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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. The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. New York 2004. ISBN 0-7432-4597-0

At times Godwin documents the close cooperation between the Church and Italian fascists. Protestants were regarded with suspicion by both the Church and the police state. “The brutality shown towards Pentecostalists—their meetings were disrupted and their members shut in lunatic asylums—was the product of a convergence of views between Church and State.” The group Catholic Action was “an organization of crusaders, an instrument for Pius XI’s reformation of society” that suppressed “dances, female athletics, and sexually explicit films, plays, and books.” [p. 27]

Pacelli’s successor as papal nuncio in Germany was Cesare Orsenigo. “Orsenigo did not believe that German Catholics were capable of standing up to Hitler. One of the main reasons for this disbelief was stated in his dispatch of March 7, 1933. Of thirty-nine million voters, one-third were Catholics; and some six to seven million of them, on Orsenigo’s estimation, had elected the Nazis.” One third of 39 million is 13 million, meaning over half of the Catholics voted the Nazi ticket. But Pacelli “concentrated in his own hands” “all important negotiations from Germany.” [p. 30-31] And while the stated number of Nazi Catholics may be shocking to modern readers, it should be remembered that by any ordinary reading of the spectrum of German parties, the parties supported by the Church hierarchy were more authoritarian and generally to the right of Hitler. And Hitler was seen as a good communist-hating Catholic (because he was); what frightened the German bishops was the socialist wing of the Nazi Party, not the Nationalist wing led by Hitler.

Another nice Godman touch is assuming that when Hitler said something positive about the Catholic Church, he was lying, and that his most cynical anti-Catholic remarks are sincere. One could just as well argue that his anti-Catholic remarks (usually made in private) were made to placate his anti-Catholic followers like Rosenberg, and his pro-Catholic statements (which tended to be public) were sincere. In any case in 1933 talks with Orsenigo, Hitler wanted an alliance between his Nazis and the Church to defeat “liberalism, socialism, and Bolshevism.” Adolf specifically stated that the paganism of Alfred Rosenberg’s Myth of the Twentieth Century,  “did not represent the policy of the Party.” [p. 52]

Godman says Orsenigo’s correspondence with Pacelli (who would have kept Pius XI informed of such important matters) shows that the Vatican did not encourage Hitler to attack the Jews. Rather “Intervention was impossible because otherwise the campaign against the Jews would be directed against the Catholics as well.” [p. 33] The Church’s concern was mainly for Jews who had converted. The sad story of Edith Stein is told [p.34]

Godwin notes that Pacelli headed a subset of the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, a group of seven cardinals constituting the Congregation of Extraordinary Affairs. These men would have been aware, with Pacelli, of the situation in Germany; but they kept no records of their work or conversations. [p. 38-39].

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