History Repeats Itself
An editorial from a great secular newspaper in 2010? No: It’s a speech of May 28, 1937, by Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich. This speech, which had a large international echo, was the apex of a campaign launched by the Nazi regime to discredit the Catholic Church by involving it in a scandal of pedophile priests.
Two hundred and seventy-six religious and forty-nine diocesan priests were arrested in 1937. The arrests took place in all the German dioceses, in order to keep the scandals on the front pages of the newspapers.
On March 10, 1937, with the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) condemned the Nazi ideology. At the end of the same month, the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda headed by Goebbels launched a campaign against the sexual abuses of priests. The design and administration of this campaign are known to historians thanks to documents which tell a story worthy of the best spy novels.
In 1937, the head of the counter-espionage service of the German military was Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (1887-1945). He became gradually anti-Nazi, and at the time was maturing the convictions which led him to organize the failed assassination attempt against Hitler in 1944, following which he was hanged in 1945. Canaris disapproved of Goebbels’ maneuver against the Church, and instructed a Catholic lawyer named Josef Müller (1878-1979) to carry to Rome a series of highly secret documents on the subject.
In different phases, Müller – before he was arrested and sent to the Dachau extermination camp, where he survived, and later became the post-war Minister of Justice in Bavaria – carried the secret documents to Pius XII (1876-1958), who asked the Society of Jesus to study them.
With the approval of the Secretary of State, the study of the Nazi plot against the Church was entrusted to the German Jesuit Walter Mariaux (1894-1963), who had inspired an anti-Nazi organization in Germany called “Pauluskreis.” He was later prudently sent as a missionary in Brazil and in Argentina. There, as leader of the Marian Congregation, he exercised his influence over an entire generation of lay Catholics, among whom was the noted Brazilian Catholic thinker Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (1908-1995), who attended his group in São Paulo. In 1940, in London in English and in Argentina in Spanish, Mariaux published two volumes on anti-Catholic persecution by the Third Reich under the pseudonym “Testis Fidelis.” They contained over seven hundred pages of documents with comments, which aroused great emotion in the entire world.
Even without the benefit of modern sociology, Goebbels responded to the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge in 1937 with a textbook case of the creation of a moral panic.