Friday, April 19, 2013

ADSS 3.2.444 Hilary Breitinger to Pius XII

Polish Catholics in the territories "annexed" by Germany in the wake of the September 1939 invasion found themselves in a dire predicament.  Nazi policy was unambiguous in its determination to decapitate Polish society, culture, intelligentsia and the Catholic Church.  The forcible removal, arrest and murder of many of the clergy in the area known as the Warthegau left hundreds of parishes without priests and the regular life of the church ground to a halt.  Provision was begrudgingly made for the Volksdeutsche who were "resettled" into the area but even in this case there were insufficient clergy to meet the needs of German speaking Catholics.  

Polish speaking Catholics were barred from churches designated for Volksdeutsche Catholics, forbidden to use Polish in those parts of the Latin liturgy and devotions where the vernacular could be used, banned from confessing in Polish, and restricted from attending worship outside of a few hours once a week.

Hilary Breitinger (1907-1994), a Bavarian-born Franciscan friar, had worked with the German-speaking community in Poznan since 1934 at the request of Cardinal Hlond.  After the cardinal's flight from Poznan, Breitinger was recognised by newly constituted leadership of Reichsgau Wartheland as the official representative of the German-speaking Catholic Church in the area.  Pope Pius XII was in a difficult position.  Pastoral care of the Polish dioceses and parishes demanded some form of episcopal oversight.  Traditionally, the Holy See did not re-organise dioceses during war, but the decimation of the Polish Church was outside any normal experience.  Pius decided to appoint administrators who would care for dioceses without bishops until such time as a bishop could return or be replaced.  

In the meantime, the Vicar Capitular, or senior canon of the Cathedral in Poznan, Polish priest, Joseph Paech (1880-1942), was recognised as the official representative of the diocese.   Paech appears to have suffered something similar to a nervous breakdown under the pressure of trying to work with the Nazis.  In May 1942, On the advice of Cesare Orsenigo, the nuncio to Germany, Pius approved the appointment of Breitinger as Apostolic Administrator for Poznan. The Polish government in exile in London considered that act and a number of similar ones to be violations of the Polish-Vatican concordat of 1925 thus rendering it null and void.

In this document, dated 23 November 1942, Breitinger wrote to the pope expressing his anxieties over the state of the Church in the Wartheland, the attempts by the Nazis to split German-speaking Catholics from the rest of the Church in some sort of "Rome-free" organisation.  What makes this text so poignant is Brietinger's open mention of the frustration and hurt experienced by many Catholics - German and Polish - at the silence of the pope.  He says that even the Gestapo are amazed.  It is a very frank statement.  Breitinger sent two copies to Rome.  One was sent via the nuncio which did not appear to get to its destination.  The second was sent via Michael Faulhaber, archbishop of Munich who sent it to Rome.

As the Red Army drew closer to Poznan in late 1944 Breitinger left and returned to Germany.

The full text may be found in the pages section.

Hilary Breitinger OFM Conv, 

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