"There are cases of sexual abuse that are coming to light every day against a great number of the members of the Catholic clergy. Unfortunately, we are perhaps not talking so much about individual cases but rather a collective moral crisis that the cultural history of humanity may never have known at such a frightful and concerning level. Numerous priests and religious have confessed to the crime. There is no doubt that the thousands of cases that have come to be known to the authorities represent only a small fraction of the true number, since many molesters have been covered and hidden by the hierarchy." - Joseph Goebbels, 1937
Although the above quote could have appeared in any number of editorials in recent weeks, the statement was made by Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels in 1937, according to Italian journalist Massimo Introvigne.
In an article published recently for Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Catholic bishops' conference, Introvigne says that Goebbels launched a fierce smear campaign against the Catholic Church following its condemnation of the Nazi regime that same year, attempting to convince the public that the Catholic priesthood was filled with child sex abusers.
Introvigne says that Goebbels' campaign followed the same pattern seen in recent media attacks on the Church. Although it was based on a few real cases that had come to light in 1936, and far fewer that the number of cases currently being discussed from mostly the 1960s and 70s, it exaggerated their extent and attempted to revive them after they had already been resolved, in an attempt to discredit Catholics.
"The cases, which were few, but real, produced a very strong reaction from the episcopate," writes Introvigne. "On June 2, 1936, the Bishop of Münster - Blessed Clemens August von Galen (1878-1946), who was the soul of Catholic resistance to Nazism, and who was beatified in 2005 by Benedict XVI - had a declaration read at all the Sunday Masses in which he expressed 'pain and sadness' for these 'abominable crimes' that "cover our Holy Church with ignominy.'"
The German episcopate soon after published a condemnation of the perpetrators, and implemented what Introvigne called "severe measures" to prevent future crimes. The bishops privately pointed out that the Hitler Youth and the schools had a far bigger problem with child sex abuse.
However, in March of 1937, the Nazis growing conflict with the Catholic Church came to a head, with the publication of the papal letter "Mit Brennender Sorge" (With Burning Concern), which was smuggled into the Riech and read from the pulpit of every Catholic parish. In it, Pope Pius XI condemned both the behavior and the philosophy of the Nazis in unequivocal terms, and defended the Church's Jewish heritage against Hitler's racist attacks.
Goebbels responded by reviving the charges of sex abuse against Catholic priests, and created new ones, according to Introvigne, who writes that "It was the anti-Nazi encyclical of Pius XI that led to the great campaign of 1937. [German Jesuit priest Walter] Mariaux proved it publishing highly detailed instructions sent by Goebbels to the Gestapo, the political police of the Third Reich, and above all to journalists, just a few days after the publication of Mit Brennender Sorge, inviting them to 'reopen' the cases from 1936 and also older cases, constantly recalling them to public opinion."
"Goebbels also ordered the Gestapo to find witnesses willing to accuse a certain number of priests, threatening them with immediate arrest if they didn't collaborate, even if they were children," he adds.
However, Introvigne writes that Fr. Mariaux published the confidential documents he had discovered in a two volume work in Spanish and English, which detailed the Nazis' attack on the Catholic Church, thus discrediting it.
"Thanks to the courage of Canaris and his friends, and to the persistence of the Jesuit detective Mariaux, the truth was already out during the war," notes Introvigne.
"The wickedness of the campaign of Goebbels aroused more indignation than the eventual guilt of some religious. The father of all moral panics in the area of pedophile priests blew up in the hands of the Nazi propagandists who had tried to organize it."
Goebbels and the pedophile priests operation (English version)