February 9th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Running on nearly empty: fool's gamble with fuel reserves

EDITORIAL The challenges are really hitting home in 2019

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coalition's female deficit is more apparent than real

ENERGY 200,000 Victorians left powerless in heatwave

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Migration, instability and the erosion of conscience

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Still time to reach a deal on Brexit

LIFE ISSUES 'Viability' argument is wearing a bit thin

NATIONAL AFFAIRS The strategic silence of the secularists

THE RUDDOCK REVIEW The chimera of freedom of religion in Australia

LITERATURE Tolkien's lost epilogue: tying up loose ends

CULTURE AND POLITICS China exhibits its latest assault on human dignity

HUMOUR BMC-Bitzumishi to release musical wallpaper

MUSIC Cuba on the jazz map: Gonzalo Rubalcaba

CINEMA Glass: Gifts of brokenness

BOOK REVIEW Heroism from a crushed nation

BOOK REVIEW Comprehensively corrects the record

CHILDREN'S CLASSIC A breath of fresh air and innocence



WATER POLICY Something rotten led to fish-kill: perhaps fishy environmentalism

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Comprehensively corrects the record

News Weekly, February 9, 2019

CATHOLICS CONFRONTING HITLER: The Catholic Church and the Nazis

by Peter Bartley

Ignatius Press, San Francisco
Paperback: 296 pages
Price: AUD$35.95

Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel

When the reviewer studied Modern History at school, the relationship between the Nazis and the Church was glossed over in the space of a few minutes in one lesson. We were told that by entering into a Concordat with the Nazi regime, the Catholic Church was easily controlled by the Nazis, and did not oppose them.

In popular consciousness, the Catholic Church was at worst, either openly or tacitly supportive of the Nazi regime, or at best, adopted a position of silence.

Peter Bartley, whose previous works include The Gospel of Jesus: Fact or Fiction, challenges these perceptions in Catholics Confronting Hitler. While in recent years several works have focused on the role of Pope Pius XII at the time of the Nazis, Bartley’s work surveys a range of ways in which Catholic clergy and laity opposed Hitler, both in Germany in the 1930s and ’40s and in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.

Bartley treats the subject material essentially chronologically. He begins by discussing the origin and growth of the Nazis, noting that they won a mere 2 per cent of the popular vote in Germany when they first fielded candidates for elections in 1928. This situation changed rapidly. With the onset of the Depression, the Nazis grew in strength and influence. Far from being indifferent, the Church in Germany watched with concern their growing support.

Judging them to be pernicious, in the 1930s, the German bishops issued various pronouncements that argued that Nazi ideology – particularly its racialist theories – were antithetical to Catholicism. Furthermore, they forbad Catholics to join the Nazi party.

This ban was rescinded with reluctance in 1933 after Hitler becoming Chancellor as the Church saw this as the most prudent step given the changed circumstances. Bartley also examines the Concordat the Catholic Church signed with the German Government. He notes that a concordat should not be interpreted as an endorsement by the Church of a particular regime. Instead, the Church enters into such agreements to guarantee it certain protections.

Bartley notes that the Nazis repeatedly violated the terms of the concordat.

The Vatican also watched with growing concern the actions of the Nazis, and for this reason issued the encyclical Mit brenender sorge (“With Burning Anxiety”) in 1937. The chief drafter of the document was Michael Cardinal Faulhaber, Archbishop of Munich, with additions made by Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII. Despite the Gestapo’s extensive surveillance network, copies of the encyclical were distributed to clergy who were mandated to read it from the pulpit!

Bartley discusses the Catholic leaders’ opposition to the Nazis’ euthanasia program, in particular Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Munster. In response to the allegation that the German hierarchy challenged the euthanasia program, but remained silent about the Holocaust, Bartley demonstrates this to be inaccurate, as in 1943 a document commonly known as the Decalogue Letter was drafted, which condemned the deportation and killing of Jews. However, Bartley notes that, while some bishops, such as von Galen, Faulhaber and Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, favoured more forthright condemnations, others, such as Adolf Cardinal Bertram, Archbishop of Breslau, advocated caution.

Other sections of the work explore practical ways in which clergy and lay people, motivated by their faith, provided material assistance to those persecuted by the Nazis – particularly Jews – often at great risk to their lives. The various ways in which Pope Pius XII opposed the Nazis during World War II are also discussed.

Bartley’s analysis of the various ways Catholics either overtly or covertly challenged the Nazis is comprehensive, with his material being generally well organised. However, at times the sheer listing of examples can become somewhat dry.

There is also the sense that Bartley’s analysis is derivative: while there are numerous citations of secondary sources, most of the primary sources Bartley refers to are those quoted in or mentioned by the secondary sources he cites.

Written as a corrective to sweeping condemnations of the Catholic Church’s role in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s, it could be argued that, in so doing, Bartley glosses over incidents in which Catholic clergy either openly endorsed or tacitly supported at least aspects of the Nazi agenda.

Michael E. Daniel is a Melbourne-based writer.

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