The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler - Ch. 1 and 2 of "Church of Spies" by Mark Riebling
Ch. 1 and 2
This time of year my brain is pretty fried after the school year, so I try to ease into June by reading some lighter books. I decided to pick up this book Church of Spies The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling. The book is a look at Pope Pius XII's response to the Nazis leading up to and during World War II. Below I have picked out some quotes from the first two chapters that I found interesting. Here, let me give a brief gist of the first two chapters. Pope Pius XII has been criticized for not doing enough with condemning the Nazis before and during the war. This is quite a polemical issue, with people on both sides. Riebling, though, tries to give a look with as much nuance as possible. He tries to get you to see the incredibly difficult situation that Pius XII had to negotiate.
The first thing that I found striking was that level of espionage and secrecy that was going on at the time. Riebling gives examples of Nazis who were embedded into the Catholic priesthood and were spies in the Vatican against the pope. At the same time there were German officials were rejected Hitler and secretly worked as spies for the pope, bringing him information. Also, Pius XII was skeptical, even of bishops, of who he could really trust. There was always a sense that some of these bishops might cave in, with their loyalty falling to their country over the Church. Pius XII even had his rooms bugged with recording devices to make sure that his words could not be taken out of context or manipulated by others. Even before the war broke out, in 1937 Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII) wrote the encyclical MIT BRENNENDER SORGE (With Burning Anxiety) condemning Nazi beliefs as incompatible with the Church.
A few quotes...
"Meanwhile, the Nazis had themselves become a church. 'Their philosophy is a de facto religion,' Faulhaber [Cardinal of Munich in the late 1930's] said. They had their own sacramental rituals for baptism and confirmation, marriage and funerals. They changed Ash Wednesday into Wotan's Day, Ascension Day into the Feast of Thor's Hammer. They crowned the Christmas tree not with a star, but with a swastika. The Nazis even made 'the blasphemous claim that Adolf Hitler is essentially as great as Christ." 1
"The pope turned directly to the conflict between Church and Reich. He read out a list of grievances, compiled by Cardinal Bertram. The Nazis had thwarted the Church's teachings, banned its organizations, censored its press, shuttered its seminaries, seized its proper ties, fired its teachers, and closed its schools. The conflict portended a full-scale persecution. Party officials boasted that "after the defeat of Bolshevism and Judaism the Catholic Church will be the only remaining enemy. Pius then gave the floor to Faulhaber. He had an even gloomier report. "The prejudice against Catholicism won't go away," Faulhaber warned. He cited Hitler's recent Reichstag speech, which had contained a chilling phrase: "The priest as political enemy of the Germans we shall destroy." Brownshirts had taken these words as a license to behead cathedral statues, use crucifixes for target practice, and smear altars with excrement. A mob had recently surrounded Faulhaber's own home, smashed all the windows, and tried to set the building on fire." 2
The Pope's concern was both trying to keep the Church intact with schism and to try to prevent violence and war, though he got to the point where he was willing to fight the Nazis at all costs. In these years before the break out of the war, and even during the annexation of Austria before the invasion of Poland, Pius XII tried condemnations and diplomacy. He wrote the encyclical SUMMI PONTIFICATUS in October 1939, again, condemning Nazism. It was becoming clear at this point that this was not working. Here Pius XII becomes more silent publicly, but ramps up a hidden and secret war against Hitler.
A few more quotes...
"With that, he sent a subtle signal that he would defer to Faulhaber-not to Bertram, the nominal leader of the German Church- in crafting policy toward Hitler. Faulhaber's preferred policy had two parts. The first was overt acquiescence. "They [the Nazis] seem so much like combatants that it feels like they would rather look for reasons to fight. Particularly if it is against the Church! But I also believe that we bishops must act as if we are unaware of that." The bishops should not get into a war of words with Hitler- and neither should Pius. "Practically speaking, the Holy Father will have to make some concessions on his part." "I have forbidden polemics," Pius said. He had already asked the Vatican's daily, L'Osservatore Romano, to refrain from attacking German policy. "I have let them know that there should be no more incisive word."" 3
"On 20 October Pius issued a public statement. His encyclical Summi Pontificatus, known in English as Darkness Over the Earth, began by denouncing attacks on Judaism. "Who among the Soldiers of Christ' does not feel himself incited to a more determined resistance, as he perceives Christ's enemies wantonly break the Tables of God's Commandments to substitute other tables and other standards stripped of the ethical content of the Revelation on Sinai?" Even at the cost of "torments or martyrdom," he wrote, one" must confront such wickedness by saying: 'Non licet; it is not allowed!" Pius then stressed the "unity of the human race." Underscoring that this unity refuted racism, he said he would consecrate bishops of twelve ethnicities in the Vatican crypt. He clinched the point by insisting that "the spirit, the teaching and the work of the Church can never be other than that which the Apostle of the Gentiles preached: "there is neither Gentile nor Jew? The world judged the work an attack on Nazi Germany. "Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism," the New York Times announced in a front-page banner headline. "The unqualified condemnation which Pope Pius XII heaped on totalitarian, racist and materialistic theories of government in his encyclical Summi Pontificatus caused a profound stir," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. "Although it had been expected that the Pope would attack ideologies hostile to the Catholic Church, few observers had expected so outspoken a document." Pius even pledged to speak out again, if necessary. "We owe no greater debt to Our office and to Our time than to testify to the truth." he wrote. "In the fulfillment of this, Our duty, we shall not let Ourselves be influenced by earthly considerations." It was a valiant vow, and a vain one. He would not use the word "Jew" in public again until 1945. Allied and Jewish press agencies still hailed him as anti-Nazi during the war. But in time, his silence strained Catholic-Jewish relations, and reduced the moral credibility of the faith. Debated into the next century, the causes and meaning of that silence Would become the principal enigma in both the biography of Pius and the history of the modern Church." 4
"But the Vatican did not work by words alone. By 20 October, when Pius put his name to Summi Pontificatus, he was enmeshed in a war behind the war. Those who later explored the maze of his policies, without a clue to his secret actions, wondered why he seemed so hostile toward Nazism, and then fell so silent. But when his secret acts are mapped, and made to overlay his public words, a stark correlation emerges. The last day during the war when Pius publicly said the word 'Jew' is also, in fact, the first day history can document his choice to help kill Adolf Hitler." 5
Chapter two shows Hitler's bloodthirsty invasion of Poland, and his realization that he needed to destroy the Catholic Church there. At the same time it highlights a Nazi defector who sought to get in contact with the Pope in order to effectively communicate with the Allies on a plot against Hitler. He was "chief of German military intelligence (Abwehr), Admiral Wilhelm Canaris."
A few more quotes...
"What Hitler said next shocked his generals. Canaris dared not put it to paper, but Field Marshal Fedor von Bock later confided the details to a colleague. Special SS Death's Head formations, Hitler revealed, would snuff out the least flicker of Polish strength by liquidating thousands of Catholic priests. As one of Bock's colonels recounted, Hitler asserted "that the Poles would be treated with merciless severity after the end of the campaign. ……. [He did not want to burden the army with liquidations' necessary for political reasons, but rather to have the SS undertake the destruction of the Polish upper stratum, that is, above all the destruction of the Polish clergy." 6
"He feared that "some fanatic armed with a telescopic-sighted firearm"" would shoot him. Hitler did not think an attacker would act alone. If he suspected there was a plot to remove him, he told his deputy Martin Bormann, he would take urgent measures against the one faction he suspected would most likely sponsor a coup. "Spiritual factors are decisive," Hitler had said in his speech that day. Neither bourgeois nor Marxist elements could motivate true idealists, willing to risk their lives to kill him. The greatest danger would instead come from "assassins whipped up by the black crows in confessionals." The "dunderheads' who opposed him, Hitler said, included "particularly [the leaders] of political Catholicism." If anyone ever tried a coup, he vowed, he would "round up all the leaders of political Catholicism from their residences, and have them executed." 7
1 - Riebling, Mark. Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler. (New York. Basic Books, 2015). Pg. 11
2 - 15
3 - 16
4 - 27
5 - 28
6 - 30
7 - 31