Prelude to Vichy
The French bishops looked to the Vatican for a lead regarding nazism. How that perverted ideology viewed Christianity should have served as a warning to French Catholics and Protestants alike. Closer consideration of events in the Third Reich might have proved instructive.
In Mein Kampf Hitler, a lapsed Catholic, had expressed his admiration for the organisation of the Catholic Church. His attitude to the twothirds majority of German Protestants was, by contrast, contemptuous. His ultimate aim was to close all churches, or convert them to worship of a peculiarly Nazi version of the Deity. Meanwhile, Christian institutions had to be controlled because their culture ran counter to the Nazi Weltanschauung. Catholicism was particularly to be feared because of its world-wide ramifications and the power it had exerted throughout history.
Thus after the Machtübernahme in Germany itself the Nazis had first sought an accommodation with Rome. On 20 July 1933 the Catholic von Papen signed a Concordat guaranteeing the existence of Catholic schools and freedom of worship. In return, all ancillary Catholic organisations, including those for young people, were to be wound up. The fact that the compact was disregarded almost after being signed should have been a salutary warning to Catholics elsewhere. In Germany already in December 1933 Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich was denouncing the continuing spread of Nazi paganism.
French Christians could also have profited from the experience of German Protestants. Some of their clergy welcomed the advent of Hitler. Pastor Otto Dibelius, Superintendent of Brandenburg, even attended the Führer's installation as Chancellor. The federation of the German Evangelical Church admitted a new movement to its ranks, the 'Deutsche Christen', which soon dominated the synods and elected Müller, a dyed-in-the wool Nazi, as Reich Bishop and effectively the leader of the Reformed Churches. At the same time the shameful 'Aryan paragraph' expelled all Jewish converts from the Church.