A Roman Catholic cardinal, speaking through a Vatican media relations agency, has claimed that Pope Benedict XVI is about to make Adolf Hitler a saint.
"It's in recognition of Herr Hitler's dedication to making the world a more Christian place," claimed the cardinal. He said he was providing the information, on condition of anonymity, in order to put an end to a long-running debate. "The Catholic church is often accused of not having done enough in the Second World War to help purify Europe," he said. "Some say the Vatican stayed on the sidelines, but it's time to put the record straight and show how we did our utmost to increase the proportion of Christians in countries throughout the continent."
The cardinal claims the beatification of the erstwhile Nazi dictator has already begun, "though we need someone to take the part of Devil's Advocate," he said. "You know, someone we can trust. That's proving difficult."
Pope Benedict is believed by some to be smiling on the project. A Bavarian previously known as Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict is a former member of the Hitler Youth and later served in a German anti-aircraft unit during World War 2. While a Cardinal in charge of the Inquisition, he was given a number of nicknames by other members of the church, including 'the enforcer', 'God’s rottweiler' and 'the panzer cardinal'.
The cardinal admits that the elevation to sainthood of one of history's most notorious mass murderers might come as a surprise to some. "One has to admire, though, his clearly evident and frequently professed piety," he said. "He was, after all, born and raised a Catholic and, in spite of a few disagreements, generally maintained warm relations with the Vatican throughout the war. That's why we were so keen to help leading Nazis escape the terror of Protestant- and atheist-inspired so-called 'justice' when the war ended. Oh, and there was the Jew thing."
Some revisionist historians have tried to portray Hitler as an atheist himself, pointing to the Nazis' sporadic actions against churches and alleged 'private' statements against Christianity recorded in the infamous 'Table Talk' publications. "However, the Nazis made great efforts to create and support a unified church," explained the cardinal. "And all that 'Table Talk' nonsense is just a misunderstanding as a result of poor translations. That's something we know all about in the Christian church."
He added: "All you have to do is look at what Hitler actually said."
Hitler's faith was expressed early. In 1921, he announced: "My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior ... I am fighting for the work of the Lord." He often mentioned the "treasures of the living Christ" and when some visiting deaconesses asked him from where he drew the strength to change the Reich, he replied "From God's word".
Hitler saw non-belief as a threat. Over dinner, he would tell people "We don't want to educate anyone in atheism". In public, he declaimed: "Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith. From our point of view as representatives of the state, we need believing people."
He also gained a great deal of support from Christians. "If anyone can lay claim to God's help, then it is Hitler, for without God's benevolent fatherly hand, without his blessing, the nation would not be where it stands today," said evangelical education minister Bernhard Rust, in a speech to a mass meeting of German Christians in 1933. "It is an unbelievable miracle that God has bestowed on our people."
Catholic Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich, after visiting Hitler at his mountain retreat, said: "Without doubt the chancellor lives in faith in God. He recognizes Christianity as the foundation of Western culture."
Pope Pius XII, a month after becoming Pontiff in 1939, instructed Archbishop Orsenigo to throw a birthday party for Hitler's 50th birthday and never forgot to send "warmest congratulations" every year on the same occasion.
The move is not universally welcome, however. One of the most outspoken critics of the beatification is a Nigerian priest, Father Blimey O'Reilly. "He went a bit far sometimes," said O'Reilly. "Killing all those poor mentally retarded people, for one thing. And in these more enlightened times, the Roman Catholic church absolutely condemns the act of sending homosexuals to concentration camps. They can be cured now."
However, even O'Reilly admits some grudging respect. "There's no doubt that Hitler performed numerous miracles," he said. "The saving of the German economy, the building of the autobahns and making the Beetle a popular car."