Both the Austrian and German Catholic bishops were more condemnatory of Nazism than may be popularly realised. In 1929, bishop Johannes Gföllner of Linz warned the faithful against the ‘false prophets’ of Nazism: ‘Close your ears and do not join their associations, close your doors and do not let their newspapers into your homes, close your hands and do not support their endeavours in elections’ being as unequivocal as one could reasonably expect, although it was not incompatible with his advocacy of ‘ethical antisemitism’. The Austrian Catholic newspaper Volkswohl even parodied life in a future Nazi state in a manner that seems extraordinarily prescient. Every newborn baby’s hereditary history would be checked by a Racial-Hygienic Institute; the unfit or sickly would be sterilised or killed; dedicated ‘Aryan’ Catholics would be persecuted: ‘The demonic cries out from this movement; masses of the tempted go to their doom under Satan’s sun. If we Catholics want to save ourselves, then it can never be in a pact with these forces.’
The German bishops were similarly condemnatory of National Socialism when in 1930 the Nazis broke through the ceiling that separated a marginal sect with less than 3 per cent of the vote from a mass political party. Adolf Bertram of Breslau warned Catholics in 1930 against the Nazis’ radicalism, ‘racist madness’ and their schemes for a single supra-confessional ‘national Church’. The archbishop of Mainz went further, by declaring that Nazism and Catholicism were simply irreconcilable:
The Christian moral law is founded on love of our neighbour . National Socialist writers do not accept this commandment in the sense taught by Christ; they preach too much respect for the Germanic race and too little respect for foreign races. For many of them what begins as mere lack of respect, ends up as full-blown hatred of foreign races, which is unChristian and unCatholic. Moreover the Christian moral law is universal and valid for all times and races; so there is a gross error in requiring that the Christian faith be suited to the moral sentiments of the Germanic race.
The provinces of Cologne, Upper Rhine and Paderborn warned clergy to have nothing to do with the Nazis, and threatened the leaders of parties that were hostile to Christianity with denial of the sacraments. The Bavarian bishops banned Nazi formations from attending funerals or services with banners and in uniform, while condemning both Nazi racism and their eugenic contempt for unborn life.
The statements of these bishops so shocked the Nazis that Göring was despatched to Rome to smooth things over. Since Pius XI instructed Pacelli not to meet him, Göring had to vent his grievances against the Catholic Church on Pacelli’s under-secretary. His approach was to combine defence with attack, the latter diplomatically couched as ‘regrets’, such as the claim that many of the priests who belonged to the Centre Party were attacking Nazism in private. At the same time he disowned the writings of Rosenberg. Interestingly, as a prominent and sincere Protestant, who had married his wife Emmy in a Lutheran ceremony and whose daughter Eda underwent a Lutheran baptism, Göring tried to justify Nazi racism with reference to the theology of orders of creation, ‘for races had been willed by God’. He contrasted the silence of the Lutheran Churches with the ‘attacks’ the Party had received from the Catholic clergy, warning that the Nazis would defend themselves.