Pope Pius XII and the Concordat

Germany, the Catholic Church and Pope Piux XII
October, 2004
The German Catholic Church was very politically active and conservative in Germany of the 19th Century. Bismarck, who favored and sponsored social reform in Germany, started a long and determined attack on the Church in Germany during that period.(Not unlike what had happened in Mexico after their revolution in the 19th Century following the death of Maximillian.) Under the aegis of this policy of Kulter Kampf (Culture's Struggle) the German Catholic Church was put under immense state pressure. But interestingly German Catholic prelates and the Church itself, which had been quite politically active in Germany, was also very independent of the Vatican. After the turn of the century, Pacelli who was the child of Vatican lawyers, started to work on a Concordat that would restore some state recognition and funding to Church institutions and schools. This was an attempt to raise it to the same level institutionally as the Lutherans. The Lutheran Church had virtually the backing of the government as the “state” religion.. This document was to bring equality, in the eyes of the state to the German Catholic Church, restrict activities by priests and bring the German Church more into line with Vatican thinking and policies. Pacelli worked on this document for decades. Also Pacelli had been a priest working in Germany for many years, and I believe (this is all from memory, and I don't have the inclination to back it up at the moment) that he eventually became the Vatican's ambassador to Germany in the late 1920's.  He eventually became the Vatican Secretary of State. The Concordat had been refused by all German governments up to Hitler's time. To make a long story short, Hitler welcomed the long delayed document, and embraced it. As a consequence of that agreement certain realities emerged. The Vatican recognized the Hitler government and gave it more legitimacy around the world than it deserved, German Catholic prelates were silenced and banned from political activity of any type, and the Vatican had more power over the selection of local priests. In return, the Hitler government subsidized their schools and brought the Church into so-called parity with the Lutheran Church. There were other consequences of this agreement which I have forgotten, but in truth the Nazi government went back on its word and all religious outspokenness suffered.
Remarkably, during the war, the Church did not make a statement that threatened to excommunicate Catholics for war crimes. During the middle of the war, there were about 2000 mixed marriage families, still remaining in Berlin, that had husbands who were part or full Jewish and were also long-time converts to Catholicism. These men were rounded up, arrested and ordered to concentration camps. The wives of these men walked en masse to Gestapo headquarters, and with the support of the Pope, in an act of unusual courage and bravado, demanded that their husbands be freed. The protest was heard, and remarkably the men were eventually released to return to their families. It was a small protest, but it was embarrassing, and along with the statement of the Churxh and it worked. It only shows that a voice here and there could make a difference. I am sure that Pius XII could have made a statement decrying the treatment of the Jews and it would have put some pressure on the Nazi state. Remember about 30% of Germany was Catholic! I don't doubt that the Pope had the potential of being murdered, but many priests and nuns were murdered. I don't doubt that the Church's existence could have been threatened, but it would have survived the war. The Jewish religion and people survived the war. Hundreds of millions of Catholics would have certainly survived the war no matter if the Pope was martyred.
The debate regarding Pope Pius XII's actions have been far expanded far and wide since 1960. There have been many, many books written, by even Catholics, that bring into question his actions. Whether it be “Hitler's Pope,” or the “Sword of Constantine,” or a number of others, the role of the Church, vis-a-vis the Jews and the Allies is a very mixed one. Some controversies revolve around the slaughter of Serbian Eastern Orthodox Christians at the hands of Croatian Catholics and the continued stories regarding the escape of Nazis through the good offices of the Papacy and their helpers. I have done extensive reading on this subject and I am not one to re-fight or re-visit these old stories. But for anyone to state that the Pope did the “right” thing all the time is quite debatable. Even the argument that the Pope was out to protect the Church first and at all costs, rings a bit hollow. But times change, and Pope John XXIII, Pius's unlikely successor, was able to do some much good in his few short years, that the bitter memories of the war were but aside for a time. But today with calls for Pius to be canonized old allegations and bitterness as been awakened.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *