Earlier today, we witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of a German who had been dragooned into the Hitler Youth and then conscripted into the army, visiting Britain as Pope, and praising our country for standing up to Nazism.
He also spoke of how atheist extremists give us sobering lessons and how the exclusion of God from public life adversely affects how we view the human person. Yes, the Pope is indeed a Catholic. Here is the relevant text:
Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime's attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a 'reductive vision of the person and his destiny' (Caritas in Veritate, 29).He did not say that Nazis or Hitler were atheists. He routinely condemns different kinds of dictatorship, including the modern dictatorship of relativism.
In fact, the Nazis adhered to a kind of warped paganism with some Christian references. Their faith was based on blood, soil and the supremacy of the Aryan Master Race. They counted the German Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII) among their worst enemies. There was a special section at Dachau for Catholic priests.
The Pope didn't spell out the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century. So let me just give one or two pointers:
In the period of Russian atheistic communism Stalin killed 20 million (The Wikipedia article on Stalin has a sober discussion on "Calculating the number of victims") The figure for Chairman Mao Zedong is again a matter of discussion but estimates are in the range of 50-70 million. Pol Pot in Cambodia ranks lower with only 1.7 million deaths to his name but he is worth mentioning since he was trying to carbon-copy Mao's atheistic cultural revolution.