Website accessibility
Show or hide the menu bar
Main home
Section home
Log in

“The Concordat was a classical political kickback scheme”

This is an excerpt by Gregory S. Paul on the mutual advantages of the Concordat to the Vatican and the Nazis. It is taken from his article, The Great Scandal: Christianity's Role in the Rise of the Nazis – Part I. See also Part 2 and Part 3

Deal Making with the Devil

Even after the Enabling Act, Hitler’s position remained tenuous. The Nazis needed to deepen majority popular support and cement relations with a sceptical German military. Hitler needed to ally all Aryans under the swastika while he undermined and demoralized regime opponents. What would solidify Hitler’s position? A foreign policy coup: the Concordat of 1933 between Nazi Germany and the Vatican.

The national and international legitimacy Hitler would gain through this treaty was incalculable. Failure to secure it after intense and openly promoted effort could have been a crushing humiliation. Hitler put exceptional effort into the project. He courted the Holy See, emphasizing his own Christianity, simultaneously striving to intimidate the Vatican with demonstrations of his swelling power.

Catholic apologists describe the Concordat of 1933 as a necessary move by a church desperate to protect itself against a violent regime which forced the accord upon it—passing over the contradiction at the heart of this argument. Actually, having failed in repeated attempts to negotiate the ardently desired concordat with a sceptical Weimar democracy, Kaas, Papen, the future Pius XII (who reigned 1939–1958), the sitting Pius XI, and other leading Catholics saw their chance to get what they had been seeking from an agreeable member of the church—that is, Hitler—at an historical moment when he and fascism in general were regarded as a natural ally by many Catholic leaders.[28] Negotiations were initiated by both sides, modelled on the mutually advantageous 1929 concordat between Mussolini and the Vatican.

Now Zentrum’s pivotal role in assuring passage of the Enabling Act can be seen in context. It was part of the tacit Nazi-Vatican deal for a future concordat.[29] The Enabling Act vote hollowed Zentrum, leaving little more than a shell. Thus, a clergy far more interested in church power than democratic politics could take control on both sides of the negotiating table. In a flagrant conflict of interest, the devout Papen helped to represent the German state. Concordat negotiations were largely held in Rome, so that Kaas could leave his vanishing party yet more rudderless. Papen, Kaas, and the future Pius XII worked overtime to finalize a treaty that would, among other things, put an end to the Zentrum. In negotiating away the party he led, Kaas eliminated the last political entity that might have opposed the new Führer.[30] Nor did the Vatican protect Germany’s Catholic party. Contrary to the contention of some, evidence indicates that the Vatican was pleased to negotiate away all traces of the Zentrum, for which it had no more use save as a bargaining chip. In this the Holy See treated Zentrum no differently than it had the Italian Catholic party, which it negotiated away in the Concordat with Mussolini.

Hitler sought to eliminate Catholic opposition in favour of obligatory loyalty to his regime. For its part, the church was obsessed with its educational privileges,[31] and especially with securing fresh sources of income. It would willingly sacrifice political power to protect them. As both sides worked in haste to produce a treaty that would normally have required years to complete, Hitler took masterful advantage of Vatican over eagerness. Filled with “certainty that Rome neither could nor would turn back, [Hitler] was now able to steer the negotiations almost as he wanted. The records prove he exploited the situation to the full.”[32] Indeed, Hitler was so confident that he had the Church in his lap that he went ahead and promulgated his notorious sterilization decree before the Concordat’s final signing. Hitler’s project for involuntary sterilization of minorities and the mentally ill was an direct affront to Catholic teaching. But as Hitler surmised, not even this provocation could deflect the Holy See in its rush toward the Concordat. Because ordinary Catholics largely supported the Nazis, the party even felt free to use violence against the remaining politically active Catholics, frequently disrupting their rallies.

Signed on July 20, 1933, the Concordat was a fait accompli, the negotiations having been conducted largely in secret. Most German bishops gave their loyal, though impotent, approval to the pact that would strip away their power. A few bishops objected, criticizing the Nazi regime’s lack of morality (but never its lack of democracy).

The Concordat was a classic political kickback scheme. The church supported the new dictatorship by endorsing the end of democracy and free speech. In addition it bound its bishops to Hitler’s Reich by means of a loyalty oath. In exchange the church received enormous tax income and protection for church privileges. Religious instruction and prayer in school were reinstated. Criticism of the church was forbidden. Of course, nothing in the Concordat protected the rights of non-Catholics. [...] Read more...


28. Ronald Rychlak, “Goldhagen v. Pius XII,” First Things, June/July 2002, pp. 37–54, offers a typically convoluted example of pro-Vatican spin when he asserts that the concordat “was a Nazi proposition. The Nazis accepted terms that the Church had previously proposed to Weimar, but which Weimar had rejected.”

29. Klaus Scholder, The Churches and the Third Reich Vols. 1 and 2, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979 [English version, 1988]); vol. 1, p. 241.

30. Ibid., pp. 241-43.

31. A concordat already negotiated with Bavaria gave the church control of the schools.
[See Controlling professors through the Bavarian Concordat (1924)
 Art. 3 on concordat chairs 
 Art. 5 on the Catholic University ]

32. Scholder vol. 1, p. 386.


Previous article: Hitler’s election posters use the concordat and the papal nuncio Next article: Von Papen, papal chamberlain and Nazi negotiator

More details

Go to Notanant menuWebsite accessibility

Access level: public

This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies: OK