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Hitler's Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism.

Hitler's Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism. By Kevin P. Spicer, C.S.C. DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 2008. 375 pp. $34.95.

Kevin P. Spicer, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and the Church Relations Committee of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, has long been interested in the response of the German Catholic clergy, to the Nazis. This is reflected in the courses he teaches at Stonehill College in Massachusetts and at the University of Notre Dame, as well as the articles and books he has written. In 2004 he produced Resisting the Third Reich: The Catholic Clergy in Hitler's Berlin, which focused on the clergy who opposed and resisted the Nazi regime. The present study, published in conjunction with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., examines the clergy who embraced and supported Nazism-hence the title Hitler's Priests. It is a scholarly work and the product of meticulous research in a series of archives as well as recourse to a long list of published primary sources catalogued in "Sources Cited." Its seven fact-filled chapters explore the motivation and actions of those clergymen who collaborated with the Nazis and were branded "brown priests"-brown being the official color of the Nazi movement.

Within this category Spicer includes those members of the clergy who joined the Nazi party, and especially those who adhered to the movement before Hitler assumed power. He describes the latter group as "Old Fighters," consisting of Hitler's early clerical followers who supported his program and agenda during the difficult period from 1919 to 1933. He devotes Chapter III to "The Old Fighters under Hitler's Rule," revealing therein that while some clergy in this category took advantage of Nazism's legal status to openly express their support, others disillusioned with its performance withdrew from it. Here, and in the remaining chapters, Spicer provides invaluable information, not readily available elsewhere. Particularly useful is "Appendix 2: The Brown Priests-Biographical Data," a master list, verified by extensive archival research, of Catholic clergy who supported National Socialism. The reader and researcher will likewise find useful Appendix I on "German Catholic Ecclesiastical Structure."

The volume's title Hitler's Priests like John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope (1999) has been crafted to attract attention, and does so. However, it is somewhat misleading as the author implicitly implies when he acknowledges that out of sixty -priests deemed favorable to the state and party, only two were "outwardly and ideologically sympathetic to National Socialism." Very few, in other words, "endeavored to serve the Fuhrer" (pp. 26-27). The volume's subtitle Catholic Clergy and National Socialism compounds the confusion for Spicer is not dealing with all of the Reich's Catholic clergy but a very small minority. He lists sixty who were deemed "generally favorable" to the Nazis and includes 133 in his broader survey of those who regularly used the "Heil Hitler" salute after it was mandated of civil servants in July 1933. However, only one-third of these "saluting priests" joined the Nazi party (p. 5). Consequently, the priests Spicer considers could hardly be described as the German Catholic clergy! He recognizes as much indicating that "his study deals with a small segment of the German Catholic clergy" Nonetheless, he hopes it will "provide an avenue through which we can examine the overall response of the Catholic Church and its priests to National Socialism" (p. 11). I do not believe it does so.

Nor do I understand Spicer's hesitation in differentiating anti-Judaism from anti-Semitism as both Pius XI and Adolf Hitler did, and why he has not explored the impact of Pius XI's crusade against racism and anti-Semitism (1922-39) upon the German Catholic clergy, virtually ignoring Mit brennender Sorge (1937). In his Preface, Spicer suggests that the anti-Semitism within the Catholic Church provided a convenient bridge for the "brown priests" to embrace many aspects of National Socialism's racial ideology. Later he provides a more nuanced response to why these clergymen supported the Nazis indicating there were many reasons, including disillusionment with the postwar period, their desire for a "national savior, a means to advance their careers in both Church and state, vocational crises, conflict with their superiors in the hierarchy, problems with celibacy and alcohol, and the allure of anti-Semitism. I concur with Spicer's conclusion that "their acceptance and devotion to National Socialism ... ought not to be attributed to one specific event or ideology" (such as the anti-Judaism in the pre-Vatican II Church) and that hey "aligned themselves to the Nazi Party for different reasons" (p. 5).



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Author:Coppa, Frank J.
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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