To What Extent was Self-Preservation the Prime Motive of the Catholic Church's subservience to the Nazi Regime?

Authors Avatar

To What Extent was Self-Preservation the Prime Motive of the Catholic Church’s subservience to the Nazi Regime?

By David Jeannot Weinberg

Candidate Number: 4116

Centre Number: 12260

3,142 Words

The Catholic Church (referenced as simply ‘The Church’ from here on) was a fairly unique resistance group during the Nazi period 1933 – 1945. It was unique for two main reasons; firstly it was the only counter-authority to the Nazi Regime permitted under Nazi Law, and secondly, it was the only institution that radically changed the interpretations of its core principles through the introduction of new personalities.

The question above deals with three major areas of debate. The first, and most crucial, is whether the Church used resistance to ensure its own survival and whether it was central to their controversial role during the above period. The second area of debate is contrary to the first; it deals with the other motives that the Church may have had for collaborating or assisting the regime, specifically whether or not Anti-Semitism, played a significant part of the Churches actions during the Nazi Period. However, the third area of debate, the extent to which the Catholic Church was strictly subservient to the Nazi Regime is so substantial, there is just not enough space in this project to cover it adequately. Therefore, my investigation will not concern itself it detail with the actions of the Catholic Church, but rather its motives for undertaking those actions.

In writing this, I will reference many sources from a number of political and religious backgrounds. There are a number of sources of varying utility, which help to develop an argument. For example, Primary sources such, as the Encyclical ‘Humani Generis Unitas’ are invaluable when discussing the dissimilarities between Pope Pious XI, and Pope Pious XII. As a direct Issue of the Church it can be seen as a genuine attempt by the Church to clarify its position on the persecution of the Jews, rather than a piece of apologetic historical commentary after the event and is therefore able to described as politically untainted. On the other hand however, a quote from Daniel Goldhagens book ‘A Moral Reckoning’ has a clear motive behind it. As a radical Jewish historian he has tried to throw open the debate on the Nazi period by referencing heavily the Anti-Semitism of the Church and the German People thus creating a Judo-centric view of Nazi activities. He may therefore exaggerate the truth slightly to make his points seem more convincing. Consequently, when evaluating his work we must keep this motive in mind. Generally however all historians’ work have some value, due, in part, to the extensive research involved in forming their compositions. Thus we can never therefore simply discard a source because it is biased or extreme since sometimes it is these extreme opinions, which can create the most useful suppositions.

The Church has, throughout modern history, been arguably the biggest obstacle to dictatorship. Whether it was Kulturkampf in Bismarck’s Germany, War Communism in Lenin’s Russia, or The Papal Land Seizures in Mussolini’s Italy, the Catholic Church has proved to be an institution that has needed to be dealt with specifically, in order to successfully create a truly Totalitarianist state. The Catholic Church before the Nazi period represented around 32% of the population in Germany (22 Million members) with a wide range of powerful institutions such as Youth Organisations, Political Parties and Schools. Hence when Hitler rose to power in 1933 the Church plausibly saw another threat to their position emerging and thus there was an urgent need to re-affirm their status and position within this new Germany.

The consequence of this anxiety was the agreement of the Church to enter into a Concordat agreement with the new Nazi leader. The Concordat, which was signed on 20th July 1933, by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (later to become Pope Pious XII), which ensured the basic freedom and co-existence of the Church within the Nazi regime. It offered the Church partial anonymity from the state, by allowing them to retain their own schools, and their religious social clubs. However, it did recognise that the Church would be subservient in Law to the state, disband its political wing, “The Catholic Centre Party”, and, made the Nazi Curriculum mandatory in Catholic Schools.

Join now!

The signing of this Concordat I believe shows the willingness of the Catholic Church to agree to restrict their political progression in favour of a guaranteed existence.

“… The purpose … was self-defence, not a wider political opposition…”

As Jonathan Wright comments, the Church was far more interested in preserving its status as a religious institution, rather than trying to promote a political agenda, thus they were prepared to concede political activism, if they could carry on practising their religion freely. J R C Wright himself is a Political Historian and a practising Anglican and therefore the quote ...

This is a preview of the whole essay