Dietrich von Hildebrand deeply regretted the Church's failure to witness in a clear and forceful way: "Just fourteen days after Hitler's seizure of power, the German bishops had lifted the excommunication that previously had been attached to membership in teh National Socialist Party, including both the SA and the SS." Hildebrand saw the demoralizing implications of the concordat for the faithful: "It must have given Catholics throughout Germany the impression that the Vatican was withdrawing its rejection of National Socialism and of racism -- as if it were possible to be a Catholic and a Nazi at the same time."
Although Hildebrand was friends with Eugenio Pacelli (who became Pius XII) and never criticized him in his memoirs, he looked back upon the period with dismay: "I saw with horror that path some leading Catholics were taking, and I saw how terribly the soon-to-be concluded Concordat wit Hitler was bout to affect the spirit of Catholics, how their inner resistance would be paralyzed by it."
Reno turns from the Church's concordat with Hitler to its more recent seeming accommodations of the sexual revolution. While noting the significant differences, he also notes significant parallels. "The HHS contraception mandate requires church-related institutions to collaborate with the dominant, contraceptive culture of our time, and to do so in a public way. This is why the mandate has been a bone in the throat of Catholic institutions in a way that widespread use of contraceptives among Catholics hasn't." He continues:
As Hildebrand recalls with anguish, although the concordat with Hitler's Germany did not mean the Vatican was endorsing the Nazi regime, it undermined resistance.Reno goes on to identify factors that work the other way, including the Bible's opposition to values of the contemporary sexual revolution, and the Church's own institutional ballast. Yet the question he raises undeniably highlights one of the fundamental challenges facing the Church today: to accommodate or to resist, to be of the prevailing sexual culture, or to be against it.
The same goes for recognizing gay marriages. As Archbishop Chaput observes in his Erasmus Lecture ["Strangers in a Strange Land"], the public reality of marriage gives its redefinition powerful "sign value." If we negotiate unofficial concordats with same-sex marriage of the sort Creighton [University] has -- not "approving," mind you -- then it's hard to maintain the Church's public identity as a teacher of truths about sex, marriage, and the family that are at odds with the sexual revolution.
Will Catholicism, then, forge a concordat with the sexual revolution? The decision made by Creighton University doesn't tell us very much. Nor does a similar decision made by Notre Dame under somewhat different circumstances. The church is a very large, international, and diverse institution. But we can identify pressures and counterpressures likely to shape Catholicism's response to the new challenges posed by the sexual revolution, at least in the West.
First, then, the pressures to find a modus vivendi. Today, American Catholic institutions like Creighton and Notre Dame are run by upper-middle-class Americans more loyal to their class and its values than to the Catholic Church's historic teachings, which have in any event not been passed down over the past fifty years.
This bourgeois loyalty does not mean Catholic leaders lack faith. But it's existentially painful for them to be out of sync wit dominant opinion. Being pro-gay rights is today's badge of honor. I don't think many Catholics who want to move among the Great and the Good will refuse that badge. The same goes for one of today's god terms: inclusive. It functions like a secret handshake that signals membership in the elite. That will be hard to resist. Moreover, open dissent now brings personal risks. Anyone deemed insufficiently "gay-friendly" faces career obstacles.
The pope himself offers little in the way of encouragement to resist a convenient fusion of Catholic and bourgeois life, an ironic but predictable outcome given the tenor of his papacy so far. He routinely denounces Catholic conservatives as small-minded and warns us not to "obsess" over the issues central to the sexual revolution: abortion, contraception, homosexuality. However one reads his intent in these and other statements, there can be no doubt they provide handy talking points for those who want to capitulate on gay marriage or other aspects of the sexual revolution.
Related: Dietrich von Hildebrand, My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich(Image, 2014).