Sunday, December 25, 2016

ADSS 1.258 Maglione notes: Ribbentrop visit

 ADSS 1.258 Luigi Maglione, Sec State, notes.

Reference: AES 2176/40

Location and date: Vatican, 11.03.1940

Summary statement: Two interviews with Ribbentrop.  Ribbentrop pleased with meeting with the Pope.   Maglione complained about persecution in Germany; Ribbentrop complained about ‘Polish atrocities’.  No progress on a Vatican representative in Poland.

Language: Italian


The Reich’s Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, during two conversation he had with me (one in the Vatican lasting about one hour, the other in the German Embassy to the Holy See lasting about fifteen minutes) repeated several times his satisfaction at having been able – taking advantage of his visit to Italy – to settle a few questions with the Italian Government - to see the Holy Father again and to talk with him about the religious situation in Germany.  He had occasion to meet Monsignor Pacelli in Berlin who was then Nuncio to Germany.  He knew that he had the admiration of all Catholics who thought he was a Saint.  Everybody in fact had a great respect for Monsignor Pacelli, which he well deserved.  He, Ribbentrop, had a great respect for him; when he heard he had been elected and the warm-hearted words addressed to Germany just after having been raised to the Pontifical throne, he said: here is a true Pope.

This morning, during the audience granted to him he felt emboldened to claim, with great satisfaction, that the Pope has always had his heart in Germany and a great desire to reach a firm and lasting understanding with Hitler.

Hitler also wanted a firm and lasting understanding.  He has already given proof of his goodwill be cancelling, by the hundred, the proceedings against the clergy.  But Hitler’s plans are far-sighted, he thinks more of the future than of the present (?).  We cannot therefore think that we can now obtain the settlement hoped for.

Germany is engaged at present in a tremendous war for its existence, for its greatness.  All Germans are behind Hitler, from the first to the last: all are ready to fight heroically: all German energies are concentrated in this aim, victory: we cannot think about anything else.

Hitler has united the Germans and has saved Germany – and therefore Europe – from Communism.  He has obtained this result by rising above all parties.  Now only the State can outlines the policy of the nation, as it should be.  Catholicism, as Protestantism, delved too much into politics and the Catholics of the Centre were so involved in politics that they were prepared to vote enormous subsidies in favour of extremist parties if only they could stay in power.

Even now the clergy do not understand that the field of politics is not theirs.  We need therefore time and patience to reach a complete understanding and a settlement of the religious problem as desired by Hitler.

To this lengthy and rather disconnected monologue by Ribbentrop (in the first conversation) I replied that even when politics were free in Germany, it was not the Catholic clergy who meddled in politics, but only a group of German citizens, who were Catholics, it is true, but were using the rights granted to all Germans.  In any case, this belongs to the past,  Can we say now that clerics, Bishops, priests and members of religious orders meddled in party politics?  If there were any it would be enough to mention their names.  The Holy See …

“We know that the Holy See does not want ecclesiastical people to concern themselves with politics”.

“Then, give us the names of ecclesiastical people who behave as politicians.  There are none, I think, and I am sorry to note that there is a preconceived idea, a prejudice against Catholics: there is the idea that clergymen, Catholicism, as Your Excellency says, are concerned with political manoeuvres and everybody thinks or wants to think that every action and every statement they make is due to political reason and aims.

“But this preconceived idea has no foundation cannot even explain many, too many, distressing facts.  In the old Reich and in Austria almost all Catholic schools have been shut.  In many elementary schools religious teaching has been suppressed.  How can it be suspected that teachers of ten-year-old children could be political schemers?  When religious teaching is suppressed, catechism abolished, everybody must think that this is done because of hatred of religion.  The Crucifix has been taken away from schools.  In many places clergymen have been sent away, in many schools the teaching of a National Socialist Weltanschauung has been substituted for the Catechism.  Who can believe that this has happened on account of the clergy’s political activities?

And there are other painful facts.  The Government ahs closed many seminaries, small and large, has suppressed many novitiates, religious houses, abbeys, charitable institutions, has arrested many priests …”

“I am not aware of this …”

“Excellency, many months have elapsed since I handed a confidential memorandum of all the facts which I have just told you to M. von Bergen and I begged him to pass it on to Your Excellency.  I took the liberty on that occasion of expressing doubt as to whether the central authorities were informed on facts probably due to orders of the local authorities.  It will be necessary that I give you another memorandum on this subject”.

At this point M. Ribbentrop handed me an official publication on the atrocities committed by the Poles against the Germans and asked me to present it to the Holy Father. “His Holiness will be able to observe the injustice to us of the Catholic press which now writes about the alleged German cruelty and remains silent about the proven Polish atrocities”.

I replied that the Holy See wishes to be kept completely informed and therefore I have several times insisted on obtaining the Berlin authorities’ approval for sending a trusted cleric to Poland namely Monsignor Colli, Auditor of the Nunciature in Germany: no satisfactory reply has been received to date.

In the meantime, amongst the many rumours, which circulate about the Polish situation, some cannot be denied and are extremely distressing.  Many bishops have been sent away from the diocese, some, such as the Bishop of Lublin are in prison, together with many priests; a great number of members of religious orders have been arrested; many churches have been closed; in those still open, religious worship is allowed only on certain days and for a few hours only”.

“But in Poland, as well, the clergy devote themselves to political activities, and are against the Germans”.

“We can instruct the Polish priests to stay quiet and only to look after their pastoral mission, and to avoid giving trouble to the occupying authority, but we cannot ask them to renounce their love for the country.  The presence of a special envoy of the Holy See would help to clear misunderstandings and to strengthen the priests in their purpose to dedicate themselves exclusively to their pastoral mission”. (1)

“But Poland is under a military Government: no diplomat or consul can be sent there”.

“The Holy See’s envoy would not have a diplomatic status; only religious.

“By keeping in contact with the German authorities he could give useful instructions, good advice, help the Bishops little by little to restore the normal religious life”.

“But how could the presence of a representative of the Holy See be possible in an occupied territory ruled by the military?”

“Your Excellency should be good enough to remember that during the Ruhr and Saar occupation, Germany was glad that an envoy of the Holy See was present in those districts.  The French Government consented then to the presence of a pontifical representative.  Germany if I remember correctly, was very satisfied with the activity of that Prelate (Monsignor Testa) … more than France.

“Who was not very pleasant to us.  Well, I will think about it”.

I spoke to M. Ribbentrop of the necessity of helping the poor desolate Polish population, and about the permission of the Berlin Government, who had already been approached, for a relief Organisation, which could function under the guidance of Monsignor Colli or another cleric, in agreement with the occupying powers.  But I have received only vague words in return, tantamount, in the final analysis to a refusal.

At the Villa Bonaparte I spoke again of the advantage of having a representative of the Holy See in Warsaw, in the interest of Germany itself.  If the news about the harsh military occupation is without foundation as von Ribbentrop affirms, it would be useful to be able to deny it on the basis o non-partisan information...

He replied that he would think about it but added explicitly that he could not promise anything.

He spoke again about the goodwill of Hitler (who is thinking about the future) and about the necessity of setting aside particular questions. “The church looks at things sub specie aeternitatis”.

“This is true, but we must not forget that religious life pursues its aims also in the present and cannot ignore the obstacles for should represented by sources of grief, of pain and of great danger.  We cannot and we must not let religious life decline or perish in the present in the hope of seeing it resurgent in the future”.

Ribbentrop felt it his duty to tell me twice that he had no religion.  He was born in the Protestant confession but he had abandoned it because he is convinced that Protestantism has committed many errors.  He believes and affirms candidly that he is unbiased in his judgement on religious matters merely because he has no religious allegiance!


(1) See DGFP, Series D, Volume 8, n668, pp 896-98.

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