"On the one hand we must preserve our soul, but on the other hand a rejection of the Enabling Act would result in unpleasant consequences for fraction and party. What is left is only to guard us against the worst. Were a two-thirds majority not obtained, the government's plans would be carried through by other means. The President has acquiesced in the Enabling Act."
Monsignor Ludwig Kass
Meet Monsignor Ludwig Kass. In March of 1933 he was head of the Centre Party, a predominantly Catholic party with 74 seats in the Reichstag out of a total of 647. The Enabling Act, which provided the legal basis for Hitler's rise to power, allowed the chancellor to pass laws without involving the Reichstag. Msgr. Kass argued in favor of the Enabling Act, presumably in return for unspecified constitutional and ecclesiastical guarantees from Hitler. On March 23, 1933 the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act with the support of most of the Centre Party. Soon after this Msgr. Kass left for Rome and resigned from his position in the party. On July 20, 1933 the Reichskonkordat was signed followed shortly thereafter by the disbanding of the Catholic Centre Party. Msgr. Kass ended his career in exile in Rome, supervising the archaeological excavations under St. Peter's Basilica.
Monsignor Kass seems to me to be a tragic figure caught between two evils. On one hand persecution of the Catholic Church in Bismark's Kulturkampf was fairly recent history. The Centre Party had its origins in protecting Catholic rights in the face of this persecution. On the other hand the threat of a Bolshevik revolution in the face of the weakness of the Wiemar government and recent events in Russia seemed to be a greater threat. Perhaps Hitler's conciliatory tone led him to believe he could trust Hitler's promises.
Hitler's Speech to the ReichstagBy its decision to carry out the political and moral cleansing of our public life, the Government is creating and securing the conditions for a really deep and inner religious life. The advantages for the individual which may be derived from compromises with atheistic organizations do not compare in any way with the consequences which are visible in the destruction of our common religious and ethical values.The Government will treat all other denominations with objective and impartial justice. It cannot, however, tolerate allowing membership of a certain denomination or of a certain race being used as a release from all common legal obligations, or as a blank cheque for unpunishable behavior, or for the toleration of crimes. [The national Government will allow and confirm to the Christian denominations the enjoyment of their due influence in schools and education.] And it will be concerned for the sincere cooperation between Church and State.
The struggle against the materialistic ideology and for the erection of a true people's community (Volksgemeinschaft) serves as much the interests of the German nation as of our Christian faith. ...The national Government, seeing in Christianity the unshakable foundation of the moral and ethical life of our people, attaches utmost importance to the cultivation and maintenance of the friendliest relations with the Holy See. ...The rights of the churches will not be curtailed; their position in relation to the State will not be changed.It is easy to see how Msgr. Kass might have been swayed. He did not have the benefit of our historical hindsight in evaluating the consequences of his actions. The presence of Nazi troops outside the Kroll Opera House where the Reichstag was meeting might have been a clue. The Night of the Long Knives would not take place for another year and Kristallnacht was still years away. Hitler was still on his best behavior courting his rivals and clinging to the veneer of legality. Perhaps the monsignor thought, like so many others, that Hitler and his Nazis could be controlled. I can only imagine Msgr. Kass' feelings of remorse in his Roman exile as he watched World War 2 unfold.
Catholics are once again suffering the effects of a new Kulturkampf. We have not yet gotten to the point of jailing clergy for preaching against same sex marriage, abortion or euthanasia but that may well be because it happens so seldom. We have already seen the collapse of Catholic school systems in parts of Canada. We have definitely gotten to the point of jailing peaceful pro-life protesters. We are also looking to an external threat in the middle east as many of our brethren are being killed for their faith. In the face of this we are given an electoral choice which can only be characterized as the lesser of three evils.
This pragmatic lesser of two evils strategy can only go so far before you find yourself severely compromised. Perhaps it is time we begin to preach the gospel in its entirety without compromise. If they threaten to close our schools and churches then so be it. I would rather attend mass in a garage with a clear conscience.
Enabling Act of 1933
"The Centre is essentially a political, non-denominational party; it takes its stand on the constitution of the German Empire, which requires of the deputies that they regard themselves as the representatives of the whole German people." True however to its programme, the Centre has regarded as its first and most urgent task the defeat of all legislative measures directed against the Catholic section of the community; and, just as during the Kulturkamf, so also today the preservation of the civil equality of the Catholic minority is considered the chief duty of the party. Apart from its programme, the fact that almost all the deputies of the Centre and their electors belong to the Catholic Church furnishes a sufficient guarantee that the party will most strenuously represent the interests of German Catholics in every sphere of public life.