ADSS 1.260 Luigi Maglione, Sec State, to Cesare Orsenigo, Germany,
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Reference: Telegram 166 (AES 2170/40)
Location and date: Vatican, 12.03.1940
Summary statement: The nuncio can meet Ribbentrop at the station on his return to Berlin.
Coded message 375. (1) There is no objection.
(1) ADSS 1.256.
ADSS 1.259 Secretariat of State, notes of Silvio Attilio.
Reference: AES 2176/40
Location and date: Vatican, 11.03.1940
Summary statement: Report on meeting between Maglione and Ribbentrop.
At 12.15, immediately after the audience with the Holy Father, M. von Ribbentrop came to see me accompanied by his suite.
I came out to meet him in the Throne room and after the usual greetings I escorted him into the audience room, where the conversation took place, lasting for about one hour.
The Minister started by saying that he is not a Catholic and in fact he does not profess any religion because, although born in the Protestant Church, he had abandoned Protestantism as soon as he realised its errors and faults.
Having called his attention to the distressing religious situation in Germany, the Minister said that the Fuhrer is favourably inclined towards the Catholic Church and in fact he would like to come to an agreement with it, but the moment is very delicate … and more time is needed especially on account of the divergence existing between National Socialist politics and those followed by the Catholic clergy in Germany.
This allusion made by the Minister gave me the opportunity of pointing out to him how the Church, in carrying out its mission amongst the people, takes great care to remain outside and above politics; these are the directives given by the Holy See to the clergy all over the world and therefore to the Germany clergy, who, in truth, scrupulously comply with them as a general rule, If a breach or this rule were noticed in a particular case it would be sufficient to bring it to the notice of the competent Ecclesiastical Authority, who would certainly not fail to remedy it. But it would be grace prejudice, I added, to see in the whole activity of the clergy nothing but politics. A political end is seen in the work which the clergy does to stem the process of dechristianisation of the people, in support of the fundamental principles of religion itself, in the efforts made to give the appropriate religious instruction to children.
From here passing to more concrete points, I recalled the particular attention of the Minister to some of the many facts which the Church has been compelled to deplore lately: suppression of almost all Catholic schools: reduction or suppression of religious teaching in elementary and professional schools where frequently lay teachers of religion take advantage of their position for advocating the so-called National Socialist “Weltanschauung” and in this way fight religion itself; the closing down of many colleges and religious houses; suppression of famous abbeys, frequent arrest of priests and members of religious orders: systematic anti-Christian propaganda particularly through the Press which in its attacks does not even respect the Supreme Pontiff, while the church, subjected to the most rigid and strict censure, finds it impossible to defend itself against these attacks and slanders, when even the diocesan bulletins, one after another, are suppressed.
To all this we must add the closing of almost all the Minor Seminaries, of many Major Seminaries and not a few of the Theological Faculties, without even giving notice to the Holy See, although this is a matter which comes under the Concordat.
I felt it my duty to mention all these events, or at least the more important ones, in a Note given to the German Ambassador to the Holy See on 13 July of this year [sic] with a request to bring them to the knowledge of the government, who, on account of the repetition of so many distressing incidents, had probably not been kept well informed about the activity against the church in Germany carried out by subordinate authorities. But so far I have not received any reply on this subject.
Passing then to the very distressing present situation of the Church in that part of Poland occupied by Germany, I mentioned amongst other things the persecution there to which the faithful, the clergy and even bishops are subjected. I also pointed out that the Holy See cannot accept without reservations information frequently supplied by the German Embassy here, regarding the situation in that territory, and even less can the Holy See publish this information without being able to check it directly. Hence the necessity that the Holy See should have an Apostolic Visitor in Polish territory. This would not be anything new, because, as the Minister knows, both in the Ruhr and in the Saar, following a request of the German Government, the Holy See with the approval of the French Government, sent an apostolic Visitor whose presence there was greatly appreciated by Germany. The same procedure could be applied now to Poland.
The Minister listened with great interest, and though he did not think there were many difficulties against these suggestions he could not, however, promise any Government action to put an end to the matters complained of.
I reminded him, at the end, that the Holy See has many times asked the German Government to allow them to carry out their charitable work of assistance and succour in Poland in favour of those poor populations, but have received no reply. To this the Minister replied that the Fuhrer wishes Germany to be self-sufficient even when giving assistance and added that lately the Fuhrer himself refused an offer of ten million dollars, for assistance, coming from abroad.
From this conversation, although carried on in a courteous manner, the impression remained that we can expect very little from the visit of the German foreign Minister to the Vatican.
(1) Silvio Attilio (1889-1957), Undersecretary Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs 1940-57.
ADSS 1.258 Luigi Maglione, Sec State, notes.
Reference: AES 2176/40
Location and date: Vatican, 11.03.1940
Summary statement: Two interviews with Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop pleased with meeting with the Pope. Maglione complained about persecution in Germany; Ribbentrop complained about ‘Polish atrocities’. No progress on a Vatican representative in Poland.
The Reich’s Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, during two conversation he had with me (one in the Vatican lasting about one hour, the other in the German Embassy to the Holy See lasting about fifteen minutes) repeated several times his satisfaction at having been able – taking advantage of his visit to Italy – to settle a few questions with the Italian Government - to see the Holy Father again and to talk with him about the religious situation in Germany. He had occasion to meet Monsignor Pacelli in Berlin who was then Nuncio to Germany. He knew that he had the admiration of all Catholics who thought he was a Saint. Everybody in fact had a great respect for Monsignor Pacelli, which he well deserved. He, Ribbentrop, had a great respect for him; when he heard he had been elected and the warm-hearted words addressed to Germany just after having been raised to the Pontifical throne, he said: here is a true Pope.
This morning, during the audience granted to him he felt emboldened to claim, with great satisfaction, that the Pope has always had his heart in Germany and a great desire to reach a firm and lasting understanding with Hitler.
Hitler also wanted a firm and lasting understanding. He has already given proof of his goodwill be cancelling, by the hundred, the proceedings against the clergy. But Hitler’s plans are far-sighted, he thinks more of the future than of the present (?). We cannot therefore think that we can now obtain the settlement hoped for.
Germany is engaged at present in a tremendous war for its existence, for its greatness. All Germans are behind Hitler, from the first to the last: all are ready to fight heroically: all German energies are concentrated in this aim, victory: we cannot think about anything else.
Hitler has united the Germans and has saved Germany – and therefore Europe – from Communism. He has obtained this result by rising above all parties. Now only the State can outlines the policy of the nation, as it should be. Catholicism, as Protestantism, delved too much into politics and the Catholics of the Centre were so involved in politics that they were prepared to vote enormous subsidies in favour of extremist parties if only they could stay in power.
Even now the clergy do not understand that the field of politics is not theirs. We need therefore time and patience to reach a complete understanding and a settlement of the religious problem as desired by Hitler.
To this lengthy and rather disconnected monologue by Ribbentrop (in the first conversation) I replied that even when politics were free in Germany, it was not the Catholic clergy who meddled in politics, but only a group of German citizens, who were Catholics, it is true, but were using the rights granted to all Germans. In any case, this belongs to the past, Can we say now that clerics, Bishops, priests and members of religious orders meddled in party politics? If there were any it would be enough to mention their names. The Holy See …
“We know that the Holy See does not want ecclesiastical people to concern themselves with politics”.
“Then, give us the names of ecclesiastical people who behave as politicians. There are none, I think, and I am sorry to note that there is a preconceived idea, a prejudice against Catholics: there is the idea that clergymen, Catholicism, as Your Excellency says, are concerned with political manoeuvres and everybody thinks or wants to think that every action and every statement they make is due to political reason and aims.
“But this preconceived idea has no foundation cannot even explain many, too many, distressing facts. In the old Reich and in Austria almost all Catholic schools have been shut. In many elementary schools religious teaching has been suppressed. How can it be suspected that teachers of ten-year-old children could be political schemers? When religious teaching is suppressed, catechism abolished, everybody must think that this is done because of hatred of religion. The Crucifix has been taken away from schools. In many places clergymen have been sent away, in many schools the teaching of a National Socialist Weltanschauung has been substituted for the Catechism. Who can believe that this has happened on account of the clergy’s political activities?
And there are other painful facts. The Government ahs closed many seminaries, small and large, has suppressed many novitiates, religious houses, abbeys, charitable institutions, has arrested many priests …”
“I am not aware of this …”
“Excellency, many months have elapsed since I handed a confidential memorandum of all the facts which I have just told you to M. von Bergen and I begged him to pass it on to Your Excellency. I took the liberty on that occasion of expressing doubt as to whether the central authorities were informed on facts probably due to orders of the local authorities. It will be necessary that I give you another memorandum on this subject”.
At this point M. Ribbentrop handed me an official publication on the atrocities committed by the Poles against the Germans and asked me to present it to the Holy Father. “His Holiness will be able to observe the injustice to us of the Catholic press which now writes about the alleged German cruelty and remains silent about the proven Polish atrocities”.
I replied that the Holy See wishes to be kept completely informed and therefore I have several times insisted on obtaining the Berlin authorities’ approval for sending a trusted cleric to Poland namely Monsignor Colli, Auditor of the Nunciature in Germany: no satisfactory reply has been received to date.
In the meantime, amongst the many rumours, which circulate about the Polish situation, some cannot be denied and are extremely distressing. Many bishops have been sent away from the diocese, some, such as the Bishop of Lublin are in prison, together with many priests; a great number of members of religious orders have been arrested; many churches have been closed; in those still open, religious worship is allowed only on certain days and for a few hours only”.
“But in Poland, as well, the clergy devote themselves to political activities, and are against the Germans”.
“We can instruct the Polish priests to stay quiet and only to look after their pastoral mission, and to avoid giving trouble to the occupying authority, but we cannot ask them to renounce their love for the country. The presence of a special envoy of the Holy See would help to clear misunderstandings and to strengthen the priests in their purpose to dedicate themselves exclusively to their pastoral mission”. (1)
“But Poland is under a military Government: no diplomat or consul can be sent there”.
“The Holy See’s envoy would not have a diplomatic status; only religious.
“By keeping in contact with the German authorities he could give useful instructions, good advice, help the Bishops little by little to restore the normal religious life”.
“But how could the presence of a representative of the Holy See be possible in an occupied territory ruled by the military?”
“Your Excellency should be good enough to remember that during the Ruhr and Saar occupation, Germany was glad that an envoy of the Holy See was present in those districts. The French Government consented then to the presence of a pontifical representative. Germany if I remember correctly, was very satisfied with the activity of that Prelate (Monsignor Testa) … more than France.
“Who was not very pleasant to us. Well, I will think about it”.
I spoke to M. Ribbentrop of the necessity of helping the poor desolate Polish population, and about the permission of the Berlin Government, who had already been approached, for a relief Organisation, which could function under the guidance of Monsignor Colli or another cleric, in agreement with the occupying powers. But I have received only vague words in return, tantamount, in the final analysis to a refusal.
At the Villa Bonaparte I spoke again of the advantage of having a representative of the Holy See in Warsaw, in the interest of Germany itself. If the news about the harsh military occupation is without foundation as von Ribbentrop affirms, it would be useful to be able to deny it on the basis o non-partisan information...
He replied that he would think about it but added explicitly that he could not promise anything.
He spoke again about the goodwill of Hitler (who is thinking about the future) and about the necessity of setting aside particular questions. “The church looks at things sub specie aeternitatis”.
“This is true, but we must not forget that religious life pursues its aims also in the present and cannot ignore the obstacles for should represented by sources of grief, of pain and of great danger. We cannot and we must not let religious life decline or perish in the present in the hope of seeing it resurgent in the future”.
Ribbentrop felt it his duty to tell me twice that he had no religion. He was born in the Protestant confession but he had abandoned it because he is convinced that Protestantism has committed many errors. He believes and affirms candidly that he is unbiased in his judgement on religious matters merely because he has no religious allegiance!
(1) See DGFP, Series D, Volume 8, n668, pp 896-98.
ADSS 1.257 Domenico Tardini, Sectretariat State
Reference: AES Germany 774
Location and date: Vatican, 11.03.1940
Summary statement: Two interviews with Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop pleased with meeting with the Pope. Maglione complained about persecution in Germany; Ribbentrop complained about ‘Polish atrocities’. No progress on a Vatican rep in Poland.
I came in a few minutes after von Ribbentrop had left the Holy Father. (1) I said “Prosit [good health], Holiness”. He described Ribbentrop to me as a young man, but not too young, vigorous, and excitable like a fanatic when speaking. (2) He himself told the Holy Father that he was a wine merchant and had not previously been interested in politics: but because of the extension of his export business and of the consequent relations abroad he became Hitler’s advisor on foreign affairs. He declared his belief in God, although not belonging to any church. He was born a Protestant, but afterwards he abandoned Protestantism because the Church has not longer any strength, organisation or influence. At this point the Holy Father pointed out to him that the Catholic Church, on the contrary, was very well organised in Germany and strong. Von Ribbentrop admitted this adding that he (and the Fuhrer) are not enemies of the Church but of the political Catholicism of the clergy. The Holy Father remarked that the German clergy had always been very patriotic, as demonstrated by the Saar plebiscite.
Von Ribbentrop remembered having once et the Holy Father at a reception in Berlin. The Holy Father replied he remembered his stay in Germany with pleasure, that loved the German people, that he knows and studies its culture.
Von Ribbentrop remarked that Pope Pius XI had used excessively strong words against Germany. His Holiness pointed out to him that he addressed kind and gentle words in a speech to a group of German pilgrims. This – said von Ribbentrop – was noted with pleasure in Germany. The Pope added that no more German pilgrims were arriving. This Holiness recalled also that he was careful in his Encyclical letter not to offend Germany, although his calling obliged him to speak the truth. He added that the small country, to which he alluded in his Christmas address, was Finland (in Germany, on the other hand, it had been identified with Poland).
Von Ribbentrop brought Hitler’s greetings to the Holy Father. He insisted on telling the Pope that Germany is very strong, that half the world is open to them that they can get all the petrol they need from Rumania and that they will win the war before 1940. (4) He gave this assurance without any trace of uncertainty. (5) He repeated this more than once, raising his voice and gesticulating. He added that the entire nation – without exception – stands with Hitler. (6)
The Holy Father called his attention to the fact that, this being so, political Catholicism is non-existent – everybody being on Hitler’s side, without exception. The Holy Father pointed out that although he did not want to doubt Hitler and Ribbentrop’s intentions, the facts were demonstrating that war was being waged against the Church. And he cited various positive and clear exampled. Von Ribbentrop gesticulated for a while … He replied that we are in the presence of a revolution and, compared with others, the National Socialist revolution has not caused so much damage to the Churches. To which the Pope replied that the damages, in fact, have been many – and continued to bring forth examples.
Von Ribbentrop pointed out that the State spends a lot on the clergy and the Church.
The Pope replied that a lot has also been taken from the Church, houses, educational institutions – chasing malo modo the rightful owners out of them at short notice. The Holy Father has particularly insisted on the subject of schools.
Von Ribbentrop spoke at length against Communism, saying that National Socialism has prevented the triumph of Communism in Germany. During 1930-32 (when, von Ribbentrop says, the Pope had already left Germany) Communism was on the verge of triumph. Hitler conquered it. Otherwise not one church would have remained in Germany, as was the case in Russia, as Von Ribbentrop himself was able to ascertain de visu. His Holiness observed that it is impossible to say for certain what might have happened … His Holiness then asked if Germany had nothing to fear from its union with Communism. Von Ribbentrop replied in the negative: the union is only an external one and for the war. Hitler had declared to Welles: the goal of the war for Germany is peace; for Britain, the destruction of Germany. (7) Replying to the Pope, von Ribbentrop said that there must be an offensive. (8)
The audience lasted from 11.00 to 12.10. The Pope says its tone was polite. Von Ribbentrop started by saying that he would speak frankly and clearly. His Holiness assured him that he would do the same. He suggested to him also to allow the Holy See to send somebody to Poland to look after the religious situation, for example, Monsignor Colli. (9)
His Holiness mentioned to me that von Ribbentrop notified the Italian government of his return visit to Ciano only on the eve of the day he was going to see him. (10) Apparently there has been some friction.
After the audience the Holy Father received von Ribbentrop’s suite (seven people) to whom he addressed a few words in German.
In the antechamber people were saying that von Ribbentrop entered the Pope’s room with a trouble and nervous face: he came out with a satisfied air.
Let us hope that German bad faith will not take advantage of this visit for its own ends and that instead it will produce good fruits. (11)
(1) The audience began at 11.00 and ended at 12.10.
(2) See ADSS 1.252
(3) The Saar region was 75% Catholic.
(4) Ribbentrop was referring to negotiations between Germany and Romania that culminated with the 27.05.1940 agreement. Six months later Romania formally joined the Axis.
(5) Ribbentrop had brought a letter (written 10.03.1940) for Mussolini from Hitler which confirmed that Italy would enter the war on Germany’s side. See DDI Series 9, Volume 3, n492, pp415-23; DGFP Series 8, n668, pp871-80.
(6) Robert Lieber, Pius’ private secretary recounted Ribbentrop’s near hysterical response to any talk of peace.
When he [the pope] spoke of the war and of peace, von Ribbentrop shouted: holiness, every conversation on this theme must end with the sure assumption , that France, and not only France, but Britain too, will beg Germany for peace during this year 1940.
Pius: This may be your view; what does the Fuhrer think?
Ribbentrop: The Fuhrer and I know that this very year France and Britain will beg for peace.
Pius: But what do the German people say about that?
Ribbentrop: The German people are convinced that this year France and Britain will beg us for peace.
Thereupon the pope changed the subject.
Pius XII, Stimmen der Zeit 163 (1958), pp 97-98.
(7) See ADSS 1.252 n1
(8) This was interpreted as a hint at German plans for the invasion of the West.
(9) Carlo Colli (1888-1947), counsellor in the Berlin Nunciature 1931-45. He had been secretary to the Polish Nunciature 1925-31.
(10) Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944), Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs 1936-43. Diario I, pp233-35. See Ribbentrop’s version of events – DGFP, Series 8, n667, pp894-96.
(11) Tardini’s notes can be compared with Ambassador Alfieri’s repost on what the Pope told him about the visit (DDI, Series 9, Volume 3, n536, pp 466-68), with Benjamin Sumner-Welle’s report, also received by the Pope a few days later (FRUS, 1940, Volume 1, pp 107-08) and with the note written or dictated by Ribbentop in DGFP, Series 8, n668, pp 896-98.