Mit Brenneder Sorge Read in Catholic Churches in Germany

Mit brennender Sorge, the encyclical written by Pope Pius XI, is read in Catholic churches throughout Germany on this Passion Sunday. Many come to believe, mistakenly, that this criticism of Nazi Germany is a clear condemnation of Nazi racism and anti-Semitism. It is not: With two exceptions, the entire encyclical is a litany of grievances against the German government for offenses against the Catholic Church and its interests.

Out of the 43 paragraphs, one sentence condemns racism like that currently practiced in Germany (though it never actually mentions Jews) and a couple more sentences later on condemn efforts to eliminate teaching about the Old Testament.

That same passage tries to justify animosity towards the Jews:

"As should be expected in historical and didactic books, they reflect in many particulars the imperfection, the weakness and sinfulness of man. But side by side with innumerable touches of greatness and nobleness, they also record the story of the chosen people, bearers of the Revelation and the Promise, repeatedly straying from God and turning to the world."

Pope Pius XI urges young people to embrace the New Germany:

"No one would think of preventing the youth of Germany from establishing a true ethnic community [Volksgemeinschaft] in a noble love of freedom and unshakable fidelity to the Fatherland."

Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, may have helped Pius XI write this encyclical (some think Pacelli may even be the true author) and he would have known that for Germans, the Volksgemeinschaft only includes ethnic Germans and necessarily excludes Jews. The official Nazi Party program, issued back in 1920, states specifically that "No Jew may be a member of the Volk."

The ability of the Catholic Church to smuggle the document into Germany, get it printed at 14 different plants, and the delivered to each parish priest by secret courier - often children traveling across fields, handing it over in the confessional - reveals the extent to which the organized Catholic Church is capable of protesting and resisting the Nazi police state when it really wants to.

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