Article 16 of the Reich Concordat of 1933 required Catholic bishops and priests to swear an oath of allegiance to the Third Reich. It read:
“Before bishops take possession of their dioceses they are to take an oath of fealty either to the Reich Representative of the State concerned, or to the President of the Reich, according to the following formula: ‘Before God and on the Holy Gospels I swear and promise as becomes a bishop, loyalty to the German Reich and to the [regional] State of . . . I swear and promise to honor the legally constituted Government and to cause the clergy of my diocese to honor it. In the performance of my spiritual office and in my solicitude for the welfare and the interests of the German Reich, I will endeavor to avoid all detrimental acts which might endanger it.”
As the Reich subsidized church functions from collected tax revenues, priests in Nazi Germany were subject not only to their diocesan bishop’s authority, but, as civil servants, were subject to Reich authority as well. Accordingly when it was ordered in July, 1933, that all civil servants were required to offer the Seig Heil (“Heil Hitler”) salute, priests and bishops were also required to comply. See above photo, “Priests giving the Hitler salute at the first Catholic youth rally in Berlin-Neukolin stadium in August 1933.”
It should be noted that anti-Judaism (the Church’s 1900 plus year doctrinal animus against Jews), the clergy loyalty oath, the Reich Concordat, and the Vatican’s policy of neutrality during WWII, among other things, coupled with their own feelings of nationalism/patriotism and fear of atheistic Bolshevism, constrained most church leaders from speaking out against Nazi excesses toward Jews during the Third Reich, thereby making many of them complicit in the Holocaust
The Reich Concordat, patterned after the Lateran Treaty of 1929 between the Vatican and Fascist Italy, was one of four concordats Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pius XII) concluded with various German states. State concordats were necessary because the Weimar Republic constitution gave authority to states in matters of education and culture, thereby diminishing church influence in these areas. The Reich Concordat granted freedom of religious practice to German Catholics; and granted to the German Catholic Church, among other things, freedom to operate parochial schools, religious associations and a Catholic press, without state interference. In return, the Church agreed not to interfere in political matters, which, in effect, banned organized Catholic political activity in the Third Reich. Pius’ critics contend that by entering the Concordat, the Church, in effect, granted German Catholics its imprimatur to cooperate with the new regime, and even to join the Nazi party. Prior to 1933, some German clerics warned the faithful against Nazi racism. In certain dioceses Catholics were forbidden to join the Nazi party; some priests and bishops even refused to administer the sacraments to party members (excommunication). Relatively few Catholics voted for Hitler or Nazi party candidates during parliamentary elections between 1930 and 1933.
John Cornwell, author of “Hitler’s Pope, The Secret History of Pius XII,” contends that Pacelli’s primary interest in negotiating the Concordat was to advance the Church’s institutional interests, in general, and to enhance papal power, in particular. Cornwell further contends that by entering the Concordat, the Church, in effect, imposed a moral duty on Catholics to obey their Nazi rulers, even if doing so violated conscience. He describes the Concordat’s effect:
“…Seeking a concordat between the Reich and the Vatican, Pacelli betrayed the millions of Catholic supporters of the Catholic Center Party by signing an agreement with Hitler that resulted in a ban on political activity by members of the church. It was the only democratic party left in Germany and with its disbanding, Hitler became the supreme leader of the country. Nothing stood in his way; the Vatican had even become the first state to recognize his odious regime, giving it tacit approval by its Reich Concordat…”
Regarding Vatican concordats, Heinrich Bruning, Hitler’s predecessor as chancellor (1930–32) wrote in his diary: “All success (Pacelli believed) could only be attained by papal diplomacy. The system of concordats led him and the Vatican to despise democracy and the parliamentary system…Rigid governments, rigid centralization, and rigid treaties were supposed to introduce an era of stable order, an era of peace and quiet.”
James Carroll, author of “Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews,” argues that in the 1870s, Pope Pius IX ordered German Catholics to passively resist antichurch legislation enacted at the direction of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck during Kulturkampf (“Cultural Struggle”) and threatened to excommunicate any Catholic who obeyed it. On that occasion, Carroll continues, the German Catholic Church not only survived the threat to its institutional interests, but prospered in newly unified Germany. Therefore, in negotiating and signing the Concordat, Carroll charges, the future Pius XII capitulated to Hitler, and thereby enabled Nazism to rise unopposed by “the most powerful Catholic community in the world.” Carroll concludes that Pacelli elevated Catholic institutional self-interest above Catholic conscience, acting more like a politician than a prophet.