Persecutions of the Catholic Church and Pius XII

Persecutions against the Catholic Church took place throughout the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958). Pius' reign coincided with the Second World War, the commencement of the Cold War and the accelerating European decolonisation. During this time, the Catholic Church faced persecution under Fascist and Communist governments.

The Nazi persecution of the church was at its most extreme in Occupied Poland. The defeat of Fascism at the end of World War Two ended one set of persecutions, but strengthened the position of Communism throughout the world, intensifying a further set of persecutions - notably in Eastern Europe, the USSR, and, later, the People's Republic of China. The Catholic Church was under attack in all Communist governed countries and lost most of its existence in Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania, Communist China and the Soviet Union (including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).


The pontificate of Pius XII coincided with the Second World War (1939-1945) and the early stages of the Cold War. The Catholic Church was repressed under the Nazi Empire and then under the Soviet dominated Communist states established in Eastern and Central Europe following the war. The Catholic Church in Germany was systematically repressed by the Nazis and persecution was at its most severe in Nazi occupied Poland, where churches, seminaries, monasteries and convents were systematically closed and thousands of priests and nuns were either murdered, imprisoned or deported.

According to John Cornwell, the Church was faced with a dilemma: compromise with the governments in order to maintain a structure with which to survive or resist, or confront and risk annihilation.[1] To save its faithful, the Vatican attempted both at varying times.

In East Germany and Hungary, the Church was subjected to ongoing attacks, but was able to continue some of its activities, however on a much reduced scale. In Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, persecution continued to the point that the Church faced extinction. In the Soviet Union and mainland China, the Catholic Church largely ceased to exist, at least publicly, during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII.

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