x w v u t s r
b q
a c d e f g p
h o
i j k l m n

Pius XI and Fascism in Austria

Search This Site

Pages By Topic

Early Christianity
Fascism and Religion
Pagan Ideas


by William P. Meyers

Pope Pius XI became pope on February 6, 1922 and died February 10, 1939. I consider him to be one of the principle architects of the modern totalitarian state. He backed the ascendancy of the dictators Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, and General Petain. He sought to create a Catholic, fascist, super-state under Papal domination in Europe. Because of the complexity and, sometimes, secrecy of the maneuvering involved, by carefully ignoring most of the facts, many historians have helped to cover up the role and agenda of Pius XI.

The history of the relationship of the Catholic Church to the fascist triumph in the nation of Austria helps illuminate this story. Before it joined the losing side in World War I, Austria was the heart of the traditionally Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had its capital in Vienna. The nation of Austria that emerged from World War I was mainly ethnically German. Hitler was born in Austria, and was a Catholic, but moved volunteered to fight for Germany in World War I, and stayed there after the war ended. He played no part in Austrian fascism until after the Nazi Party gained power in Germany.

The Catholic Church was deeply tied to the government of the Empire. Church and State united against not just Protestant Christian sects, but against the ideas of rights of citizens, a republican form of government, and democracy. However, the Emperors did their best to subordinate the Church to their needs. Church and State struggled for control at times, but both united against their common enemies. Often the Emperor managed to select the Pope, and almost always he had veto power in that matter. Nevertheless, much of the population turned against the Catholic Church starting in the 19th Century. A weak parliament and "free" elections were introduced.

Karl Lueger formed the Anti-Semitic Party, which then changed its name to the Austrian Catholic Party. It chief rival was the Socialist Party. It should be noted that unlike the Leninists, the Austrian Socialist Party was built on democratic, not authoritarian, foundations. With the demise of the Empire at the end of World War I, the Socialist Party became the most popular party in the new nation of Austria. This enraged the Catholic Church, both in Austria and in the Vatican. Despite that, the Socialist and Catholic parties formed a coalition government that lasted until 1920.

A theologian, Prelate Ignaz Seipel, became head of the Austrian Catholic Party (more commonly called the Christian Socialist Party, but the only form of Christianity recognized was Catholicism ). He worked closely with Pius XI starting in 1922. He also worked closely with the nations bankers and industrialists. Seipel firmly believed that socialism put people's souls at risk. He believed "it was essential to offer the masses [citizens] a Catholic conception of social order dependent on the resurrection of the mediaeval Guilds or Corporations." He helped Pius XI to draft Quadragesimo Anno, the blueprint for a Catholic, fascist world government. "Seipel was, in fact, dreaming of the creation of a new Holy Roman Empire." [Manhattan, The Vatican in World Politics, p. 232.]

Catholic militant organizations started assassinating socialists in Austria in 1927. A wave of revulsion against Seipel was of no avail because the Catholic Party controlled the central government, police, and military. Seipel and Pius XI decided that the Catholic Party was no longer a suitable instrument of control. They wanted a fascist dictatorship, which was to be fashioned out of an all-Catholic, but non-parliamentary, organization — the Heimwehren [or Heimwehr]. In October 1928 Seipel declared himself a fascist and attempted to take control of the government in the fashion of Mussolini's March on Rome. He was thwarted when the Labor Government in Britain declared that a fascist government in Austria would be a violation of the World War I peace treaty between the nations. The French government joined in the British demand that the Heimwehren disarm. Also, the Socialist Party was still strong enough to threaten armed resistance. Failing in its purpose, the Heimwehren disintegrated. [Manhattan p 235-237]

In 1930 the Nazis had become the most powerful party in Germany, and organized fragments of the Heimwehren in Austria. Parliament was ruled by a slight majority coalition based on the Catholic Party. After Seipel died on September 2, 1932, Dr. Englebert Dollfuss took his place. As a good Catholic he was able to declare that the issuance of Quadragesimo Anno by Pius XI in 1931 authorized him to set up a "Corporate Authoritarian State," but took no immediate action even after Hitler assumed power in Berlin in 1933. [Manhattan p 237-238]

The discovery of the Hinterberg Plot by the Austrian socialists in 1933 led to a direct collision with the Pope and Mussolini. Now Dollfuss did declare parliament abolished; he even abolished the Catholic Party, and made himself dictator. Anti-Semitism was made official policy and Catholicism became the only legal religion. Vocal socialists were sentenced to death in Lightning Courts. [Manhattan p 238-240]

The Pope rewarded Dollfuss with the Austria Concordat (treaty) in 1934 that made Catholicism the official (and only) religion of Austria. "The various Evangelical and Protestant Churches began to suffer systematic persecution, and their ministers were boycotted, arrested, and imprisoned." [Manhattan p 240]

Dollfuss, however, wanted Austria to remain independent of Germany. Or, less kindly, he wanted to run a country, not to be a puppet of Hitler or Mussolini, or even of Pius XI. Other things were not going to plan. Appalled by fascism, hundreds of thousands of Catholics joined Protestant churches, despite their illegality. The Socialist Party rebelled, and was suppressed only when over 1,500 socialists had been killed. "Pope Pius XI had given Hitler to understand that if he adhered to his word regarding the treatment and privileges granted to the Catholic Church in Germany, then the Church would help him to achieve his political aims," the annexation of Austria into Germany. [Manhattan p 243-244]

Betrayed by the Pope, Dollfuss was killed when the Nazis attempted to seize power in July, 1934. Austria was saved from Hitler's maw for a few more years only because Mussolini wanted it for himself. Hitler needed a few more years to build his armies.

Finally, when Hitler was ready in March, 1938, Pius XI and Cardinal Innitzer negotiated the surrender of Austria through von Papen (Hitler cabinet member and Chamberlain of the Papal Court) and the new Austrian dictator, Kurt Schuschnigg. Innitzer ordered that bells were to be rung to celebrate the change, and swastikas were hung in churches.

After the Catholics lost World War II, everything possible was done by the Catholic Church to cover up the role Pius XI had in creating fascist Europe, the war, and the Holocaust.

Pope Pius XI main page
Popes main page
Catholic Church main page

The entire text of The Vatican in World Politics, Chapter 12, Austria and the Vatican, by Avro Manhattan can be found at http://www.geocities.com/visplace/vatican12.htm.