In a new report on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the German Conference of Catholic Bishops has finally admitted to the Church’s complicity in the actions of the Nazi regime during the Second World War.
One only has to quote a few lines from its text in order to understand what the current bishops think about their wartime predecessors:
One should add that the German Catholic Church perceived the post-war processes against Nazi war criminals as acts of revenge. These extreme criminals were, in their eyes, victims persecuted by the Allied justice system. Catholic clergy, including from the Vatican, were part of those who helped thousands of Nazis to escape to Latin America via “ratlines.”
The current chair of the German Bishops’ conference, Rev. Georg Bätzing, said that the admissions in the report are not easy for the bishops: “We know that presiding over our predecessors as judge and jury does not suit us. No generation is free from judgment and prejudices that are shaped by its time… but those who come later must confront history in order to learn from it.” In his introduction to the report Bätzing discloses – what should be shocking news -- that serious questions about the behavior of the German bishops during the Second World War were raised only recently.
Why did the bishops wait 75 years for this admission? We are now generations of bishops later. What made it so difficult for the war-time bishops to admit their failures? In Catholicism, confession by the individual of his or her sins plays a central role. One would think that the nature of Catholicism would in fact encourage such an admission.
Even relative to another German religious body, the Catholic Bishops took a very long time for their admission. The synod of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland area admitted in 1980, “the Christian co-responsibility and guilt for the Holocaust, the outlawing, persecution and extermination of the Jews in the Third Reich.”
The report enables us also to gain a better perspective on a scandalous incident that occurred in March 2007. Twenty-seven German Catholic bishops made a pilgrimage to Israel. This was meant to be a symbol of reconciliation between Jews and Catholics. However, some bishops turned it into a disgraceful visit.
Gregor Maria Hanke, Bishop of Eichstätt made a typical Holocaust inverter remark suggesting that Israelis act like Nazis. He said: "In the morning, we see the photos of the inhumane Warsaw ghetto and in the evening we travel to the ghetto of Ramallah." Later he said he had not intended such a comparison.
Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg described the situation in Ramallah as "ghetto-like" and said that it was "almost racism." Mixa resigned his church position in 2010 amid accusations of various abuses. He was later cleared of some of those charges.
Another delegate was the since deceased Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, who likened the separation barrier in the 'West Bank' to the Berlin wall. On other occasions he distorted the Holocaust. He equated the anti-abortion pill to Zyklon B gas used in the gas chambers. In a 2005 sermon he compared abortion to the Holocaust. Other scathing remarks published as being made by these bishops could not be verified.
Cardinal Karl Lehmann, then Chairman of the German Bishop’s Conference, spoke at Yad Vashem about the deepening ties between Jews and Catholics. The Church later published that only the statement of Cardinal Lehmann was representative of the delegation.
The new report exposes the 2007 Bishops’ delegation further. Their members should have apologized rather than criticize Israel. Catholic criminality against the Jews goes back more than 1000 years before the collaboration with Hitler. There were centuries of prosecution, hate, incitement and sometimes also murder. Relentless Christian incitement against the Jews provided part of the infrastructure for the Nazis' action against them.
In 1999, the Vatican created an International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission to investigate the wartime role of Pope Pius XII. It had three Catholic and three Jewish members. One of them was an Israeli, the late Robert Wistrich. As they were not given the information they requested, the commission suspended its activities in 2001.
One wonders to what extent the massive post-war secularization in Europe was partly caused by the churches' failures in the Second World War. Since then the Catholic Church has taken a tremendous beating in the public eye by hiding massive sexual abuse by members of its clergy. A study commissioned by the Catholic German Bishops’ Conference found that 1670 priests were implicated in sexual abuse in Germany from 1946 - 2014.
And who knows what the huge Vatican war-time archives will reveal?
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism. He is considered the foremost world expert on antisemitism.