Catholics Confronting Hitler
Back in October of 2016, I praised and recommended Mark Riebling’s brilliant and exciting book, Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War against Hitler. Riebling focused almost exclusively on the relationship between the Vatican and the network of those within Germany who were seeking to replace Adolph Hitler and establish a government oriented toward the common good. This network relied heavily on Catholic priests, religious and lay people. Planning was highly influenced by Pius XII and Catholic social teaching.
Important as Church of Spies is, it was not part of its purpose to cover the entire range of Catholic resistance to Hitler in all the regions controlled by the Third Reich, including (for example) the widespread efforts of Catholics to hide Jews, protect them, and get them to safety. There was even a Catholic youth group which yielded up its own martyrs through its determined opposition to the government-sponsored Hitler Youth movement. All of this, and much more, is the subject of a new book by Peter Bartley, Catholics Confronting Hitler, published by Ignatius.
Subtitled “The Catholic Church and the Nazis”, Bartley’s book covers not only papal initiatives but the Catholic response to Hitler in Poland and the Western European regions occupied by the Germans, along with the efforts to rescue the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. Other important chapters cover occupied Rome, the problems faced by Vatican diplomacy, and the many kinds of heroic opposition to Hitler within Germany itself. Key names from Riebling’s narrative appear again here, but Bartley unveils the full scope of Catholic resistance, from top to bottom, in each affected region: France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Hungary.
Catholics Confronting Hitler, while not the personal adventure story made possible by Mark Riebling’s highly-focused account of the particular people involved in the Catholic spy network, still manages to be dramatic in its own right. The stakes are so high, and the chronicle of Catholic resistance so clear and specific, that the reader finds himself cheering on those brave souls. At the same time, there is no doubt that the research is genuine: Bartley includes a bibliography of over 150 primary and secondary sources to back up his claims, and strategic footnotes are provided to let the reader know what information came from which sources. There is also a highly useful index.
This comprehensive account is a testament to widespread heroism on the part of Catholics and other Christians. Anyone who reads both Church of Spies and Catholics Confronting Hitler will realize that the ghost of “Hitler’s Pope” has been completely exorcized. The role played by the Catholic Church—the pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laity—in protecting Jews and resisting Hitler in countless ways is now proven to be exactly what everyone on the scene (including Hitler) knew it to be in the 1940s—and nothing like the myth which the sycophants of a newly secular culture invented once the realities had faded from memory.
As Bartley concludes:
Alas, the truth is often obscured by an atmosphere of prejudice and hate for Rome…[but] Catholics need have no doubts…. Rather, they have every reason to feel proud. Two reigning popes and three future popes in significant ways offered resistance to Hitler. The facts are well-attested. Wherever Nazism held sway, it found an unrelenting foe in the pope and the Catholic Church. [p. 258]
Now, unfortunately, too much of what was considered horrific in the 1940s has become commonplace. Contemporary culture is very forward in its own sacrifices to Ba’al. May Catholics find a similar courage and determination today.
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