by our Rome correspondent POPE Pius XII's public silence on wartime Nazi atrocities was prompted by hard evidence that Hitler planned to destroy the Catholic Church in Germany, according to a Jesuit historian.
Fr Robert Graham writes in this week's edition of the Jesuit publication Civilta Cattolica that "in these bitter years, the Holy See was locked in deadly conflict with the regime of Adolf Hitler" and that "the very existence of the Church was at stake". While working secretly behind the scenes as part of a plot to overthrow the Fascist dictator—as publically revealed earlier this year by Fr Graham and others (Catholic Herald, May 29)—Pius was forced by his fears to remain silent.
The origin of the bitterness in the clash between the Nazis and the Church was the 1937 encyclical Mit Brenneder Sorge (Of Burning Concern) penned by Pius Xll's predecessor Pius XI, Fr Graham states. In it Pius XI went against the appeasement mood of the time and publican), slammed the Nazi regime. "Hitler's reaction was tremendous" according to Fr Graham. "He multiplied trials
for alleged immorality, he arrested priests and lay men for alleged illegal exportation of reichsmarks, he filled Dachau with priests on such charges as 'using the pulpit for political purposes' or treason", Fr Graham writes.
The Catholic Church was as much a target of Hitler's tyranny as the communists, Masons and Jews, the Jesuit historian stresses. Pius XII was made forcibly aware of this fact by the German bishops and by Josef Muller, a member of German military intelligence, who passed secret information to the Church, the article continues. One of the documents in Pius possession was a 1940 Nazi plan to transform an area of Germancontrolled Poland, where most of the 4.6 million population were Catholics, into "an experimental godless state", writes Fr Graham who is responsible for organising and publishing second World War documents in the Vatican archives. "The Catholic Church was stripped of legal identity and existence".
The evidence reaching the Vatican during the war years informed Pius of the plight of Germany's Catholic priests. Some 2,800 were sent to Dachau according to the Vatican archives, and at the end of the war "only 816 were still alive".
Concluding his article, Fr Graham writes of the popular view of the Vatican in wartime years, "the real history of the persecution of the Catholic Church under National Socialism does not coincide with the false picture currently propagated by the media and elsewhere of a church complacent, accomodating, sympathetic and passive".