Rome, Italy · July 20, 1933

On this date in 1933 in Rome, represen­ta­tives of Ger­man Pre­si­dent Paul von Hin­den­burg and Pope Pius XI (1922–1939), among them Vati­can Sec­re­tary of State Euge­nio Pa­celli (later Pope Pius XII), announced that a con­cor­dat (treaty) had been forged between the Holy See and the Ger­man Reich. The Reichs­kon­kor­dat was a major propa­ganda coup for the Nazis, in power nearly six months. It gave the impres­sion that the Nazi regime of Ger­man Chan­cellor Adolf Hitler, who had acquired quasi-dicta­torial powers through the Enabling Act of March 23, 1933, posed no threat to Ger­man churches, not­with­standing the omi­nous opening lines in the con­cor­dat that stated rela­tions between the two en­tities must be regu­lated “in a way accept­able to both parties.” Within the week Pacelli, the chief author of the con­cor­dat, was forced to defend the Holy See in the first of two arti­cles in the Vati­can’s newspaper, L’Osser­va­tore Romano. Soon after rati­fi­ca­tion the Vati­can began reporting breaches of the con­cor­dat. Catho­lic critics within Ger­many were forced to mute their responses to the state’s inter­fer­ence in reli­gious matters and to mis­deeds Nazi radi­cals com­mitted against the Church and its organi­za­tions. In time the Holy See issued the papal encyc­lical Mit Bren­nender Sorge (“With Burning Con­cern”). Written in Ger­man, not the usual Latin, it was read in all Ger­man Catho­lic churches on Palm Sunday 1937, a day when church atten­dance was highest. Pius XI’s en­cyc­lical con­demned the pagan­ism of Nazi ideo­logy, the myth of race and blood, and the bas­tard­ized Nazi con­ception of God. It warned Catho­lics that the growing Nazi ideo­logy, which exalted one race over all others, was in­com­patible with Cathol­i­cism. Over 300,000 copies were cir­cu­lated. The day after Palm Sun­day, Gestapo bullies raided church offices and seized every copy they could lay their hands on. Pri­vately Pacelli fumed over “the actions of the Ger­man Govern­ment at home, their perse­cu­tion of the Jews, their pro­ceeding against poli­tical opponents, [and] the reign of ter­ror to which the whole nation [is] sub­jected”—this to the Brit­ish am­bas­sador to Rome. With the excep­tion of Pius XI’s 1937 en­cyc­lical, the Holy See’s dif­fer­ences with Nazi Ger­many were gen­er­ally not aired in public. Some histo­rians have char­ac­ter­ized Pacelli (Pius XII) and his papacy as having an “ambiguous record” and responding weakly to the Holocaust.

[amazon_carousel widget_type=”ASINList” width=”600″ height=”200″ title=”Recommended Reading” market_place=”US” shuffle_products=”False” show_border=”False” asin=”0253214718,0800629310,0813220165,081321081X,087580330X,0312604211,0674049616,014311400X,0895260344,1592765653″ /]

Eugenio Marìa Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli (Pius XII), 1876–1958

Vatican Secretary of State Pacelli at signing of Reichskonkordat, Rome, July 20, 1933

Above: Vatican Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (seated, center) at the signing of the Reichs­kon­kordat on July 20, 1933, in Rome. Seated to Pacelli’s right is German Vice-Chan­cel­lor Franz von Papen. Between 1933 and 1939 Pa­celli issued dozens of pro­test vio­lations of the Reichs­kon­kordat, which at the outset he had hoped would pro­tect the rights of Catho­lics under the new Ger­man govern­ment of Adolf Hitler. Pacelli’s actions as sec­re­tary of state and later as Pope Pius XII have gen­erated con­tro­versy, par­tic­u­larly on the sub­ject of the Holo­caust. An entire library of books has been built either defending Pius XII’s papacy or taking him to task (the “Pius Wars”). His detrac­tors have accused him of every­thing from anti-Semi­tism to col­luding with the Nazis (“Hitler’s pope”). Others claim the Catho­lic Church did more than any other reli­gious body to save Jewish lives, occa­sion­ally through Pius XII’s per­sonal inter­ven­tion; e.g., Pius in­structed papal diplo­mats to aid per­se­cuted Jews in Nazi-occu­pied nations, he contri­buted money to aid des­per­ate Jews, he opened Catho­lic facil­ities in the Vati­can and in other parts of Rome and Italy to shelter thou­sands of Jews from the Nazis, and he gave direct face-to-face orders to pro­tect Jews from the Nazis. In the end, with Pius XII’s help a remark­able four-fifths of the Jewish popu­lation of Catho­lic Italy escaped Hitler’s Final Solution.

Pacelli (future Pope Pius XII), Germany, 1922Pacelli's coronation as Pope Pius XII, Vatican, March 12, 1939

Left: Pacelli, Apostolic Nuncio (ambas­sador) to Bavaria (1917–1925), pays a visit to a group of bis­hops in 1922. Pacel­li was simul­tane­ously Apos­tolic Nun­cio to Ger­many (1920–1930).

Right: Pope Pius XII on his day of coronation, March 12, 1939. Pacelli (1876–1958) took the same papal name as his pre­deces­sor, a title used exclu­sively by Ital­ian popes. When Pacelli was elected pope, the Nazi regime regis­tered strong pro­tests and called Pius XII the “Jewish Pope” because of his ear­lier con­dem­nation of German race laws when he was Vati­can secretary of state.

Coronation of Pope Pius XII (in Italian), March 12, 1939