|Pope Pius XI|
Hitler, of course, never intended to keep any of the agreements of the Concordat, a reminder of another tyrant and another Concordat between Napoleon and the Vatican in the 19th century. Hitler was simply one more game-playing tyrant who wanted to suppress intervention by the Church in his political affairs, and the Church was his major opponent. Hitler, a baptized Catholic who hadn't practiced the faith since childhood, was creating his own religion, a combination of teutonic paganism with new age-type spirituality that incorporated distorted elements of Christianity like the "naming ceremony" for babies born in the "Lebensborns" which were essentially brothels for Nazi officers. Hitler saw himself as the Lord and Master of the super race, even manipulating the birth of "perfect" Aryans.
By 1937, the satanic evil of the Reich was clearly evident. The disaster to the faith, especially impacting the education of children, needed public exposure. The German bishops had been protesting, but the pope's encyclical would draw international attention by his ringing condemnation of the errors inherent in Naziism. It would also bring vicious reprisals which impacted Pius XII's approach to the Nazis later when he ascended the papal throne in 1939.
In Mit Brennender Sorge Pius XI condemned the "systematic hostility leveled at the Church" from the "teeth of an aggressive paganism." By 1937, Hitler had closed the confessional schools and banned the Catholic press. Several Catholic laymen involved in training youth had been murdered or arrested. Many priests and religious had already been arrested and sent to the camps on trumped up charges. The Reich was targeting clergy as early as 1935 and Dachau became the major prison for clerical opponents by 1940. Of the 2,720 clergy incarcerated at Dachau, most (2,579 or 94.88%) were Catholic priests. Among them were 400 German priests. Out of fear of precipitating an uprising, Hitler never arrested a bishop, even though several, particularly Munster's August von Galen and Munich's Cardinal Michael Faulhaber were fearless in their denunciation of the Nazi's abuses. (N.B. The last priest ordained by Cardinal Faulhaber before his death in 1952 was Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI.)
Every student of history should read Pope Pius XI's encyclical and realize that history repeats itself. In our own time the attack on Christians is escalating. How many fields of work are being closed to Christians who refuse to cooperate with evil! Reading the Concordat along with the encyclical gives historical perspective on how diligently the Church worked trying to protect the faithful during an evil time. Pope Pius XII continued to protest against the Reich's abuses after the death of Pius XI. This period of history also makes it clear how important it is to have a holy pope during times of crisis.
The film, Under the Roman Sky, gives an excellent view of the challenges Pope Pius XII faced as a "prisoner of the Vatican" in Rome as the Nazi plague swept over Europe. James Cromwell gives a compelling performance as Pope Pius XII. Let us pray that the Lord will raise up another pope like Popes Pius XI and XII.
Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us.