Catholic Church and excommunication of Nazis


From my research I can find the only Nazi ever excommunicated by the church of Rome, even after all the war crime tribunals was Joseph Goebbels. His crime? He married a Protestant. Why were the prominent Nazi leaders who were Catholics not excommunicated?


The German bishops excommunicated all leaders of the Nazi Party in 1931. Note that this was years before the Nazis were viewed as evil by the rest of the world. The Catholic Church and the Papacy was an enemy of the Nazis from the get go. This was widely recognized by the world until a smear campaign began in the 1960s against Pius XII. starting with a play entirely funded by communists called “The Deputy”, written by Rolf Hochhoth, a friend and defender of the Holocaust denier David Irving.

If you want a scholarly study of the relationship between the Catholic Church and Nazi Germany during WWII and the Holocaust, I recommend the books of Ronald Rychlak: Hitler, the War and the Pope and Righteous Gentiles: How Pius XII and the Catholic Church saved Half a Million Jews from the Nazis. There are also many articles on Catholic Answers rebutting the anti-historical charges that the Catholic Church didn’t do anything to stop the Holocaust or the Nazis.


The Church generally did not issue blanket excommunications of Nazis, Communists, or Fascists. It would have been unnecessary, as those in atheistic groups have already left the Church. The Church is always in a struggle to function in hostile political environments. Nor does it issue excommunications of modern atheistic socialists, despite some pressure to do so.

(Of course, the Catholic Church is not the “Church of Rome” and Catholics who marry outside the Church are not actually excommunicated, but this is beside the point.)


Excommunication is an act of love, not a political statement. Think of a doctor whose patient keeps coming in for visits - “see, I’m healthy, Doctor Smith sees me regularly” - but the patient’s life totally repudiates any pattern of good health. The patient makes no effort to reduce his heavy smoking, or to address his obesity in any way, in spite of frequent warnings and offer of assistance by the doctor. So the doctor finally tells the patient it is a disservice* to the patient* to pretend the patient is under his care. The doctor “excommunicates” the patient from his care, which the patient wasn’t really benefiting from anyway. Excommunication is a wake-up call. If you watch the TV show Intervention, there sometimes is a similar pattern, where the family perceives they have now become “enablers”. They make a decision not to do that anymore. But they still love and want a relationship with the (restored) family member, just as Doctor Smith hopes his patient will come back; not perfect, but willing to start addressing his issues.

The Church can’t point out the effectiveness of excommunication, since those matters are usually addressed in the confessional. Of course, there are other churches glad to take in everyone, and won’t excommunicate anyone.


You mean he wasn’t excommunicated because he married a divorcee, without a decree of nullity, and had stopped going to church, and had already vocalized his hatred for Christianity, especially Catholicism? Some good research you have going on there!:rolleyes:


thanks for starting this thread. I would also recommend the recently published book with Dietrich Von Hildebrand’s essays that I mentioned from the other thread. He gives some very good insight into the struggle within the Church on how to best respond in dealing with Nazi’s There were different views among the German Bishops in this area. Some wanted a more stringent hard line approach and other seem to think that they could compromise with Nazis in order to stay open. Dietrich did see the concordant that was signed before Pius XII as a compromise and would be misunderstood by the average Catholic in the pew that the Catholic Church could co-exit with Nazism. Dietrich also understood that it was signed to keep Catholic Church and its schools and services autonomous from the government but as the Nazis grew in power, they basically didn’t follow it. I think the book will give you insight and understanding of the difficulty of the day. At one point after Dietrich left Germany, he was asked to speak at a celebration over St. Albert the Great who is a German saint. He went to France for this and had to be with major political German Catholics that supported the Nazi government. He struggled with what to say considering he left Germany due to the nazis. I think reading his essays will help you understand the complex dynamics of the time.


Here is an article dating back to 2010. An inter-religious org uncovered documents showing that the Bishops excommunicated all Nazis already, and refused to lift it when asked to. Not that it’s actually news – this was already on the historical record, but apparently just not well-known. As it happens, I’m friends with Michael Hesemann and I wasn’t even aware he was involved in this research. He’s the guy who helped study and authenticate the Titulus and he also wrote that book interviewing Pope Benedict’s brother. Funny, I remember talking to him a few months after that and he didn’t mention anything about working on this.


Of course, hindsight is 20/20, so to us it goes without saying that Nazis are not in communion with God. But I don’t think the Catholic Church needs to spell out every last potential sin there is. God gave us brains for a reason.

Take away the racism and mass murder of the Nazi party, and you still have Fascism. Of course, that was also condemned by the Church explicitly (even though Mussolini gave the Church more leeway than his predecessors, Pius XI eventually denounced his regime as “idolatrous worship of the State”).


Also, John Zmirak, a Catholic author and journalist, said that Pius XII aided communication among the conspirators of Operation Valkyrie, the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler headed by Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg. But I’m not entirely sure of that.


This is a biased pro-Catholic website. I cannot find a reputable source that the Bishops excommunicated all Nazis. Nazi Germany did have a concordat with the Vatican, which does seem to preclude any sort of blanket excommunication.


The Pope (Pius III) sent Hitler a personal note of congratulations on his miraculous survival.


the concordat was done before Pope Pius XII. It was done to try and ensure the Churches rights to its property, services and schools. It is true that in 1931, being a member of the Nazi party would be grounds for excommunication. After 1933 when Hitler came to power, the German bishops decided or at least some of them to lift the ex-communication in Germany. Dietrich does discuss this in the book I mentioned. He was very upset by it but also realized that it may have been done to avoid further persecution of the Catholic Church. Germany in the long run ever followed the concordant agreement and many Catholics were arrested in Germany before the war started.


Pope Pius III Was pope during the 15th century


Like I said, his research is top notch.


That’s odd. A google search brings up a lot of non-Catholic sources.


This is a logical fallacy known as “poisoning the well”, that is, rejecting a source out-of-hand because it might be “biased”. Why is it biased? Can you prove that the claims on this website are wrong?

According to Das Reich, a publication of the Nazi Party, called Cardinal Pacelli (Pius XII, not III) as “a full Jew” who “speaks out against everything we [Nazis] stand for”.

In1937, Pius XI wrote an encyclical, “With Burning Desire”, that explicitly condemned Nazism.

When Pius XII died in 1958, Golda Meir, a future Prime Minister of Israel, said that “when martyrdom came to our people, the Pope bravely spoke out for the victims”.

Ina 1940 issue of Time magazine, Albert Einstein praised the Catholic Church for helping Jews in Germany.

The myth of Pius XII being in cahoots with Hitler originated from a play written in 1963, titled the Deputy.

Understand, moondawg, the burden of proof is on you. These are heinous accusations. And what can be claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.


Not to mention that Pius XII was Pius XI’s Secretary of State at the time and was also instrumental in composing that encyclical.



Also the church doesn’t have to officially excommunicate someone for excommunication to happen. Excommunication happens due to certain actions established by the church. If someone commits one of the sins that carry excommunication that person is excommunicated even if the church doesn’t officially announce it. There are many excommunicated people that the church hasn’t publicly declared their excommunication. Excommunication is a penalty that results out the commission of an act and it doesn’t matter if the church officially doesn’t pronounce it. Using the WWII for example, the Nazi officials who murdered St Maximilian Kolbe were excommunicated automatically from the church the day they killed him. The church may have not officially announced it and we may not even know their exact names, regardless they were excommunicated instantly by their actions.


To be fair though, I think their argument is that an explicit excommunication and condemnation would have made a difference. An excommunication Latae Sentenciae is a different story.

The response to that however is that the Nazis were excommunicated explicitly even before Hitler rose to power, and Hitler never gave a rip about what the Pope thought. Furthermore, it would only have accelerated their persecution of the Church.


But the Church doesn’t use excommunications as political tools. It uses them to convince Catholics to fix their sinful situation and come back to the Church.

The Pope re-excommunicating former Catholics who were Nazis would have done more harm than good at the time. Of course if he did, these rumors could have have squashed in the 1960s. But, but at the time, I’m sure the Pope was doing what he felt was the best course of action to save lives.

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