Saturday, April 17, 2010

Zenit news article today.

This article appeared on Zenit today. My comments appear in the text.

Archives Show Church Excommunicated Nazis

Foundation Continues Restoring Reputation of Pius XII

NEW YORK, APRIL 16, 2010 ( An interreligious group trying to discover the facts regarding Pope Pius XII and his efforts to help Jews during World War II has announced the discovery of documents showing how the Church excommunicated Catholics who joined the Nazis.

The New-York based Pave the Way Foundation said that its representative Michael Hesemann found a large series of documents from 1930 to 1933. I presume the reference applies to Archivo Segreto Vaticano which have been opened since 2003.  There are several works which have used the files of these archives. Notable among them are Gerhard Besier (2007) "The Holy See and Hitler's Germany" and Giovanni Sale (2004) "Hitler, la Santa Sede e gli Ebrei".  Neither of them make any references to excommunications.

The documents indicate that any Catholic who joined the Nazi party, wore the uniform or flew the swastika flag would no longer be able to receive the sacraments. There is nothing new here.  The German bishops published a series of statements between 1930-1932 issuing various condemnations of National Socialism.  Within the first months of Nazi rule every episcopal restriction was lifted.

This policy set three years before Hitler was elected chancellor made clear that the teachings of the Church were incompatible with Nazi ideology. Again, nothing new in this. 

“The documents clearly show an ideological war between the Catholic Church and National Socialism already in the pre-war decade," Hesemann explained. "The German bishops and the Roman Curia considered the Nazi doctrine not only as incompatible with the Christian faith, but also as hostile to the Church and dangerous to human morals, even more than Communism."

Among the documents is a handwritten letter from a leading member of the Nazis, Hermann Goering, requesting a meeting with Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pius XII), which was flatly refused.  This has been known by historians since the opening of the archives.  What is its relevance to excommunication?  BTW - Goering was not a Catholic.

There are also documents asking for a removal of the excommunication, which was also denied.  Evidence is needed.  What excommunication is being dealt with here?  What are the archival references for this?

Gary Krupp, president of Pave the Way, characterized these documents as "very significant."

"Michael Hesemann has been diligent in researching the open archives and has been discovering new important documents with every visit," he said. "His research tells a very different story of Eugenio Pacelli or Pope Pius XII than is commonly known."  I am not convinced by the credentials of Michael Hesemann whose area of research tends towards UFOs and relics.  Hesemann has not, to the best of my knowledge, presented any published work on this or any related areas.

When asked why this information is not currently known by many historians, Pave the Way chairman Elliot Hershberg noted that "according to the archives sign-in sheets, most of these historians and scholars have simply not come to the open archives to research 65% of Pacelli’s ministry.”  Who are "most of these historians"?  Perhaps one reason lies in the simple fact that the ASV will email documents on request.  I did all my research work on the Germany files via email and found the ASV to be amongst the most reliable and prompt of any archive I consulted.  I find Mr Hershberg's comment rather strange.

The Zenit article really tells us nothing we have not already known, and known for years.  The German bishops issued several statements proclaiming Catholicism and Nazism incompatible, but the support for Hitler crossed denominational lines.  Catholics were proportionally represented across all Nazi organisations including the Party, SA, SS and the Nazi organisations for the professions.

Apart from the reference to Pacelli refusing a meeting with Goering, what has this to do with him?  He was Secretary of State from 1930 and 1939 and so privy to all the news from Germany.  Unfortunately, this article creates a false impression.

Any suggestion that mainstream historians have ignored relevant material is risible.


  1. Great comments, Paul. This article is odd indeed. These documents were open and no one ever found them until now, even when so many scholars scoured the archives, and even when the Vatican itself attempted to clear Pius' name by publishing 11 volumes of documents? The Vatican didn’t think these were important or relevant?

    The explanation is that this is another attempt to mislead. Pure and simple, this is disinformation. It is intended to make the lay public believe that the German Church opposed the Nazis. This is a half truth, because even though it is true that the church had a ban on membership to the Nazi Party, and that those who persisted in becoming members of the party even after warning them were to be denied admission to the sacraments, the ban was in effect only until shortly after Hitler became chancellor in 1933 and after Cardinal Pacelli, then to become Pope Pius XII, made overtures to Hitler which led to the signing of the Reichskonkordat shortly afterwards. This article and Pave The Way Foundation are not making this all-important point clear, and I think it’s appropriate they are asked why. So, Mr. Hasemann is technically correct when he states, “The documents clearly show an ideological war between the Catholic Church and National Socialism already in the pre-war decade. The German bishops and the Roman Curia considered the Nazi doctrine not only as incompatible with the Christian faith, but also as hostile to the Church and dangerous to human morals, even more than Communism.” Again, this was true before 1933 when Hitler took power. After that, the German Catholic Bishops said,

    “Without therefore departing from the condemnation of certain religious and moral errors voiced in our earlier measures, the episcopate believes it has ground for confidence that the general prohibitions and admonitions mentioned above need no longer be regarded as necessary.”

    Once the German bishops had lifted the ban, that opened the floodgates to membership in the party and millions of Catholic Germans joined. From that point onwards the growth of the party and the pursuit of its evil policies went on unimpeded. The Church never saw fit to clearly denounce these policies, not even once the nature and extent of the genocide those policies led to. And as opposed to the swift and generalized excommunication of all Communists in the world in one stroke, which the Church had no qualms to do after the war, the Church never threatened to excommunicate nor excommunicated any Catholics who were part of the genocidal rampage against the Jews. Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Bormann, and many others in the Nazi hierarchy died as Catholics.

    Gabriel Wilensky
    Six Million Crucifixions:
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  2. Hey Paul your comments only further show that you, and your fellow historians, may have known of these documents but have kept this information to yourself. 99% of the world does not know of their existence. Today the world still believes that Pope Pius XII was Hitler's Pope ,a Nazi sympathizer and collaborator. In the interest of truth why haven’t you denounced the book Hitler’s Pope? Why haven’t you stated that Pius XII was not a Nazi lover?

  3. Dear Gary, the article refers to documents but does not re/produce them. I find it hard to imagine that me and my "fellow historians" have kept this information to ourselves - this is sounding very much like a conspiracy theory! Most of the standard authors on German history in the late Weimar era and the rise of National Socialism make mention of the various responses of the Catholic Church to the Nazis. Even the generally unreliable Pinchas Lapide in "The Last Three Popes and the Jews" wrote of the bans placed on Catholic participation in Nazi organisations etc. For a more recent (2007) text using the archival material from the ASV I recommend Gerhard Besier, "The Holy See and Hitler's Germany" pp 83-86, 91-97.

    Gary, I respect your work in getting documentation out into the public domain, but I cannot accept the criticism that historians are keeping information to ourselves. The material mentioned in the Zenit article has been in the public domain for years in history books written over the last half century.

    I have written about "Hitler's Pope" in my own book "A Cross Too Heavy". I believe Cornwall's book is more airport fiction than serious history. I have written about Pius' anti-Nazi credentials, citing his letter to Joseph Kennedy, US Ambassador to the UK as well as other sources. Much of this has been in the public domain since the 1930s for those prepared to look and read. Time, The Tablet (London), Catholic Mind etc printed Pacelli's homilies and speeches - no serious historian believes Eugenio Pacelli was "a Nazi lover".

    I do not resile from my comments - I think the Zenit article is inaccurate and not helpful. Both Hesemann and Herschberg need to get their facts right.


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