Book Review: Hitler And The Vatican

Hitler And The Vatican:  Inside The Secret Archives That Reveal The New Story Of The Nazis And The Church, by Peter Godman

When I was growing up as a kid, the dominant view of the Papacy during World War II being promoted at the time was that the Papacy was in cahoots with Hitler and that Pius XII was Hitler’ Pope.  Obviously that was not the case, and it was inevitable that there would be a reaction to this view.  This book is part of that reaction, but more than simply presenting a nuanced and balanced (and admittedly critical) view of the Papacy during the 1930’s, the book also manages impressively to discuss what has allowed the Catholic Church to fail so spectacularly in the current crisis relating to predatory priests and leftist political agendas and the infamous lavender mafia, to the point where contemporary Catholic leaders can even wear tide pod vestments to show their true colors.  Therefore, while I read this book to get a better context of the Papacy during the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe [1], this book also was very useful in demonstrating the cross-currents in Vatican politics that have made things so problematic for contemporary Catholicism, which is certainly worthwhile as well.

This book of a bit more than 200 pages (if one includes its diglot Latin-English appendices that provide the texts that demonstrate the Papacy’s anti-fascist attitude during the 1930’s as well as their caution in antagonizing Hitler) and it demonstrates its point not through ferocious rhetoric as much as a nuanced analysis of sources.  The book itself contains fourteen chapters and the main part of the book consists of 170 pages before the texts are shown that have been quoted and referred to earlier in the appendices.  The author begins with a look at some unanswered questions about the papacy of the 1930’s and how the author proposed to answer them (1).  After that the author looks at the two Romes–that of Fascism and Catholicism (2) and the various divisions and complexities that took place within the Vatican of Pope Pius XI (3).  The author looked at the influence of the divided voices from Germany that also influenced the activity of the Papacy (4) in its desire first to attain and then to continue the Concordat established with Nazi Germany.  The author examines the politics of condemnation (5), the relationship between the Jesuits and racist church leaders (6), and the thin line between appeasement and opportunism in the Catholic response to Hitler’s obviously racist and anti-Catholic behaviors (7).  After that the author discusses three strategies the Vatican could have undertaken against Hitler (8), the grand design conducted by the Vatican (9), and various outbursts and intrigues by others in the Catholic hierarchy that made the Papacy’s strategy untenable (10).  The author then talks about the court theologian of the party and his blunders (11), the true villain of the tale, the pro-Nazi Hudal, as well as the attempt to broaden the condemnation to include Communists as well (12).  The book then concludes with Pius XII’s “With Burning Concern (13),” and the plans, never executed, for the excommunication of Hitler because of his obvious heresies and sins (14).

In my mind, this book fulfills two different but interrelated goals.  On the one hand, this volume does a great job at defending Cardinal Pacelli (future Pope Pius XII) from accusations that he was pro-Hitler.  A look at the sources demonstrates that while there were some pro-fascist and pro-Nazi leaders within the Catholic hierarchy, that they were not particularly important in the key positions of the Vatican establishment in the period before World War II.  Perhaps even more noteworthy, though, is the way that this book gives insight into some of the contemporary problems of the Roman Catholic Church in that even where an evil is glaringly obvious, that when that evil is powerful, the Catholic hierarchy will often have a great deal of “tames” in charge who are unable to take the firm stances necessary against it.  That was the case in the run-up to World War II when all of the burning concern of the future Pius XII didn’t mean that the Catholic Church took a strong position against Nazi Germany, despite all of the writings against racalist views that it undertook during this time.  To speak out against powerful evil requires moral courage, and that is often lacking by those who seek positions within diplomatic hierarchies.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Hitler And The Vatican

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings and commented:
    Reblogging for future reference:

  2. Pingback: Book Review: To Change The Church | Edge Induced Cohesion

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