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Catholic lay leaders were targeted in the Night of the Long Knives purge.
Adolf Hitler and several key Nazis had been raised Catholic, but became hostile to the Church in adulthood.Germany's senior cleric, Cardinal Bertram, developed an ineffectual protest system, leaving broader Catholic resistance to individual conscience.By 1937 the church hierarchy, which initially sought dètente, was highly disillusioned.In early 1931, the German Bishops issued an edict excommunicating all Nazi leadership and banned Catholics from membership.The ban was conditionally modified in the spring of 1933 under pressure to address State law requiring all Civil Servants and Trade Union workers be members of the Nazi Party, while retaining condemnation of core Nazi ideology.Hitler’s invasion of predominantly Catholic Poland ignited the conflict in 1939.
Here, especially in the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich—as in other annexed regions of Slovenia and Austria—Nazi persecution of the church was intense. Through his links to the German Resistance, Pope Pius XII warned the Allies of the planned Nazi invasion of the Low Countries in 1940.
While Article 24 of the NSDAP party platform called for conditional toleration of Christian denominations and the 1933 Reichskonkordat treaty with the Vatican purported to guarantee religious freedom for Catholics, the Nazis were essentially hostile to Christianity and the Catholic Church faced persecution in Nazi Germany.
Its press, schools and youth organisations were closed, much property confiscated and around one third of its clergy faced reprisals from authorities.
Prior to 1933, Catholic leaders denounced Nazi doctrines while Catholic regions generally did not vote Nazi.
Though hostility between the Nazi Party and the Catholic Church was real, the Nazi Party first developed in largely Catholic Munich, where many Catholics, lay and clerical, offered enthusiastic support.
Popes Pius XI (1922–39) and Pius XII (1939–58) led the Roman Catholic Church through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.