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International Socialism, Summer 1965


Barry Hindess

Render Unto Cæsar


From International Socialism, No.21, Summer 1965, p.33.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Catholic Church & Nazi Germany
G. Lewy
Weidenfield & Nicolson, 42s.

‘In any crucial situation’, wrote Sidney Hook, ‘the behaviour of the Catholic Church may be more reliably predicted by reference to its concrete interests as a political organisation than by reference to its timeless dogmas.’ This book is a massive documentation of Hook’s thesis and shows that it can be taken even further. The timeless dogmas are so flexible that the church can accommodate itself to almost any political system, and the church is short-sighted even with regard to its own interests.

From the beginning the German church saw Hitler as a bulwark against bolshevism and liberalism and supported his expansionist aims together with much of his anti-semitism. Thus in a Catholic handbook on religious problems we find: ‘Hence, no people may be denied the right to maintain undisturbed their previous racial stock and to enact safeguards for this purpose. The Christian religion merely demands that the means used do not offend against the moral law and natural justice.’

Having accepted much of the Nazi ideology – the Gestapo feared that the church was trying to take the party over from within – and fearing the defection of German Catholics, the church was in a bad position to act when it thought Hitler went too far. When the church did act it usually followed protests by the Catholic population. No popular protest meant no action by the hierarchy. Thus, following popular protest in Bavaria the church was able to prevent the removal of crucifixes from public buildings. Faced with the extermination of the Jews, and no popular protest, the church kept quiet. It is part of the indictment that given the force of public opinion, the church made no effort to incite it.

During the Spanish War Pius XI gave his blessing to ‘those who have assumed the difficult and dangerous task of defending and restoring the rights and honour of God and of religion’. Those few Catholics who rebelled against Hitler were in a different position. Even while condemning the Gestapo’s power of arbitrary arrest Bishop Galen continued: ‘We Christians make no revolution. We will continue to do our duty in obedience to God, out of love for people and fatherland.’ There were, of course, qualifications to this attitude – as there were to the anti-semitism above – but the church opposed any active resistance to the regime.

The case of Action Française, the French ‘fascist movement, provides an interesting contrast. It wu condemned ‘not merely because there was ground for condemnation, but because ... the degree of success possible for the movement was great enough permanently to damage the essential Catholic interests in democratic France, but not great enough to protect them in the long run.’

There are many other points in this excellent study, but to mention them in a review would tempt people not to read the book. Anyone interested in modern history, religion, or other ideologically based institutions, should do so.

‘The problem is,’ an American catholic has recently written, ‘whether ... faced with an absolute evil such as the Germans posed, it was right to think of “reasons of state”?’ If you can ask such a question, Wittgenstein might have said, the answer must be yes. What a religion!

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