Sunday, December 25, 2016

ADSS 1.259 Sec State notes of Silvio Attilio: Ribbentrop visit

ADSS 1.259 Secretariat of State, notes of Silvio Attilio.

Reference: AES 2176/40

Location and date: Vatican, 11.03.1940

Summary statement: Report on meeting between Maglione and Ribbentrop.

Language: Italian


At 12.15, immediately after the audience with the Holy Father, M. von Ribbentrop came to see me accompanied by his suite. 

I came out to meet him in the Throne room and after the usual greetings I escorted him into the audience room, where the conversation took place, lasting for about one hour.

The Minister started by saying that he is not a Catholic and in fact he does not profess any religion because, although born in the Protestant Church, he had abandoned Protestantism as soon as he realised its errors and faults.

Having called his attention to the distressing religious situation in Germany, the Minister said that the Fuhrer is favourably inclined towards the Catholic Church and in fact he would like to come to an agreement with it, but the moment is very delicate … and more time is needed especially on account of the divergence existing between National Socialist politics and those followed by the Catholic clergy in Germany.

This allusion made by the Minister gave me the opportunity of pointing out to him how the Church, in carrying out its mission amongst the people, takes great care to remain outside and above politics; these are the directives given by the Holy See to the clergy all over the world and therefore to the Germany clergy, who, in truth, scrupulously comply with them as a general rule,  If a breach or this rule were noticed in a particular case it would be sufficient to bring it to the notice of the competent Ecclesiastical Authority, who would certainly not fail to remedy it.  But it would be grace prejudice, I added, to see in the whole activity of the clergy nothing but politics. A political end is seen in the work which the clergy does to stem the process of dechristianisation of the people, in support of the fundamental principles of religion itself, in the efforts made to give the appropriate religious instruction to children.

From here passing to more concrete points, I recalled the particular attention of the Minister to some of the many facts which the Church has been compelled to deplore lately: suppression of almost all Catholic schools: reduction or suppression of religious teaching in elementary and professional schools where frequently lay teachers of religion take advantage of their position for advocating the so-called National Socialist “Weltanschauung” and in this way fight religion itself; the closing down of many colleges and religious houses; suppression of famous abbeys, frequent arrest of priests and members of religious orders: systematic anti-Christian propaganda particularly through the Press which in its attacks does not even respect the Supreme Pontiff, while the church, subjected to the most rigid and strict censure, finds it impossible to defend itself against these attacks and slanders, when even the diocesan bulletins, one after another, are suppressed.

To all this we must add the closing of almost all the Minor Seminaries, of many Major Seminaries and not a few of the Theological Faculties, without even giving notice to the Holy See, although this is a matter which comes under the Concordat.

I felt it my duty to mention all these events, or at least the more important ones, in a Note given to the German Ambassador to the Holy See on 13 July of this year [sic] with a request to bring them to the knowledge of the government, who, on account of the repetition of so many distressing incidents, had probably not been kept well informed about the activity against the church in Germany carried out by subordinate authorities.  But so far I have not received any reply on this subject.

Passing then to the very distressing present situation of the Church in that part of Poland occupied by Germany, I mentioned amongst other things the persecution there to which the faithful, the clergy and even bishops are subjected.  I also pointed out that the Holy See cannot accept without reservations information frequently supplied by the German Embassy here, regarding the situation in that territory, and even less can the Holy See publish this information without being able to check it directly.  Hence the necessity that the Holy See should have an Apostolic Visitor in Polish territory.  This would not be anything new, because, as the Minister knows, both in the Ruhr and in the Saar, following a request of the German Government, the Holy See with the approval of the French Government, sent an apostolic Visitor whose presence there was greatly appreciated by Germany. The same procedure could be applied now to Poland.

The Minister listened with great interest, and though he did not think there were many difficulties against these suggestions he could not, however, promise any Government action to put an end to the matters complained of.

I reminded him, at the end, that the Holy See has many times asked the German Government to allow them to carry out their charitable work of assistance and succour in Poland in favour of those poor populations, but have received no reply.  To this the Minister replied that the Fuhrer wishes Germany to be self-sufficient even when giving assistance and added that lately the Fuhrer himself refused an offer of ten million dollars, for assistance, coming from abroad.

From this conversation, although carried on in a courteous manner, the impression remained that we can expect very little from the visit of the German foreign Minister to the Vatican.


(1) Silvio Attilio (1889-1957), Undersecretary Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs 1940-57.

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