Cardinal Dolan’s expression of admiration for Donald Trump during an interview on Fox & Friends suggests very unfortunate parallels to Europe in the 1930s.
If you pull up the interview on YouTube, you see quickly that the cardinal is worried about institutional survival. Because of the lockdown, he fears that money may run out to support Catholic schools, charities, and hospitals. It seems President Trump told the cardinal in a telephone call that financial relief might be on its way.
In 1933, Catholic leaders in Germany likewise worried about institutional survival, though the pressures were more political than financial: the state was totalitarian. The Church therefore came to an agreement with the Nazi regime, a “concordat,” meant to ensure space for the teaching of Catholic faith, especially to young people, as well as survival of hospitals and other Catholic institutions.
After that point, despite frequent harassment and the arrests of scores of priests, the Church assumed a loyal attitude toward the German state. Steeple bells rang when Germany annexed Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia in 1938; and they rang after the victory over France in 1940. In 1941, Catholic bishops in Germany called the genocidal attack on the Soviet Union a “crusade” and priests ministered to the troops as they drove toward Moscow on a backdrop of scorched Russian villages.
Today’s German bishops have issued a statement of remorse in regard to the behavior of their predecessors. They recognize that after the concordat the Church permitted itself to become ever more “entangled” with the state, and call for rethinking the relation of Church and state: it should be one of “critical coexistence” (Kritische Zeitgenossenschaft).
The situation in the United States is different in all regards from that of 1930s Germany except perhaps in these two: our president, like Germany’s Führer, flagrantly exhibits unbridled disdain for fellow human beings; and many in the Catholic flock hope to hear prophetic words on what to make of a hate-spewing leader. Among the differences between then and now, the most important one is that Nazi Germany was a terror state, and criticism of the regime caused Church officials to suffer arrest, and sometimes torture and death. By contrast, clerics in the United States can speak their mind without fear—unless one regards a presidential tweet as persecution.
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