Dear Catholic Exchange:
I had a very interesting conversation with a Jehovah's Witness who came to my door the other day. She claimed Hitler was Catholic. She stated it could be proved by the “fact” of his excommunication in 1965! I explained to her that excommunication after death is a moot point, and I wanted to see her sources, which she could not supply. However, the thought interests me. I know thousands, if not millions, of Catholics died in concentration camps due to Hitler's hatred, but was he ever a member of any religious group?
Dear Ms. Burnside,
Peace in Christ! I hope this response will adequately address your question.
It is true Hitler was born to Catholic parents. His father was reported to be lukewarm in his faith, but his mother was very devout. Adolf Hitler was confirmed in 1904, but did not often attend Mass. The question is not whether Hitler was a Catholic, but whether he practiced the Catholic faith and if his lifestyle accurately represented Catholicism. Clearly, the answer to that question is “no.”
Hitler was not a faithful son of the Church, docile to her teaching, but rather looked at the Church in a way that served his own ends. For example, in his Mein Kampf, he makes reference to the Catholic Church, because he perceived the Church to be a blueprint for the totalitarian state he wished to create. It is absurd to construe Hitler’s political delusions as an indictment against the Church.
Hitler’s Nazism was fully contrary to the Church. When this was recognized and condemned by the bishops in Germany, Hitler’s response to the bishops was to send all the Jewish Catholics he could find to the death camps. This move of Hitler claimed the lives of hundreds, including St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a.k.a., Edith Stein.
Further, in spite of the denials of some, it is well known and thoroughly documented that Pope Pius XII was responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Jews.
The Jehovah’s Witness who came to your door claiming that the [alleged] excommunication of Hitler proves he was a Catholic should consider a few lines of thought: (1) It is no historical secret that Hitler was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic. Anyone who is at all familiar with the history of Adolf Hitler knows this. An alleged excommunication after his death (which, as you noted, does not happen) is not needed to “prove” he was Catholic. The real question is whether Hitler persevered in the faith of his baptism or turned from it. The historical record clearly shows that Hitler, in both word and deed, repudiated the faith of his baptism, so Hitler’s “Catholicism” is a non-issue. (2) An organization is not judged by the most evil of its members. Even Jesus had Judas. One may suspect that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have had their own share of leaders with moral failures. They would not, however, wish that their faith be judged as false on the basis of these fallen leaders. (3) To point out the obvious: a person is excommunicated from the Catholic Church precisely because he does not represent the Church or her teachings in thought, word, or deed. It would seem that on this point (i.e., Hitler was a bad guy) the Catholic Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses agree.
I hope this answers your question. If you have further questions on this or would like more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please contact us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). Please keep us in your prayers as we endeavor to “support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.”
United in the Faith,
David E. Utsler
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
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