"Heil Hitler"-Pastoral Bedingt: Vom Politischen Katholizismus Zum Pastoralkatholizismus

By Spicer, Kevin P. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

"Heil Hitler"-Pastoral Bedingt: Vom Politischen Katholizismus Zum Pastoralkatholizismus


Spicer, Kevin P., The Catholic Historical Review


"Heil Hitler"-Pastoral bedingt: Vom Politischen Katholizismus zum Pastoralkatholizismus. By Maximilian Liebmann. (Vienna: Böhlau Verlag. 2009. Pp. 179. euro29,90. ISBN 978-3-205-78412-8.)

In "Heil Hitler" Maximilian Liebmann presents what he understands to be the single motivational framework for how the Austrian Catholic Church responded to National Socialism. He is responding to historians who he believes have offered "reproachful criticism of the behavior of our bishops" under National Socialism (p. 11). Identifying the framework as "pastoral Catholicism" or the "pastoral doctrine," Iiebmann finds its origins in St. Paul's Letter to the Romans 13:1-2, which emphasizes obethence to governing authorities as a divine command. From the establishment of Austrian fascism in 1933 under Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß, Liebmann argues that the church hierarchy separated itself from the political realm and devoted its energies to promoting and safeguarding its pastoral mission to the Catholic faithful. Only in the postwar period, as the Church gradually moved to the Second Vatican Council, did its members reclaim a significant role in political life. This reclamation, however, influenced and shaped by the lived experiences under National Socialism, emphasized the ethical and moral voice of the Church in state and society.

Pastoral Catholicism developed as a response to an unchecked political Catholicism that grew from the late-1860s Austrian Kulturkampf that, unlike its German counterpart, centered on a clash between traditional church-state cooperation and a growing secular-liberal influence in Austrian politics and society. To counter this development, the Church nurtured the growth of associational life, rife with political overtones and lay leadership. Clergy, too, participated; as Iiebmann writes, "The Sunday sermons at the expense of the Gospel . . . were often so apologetically and party-politically overloaded that one can and must speak of a real misuse of the Mass" (p. 29). This situation changed in 1933 with the onset of Austrian fascism under Dollfuß, who suppressed democratic-party politics and guaranteed the religious interests of the Church. In June 1933, the chancellor ensured this latter fact by signing a Concordat with the Holy See. No longer was church associational life necessary to ensure religious interests in the corporative state. In November 1933, the Austrian bishops attested to this fact by depoliticizing the clergy and removing them from politics, although they did continue to receive appointments to Federal Councils.Thus a paradigm shift took place in ecclesial-state life whereby the primary focus of the Church moved from party-political to pastoral-doctrinal concerns. No longer did political chambers or associational meeting halls dominate, but instead the parish became central to championing Catholic pastoral concerns. Leading this shift were two priests and theologians, Michael Pfliegler and Karl Rudolf, the latter the founder of the Vienna Pastoral Institute.

Pfliegler and Rudolf worked tirelessly to promote the pastoral doctrine. They placed great emphasis on a hierarchical leadership principle that was authoritarian. Supported by the Austrian hierarchy, especially Cardinal Theodor Innitzer, the archbishop of Vienna, they endeavored to incorporate all church associations into or put them directly under the all-encompassing Catholic Action movement that promoted lay participation in the Church's pastoral mission- all of which were directly under episcopal and clerical leadership. Rudolf even traveled to Italy to study how Catholic Action there had been influenced by Italian fascism. The portrait of this pastoral movement in the Church allows the reader to conclude that the Austrian Catholic Church was well "prepared" for the onslaught of National Socialism and its policy of Gleichschaltung. Those associations, such as the Cartel Federation of Catholic Student Associations, which did not comply, were excluded from recognition in official church publications. …

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