Nazi and Vatican Relations during WWII Essay
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How was Vatican’s relationship with the Nazi Germany during the War? The seat of the Roman Catholicism lies in the Vatican City- state with the Pope as the head of state and Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. As a religious institution the Vatican has internationally been recognized as a powerful and independent diplomatic service capable of forging agreements for peace in behalf of the entire Catholic congregation. In the last twenty years during the reign of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican had aggressively been active in an international promotion of peace thereby denouncing war and hostilities.
It’s involvement in international politics had been questioned as the historical sins of the Roman Catholic Church in the past centuries were brought to light. Presently, the Vatican is also heaped with blame for allowing WWII atrocities to befall on the Jewish community during the Holocaust. As the leader is the Catholic Church, the Vatican is supposedly a champion of humanitarian service.
Yet it has received much criticism that leads us to question the Vatican’s relationship with Nazi Germany during WWII through a genuine look into the positions taken and deeds committed by the Vatican and its officials.
In 1933, the Vatican forged an alliance with Nazi Germany through a Concordat signed and administered by Nazi Vice Chancellor von Papen and Vatican’s Cardinal Pacelli who later became Pope Pius XII according to Conway (2001:17). This treaty authorized the papacy to impose new church law on German Catholics at the same time granting generous privileges to Catholic schools and the clergy Langmuir (1998:9). According to Hen, the church sees this as an effort to curb the expansion of Protestantism in Germany and to secure civil guarantees for the Catholic institutions and their activities (2000: 139).
Cardinal Pacelli had already arranged concordats with other individual German states and negotiating a concordat with the Reich’s new government could aid the Catholic Church’s effort to prevent the spread of communism using Nazi as its bulwark in Alvarez and Graham (1997:13). Hen also added 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, was the Church’s reason for a concordat (2001: 41).
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(1998:9).
Hitler and the Nazi Party interpreted the concordat’s ratification to mean that they had won the church’s approval thereby allowing them the needed recognition in international politics and showing the world that the German Chancellor was politically reliable and trustworthy in Kick (2002:7). Likewise the Nazi Party relied on the Concordat policy to rise unopposed by the most powerful religious community in the world (Alvarez, 1997: 49). Hitler’s power over churches advanced as he placed the church under administrative control while obligating German bishops to the Nazi state by endorsing Nazism as a positive Christianity in Hen (2002: 165).
With the Catholic Church’s withdrawal from social and political action, the concordat policy allowed the most disturbing extermination of the Jews carried out by the Nazi party in Europe in predominantly Catholic region according to Phayer (2000:xiii). The Nazi anti-Semitic values were then fanned throughout Europe as the German Catholic Church movement was subdued by the appeasement terms in the Concordat that Hitler do not wish to honor according to Conway (2001:68).
Pius XI underestimated Hitler’s influence with the belief that Germany would honor the appeasement treaties cited in the concordat and started condemning Nazism. Pope Pius XI died in 1939, just a few hours before he could deliver a blunt message condemning Nazism amidst rumors of murder according to Murphy and Arlington (1983:195). Cardinal Pacelli assumed as Pope Pius XII and removed Pius XI’s prior ban on Action Francaise which was an anti-Semitic organization according to Friedlander (1996:223).
Pius XII failed to condemn the wave of atrocities committed by the Nazi against the Jews 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). In 1941, Pope Pius XII reiterated his stand of remaining neutral when consistently asked by US delegates according to Friedlander (1997: 226). Vatican could never feign ignorance on the massacre of the Jews as it had it own diplomatic corps and representatives in many European countries through a papal nunciate (Hen, 2002:165).
It was only in late 1942 when Pius XII spoke out against the Nazi while refusing to publicly denounce violence against the Jews. His silence without emitting a condemnation against Hitler’s military aggression is a source of dispute which the church cannot claim ignorance to justify their silence. Conclusion It should be remembered that the Vatican’s interest which lie foremost in the foreign policy of the concordat in 1933 to protect its properties and interests in Germany. Pius XII as Vatican’s Secretary of State harbored fears of loosing the same privileges during the war which served as the background for non-intervention in Nazi affairs.
Pius’s self-serving perspective goes beyond moral ascendancy that lies against the teachings of the church as it maintained a modicum of silence while Jews were exterminated en masse. Any condemnation against the atrocities would have carried great weight and would serve as a catalyst for the international committee to act for humanitarian reasons.
Alvarez,David and Graham, Robert. Nothing Sacred: Nazi Espionage against the Vatican, 1939-1945. Routledge,1997. Conway, J. S. The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933-1945. Regent College,2001. Hen, Chiang. Two Thousand Years with the Word.Institute for Christianity, 2000. Langmuir, Gavin L. Frankel, Jonathan. The Fate of the European Jews, 1939-1945: Continuity or Contingency? (ed. ) Oxford University Press, 1998. Kick, Russell. Everything you know is wrong: The Disinformation Guide to secrets and lies. The Disinformation Company, 2002. Murphy, Paul and Arlington,Rene. La Popessa. New York: Warner Books Inc, 1983. Friedlander, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. Phayer, Michael. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965. Bloomington: Indiana University, 2000.