German bishops repent of the past, but not of the present
My latest on LifeSite.
The German Bishops’ Conference has issued an interesting document criticizing the degree to which their predecessors failed to oppose Hitler’s programs of mass murder and his unjust aggression in starting the Second World War.
It is a complex historical issue, and a fairly long document. But while open to criticism, it makes an important point: that in that situation, the argument of prudence led in the wrong direction. This was a moment when heroism was a duty. The bishops declare:
Inasmuch as the bishops did not oppose the war with a clear ‘no’, and most of them bolstered the (German nation’s) will to endure, they made themselves complicit in the war. The bishops may not have shared the Nazis’ justification for the war on the grounds of racial ideology, but their words and their images gave succor both to soldiers and the regime prosecuting the war, as they lent the war an additional sense of purpose.
It was understandable for the bishops to follow the lead of the Holy See, in the Concordat of 1933. It was understandable for them to want to preserve their ability to administer the Sacraments freely. It was even understandable, if not admirable, for them not to want to fall foul of a ruthless regime untrammeled by the rule of law. The “cooperation” the bishops gave the Nazis was “material”: they never intended any wrongful action. But even this material cooperation was serious and had serious consequences. The suggestion that Hitler was a legitimate leader, and that therefore he should be given the benefit of the doubt about the justness of his laws and policies, smoothed the way for his crimes. In 1933, Catholics had not come under Hitler’s spell, for the most part: they could have made a difference. The bishops chose not to encourage resistance.
It is easy, however, to repent of other people’s sins. If this acknowledgement of past complicity is to have any meaning, it must inform action in the present, when they cannot claim to fear the kind of reprisals the Gestapo would have visited on their predecessors. I am reminded of a more recent example of episcopal cooperation with evil in Germany: as LifeSite reported back in 1999: