Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pius XII, Hitler, and the Role of Catholicism in Fascism

Yesterday I finished taking notes on John Cornell's Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. Today I published the notes to the web. You can see them at Notes on Hitler's Pope.

While I appreciate the amount of work Mr. Cornell did researching and writing his book, I think he missed some major points because he was too focused on Eugenio Pacelli (aka Pope Pius XII), Germany and Adolf Hitler.

Fascism was a particular combination of political, social, and economic attitudes. Specific attitudes were shared with other ideologies and types of government. Most notably, fascist governments are headed by men who are, for practical purposes, dictators; but not all dictators are fascists.

One dimension that is seldom talked about by mainstream historians is the religious underpinnings of fascism. In fact, there are often deliberate distortions of the record induced by focusing on minor facts while ignoring the preponderance of evidence. Mussolini is said to have been an atheist, Hitler a promoter of the German pagan revival.

The fundamental truth is that all the major fascist rulers of European nations during the fascist crest were communicants in the Roman Catholic Church. Adolf Hitler was born Catholic and died Catholic. Mussolini, dictator of Italy, was raised an atheist, but converted to Catholicism shortly after he seized power. Antonio Salazar, Portugal's dictator, was Catholic. So was Spain's, General Franco. Marshal Petain, France's dictator, was Catholic. Before Hitler took over Austria, its fascist leader was Catholic. When Croatia was set up as an independent, fascist nation, its leader was Catholic.

That is not to say that all Catholics were fascists, or supported fascism. Nor were all fascists Catholics. But there was a very strong correspondence between Catholicism and fascism.

I don't think it is correct to simply attribute this to the kind of mindset that the Catholic Church creates in its communicants: ignorant, intolerant and obedient. The evidence is that the Catholic Church created and promoted fascism. Cornell does a good job showing how Pacelli used his influence to bring Hitler to absolute power in Germany. True, Hitler might have come to power without Pacelli's help, but then again he might not have.

Would Pacelli have liked someone other than Hitler to be dictator of Germany? Sure. Because the Vatican's plan (I say that because a series of Popes worked on the plan, in particular Pius XI, who was Pope when Hitler came to power; Pacelli became his successor, as Pius XII) was to establish a Catholic dictatorship over the entire globe. Take overs in Catholic-majority nations could only go so far: the Popes wanted a war on the Soviet Union. Hitler was picked as the most likely German leader to rearm Germany and fight the U.S.S.R.

Hitler was less than ideal because he was a German supremacist. That meant he believed the Pope should be subservient to the German emperor. If you know European history, you know the so-called Holy Roman Emperors not only had this view over a period of about a millennium, but that they indeed often saw that their puppets were appointed Pope.

Those who try to defend Pius XII, casting him as an opponent of Hitler, fail to add that perspective. Sure, Pacelli and Hitler had heated disagreements. But they were disagreements over who would be top dog, not about the importance of the dog being both fascist and Catholic.

That is more obvious when you look at the Pope's relations with other fascist dictators, and at what Adolf and Eugenio fought about. Franco, Petain, and Salazar were happy to let the Catholic Church run their nation's schools. Hence, the Pope loved them. He had nothing bad to say about them, even when Franco murdered over a million non-Catholics (before World War II even began). But Hitler and Mussolini wanted the government to control education, because they wanted to create a certain type of citizen, and knew the schools were key. They wanted citizens loyal to themselves, or to their respective national governments. The Pope wanted young citizens loyal to him.

World War II (excepting the war in East Asia, which was mainly anti-colonial in character) was about many things, including economics and the egos of political leaders. It was also a war of Catholics against everyone else. This has been forgotten mostly because the truth did not serve the political purposes of the powerful after World War II. In particular, the Catholic Church was influential enough in the U.S. to protect the Pope (and General Franco and Salazar).

Does this matter? Today a former Nazi is Pope Benedict XVI. His program does not seem to be to re-create the Nazis. But he has taken Catholic dogma back to the Dark Ages and expelled most progressive Catholics from the religious hierarchy. His attitude towards women is akin the Taliban's. He has sought to influence U.S. politics by urging his bishops to attack nominally Catholic, pro-choice politicians. In Italy and other Catholic majority nations the Church is actively trying to turn back the clock on religious tolerance and cultural diversity.

If allowed, there will be political repercussions if the Catholic Church continues to promote its social agenda. At some point the Church will try again to suppress other religions and philosophies; to do that it will need dictators.

Currently the Church is losing members to the modern, secular culture. It is not as powerful an influence as it was before World War II. It seems that, right now, a lot of the Catholic rank-and-file does not want to return to the Dark Ages. But the Church still has a vast organization that can act in a unified manner on a global scale. If people are distressed by economic or cultural turmoil, some could turn to the Church for leadership again just as they did in the 1930s. Just as some people have turned to fundamentalist Islam in this past decade.

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