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Hitler and the Vatican by Peter Godman
notes & commentary by William P. Meyers

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Hitler and the Vatican: Inside the Secret Archives That Reveal the New Story of the Nazis and the Church by Peter Godman. The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. New York 2004. ISBN 0-7432-4597-0

Peter Godman claims authority only slightly less than papal based on his examining Vatican archives that other scholars have been excluded from. He sets his findings against the claim that, put most succinctly, Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope.” While I can appreciate the effort it must have taken to read through the Latin archives of the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, I find Peter’s main conclusions to be at best unproven and at worst irrelevant. However, if you are interested in the history of Hitler or National Socialism and their relationship to the Catholic Church, this book is one you will want on your book shelf.

I never thought much of the hypothesis that Pius XII was Hitler’s Pope.  A more interesting hypothesis is that Adolf Hitler was just one (ultimately the most important) of the strongmen that Pius XII and his predecessor Pius XI (1922-39) helped to empower in Europe as counterweights to socialism, atheism, and even Protestant Christianity. By purposefully ignoring the rise of Catholic fascism in nations other than Germany, Godman is able to give some credence to the idea that the marriage of Berlin and the Vatican was a reluctant one. At the same time his own data support the hypothesis that while Hitler and Pius had their lovers’ quarrels, their struggle was over who would be the top dog, not a disagreement over the need for a dictatorial system of government and the elimination of all religions except Catholicism.

In fact in trying to prove that Pius XI was not responsible for the Holocaust, Godman provides more weight for the collective responsibility of the Vatican than he does for its exoneration.

Godman begins by admitting that Hitler was a “baptized Catholic,” who made sometimes contradictory statements about his allegiance to the Catholic Church. He also states, and later proves, that the Vatican was not monolithic. In particular, attitudes towards fascism and Hitler’s Nazi version of it varied somewhat.

The future Pope, Eugenio Pacelli, already the papal nuncio for the German state of Bavaria, was following Hitler’s career at least as early as 1923. He reported to his superior that the Nazis were “against the Church, the Pope, and the Jesuits.” [p. 5] It is a strange thing to report. Bavaria was one of the most conservative, and Catholic, regions of Germany. After the putsch, while in jail, Hitler dictated Mein Kampf to a Catholic priest. Probably some Nazi’s were anti-Catholic; at the time they were not so much a party as an angry gang of former soldiers. What we see here is that Eugenio Pacelli was a powerful man when Hitler was nobody. Pacelli had a patron in Pius XI, and part of his job was monitoring the political situation.

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