Main Point 10
Was Hitler a good Catholic?
Hitler committed suicide, a mortal sin in the Catholic Church. He did not call for a priest in his last hours, make confession, or seek absolution or ask for last rites. He never went to confession once the entire time he was Chancellor, and numerous laws restricting Catholics and seeking to remove them from every sphere of public life were a notable feature of his regime. He never went to mass once during the entire war, but did attend a Requiem for Marshal Pilsudski of Poland in 1935, a good photo-op, useful for deceiving people. He never said one single reverential word about the Virgin Mary.
Moreover, in March of 1937 a papal encyclical (Mit Brennender Sorge) was read in Catholic churches throughout Germany. It objected to the Nazi cult of race, and called for resistance to perversions of Christian doctrine and morality. The primary loyalty of German Catholics to Rome, to the Church, and to Christ was reaffirmed – and what was Hitler’s response? Did he say “The Holy Father has spoken” or “The Pope has the power of the keys from Peter and as a Catholic I call on all Germans to submit to the claims of Rome”?
John Conway relates Hitler’s response – it was not that of a devout Catholic. (Conway, p. 166) Copies of the encyclical were seized whenever possible, and those caught distributing it were to be arrested. Publication by German church newspapers was forbidden. The Nazi Minister of Church Affairs accused the Roman Church of “treachery,” and Hitler refused to pay a courtesy call on the Vatican when he visited Rome in 1938.
Why did Hitler faithfully keep the agreement he signed with the Vatican?
The Concordat with the Vatican was repeatedly broken. J.S. Conway’s “The Nazi Persecution of the Churches 1933-1945” gives ample documentation. Pages 278-279 alone contain the following: confiscation of two Jesuit monasteries in Munster…confiscations of monasteries, an abbey, the House of the Mission Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, and other church properties. “The Papal Nuncio himself made representations to the Foreign Ministry about the confiscations of monasteries in Aachen, Dresden, and Vienna” (p.279). “In November (1933), Cardinal Pacelli, deeply shocked by the many cases of persecution reported to Rome, threatened to issue an official protest from the Vatican…In a note despatched to the German Foreign Ministry, Pacelli complained bitterly of ‘difficulties and persecutions, carried to a virtually intolerable degree, which the Catholic Church in Germany is now enduring in open violation of the Concordat’. An official from the Ministry of the Interior was hastily sent to Rome to smooth the matter over….” (p. 64). Conway doesn’t say whether this “smoothing over” was accomplished with promises that things would improve, or veiled threats that protests would make things worse, or by complaints that violations by the German government were justified by the failure of the German Catholics to keep completely silent on all political issues.
Why wasn’t Hitler excommunicated?
Why, then, didn’t the Vatican excommunicate Hitler and place Mein Kampf on the index of forbidden books? Such a question shows a lack of familiarity both with the Roman Church and with realities of life in the Third Reich. If the Pope had excommunicated Hitler and banned his book, this would have placed German Catholics in an anguishing dilemma. They would either have had to openly reject and repudiate Hitler, in which case they would have suffered the severest persecution with devastating damage to the institution of the Church in Germany, or they would have had to break with the Pope and ignore his excommunication. In either case the Roman Church in Germany would have suffered great damage – and so the Pope, rightly or wrongly, felt that his only course was to continue to lodge numerous but completely ineffectual protests through official channels.
Hitler never left the church officially, and required Goering and Goebbels to retain their church memberships.
If Goebbels and Goering were in fact prevented from leaving the church, not cancelling church membership was good propaganda and contributed to keeping the Christians docile and obedient. There was nothing to gain by cancelling membership and something to be gained by keeping it.