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Concordat; The Holy See and The Third Reich

Updated on December 19, 2013

What is a Concordat?

A Concordat is much like a treaty between nations in that it is a lateral agreement granting certain agreed upon rights and conditions between the Vatican and a sovereign state. The interests of the Catholic Church are secured within secular matters that might affect them such as taxation and the election of Bishops. The concept of Libertas ecclesiae (church freedom) is regarded as a right predicating the church to protect it's interests and members within a nation through the diplomacy engendered by a treaty.

However Concordats tend to give the Catholic Church undue influence within that country, conflate religious and political matters often with awkward and regrettable results, and lead to the marginalization of other religious groups.

The Vatican has engaged in about 27 separate Concordats in sovereign kingdoms and nations in the last 1000 years. The Concordat with which this article is concerned is the 1933 Reichskonkordat established between the Vatican and the Weimar Republic, which refers to the Federalist Parliamentary Democratic Republic established in Germany between 1919 and the rise of the Nazi party in 1933.

Historical Background

The germ of a mutual desire for a formal agreement between the Vatican and The Nazi party can be traced back to the political maneuverings of Otto Von Bismarck resulting in the Kulturkampf (cultural struggle) between Germany and Catholicism, which Bismarck referred to as, "the enemy within," between 1871 and1887. This struggle resulted in the imprisonment of Catholic Clergy, the state confiscation of Church property and land, and the dissolution of Catholic organizations within Germany.

Initial negotiations for a concordat took place between 1919 and 1922 with the instatement of the Weimer Constitution. The Papacy desired church subsidies, the establishment of Catholic schools in Germany, and the Catholic clergy to once again be allowed to take up legal positions. Germany for it's part thought remediated relations with the Holy see to be an influential component in it's capacity to influence and create foreign policy. These negotiations stalemated largely as a result of the historical tension resulting from Kulturkampf and because the dominant parties in the Reich were largely non-Catholic.

1933, the passage of the Enabling Act, which in very succinct wording granted Hitler as Chancellor of Germany carte blanche Dictatorial powers. Hitler's strong anti-communist leanings initially endeared him to the Vatican and his disdain of Bismarck's Kulturkampf allowed the negotiations to recommence and successfully conclude in 1933.

A Mutually Beneficial Alliance

On March 12 1933, German Cardinal Faulhaber was received by Pope Pius XI, who was later reported by Faulhaber to have declared that, "Adolf Hitler (was) the statesmen who first, after the Pope himself, has raised his voice against Bolshevism."

On April 7th Hitler enacted, through the use of the Enabling Act, the first two anti-Semitic laws, restricting public office and legal practice to Aryans.

On April 26th, 1933, Hitler met with Bishop Wilhelm Berning of Osnabruck, and declared, "I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognized. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church, and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions."

The Catholic Centre party was the last opposition part to the Nazi party to be eliminated after the signing of the Concordat on July 20th in Rome, which disallowed Political involvement by Priests in exchange a reinstatement of Catholic institutes of education. The Pope viewed this with relative equanimity due to the Concordat and on July 22 we was particularly pleased "in the recognition that the new Germany had fought a decisive battle against Bolshevism and the atheist movement."

Hitler for his part in the concordat, was assured that German Bishops would support the Nazi regime and concern themselves solely with tending to their Catholic flocks, of which most were high ranking Nazi officials and officers. He further was reminded at the Bishops Conference at Fulda of what he had gained by Pope Pius's XI endorsement. "The handshake of trust with you through the concordat - the first foreign sovereign to do so... Pope Pius spoke high praise of you...Millions in foreign countries, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, have overcome their original mistrust because of this expression of papal trust, and have placed their trust in your regime."


Summation

In short, the long awaited Concordat was of mutual benefit to The Holy See and Hitler's Third Reich.

As Cardinal Faulhaber declared in 1937, "At a time when the heads of the major nations in the world faced the new Germany with reserve and considerable suspicion, the Catholic Church, the greatest moral power on earth, through the Concordat, expressed its confidence in the new German government. This was a deed of immeasurable significance for the reputation of the new government abroad." This propelled Hitler's foreign influence and the seminal movements towards his final solution that end in the systematic Genocide of over 12 million noncombatants.

The Catholic church, in exchange for it's silence and occasional endorsement of Hitler, regained Theological influence in Germany and was able to witness decisive victories over Russian Bolsheviks and atheists. They further positioned themselves through relative ambivalence and an unwillingness to involve themselves in any condemnation of these moral atrocities to remain the most powerful source of theological and, "moral," guidance in the world regardless of the outcome of WWII.

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