Anti-Judaism in the Hitler Era; Rabbis and Reconciliation

Vatican Archives Point to a Church Failure in Nazi Germany

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By Delia Gallagher

ROME, JAN. 22, 2004 ( The Vatican seems to be recognizing that «anti-Judaism» played a part in the Church’s stance in the early years of Hitler’s rise in Germany.

Documents from the Vatican’s Secret Archives are revealed for the first time in the journal La Civiltà Cattolica, in an article entitled, «Anti-Semitic Legislation in Germany and the Holy See,» written by Jesuit Father Giovanni Sale. Articles in the journal are reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication.

The article reveals important correspondence between the Holy See, the papal nuncio in Germany and others regarding Hitler’s 1933 implementation of discriminatory laws, which forbade Jews from working and limited the number who could be enrolled in school or university.

It also contains portions of telegrams sent by American and Austrian rabbis pleading with Pius XI to condemn the actions. The article says that Pius XI was not unmoved, but that the Vatican wished to first attempt diplomacy via the German bishops.

The article goes on to say, however, that the German bishops’ denouncement was «very timid and generic.»

While accepting that the German prelates were in a difficult position given their desire to prevent any escalation of anti-Catholicism, the article poses the question: «Why the silence of the representatives of the German bishops in matters of racial discrimination?»

Part of the answer to that, claims Civiltà Cattolica, is what the bishops called «anti-Judaism,» a discrimination not based on race (anti-Semitism) but of a «popular religious or ideological character.»

While singling out by name the German bishops who «were probably imbued with an anti-Judaic spirit,» the article contends «there were many — even among men of the Church — who considered discriminatory legislation against the Jews in not such a negative way.»

«In fact, they viewed positively,» the article continues, «the fact that the new authoritarian government [of Hitler] had limited by law the ‘superpower’ of the Jews in some activities of vital importance for the nation. Weighing in on such behavior was also a certain traditional anti-Judaism on which European Christian communities had fed for centuries.»

Yet, when Hitler’s government began to act violently against the Jews themselves, the Church defended them, the article says.

«If for the ecclesiastical authorities a certain discrimination at the social and economic level could be tolerated, it could no longer be the case when the discrimination touched the human person in his fundamental rights, since this was in open violation of Christian morality and natural law,» the Civiltà Cattolica article says.

The article names other reasons for the Holy See’s «caution in dealing with the problem of German Jews.» Primary was the desire to not be seen as meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign country and an initial hope that Nazism, «not yet a well-defined political doctrine,» would be a bulwark against Bolshevism.

When, however, the Holy See realized that Nazism was «a fundamentally anti-Christian movement,» Pius XI and the Vatican «raised its voice to solemnly condemn the nationalist and racist doctrine,» using various means including the encyclical «Mit Brennender Sorge»; the refusal to meet Hitler in Rome; and the Syllabus Against Racism, a 1938 pastor letter.

This Civiltà Cattolica article comes shortly after another by Father Martin Rhonheimer, a Swiss professor of theology at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, «The Holocaust: What Was Not Said» (First Things, November 2003) which calls upon the Vatican to re-examine its role during the early years of Hitler’s regime.

Father Rhonheimer claims that a citing of «Mit Brennender Sorge» and the Syllabus Against Racism as examples of the Church’s defense of the Jews is not enough.

«This defense of the Church,» writes Father Rhonheimer, «fails to account for a number of important facts.» He continues:

«It ignores the existence of a specifically modern anti-Semitism, shared in varying degrees by Catholics. Nourished by traditional Christian anti-Judaism, it had social, political and economic aspects as well. In its Catholic form it was rooted in the Church’s political and social anti-modernism, especially its opposition to liberalism and all its works.

«For German Catholics this resulted in openness to ‘volkisch’ and racist ideas that blurred the boundaries with Nazi ideology. Finally, there was the Catholic openness to an authoritarian state, which allowed people to think, at the start of Hitler’s rule, that the Nazi state might be an acceptable alternative to liberal democracy and a bulwark against the looming threat of Bolshevism.»

Father Rhonheimer closes saying, «The real problem is not the Church’s relationship to National Socialism and racism, but the Church’s relationship to the Jews. Here we need what the Church today urges: a ‘purification of memory and conscience.'»

Father Sale, who wrote the Civiltà Cattolica article, told me that he has not read Father Rhonheimer’s article, yet he seems nonetheless to have responded to some of the latter’s points.

Father Sale’s article, approved as it is by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, suggests a willingness on the part of the Holy See to recognize an anti-Judaic bias on the part of some Church authorities during the early years of Hitler’s regime — and to contribute to the Church’s purification of memory and conscience.

* * *

The Rabbi and the Cardinal

Last Saturday, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, met with one of the two chief rabbis of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, on the occasion of the Concert of Reconciliation performed in the presence of John Paul II.

The Pope had welcomed the rabbis the day before, during an audience. «The official dialogue established between the Catholic Church and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is a sign of great hope,» the Holy Father told his guests. «We must spare no effort in working together to build a world of justice, peace and reconciliation for all peoples. May Divine Providence bless our work and crown it with success!»

At a reception sponsored by the Knights of Columbus following the concert, Cardinal Kasper said, «All of us look to Abraham as a model of faith — Jews, Muslims and Christians. We will be judged on the goodness we have in our hearts and the works of good we have performed.»

Rabbi Amar, shaking Cardinal Kasper’s hand, said, «You must come to Jerusalem.»

«Peace to Jerusalem,» said Cardinal Kasper.

«Amen,» said the rabbi.

«Shalom,» said the German cardinal.

«You will help us,» said the rabbi.

«Shalom,» said the cardinal.

At the same reception, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, announced that the Knights of Columbus Grand Knight, Carl Anderson, would be made a member of the council.

Anderson will be the only American lay member of the council. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., is also a member.

Anderson told me he «is personally grateful for the opportunity to work for the cause of justice and peace.»

«I hope to help the council understand the American ethos and help Americans to understand the workings of the council,» he said.

* * *

On Families Without Fathers

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was one of the keynote speakers at «Dialogue in the Cathedral» on Tuesday at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Organized by the Diocese of Rome and presided over by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, «Dialogue in the Cathedral» is a series of talks given by cardinals and others on various themes throughout the year.

Cardinal Ruini, introducing Cardinal Bertone, made reference to the latter’s recent surprise appearance as
an announcer for a soccer game held in Genova. Cardinal Bertone had said at that time that if he had to create a «Church squad» he would have Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the coach and Cardinal Ruini as the center-forward.

Cardinal Ruini thanked Cardinal Bertone for the confidence he placed in him saying, «I was especially grateful to hear I would be center-forward since when I was young I was always made to play wing to cause the least damage possible.»

Cardinal Bertone, formerly secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now archbishop of Genova, spoke on the family.

One of eight children, Cardinal Bertone opened his talk dedicating it to his brothers and sisters who have gone before him.

The cardinal lamented the breakdown of the traditional family, in particular the absence of fathers, saying, «If there is no father, the entire architecture of the family is destined to crumble.»

«Father, grandfathers, uncles were determining factors in the childhood development of generations,» said Cardinal Bertone. «In a society without fathers, a new type of ‘parent’ emerges: the computer and Internet.»

The absence of fathers also leads to the «culture of gangs,» when young people must «choose an authority to whom they can give power,» the cardinal added.

Cardinal Bertone cited John Paul II’s appreciation of his own father as the one who prepared him first for his future preparation in the seminary and life in the priesthood.

The cardinal also noted the low birthrates of developed countries, in particular Italy. «In Genova, we have the best hospital for infants, but we have no infants,» he lamented.

He saw signs of hope in the emergence of new lay movements within the Church and the development of a culture of solidarity within the family. And he offered four suggestions to today’s parents: first, to welcome and care for life; to listen; to positively judge their children; and finally, to trust and not be afraid.

* * *

Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at

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