The Vatican and church hierarchies not only said nothing in defence of the Jews in the face of growing Nazi persecution, but maintained their radical anti-Semitism unperturbed in the 1930s. Thus, for example, even in a country as remote as Chile – and with a small Jewish population – La Revista Católica (the Church’s official organ) argued: “Everyone knows that the Jews form an international race, that they have their peculiar religion which denies the messiahship and divinity of Jesus Christ and dreams of their temporal and powerful Messiah who is to give them the empire of the world (…) Everyone finally knows that under sworn secrets they conduct their policy to achieve their predominance over all countries and wipe out Christian civilisation, and that The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, although they themselves deny their authenticity, are progressively being fulfilled over the world (…). One would have to be a Selenite not to see that the heads of the Soviet Republics are Jews, not to notice that the lodges of the Masonic world are the guarded instruments of Judaism, that the great bankers, the cable companies, the great European and American press, in short, bear the stamp of these rich and cunning circumcisers” (24-10-1936).
And indeed, in Europe itself, the anti-Semitic discourse of the hierarchy proliferated. Thus, when Hitler came to power in Germany, the Austrian bishop of Linz, Johannes Maria Gföllner, wrote in a pastoral letter: “It is beyond doubt that many Jews (…) exert an extremely pernicious influence on almost all ambits of modern civilisation. Economics and business (…) law and medicine, society and politics are all being infiltrated and contaminated by the materialistic and liberal principles that derive primarily from Judaism. The newspapers and pamphlets, and the theatre and the cinema, are full of frivolous and immoral elements which deeply poison the souls of Christians, and for the most part, in fact, it is Judaism which inspires and disseminates them (…) It is not only legitimate to combat and defeat the pernicious influence of Judaism, but it is indeed a strict duty of conscience for every informed Christian. One can only hope that the Aryans (sic) and Christians will increasingly recognise the dangers and problems created by the Jewish spirit and fight them more tenaciously” (David I. Kertzer: The Popes against the Jews. The Vatican’s role in the rise of modern anti-Semitism; Vintage Books, New York, 2002; pp. 274-5).
On the other hand, the Cardinal Archbishop of Warsaw, August Hlond, in a 1936 pastoral letter, claimed that Jews were “the vanguard of atheism, of the Bolshevik movement and of revolutionary activity” (Ibid.; p. 275). And while it “condemned anti-Jewish violence, it encouraged a boycott of Jewish shops and publications. And it warned that the Jews were waging war on the Catholic Church” (Ibid.). Moreover, in 1937 “the Synod of Polish bishops adopted a resolution on public education urging a ban on Jews teaching Catholic students and on Jewish students being taught in the same classes as Catholic children” (Ibid.; p. 276). Even several Catholic newspapers urged that Jews be expelled from Poland. Thus, “a pamphlet published by the Polish Jesuits stated simply: ‘Jews should be expelled from Christian societies'” (Ibid.). And the Catholic daily Maly Dziennik said in early 1939: “Jews must be forced to emigrate, not by Nazi methods but by cancelling their citizenship and reorganising our national economy according to the needs of the Polish people. There is no other way” (Ibid.).
Moreover, when in the late 1930s Poland was increasingly experiencing the German threat, “leading Polish prelates spread the idea of the bloody libel, the belief that Jews were murdering Christian children and using their blood for Easter” (Gerald Posner, God’s Bankers. A History of Money and Power at the Vatican; Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015; p. 86). And “the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ (the massacre of Jews, accompanied by the destruction of almost all synagogues in Germany and Austria and thousands of Jewish business establishments in November 1938) was widely regarded in the Polish Catholic press as misguided but ‘understandable'” (Michael Phayer: The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965; Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2000; p. 10).
So great was the Vatican’s own anti-Semitism in the 1930s that when Pius XI finally wrote an encyclical critical of the Nazi harassment of the Catholic Church in 1937 (Mit Brenender Sorge), not only did he not question Nazi anti-Semitism at all, but he even referred to the fact that “Jesus Christ took the human nature of a people who were later to crucify him” (Colección de Encíclicas; Talleres Roetzler, Buenos Aires, 1946; p. 361). In other words, he took up the old and terrible accusation of deicide….
But the German Catholic Church also provided the Nazi regime with a key element of its anti-Semitic policy: In 1933, it shared parish registers with the Nazi regime, providing “details of blood purity through baptism and marriage records”. This task accompanied the system of quotas for Jews in schools and universities, as well as in various professions, particularly law and medicine, and these records would eventually flesh out the Nuremberg Laws” (John Cornwell – Hitler’s Pope. The true story of Pius XII; Planeta, Barcelona, 2005; p. 178). Moreover, the Vatican made no public objection when these anti-Semitic laws were imposed in 1935, even though they included Catholics of Jewish origin in their discrimination!
On the other hand, the Vatican and European episcopates supported other anti-Semitic laws that proliferated in the late 1930s. Thus, before an anti-Semitic law was passed in Hungary in 1938, the Jesuit Mario Barbera wrote in the Vatican magazine La Civilta Cattolica that “the Jews have become the masters of Hungary in every respect”, and that “their instinctive and unbearable solidarity is enough for them to make common cause for it to carry out their messianic goal of world domination”; thus he pointed out that “Hungarian-Catholic anti-Semitism is a movement for the defence of national traditions and for the true independence and freedom of the Magyar people” (Kertzer; p. 279). 279).
Moreover, when the Vatican Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (future Pius XII) went in May 1938 to Hungary to inaugurate the World Eucharistic Congress – and while the Hungarian Parliament was discussing such a law – he said: “In the concrete realisation of its destiny and its potentialities, each people follows, within the framework of Creation and Redemption, its own path, promoting its unwritten laws by coping with contingencies according to what its own forces, its inclinations, its characteristics and its general situation advise and often impose” (Cornwell; p. 211). And lest there should be any shadow of doubt, he added: “In opposition to the enemies of Jesus, who cried out before him, Crucify him, we sing hymns expressing our loyalty and our love. We do so without bitterness, without a hint of superiority or arrogance, towards those whose lips and whose hearts still reject him today” (Ibid.). And finally, as members of the Upper House of Parliament, Cardinal Jusztinian Seredi and Bishop Gyula Glattfelder voted in favour of the law (see Phayer; p. 13).
But most revealing of all was the overall support given by the Vatican and the Italian bishops to the anti-Semitic laws passed by Mussolini in 1938, even though they included Catholics of Jewish origin! These laws “removed all Jewish teachers from public schools; expelled Jewish children from secondary schools; and ordered the separation of Jewish children from Catholic children in primary schools.
Jews were dismissed from the civil service and excluded from other fields of public life; thrown out of the armed forces and barred from owning large businesses. Marriages between Jews and Catholics were forbidden and Jews could no longer employ Christians in their homes” (Kertzer; p. 282). L’ Osservatore Romano only expressed concern about “its marriage provisions, explaining the Church’s position (against the prohibition of marriages with Jewish converts) and expressing the hope that they could still be amended” (Susan Zuccotti: Under His Very Windows. The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy; Yale University Press, 2002; p. 52).
Notably, in early 1939 the Bishop of Cremona and the Cardinal Archbishop of Florence, Elio Dalla Costa, supported such laws. Thus, the former in a sermon pointed out that “the Church has never denied the right of the State to limit or prevent the economic, social and moral influence of the Jews, when this has been harmful to the tranquillity and welfare of the nation. The Church has never said or done anything to defend Jews, Jewishness or Judaism” (Kertzer; p. 284). And the second (although he was anti-Nazi) expressed in a bulletin of the archbishopric: “The Church teaches absolute respect and complete obedience to the law and civil authority, when they do not command anything that goes against the divine law”; and that “with regard to the Jews no one can forget the ruinous work they have often done, not only against the spirit of the Church, but also to the detriment of civil coexistence. Above all the Church has in every age considered that living with the Jews is dangerous to the faith and tranquillity of the Christian people. That is why the Church has for centuries enacted laws aimed at isolating Jews. The Church has never changed its policies of forbidding Christians to work in Jewish homes or forbidding Christian children to be taught by Jews” (Ibid.; p. 285).
And, indeed, the Fascist newspapers cited in favour of their discriminatory laws the systematic anti-Semitic campaign conducted by the Vatican-Jewish journal La Civilta Cattolica since 1880. Thus, for example, the newspaper Il Regime Fascista ironically concluded on 30 August 1938: “We confess that in theory as in practice, Fascism is far inferior to the rigour of La Civilta Cattolica”; and that “modern states and societies, including the saner and more courageous nations of Europe, Italy and Germany, still have much to learn from the fathers of the Society of Jesus” (Georges Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky: A Silence of the Church in the Face of Fascism. La encyclica de Pío XI que Pío XII no publicó; PPC Editorial, Madrid, 1997; p. 158).
But certainly the most ominous thing was that on the same 30 January 1939 when Hitler announced to the world that if war broke out he would try to annihilate the Jewish people; the Archbishop of Freiburg, Conrad Gröber, in a pastoral letter, “said that the Jews hated Jesus and that is why they crucified him, and also that their lethal character continued to afflict the world incessantly, that their ‘murderous hatred has continued in the last centuries'” (Daniel Goldhagen.- The Catholic Church and the Holocaust: The Catholic Church and the Holocaust: A Silence of the Church in the Face of Fascism. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust. Una deuda pendiente; Taurus, Buenos Aires, 2003; p. 185). And, as if it was nothing, two weeks afterwards this pastoral letter was published (see ibid.) …