The Concordat with Nazi Germany

Q: A Jehovah’s Witness told me that Pope Pius XI signed document endorsing Nazi Germany and that he thus gave the Church’s stamp of approval to Hitler and his group.

A: Pope Pius XI signed a concord with Germany to secure the rights of Christians in the country, because the Vatican recognized what a threat Hitler and his henchmen were to religious liberty. This was not an endorsement of the Nazi Party or its philosophy (it may be remembered that America also had treaties with Germany before the war broke out).

When Hitler went back on the deal and began abrogating the civil rights of Christians, the Vatican responded by issuing the only encyclical ever written in German (Mit Brennender Sorge or “With Burning Anxiety”), concerning the horrors of the National Socialist German state. This encyclical was smuggled into Germany (it would never have been allowed in, had the Nazis known it was coming) and read at all the parishes on the same day.

The Encyclopedia of Catholic History (by Matthew Bunson) notes: “the encyclical was a strong denunciation of Nazism, noting that the Nazis had broken several points of the concordat and were actively involved in anti-Catholic and anti-Christian programs, such as the removal of the OT [Old Testament] from schools and the promotion of the so-called German National Church. The encyclical was read from the pulpit of every German church on March 21, 1937” (p. 563).

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