Josef Ratzinger started his papal visit to the United Kingdom by repeating a common, but demonstrable, lie; that of the atheism of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, and sought to discredit modern atheism and secularism with this lie. He stated that he wished to extend the hand of friendship to the people of Britain, yet then proceeded to insult the majority of them, by seeking to tar British secularists, and those of no religious belief, with the same brush as totalitarian and racist Nazism. I don't know about you, but I think that insulting 58% of the population (National Centre for Social Research, 2009 - the most recent figures available) is a strange way to extend the hand of friendship (text of the speech).
Mr Ratzinger is visiting this country on a state visit, not a private or pastoral one. There are certain conventions to be observed when doing so, not least when this privilege is not extended to any other religious leader, and when it is a status dubiously conferred. He might have been expected to be more careful what he said, especially given the racist and intemperate remarks of one of his aides, Cardinal Kaspar (conveniently taken ill immediately afterwards), shortly before the visit began.
Of course, anyone may choose to advance their views with impunity, assuming they do so within the law, especially if justified by reason and evidence, but to attempt to do so when the basis of the remarks is demonstrably false, and should be known as such by the speaker, is disingenuous and offensive, and highly unwise.
Josef Ratzinger attempts to paint Adolf Hitler, and other principal Nazis, as an atheist. He seeks to associate modern atheists in Britain, and beyond, with Nazi ideology, and to distance his own religious sect from complicity with that regime, and, by doing so, seeks to advance the interests of his own Church. In doing so, he is lying, and either he knows this and seeks to deceive others, or he is deluding himself. The pope is often presented to the world as an educated and scholarly theologian, and as someone who had experience growing up under this detested regime. Indeed, we are often reminded that he was forced to serve in the Hitler Youth, and that he deserted when able to do so, and that his family opposed Nazism. So, Josef Ratzinger should, better than most, know the falsehood of his assertion, and the true nature of that regime.
Adolf Hitler was raised a Catholic, as were many of the leading Nazis, and his writings in Mein Kampf, and many of his subsequent documents and speeches, confirm his belief in a god. Indeed, he was very clear that his anti-semitism and his social attitudes were coloured strongly by the teachings and doctrine of the Catholic Church. This should be hardly surprising to Josef Ratzinger, or anyone else, since it was 1965 before the Catholic Church revoked its doctrine that taught that all Jews, past and present, were responsible for the death of Jesus of Nazareth, and that god had rejected all the Jews because of this.
The Catholic Church was not unique in this dogma at that time (the Lutherans in Germany had a similar doctrine), but it was the Catholic Church that had sown the seed in Adolf Hitler's youthful mind. It was this teaching, loudly and repeatedly proclaimed throughout the Catholic Church, which made it easy for so many Catholics (and similarly for the Lutherans), to condone Nazi anti-semitism, and for those actively engaged in the persecution of Jews, and in their later killing in the Holocaust, to do so with equanimity. The Catholic Church bears much of the responsibility for the anti-semitism of Hitler, and the Nazi party, and for the Final Solution that resulted.
His actions, once in power, confirmed his active support for the Catholic faith, giving it a privileged place amongst the religions in Germany at that time, as evidenced by the Reichskonkordat between himself and pope Pius XII. Indeed, Pius XI enthusiastically embraced the new regime, and even instructed priests throughout Germany to say prayers for the Fuhrer on his birthday, and to promote Catholic involvement in the Nazi Party. There are many photographs and films showing Catholic priests and bishops present at, and participating in, Nazi Party rallies and social events. As Mr Ratzinger alludes, some Catholic priests spoke out against the regime, but so did many other religious leaders, trade unionists, socialists, and, especially, many of the non-religious people - the atheists and freethinkers of Germany.
Some of those priests undoubtedly paid with their lives, but many more Catholic clerics either dared not say a word, despite their supposed faith, or actively supported a regime which contravened their alleged morality. Many of the other non-clerics, who spoke against the regime, also paid with their lives. However, those priests did not die because they were Catholic, or even because they believed in a god; like the others, it was because they dared to oppose Hitler's regime. This was not the act of a regime seeking to "eradicate God from society", but one determined to brook no opposition. Indeed, one of Hitlers first acts on becoming Chancellor in 1933 was to ban atheist and freethinker organisations, with the active support of the Catholic Church.
Had the Catholic Church spoken out against his obvious racism and totalitarian aspirations when Hitler first rose to prominence, then it is possible that he might have been stopped in his tracks. Their failure to do so is an obvious stain on their name, and is symptomatic of their attitude in dealing with their current crisis over clerical child abuse; namely, that the interests of the Church override all others, even at the cost of justice, morality and basic humanity. It is instructive to note that only one of the Nazi leaders was ever excommunicated by Pius XII, despite their continued adherence to Catholicism, and the clear evidence of their crimes, and that was Joseph Goebbels. His crime? Marrying a Protestant! Need I say more?
So, in repeating these lies, the pope is either guilty of a breach of his own Church's strictures, in knowingly disseminating a lie, or is guilty of misrepresentation of his scholarship and education, and is instead a woefully ignorant man, or he is seriously in denial about his own knowledge of the Nazi regime, and his Church's support for that regime. I believe him to be an educated man, with access to all the history books and the Vatican papers over many years. He grew up in a family who are reputed to have opposed Hitler. Obviously, he should be all too aware of the facts, and of his lie in asserting the contrary. Possibly he feels guilt for his own youthful experiences, the Church's complicity and the attempted cover-up and denial of them over the decades since, and feels justified by some need to blot them out of his, and the Church's, memory. However, he can hardly expect not to be called out on his lie when he repeats it in public, and to an informed and unindoctrinated audience, nor should others expect it.
It has been put to me several times over the past few days that I, and others, should not concern ourselves with this, and that we should not speak out to highlight and correct the lie. However, when someone in a position, such as the pope enjoys, of influence and supposed infallibility, commits such errors, then it is important that this is pointed out, as otherwise the lie gains currency, and this one is widespread enough already. Hitler was not an atheist. He was a Catholic, as were many of the Nazi leadership, and was supported by the Catholic Church. These are demonstrable facts. The truth does matter.
This might not concern me so much were it not for the renewed encroachment of faith-based religion, Christian, Muslim and others, on our institutions, government, services, and, worst of all, our education system, and this trend seems set to continue and expand if we do not speak out firmly. Ratzinger's lies foster a notion of the symbiosis of faith and morality, and the absence of morality without it. History and reason teaches us the contrary. We must not allow the return of the necessity of the badge of religion for election to office, as practically prevails in the US, and once did in the UK, and must boldly assert that the only protection for both freedom of religion, and freedom from it, is a secular government and institutions. Society and its governance should be based on factual evidence, reason and humanity, and not on faith, fantasy and falsehoods, or sectional self-interest.
16 hours ago