PERSECUTION IN GERMANY
IN 1935 was instituted the planned ridicule of the Church. Liam O'Connor, in Hitlers War on the Church, quotes this song chanted by Hitler Youth in a Wurttemberg village on a Confirmation Day:
"The blacks are all seducers,
"They fight not for their home;
"As ever they are liars;
"They fight for wealth and Rome.
"'Tis clerics make Reaction
"And good for nothings—so
"Let's beat up all the traitors
"Nor any mercy show."
The use of "speaking choirs" began this year. Anti-Christian slogans were chanted from trucks, which bore on their sides scurrilous cartoons of priests and nuns. This same year was also marked by attacks on Catholic Youth organizations, which were accused of the palpable absurdity of communist plotting.
In January, Dr. Wilhelm Frick, Nazi Minister of the Interior, urged "putting an end to Church influence over public life." In April, a decree prohibited the publication of daily papers of a religious nature. This was soon followed by censorship of weekly religious periodicals.
On May 12, the Archbishop of Paderborn, Mgr. Klein, was attacked by Hitler Youth as he arrived at Hamm. "They shouted insults at him," reports Mr. O'Connor, "tried to prevent him from entering his car, attempted to overturn it, spat inside and attacked with knives Catholics who protested."
In July, a decree by Goering against "political Catholicism" placed arbitrary power in the hands of the Nazis. In the same month, at the Reich Education Conference in Munich, Herr Roder of the Ministry of Education exulted: "I was delighted—I say it again, delighted—to wipe twenty monkish training colleges off the face of the earth with one stroke of the pen. I say, nevertheless, that was but a beginning." On July 13, Minister of State Adolf Wagner delivered himself of these sentiments: "In the days days that lie immediately ahead of us the fight will not be against Communists or Marxists, but against Catholicism. Everyone will find himself faced with a serious question: German or Catholic?"
On August 11, some thirty truckloads of S.A. men put on a demonstration in Munich. The trucks were marked with such slogans as "Youth belongs to us and not to the priests." The storm-troopers chanted, "Stick the priests and the Jews against the wall!" This performance was repeated on August 13 and 16 in the streets of Freiburg-im-Breisgau. Trucks, on whose sides were cartoons of priests and nuns, stopped in front of all Catholic institutions, including the Archbishop's palace. The stormtroopers chanted, "The priests must go to the gallows! Down with the priests!"
Hitler himself had set the general tone for the persecutions of this year in an interview which he granted the Reich Leader of the Students' League. He said:
"We are not out against the hundred
and one different kinds of Christianity,
but against Christianity itself.
All people who profess creeds are smugglers in
foreign coin, and traitors to the people.
Even those Christians who really want
to serve the people — and there are such
— will have to be suppressed"
On July 26, in a speech at Munich, Julius Streicher struck a new note of calumny and blasphemy. This professional merchant of obscenity said: "There is a chaplain in the neighborhood of Nurnberg who at the moment is under trial. He would say Mass in the morning and in the afternoon go to the station and hire male prostitutes of sixteen and lie with them in the evening. Next morning he would say Mass again, elevate the Host (Streicher imitated this), and the faithful would genuflect before it (Streicher mimicked this also).
"If you only knew the sort of letter we could publish—a letter written by a highly-placed bishop—then you would see that these people are men too.
"In the bedroom of a priest whose brother is a bishop we found things so abnormal that the average man would have no inkling of their use. We brought away from a convent of nuns, which, by the way, is still entrusted with the task of bringing up young girls, a whole heap of pornographic literature . . ."
"Christ mixed a good deal with women. I believe that He stayed with one who was an adulteress—so I have heard."
This minute sampling of the outpourings of Julius Streicher is a fitting introduction to the so-called "Immorality Trials" of the Catholic clergy, which began in the summer of 1935. An eye-witness account of these trials may be found in Skeleton of Justice, by Edith Roper, one of only nine newspaper correspondents allowed access to the German criminal courts. Part of Mrs. Roper's narrative reads as follows:
"The German press heralded the proceedings with these headlines:
HAVE ENOUGH MATERIAL
FOR A THOUSAND TRIALS
A Thousand Trials for Sex Crimes Brought Against Catholic Priests, Monks, Nuns and Nurses
"The propaganda machine, aiming to excite the lowest instincts of the people, was in full swing. Weeks ahead of time the newspapers promised sensational revelations and details of the alleged sexual aberrations, to make sure that everyone would read about the trials.
"Court proceedings began in the summer. Under the direction of Oberregierungsrat Dr. Doerner and several propaganda 'advisors' reporters drove to West and South Germany to cover the trials. They had orders to attend every one. Reports were to appear in the newspapers each day. Ordinarily the German courts exclude the public at the least hint of immoral or sexual matters, but these entire proceedings were open to all who cared to come. One nauseated reporter complained, 'The courts resemble the most shameless brothels you could imagine.'
". . . When the reporters returned to Berlin between sessions, there were long and fiery discussions about the trials. To a man, they were disgusted. They showed me the instructions forbidding them to report the fact that feeble-minded children and other persons of unsound mind were the chief witnesses for the prosecution. They said that not one healthy person or impartial witness was called to testify. We had all known the trials themselves had been instigated only for purposes of propaganda, but nobody had reckoned with such drastic methods or shamelessness. At least three thousand newspapers were required to print the reports of the trial. The Freiburger Zeitung, for instance, carried this:
'A sequence of horrors . . . Monks
trespass against cripples . . . The lunatic
asylum as a place of refuge . . . With
dragging steps and trembling limbs,
physically deformed, these poor victims
stood stuttering and weeping before the
judge in order to repeat, with horrible
gestures, their despairing accusation
against the bestial criminal... All kinds
of unnatural lechery . . . Debauches of
greatest magnitude . . . Horrible
homosexual crimes . . . Thirteen poor
crippled children subjected to abominable
misdemeanours in the cell of a cloister . . .
The child raped, and a bunch of roses
given to the mother! . . . Disgusting
shamelessness of a criminal in a
priest's cassock . . '
". . . The trials continued. Neither the accusations nor the methods of procedure were altered. Then one day the reports, and most of the trials as well, were suddenly stopped—long before the specified thousand cases had been completed. At first I thought the Ministry of Justice had prevailed after all. But no. The propaganda division was satisfied and thought it best not to overwork the occasion.
"Newspaper subscriptions may have been cancelled, but the action against the Catholics had succeeded. Two factors had proved decisive. First, the nature of the indictments. The accused could do nothing beyond denying the charges. How could they supply practical proof that they had not committed the alleged act? If a man's opinions, intentions, or philosophy are attacked, he can defend himself, but this approach the authorities carefully avoided. They allowed no opening for a discussion of ideas or opinions. The Propaganda Ministry had ferreted out a punishable transgression against which only one defense is valid, namely proof of innocence, and the Gestapo had voided in advance every possibility of proving innocence. An intelligent psychological insight was shown in selecting the offense to be prosecuted, for not only the act itself but also the person who commits it arouses repugnance. A thief may be a very appealing person in spite of his thievery, but in the case of indecent assault the public identifies the perpetrator with his offensive act.
". . . At first people thought only a few priests and monks belonging to the political opposition were involved, but the Propaganda Ministry had considered this possibility and refrained from taking action, at this point, against any politically suspect priest. Only those never before heard of were indicted, and this made the propaganda 'take' in the end. The Germans asked why, if the priests had not proved refractory in either political or church matters, they were being condemned. They must have been guilty of the crimes charged."
The next two years were a repetition of what had gone before. One by one, the thirty-four articles of the Concordat were systematically violated. The threat of criminal prosecution on charges designed by the Propaganda Ministry was used as a goad to drive the clergy to accept the subversion of Christian teaching in the Reich. The state strove to impregnate the children of Germany with all the harsh cynicism of National Socialist ideology, and to crush out of their hearts the words of Christ. One example, among many, of the precepts of the new German morality comes from a textbook distributed in 1936 to all schools in Germany:
"The teaching of mercy and love of one's neighbor is foreign to the German race and the Sermon on the Mount is, according to Nordic sentiment, an ethic for cowards and idiots."
Against such a background, on March 14, 1937, was issued the great Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, On the Situation of the Catholic Church in Germany, "Mit Brennender Sorge." Nowhere is there to be found a more penetrating statement of the nature of those "intrigues which from the beginning had no other aim than a war of extermination." Because of the Encyclical's enduring importance, a considerable part of it is herewith reprinted.
TO THE VENERABLE ARCHBISHOPS AND BISHOPS AND OTHER ORDINARIES IN PEACE AND COMMUNION WITH THE APOSTOLIC SEE: ON THE SITUATION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN GERMANY
Venerable Brethren, Greeting and with deep anxiety and with ever growing dismay We have for a considerable time watched the Church treading the Way of the Cross and the gradually increasing oppression of the men and women who have remained devoted to her in thought and in act in that country and among that people to whom St. Boniface once brought the light of the Gospel of Christ and of the Kingdom of God.
If the tree of peace planted by Us with pure intention in German soil has not borne the fruit We desired in the interests of your people, no one in the whole world who has eyes to see or ears to hear can say today that the fault lies with the Church and with her Supreme Head. The experience of the past years fixes the responsibility. It discloses intrigues which from the beginning had no other aim than a war of extermination. In the furrows in which We had laboured to sow the seeds of true peace, others—like the enemy in Holy Scripture (Matt. xiii. 25)— sowed the tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church, fed from a thousand different sources and making use of every available means. On them and on them alone and on their silent and vocal protectors rests the responsibility that now on the horizon of Germany there is to be seen not the rainbow of peace but the threatening storm-clouds of destructive religious war.
. . . Even today when the open war against the confessional schools, which were guaranteed by the Concordat, and the nullification of the freedom of ballot for those entitled to a Catholic education, show the tragic seriousness of the situation in a field is a vital interest of the Church and an oppression of the conscience of the faithful such as has never before been witnessed, Our paternal solicitude for the well-being of souls counsels Us not to leave out of consideration any prospects however slight which may still exist of a return to the faithful observance of the pacts and to an agreement permitted by Our conscience. In accordance with the prayers of the most reverend members of the episcopate, we shall not weary in the future of defending violated right before the rulers of your people, unconcerned with temporary success or failure and obedient only to Our conscience and to Our pastoral office, and We shall not cease to oppose an attitude of mind which seeks with open or secret violence to stifle a chartered right.
... In this hour in which their faith is being tried like true gold in the fire of tribulation, and of secret and open persecution, when they are surrounded by a thousand forms of organised religious bondage, when the lack of truthful news and of normal means of defence weighs heavily upon them, they have a double claim to a word of truth and of spiritual encouragement from him to whose first predecessor Our Saviour addressed these deeply significant words: "But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren" (Luke xxii. 32).
... Whoever according to an alleged primitive German pre-Christian conception substitutes a gloomy and impersonal fate for a personal God, denying God's wisdom and providence which "reacheth from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly" (Wisdom viii. 1), cannot claim to be numbered among believers in God.
Whoever transposes Race or People, the State or Constitution, the executive or other fundamental elements of human society (which in the natural order have an essential and honourable place), from the scale of norm of all things, even of religious values, and deifies them with an idolatrous cult, perverts and falsifies the divinely created and appointed order of things. Such a man is far from true belief in God and from a conception of life in conformity to it.
Only superficial minds can fall into the error of speaking of a national God, of a national religion, and of making a mad attempt to imprison within the frontiers of a single people, within the pedigree of one single race, God, the Creator of the world, the King, and lawgiver of the peoples before whose greatness the nations are as small as drops in a bucket of water (Isaias xl. 15).
. . . Only blindness and self-will can close men's eyes to the treasure of instruction for salvation hidden in the Old Testament. He who wishes to see Bible history and the wisdom of the Old Testament banished from church and school blasphemes the word of God, blasphemes the Almighty's plan of salvation and sets up narrow and limited human thought as the judge of God's plans.
In your territories, Venerable Brethren, voices are raised in an ever louder chorus, urging men to leave the Church, and preachers arise who from their official position try to create the impression that such a departure from the Church and the consequent infidelity to Christ the King is a particularly convincing and meritorious proof of their loyalty to the present regime. By disguised and by open methods of intimidation, by holding out prospects of economic, professional, civil or other kinds of advantages, the loyalty of Catholics to their faith, and especially of certain classes of Catholic officials, is subjected to a violence which is as unlawful as it is inhuman. With the feelings of a father We are moved and suffer profoundly with those who have paid such a price for their fidelity to Christ and to the Church; but the point has been reached where it is a question of the last and ultimate end, salvation or perdition, and here the only way of salvation for the believer lies in heroic fortitude. When the temptor or the oppressor approaches with the traitorous suggestion that he should leave the Church, then he can only answer, even at the price of the heaviest earthly sacrifices, in the words of our Saviour: "Begone, Satan: for it is written: The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve" (Matt, iv. 10; Luke iv. 8). But to the Church he will speak these words: "O thou who art my mother from the earliest days of my childhood, my comfort in life, my advocate in death, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I, yielding to earthly persuasions or threats, should turn traitor to my baptismal vow." Then to those who flatter themselves that they can reconcile with outward abandonment of the Church an interior loyalty to her, let the words of the Redeemer be a severe rebuke: "He that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven" (Luke xii. 9; Matt, x. 33).
... When persons who are not even united in faith in Christ entice you and flatter you with the picture of a "German national church," know that that is nothing but a denial of the one Church of Christ, manifest apostasy from the command of Christ to preach the gospel to the whole world, which can alone be accomplished by a universal Church. The historical development of other national churches, their spiritual torpor, their stifling by, or subservience to, lay power show the hopeless sterility which inevitably attacks the branch that separates itself from the living vine-stem of the Church. Whoever on principle gives to these false developments a watching and unflinching "No" is rendering a service not only to the purity of his own faith, but also to the welfare and vitality of his people.
... To leave moral forces of such profound strength unused or deliberately to exclude them from the field of popular education is irresponsible cooperation in the religious starvation of a community. To hand over moral teaching to subjective and temporary human opinions instead of anchoring it to the holy will of the everlasting God and to His commandments means opening wide the doors to the forces of destruction. Thus to encourage the abandonment of the eternal principles of the objective moral law in the formation of consciences, in the ennobling of all the spheres of life and of all its ordinances, is a sin against the future of a people, and its bitter fruit will have to be tasted by future generations.
Conscientious parents, aware of their duty in education, have a primary and original God-given right to determine the education of the children given them by God in the spirit of the true faith and in accordance with its fundamental principles and precepts. Laws or other regulations concerning schools, which take no account of the rights of the parents given them by natural law, or which by threats or violence nullify them, contradict the natural law and are essentially immoral. The Church, the chosen guardian and interpreter of the natural law, cannot do otherwise than declare that the enrolments of pupils which have just taken place in circumstances of notorious coercion are the effects of violence and void of all legality.
. . . We direct especially fatherly words to youth. By a thousand tongues today there is preached in your ears a gospel which has not been revealed by the heavenly Father: a thousand pens write in the service of a sham Christianity which is not the Christianity of Christ. The printing-press and the radio flood you daily with productions the contents of which are hostile to faith and to Church, and unscrupulously and irreverently attack what, for you, must be sacred and holy.
And today when new perils and trials threaten, We say to this youth: "If anyone preach to you a gospel besides that which you have received" at the knees of a pious mother, from the lips of a believing father, from the lessons of a teacher faithful to God and to His Church, "let him be anathema" (Gal. i. 9). If the State organizes a national youth association which is compulsory for all, then—without prejudice to the rights of religious associations—it is an obvious and inalienable right of the young, and also of their parents who are responsible before God for them, to demand that that association be cleansed from all activities hostile in spirit to Christian faith and to the Church, activities which up to the most recent times, and even at the present moment, place believing parents in a state of insoluble perplexity of conscience, since they cannot give the State what is demanded from them in the name of the State without taking from God what belongs to God.
. . . You are told much about heroic greatness, intentionally and falsely contrasted with the humility and patience of the Gospel; but why are you not told that there is a heroism in the moral struggle, that to keep baptismal innocence is a heroic act which ought to be appreciated as it deserves whether in the religious or the natural sphere? You are told much of human weaknesses in the history of the Church, but why are you not told of the great deeds which have accompanied her path across the centuries, the saints she has produced, the blessing which came to Western civilization from the living union between that Church and your people? You are told a great deal about athletic sports. Practised in moderation and discretion, physical training is beneficial to youth. But often today so much time is devoted to it that no account is taken of the complete and harmonious development of body and spirit, nor of the fitting care of family life, nor of the commandment of Sunday observance. With a disregard bordering on indifference the sacred character and peace of the Lord's Day, which are in the best German tradition, are taken away.
We address a particularly heartfelt greeting to Catholic parents. Their rights and their duties in the education of the children God has given them are at the present moment at a crucial point in a struggle than which none graver could scarcely be imagined. The Church of Christ cannot wait to begin to mourn and weep until her altars have been despoiled and sacrilegious hands have destroyed the houses of God in smoke and fire. When the attempt is made to desecrate the tabernacle of a child's soul, sanctified by baptism, by an anti-christian education, when from this living temple of God the flame of belief is cast out and in its place is put the false light of a substitute for faith which has nothing in common with zeal for the Cross, then the spiritual profanation of the temple is at hand, and it is the duty of every believer to separate clearly his responsibility from that of the other side, and to keep his conscience clear from any sinful collaboration in such unhallowed destruction. The more adversaries strive to deny or gloss over their dark designs, the more necessary is a vigilant distrust and distrustful vigilance stimulated by bitter experience. The nominal maintenance of religious instruction, especially when controlled and fettered by incompetent people in the atmosphere of a school h in other branches of instruction works systematically and invidiously against this same religion, can never justify a faithful Christian in accepting freely such an anti-religious educational system. We know, beloved Catholic parents, that there can be no question on your part of such a consent. We know that a free and secret ballot would mean for you an overwhelming majority in favour of the confessional school. Therefore in future We shall not grow weary of frankly reproaching those in responsible positions with the illegality of the coercive measures hitherto adopted and of demanding the right to allow a free manifestation of the people's will.
He who searches the hearts and the reins (Ps. vii. 10) is Our witness that We have no more heartfelt wish than the restoration of a true peace between Church and State in Germany. But if through no fault of Ours there is not to be peace, the Church of God will defend her rights and her liberties in the name of the Almighty whose arm even today is not shortened. Full of trust in Him "we cease not to pray and to beg" (Col. i. 9) for you, the children of the Church, that the days of tribulation may be shortened and that you may be found faithful in the day of trial; and also for the persecutors and the oppressors that the Father of all light and all mercy may grant to them and to all who with them have erred, and are erring, an hour of enlightenment like that given to Saul on the way to Damascus.
With this prayer of supplication in Our heart and on Our lips, as a pledge of divine assistance and as a support in your difficult and responsible decisions, and as an aid in the struggle, a comfort in sorrow to your bishops, pastors of your faithful people, to the priests, to the religious, to the lay apostles of Catholic Action and to all your diocesans and not least to those who are sick and those in prison, We impart with fatherly love the Apostolic Blessing.
Given at the Vatican on Passion Sunday, March 14, 1937.
PIUS PP. XI
This message from the Vicar of Christ speaks impressively for itself, and for humanity.
The German Government's retaliation also speaks for itself, and for the Nazis.
Twelve printing offices which printed the Encyclical were closed. Religious periodicals which had reproduced its text were banned for three months. All copies which the police could lay hands on were confiscated. Men and women who had transcribed or circulated the Encyclical were arrested.
Hitler struck back too by putting a thousand more clerics on trial for alleged sexual crimes. "They," he said, "have no title to criticize the morals of a State when they have more than enough reason to concern themselves with their own morals." A variation on this refrain was produced by Goebbels, a few weeks later. In a speech at Deutschland Hall on May 28, he said: "When, therefore, it is declared in church circles that the publication of what goes on at these trials endangers the morals of youth, I must point out that it is not the newspapers but the criminal sexual trespasses of the Catholic clergy which are threatening the physical and moral well-being of German youth. And I can declare in the fullest measure to the German people now listening to me that this sex plague must and will be ruthlessly extirpated. And if the church has proved itself too weak for this task, then the State will carry it out."
But the central contention of the Nazis was that in protesting against their bare-faced violations of the Concordat, and wanton persecution of religion itself, the Pope had intruded in the political sphere of the state.
On May 1, in a speech at Berlin, Hitler said: "So long as they (the Churches) concern themselves with their religious problems the State does not concern itself with them. But so soon as they attempt by any means whatever-by letters, Encyclical, or otherwise-to arrogate to themselves rights which belong to the State alone we shall force them back into their proper spiritual, pastoral activity." So much for Article 4 of the Concordat, which had guaranteed the Vatican freedom in its relations and correspondence with the Catholic Church and clergy in Germany.
The Nazis professed not to persecute religion, but only to protect the political rights of their regime. Yet how far they unblushingly perverted and confused the established meaning of words and distinctions is exceptionally clear in a passage from Goebbels, later this same year-one of those blasphemies so relished as humor by the grosser part of his Nazi audiences. "The true political pastors of the German nation," he announced, "are the National Socialists, while the Church squabbles about the administration of the Eucharist under one kind or both. The National Socialist regime provides no tidbits for the belly, but it does furnish delicacies for the soul."
The Holy Father made answer to Hitler, Goebbels and their fellows, on Christmas Eve, 1937, in his message to the College of Cardinals. "N0, by the grace of God, we have not lost the true names. We wish to call things by their true names. In Germany, in fact, there is religious persecution. For some time people have been saying and trying to make other people believe there is no persecution, but we know there is-and very grave persecution. Indeed, rarely has there been persecution so grave, so terrible, so painful, so sad in its deep effects. It is a persecution that lacks neither the brutality of violence nor the pressure of threats nor the deceits of cunning and falsehood ... Our protest, therefore, could not be more explicit or more resolute before the whole world.
We are engaged in religion and not in politics. Everyone knows it, and all those can see it who wish to see."
Original from UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN