Why did the Vatican choose a policy of appeasement during the years 1933-1943? This question can be split up into 2 parts. One is reasons before the war and the second reasons during the war.
The Holocaust is the proverbial thorn lodged in Vatican’s skin that simply refuses to be eliminated even after the deceased Pope John Paul II asked forgiveness from the Jews. Such declaration admitted the historical sins of the Roman Catholic Church from the horror of the Inquisition that was later brought forward during the wartime atrocities of the Holocaust against the Jews. The heated debates between clerics and historians emphasized Vatican’s dismal attitude of silence during the World War II. Numerous explanations have risen to defend Vatican’s actions to the public through censored publications. Yet a genuine look into the positions taken and the deeds committed and perpetuated by the Vatican and its clerics in general will most likely shed light on the actions of the Catholic Church during the most hideous cleansing period in humanity’s history. In a particular detail, this paper will examine Vatican’s diplomatic appeasement towards the Third Reich which still remains controversial to this day.
On July 20, 1933, Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli who later became Pope Pius XII and Germany’s vice chancellor, Franz von Papen, formally signed a concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich according to Conway. The event was witnessed by Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, who became Pope Paul VI and Msgr. Ludwig Kaas, the leader of Germany’s Catholic Center Party. Pope Pius XI and Hitler were not in attendance since both had already approved the concordat. The pope ratified the Concordat of 1933 two months after which specified the church’s rights on the Third Reich in Alvarez. This treaty also authorized the papacy to impose the new Church law on German Catholics and granted generous privileges to Catholic schools and the clergy. Although complicated, catholic priests and leaders who were once vocal in denouncing the Nazi movement took the signing of the treaty as an indication that the Roman Catholic Church had softened their opposition to socialism while some political commentators, journalists and historians believed that this event was a manifestation of Pope Pius XI’s and Cardinal Pacelli’s underlying motives in Langmuir.
Hitler however interpreted the concordat’s ratification to mean that he had won the church’s approval thereby gaining international recognition of his Nazi regime. The Reich Concordat gave Nazi Germany a much needed recognition in international politics because it showed the world that the German Chancellor was politically reliable and trustworthy in Kick. Likewise the Germans interpreted the Concordat policy as insurance that Nazism could rise unopposed by the most powerful Catholic community in the world. Alvarez and Graham believed that the Nazi government initially looked upon the Roman Catholic Church as a threat to their ideology and the political ambitions of their movement which made it a necessity to sign an agreement treaty with the Vatican. Hitler’s power over churches also advanced based on the Reich Concordat which gave him greater advantage as the church obligated bishops to the Nazi state. With the Catholic Church’s withdrawal from social and political action, the concordat policy poses a lot of very disturbing questions as the extermination of the Jews was carried out in Europe, a predominantly Catholic region according to Conway and Phayer.
The Concordat of 1933 was actually a problematic agreement that questioned the theology of the church, after it literally reduced the church to a simple private organization concerned solely to anything unrelated to the social and political aspects of human life in Hen. It devalued the fuller reality of the church as a rich tradition of social and political activism, and cast ambiguity upon the church’s civil autonomy by requiring the bishops’ oath of loyalty to the Reich. It was likewise flawed in its implementation and timing when Cardinal Pacelli signed the agreement too early in the regime’s history as added by Langmuir. Likewise Kick added that the concordat demoralized Catholics in Germany who opposed the National Socialism from the early 1920’s until March 28, 1933. For on this specific date, the ban on the Nazi party was lifted and the church was reduced as just a simple advocate of human rights and justice. In its enormity the concordat called for secrecy that prevented German bishops from engaging in public disagreements and protest with and against the Third Reich. This puzzled the German Catholics amid the social and personal injustices committed by the Nazi.
In defense of the concordat’s advocacy, Pope Pius XI and Cardinal Pacelli believed that their first duty was to secure civil guarantees for the autonomy of ecclesiastical institutions and their activities. The sticking point was the church’s insistence on state support for Catholic schools and for Catholic religious instruction in the public schools which once diminished in Germany. Eugenio Pacelli had already arranged concordats with other individual German states like Bavaria in 1925, Prussia in 1929 and Baden in 1932 and had reason to be pleased when Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen came to Rome on April 7, 1933, to negotiate a concordat with the Reich’s new government. Germany as the birthplace of the Protestant Church tempted the Vatican’s ancient reason to forge ties with the Nazi movement. Protestantism gave Germany leverage against the Catholic Church who was keen to establish a better footing in Protestant controlled Germany. Likewise, the Catholic Church in its effort to prevent the spread of communism used the Nazi as a bulwark with the pope and his secretary of state approving an agreement to protect the church. For Pacelli, the spiritual welfare of 20 million Catholic souls in Germany was at stake and a concordat was the only consideration. Hen also believed that the appeasement treaty asserted to give financial support to the church’s schools and make Catholic religious education available in the public schools by instructors approved by the bishops, which the church was greedily approved into a concordat.
In 1935 Hitler then established a Ministry of Church Affairs and a seat of the Holy Roman Empire after Christianity declined. Nazism was referred to as a positive Christianity that in its essence accords with the Christian precepts. German Catholicism was divided in their evaluation of Nazi ideology which hindered the Vatican’s ability to take on a stronger stance. The flames of anti-Semitism were fanned in Nazism as propaganda movement utilized a Judeo-phobia movement where the Nazi party blamed the Jews on for the spread of Bolshevism and clandestine attempts to control the world’s gold supply. Some German clergy were also attracted to the core ideas of Nazism, especially in “their reassertion of the values of religion and love of [the] fatherland hoping for a return of their lost traditional values during the experimental Weimar period according to Cornwell. Likewise, the Nazi movement’s opposition to Protestantism and vice versa could well be one reason why the Catholic Church stood behind the threshold of Germany’s. The historical conflict of both churches allowed the Roman Catholic Church to exist under the terms in the Concordat. However the Catholic Church was slowly facing increasing hostility as Catholics were barred from holding religious activities outside their place of worship according to Conway, a clear sign that Hitler do not wish to honor the agreement.
In 1934 and onwards, the authority of the Roman Catholic Church faced attacks as its authority was placed under the administrative control of the Reich. In 1937, Pope Pius XI soon condemned in a papal encyclical the Nazi ideology against racism and anti-Semitism after reports of terrorism and intimidation reached the Vatican. The Pope and the Roman Catholic Church was then labeled as hostile to the Nazi state. Pius XI underestimated Hitler’s influence with the belief that Germany would honor the appeasement treaties cited in the concordat. Hitler started reducing vocations to the priesthood and forbade seminaries in Germany from receiving applicants before their 25th birthday so the men would be obliged to marry or work in the military.
As the Roman Catholic Hierarchy started condemning Nazism, Hitler was equally getting prosperous. Pope Pius XI died in 1939, just a few months before WWII was declared amidst rumors of murder that the prominent Cardinal Tisserant claimed in his diary. Murphy and Arlington presented how Tisserant made a sensation when he exposed that Pius XI had been scheduled to deliver a bluntly worded address attacking fascism and anti-Semitism on the day he died. Eugenio Pacelli then assumed as Pope Pius XII barely a month after Pius XI’s death and almost on the eve of WWII. Friedlander also presented how wartime pope Pius XII ended Pius XI’s ban on Action Francaise which was an anti-Semitic and anti-Communist organization. When Polish ambassador to the Vatican complained that Pius failed to condemn the wave of atrocities in Poland, Cardinal Secretary of State Maglione denied any documented atrocities which were the seeming aura of silence and indifference that the Vatican portrayed.
During the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, marked the extermination of European Jews after being hunted like animals, robbed of their possessions, homes and loved ones, subjected to physical and mental torture, summarily executed and killed according to Langmuir. (1998:8). Germany also strengthened its principal source of privileged information on the Vatican through the Reich Embassy in the Holy See according to Alvarez and Graham. Berlin has now every reason to doubt the Vatican after it was only allowed 4 staffs in its embassy. It was now apparent during this period that Germany with its expanded power no longer wished to be bound by the restrictive concordat.
Yet, according to Alvarez and Graham, the Vatican was forced to adopt an attitude of reserved relations with the belligerent Nazi regime after Germany questioned their neutrality. Sometime when Pius XII was asked by French Marshal Philippe Pétain if the Vatican objected to anti-Jewish laws, Pius XII merely responded that the church condemned anti-Semitism, but would not comment on specific rules. Likewise in 1941, Pope Pius XII reiterated his stand of remaining neutral when consistently asked by US delegates in Friedlander. Vatican could not be ignorant on the hunt down and massacre of the Jews as it had it own diplomatic corps and representatives in many European countries through a papal nunciate. Finally in late 1942, Pius XII advised German and Hungarian bishops that speaking out against the massacres in the eastern front would be politically advantageous. But he refused to publicly denounce Nazi violence against Jews. Pope Pius XII’s silence without emitting a condemnation against Hitler’s military aggression is a source of dispute and the church cannot claim ignorance for such acts to justify the papal silence. Amidst the social and humanitarian injustice, the Catholic world leader maintained a wall of silence despite appeals from victims and agencies that were privy to the social injustices committed by the Nazi party. The pope neither failed to condemn nor disapproved the invasion and nor was there any mention of the Nazi crimes on the Jews despite the chance to present to the world the humanitarian problems encountered by the Jews in Europe. In general, according to James, Vatican chose to maintain a degree of deafening silence if it were not for the Nazi assault on the Roman Jewish community nearby which became the subject of a sort message to the world.
Why the Vatican remained silent and “neutral” was a conciliatory policy of reserve so as not to offend the German population, in the event of Germany assuming a hegemonic position in post-war Europe. Pius perceived Nazism as a barrier to the spread of the communist movement and the Vatican hoped to use Hitler’s military machine in exchange for keeping silent in order to cut down on Communist agitation in Phayer. Concern for the maintenance of political liberty was further weakened by preoccupation with the protection of the rights of the Church and religion in Lewy. The Vatican also would not choose a side, in fear of losing support from other. The Vatican tried to uphold their image of neutrality, as Pope Pius XII used his renowned diplomatic skills to conciliate all parties to the dispute. Pius was under a schism of fear for the Catholic Church against its German representatives thus allowing silence and neutrality to become his trademark. This was an unusual set of priorities for Vatican that Pius XII maintained during his reign as Vatican’s secretary of State during the drafting and signing of the concordat. With an authoritarian rule of the papacy and Pius XII role in the policy as embedded in the 1917 Code of canon Law, the pope was held as supreme and most complete jurisdiction throughout the Church, both in matters of faith and morals and in those that affect discipline and Church government throughout the world. The Vatican was to reinforce its links with its most fervent supporters even though they included die-hard Nazis.
It should be remembered that the Vatican’s interest which evolved into a foreign policy of a concordat in 1933 was to uphold an agreement to protect its properties and interests in Germany. Pius’ as Vatican’s Secretary of State harbored fears of loosing the same privileges specified in the Concordat during the war which served as Pius’ catalyst for non-intervention in Nazi affairs. Despite known Nazi violations of the pact contained in the concordat; Pius’s self-serving perspective goes beyond moral ascendancy that lies in stark contrast to the teachings of the church. This reason under an extreme situation like the Holocaust where people are exterminated en masse should have erected a moral outrage at a crime against humanity and any practical effort at its best is a moral obligation that should have started from the Church itself. Any regard that condemns the atrocities would have carried great weight rather unless the Roman Catholic Church welcomed the extermination of the Jews; which history and biblical presentations in John pointed to the Jews as Christ’s killers which may have sealed their fate.
The Roman Catholic Church could serve well in the interest of justice to proclaim its position against inhumane acts which it failed to act upon during the World War II. By remaining mute on the issue, the Church seemed to grant the grave violations perpetrated by the Nazis which betray the moral and religious foundations of the Church. A few months after Hitler came to power, the Catholic Church did align with the Nazi party in the concordat that recognized the legitimacy of the Nazi regime. This was a stifling agenda for the Catholic political and social organizations in Germany. Yet Vatican continued its diplomatic eagerness with the Hitler regime that soon blanketed human cruelty. In presenting its reason for their drastic refusal to condemn Hitler’s regime they have tolerated the mass slaughter of human beings. Another theory and wild speculation released as a reason for the Vatican’s silence has been equated with a relationship relative to the Nazi’s deposits in the Vatican Bank. The Vatican has a notorious and secretive financial institution in the world with the Pope practically owning it. The Nazi’s held their loot in the bank as records showed the transfers. US government records revealed the Pope Pius XII and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Montini were the moneychangers of the Nazi criminals.
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