Courtesy Reuters

Hitler's Undeclared War on the Catholic Church

IN 1930 and 1931 the Catholic bishops of Germany issued warnings against the rising National Socialist Party. The essence of what they said was that the party program placed a Germanic feeling of race above religion. Different bishops published these warnings in different terms of sharpness -- a few omitted them altogether. The influence of these episcopal admonitions must not be exaggerated. In August 1932, for instance, they did not prevent the Center Party (which, without being confessional, was recognized by the bishops as representing the Church) from trying to make a deal with the National Socialists for a coalition against the Chancellorship of von Papen.

In January 1933 the Center declined to participate in a Hitler government, and in the following electoral struggle took an active part against the National Socialists. Nevertheless, on March 23 the Center deputies in the Reichstag consented to the legislation which established Hitler's unrestricted dictatorship. This step was taken at the instance of the President of the Center Party, Monsignor Kaas, and against the opposition of a minority led by former Chancellor Bruening. In his program Hitler uttered some amiable though in reality uncompromising words about the significance of the Christian religion to the state and nation. A few days later the bishops withdrew their warnings of 1930 and 1931 as being no longer relevant.

In Rome, meanwhile, negotiations were begun between Vice-Chancellor von Papen and Cardinal Pacelli, Papal Secretary of State. Shortly before they reached any conclusion the Center and its sister organization, the Bavarian People's Party, decided to dissolve -- with the more or less gentle assistance of the Government. Once the Concordat with the Reich had been signed, the premises of the Catholic associations, until then occupied by the police, were evacuated and permission was given for them to resume their activities. In the view of many leading Catholics, it only remained to determine the legal status of the associations in negotiations between the Government and the German bishops. The relationship of Church and State would then -- possibly

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