic Church, under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000 but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands" (Three Popes and the Jews pp. 214-215). Lapide's calculation, however, has been widely criticized for being unsubstantiated (By Dr. Susan Zuccotti, a Holocaust Historian and José M. Sánchez, a Pius Defender, among others), which weakens the Pros argument. The true number many never be known, but even in Lapide's estimation is greatly exaggerated, then there would still be a significant number of Jews saved.

The Pros could have scored on this one, but the Ref disallows the goal.

1945 – Why didn’t the Roman Catholic Church Excommunicate Hitler?

It’s true. The Roman Catholic Church never did, not even posthumously.

GOAL The Antis opt for the direct approach, concentrate their efforts through the middle of the pitch and bundle the ball over the line with this question. The Pros attempt a defense by arguing that excommunication would not have made a difference to someone who had already rejected Catholicism, and that excommunication is about maintaining doctrinal purity, but the Ref won’t allow it. Even a symbolic gesture would have done something to assuage the moral outrage at Hitler’s war on humanity.

Anti: 2 - Pro: 2

1945 – The Roman Ratlines

The “ratlines” were systems of escape to South America that were used by German Nazis in 1944-45. The Catholic Bishop Alois Hudal engineered the Roman Ratline, justifying his position by explaining "The Allies' War against Germany was not a crusade, but the rivalry of economic complexes for whose victory they had been fighting. This so-called business ... used catchwords like democracy, race, religious liberty and Christianity as a bait for the masses. All these experiences were the reason why I felt duty bound after 1945 to devote my whole charitable work mainly to former National Socialists and Fascists, especially to so-called 'war criminals'." Unfortunately for Hudal, one of those “so-called” war criminals was Adolf Eichmann, who was hanged for being an "actual" war criminal that on 31 May 1962. Eichmann was not the only war criminal to escape via the Roman Ratline.

GOAL The Antis launch another assault based on the Roman Ratline. The Pros scramble a defense based on the fact that the International Committee of the Red Cross were complicit in the enterprise, but it fails because the ICRC was hoodwinked by Hudal. A decisive strike from the edge of the penalty area seals it.

Anti: 3 - Pro: 2

1945 – Nazi Gold

More midfield skirmishing. The mist has come down and no one can see the ball clearly.

In reality, there are rumors and accusations that the Vatican has illegally acquired and held on to cash and assets that were stolen from the Jews by the Nazis. Unfortunately, the books have remained closed and it would possibly take a dogged accountant a lifetime’s work to forensically retrace a clear chain of custody. I don't have the time or energy to follow this at present, so it's a...

No score.

Maybe the Ref had his back turned at this point, but that's soccer in real time.

1958Pope Pius XII dies

1963 etc – Memorials

The Roman Catholic Church erects memorials to victims of the Nazism, including Maria Regina Martyrum in Berlin.

GOAL It would take a monumental amount of cynicism (pun intended) to deny that the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, would erect these memorials purely to bolster their badly damaged public relations.

Its a simple tap-in for the Pros.

Anti: 3 - Pro: 3

1965 to 1989 – ADSS

Responding to such criticisms as The Deputy, the Roman Catholic Church commissions four Jesuit Priests to publish its archived documents relating to the Papacy of Pope Pius XII during WW2. The Four Jesuits believed they could not publish the entire collection, maintaining that “…only size constraints prevented them from publishing the full set of documents and that no new important revelations would accompany the eventual complete publication.” (

Michael Phayer argued that the selection of the documents was intentionally misleading with respect to Poland: "singling out the letters of bishops Sapieha and Radonski, the editors sought in the introduction to volume three of Actes et Documents to build a drama around Pope Pius in which he would emerge from disrespect to respect". (,_The_Holocaust,_and_the_Cold_War).

Father Pierre Blet, the last surviving editor of the series, defended the integrity of the collection. "In the first place, it is not clear exactly how the omission of certain documents would help to exonerate Pius XII from the omissions alleged against him," Blet wrote. "On the other hand, to say in peremptory tones that our publication is incomplete is tantamount to asserting what cannot be proved: to this end it would be necessary to compare our publication with the archives and show which documents in the archives are missing from our publication." Blet added that he and three other Jesuits "did not deliberately overlook any significant document, because we would have considered it harmful to the Pope's image and the Holy See's reputation."(

GOAL The Pros sustain pressure on the opposition’s goal, and finally get it to pay off.

Anti: 3 - Pro: 4

1998We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah

We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah is a document published in 1998 by the Catholic Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, under the authority of Pope John Paul II. In this document the Vatican condemned Nazi genocide and called for repentance from Catholics who had failed to intercede to stop it. It urges Catholics to repent "of past errors and infidelities" and "renew the awareness of the Hebrew roots of their faith" while distinguishing between the Church's "anti-Judaism" as religious teaching and the murderous anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany which it described as having "roots outside Christianity."

GOAL The Antis don’t even contest this one (though one puts up a half-hearted effort about it sending "mixed signals"), but their concern is with the Catholicism of the early 20th Century, not of today.

Anti: 3 - Pro: 5, but the game now moves to a different venue, with different rules and different objectives.

Conclusion, to be continued...
The final result, as I expected, shows a mixed score. Indeed, it might not even be considered to be a “final” result at all because new information may come to light, and each re-enactment of the story yields different assessments.

Overall, though, I must note that I am more inclined to support the Pros than I might have been before watching this “match”. The two main reasons for this are that their position appears to be better researched and documented, and they appear capable and willing to express institutional sorrow and repentance when it is needed. I doubt that this will quiet the fans on the “other” side, and I am sure that it does not satisfy all their objections.

For me, then, I’m willing to call it a qualified win for the Pros, whilst noting the gravity of the lessons learned.


  1. From Anita via FB ...

    I just read a biography of Bonhoffer, Prophet, Spy, anyway he goes into great detail about Hitler and his religious views. [Hitler] wanted to and did delete the OT from the bible,also Revelations, because he did not want the Jews to get any credit for writing the bible. He, (Hitler) really didn't want any form of Christianity in Germany so he tried to compromise to make it look like he went along with the bible and made his own church rules. That is what started Pastor Bonhoffer off in opposing Hitler.

  2. From Fred via FB ...

    Hitler's views were shaped by nationalism, militarism, nihilism, Wagnerian Romantic neopaganism and social Darwinism, which consisted largely of racist ideas of improving humanity by exalting the strong and destroying the weak. Hitler was obsessed by antisemitism. He loathed Jews, and he also despised Christianity, partly because of its Jewish roots and partly because it taught love and forgiveness rather than power. He believed that Christianity had weakened the German nation and thus contributed to its loss in World War I.

    After coming to power in 1933, Hitler tolerated the churches until he had a firm grip on society, which he had fairly well established by At the same time, he promoted a new sort of religion that mixed a small amount of Christianity with a great deal of neopaganism. By 1937 this new faith had attracted more than a million adherents; it allowed people to feel they were being spiritual and at the same time supporting the Fuhrer. Martin Bormann, one of Hitler's closest and most influential aides, declared that National Socialism and Christianity were irreconcilable, and Hitler himself said that Christianity was a religion of fools and "old women." Hitler declared, "The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity.... The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity."
    -- Jeffrey Burton Russell, "Exposing Myths About Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends", position 71.9 / 806, Kindle Edition