Mark Edward Ruff, "The Battle for the Catholic Past in Germany, 1945-1980" (Cambridge UP, 2017)


Historical debates about the actions of the Roman Catholic Church in relationship to the Third Reich have never been restricted to academic presses and journals like so many other topics. Rather several groups of partisans in both Germany and the United States actively followed them in popular books, magazines, and newspapers since the late 1940s. In his new book, The Battle for the Catholic Past in Germany, 1945-1980 (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Mark Edward Ruff explores seven divisive controversies that exploded over the church's relationship to National Socialism during the early decades of the Federal Republic in West Germany. Ruff questions why so many early controversies ensnared German Catholics after World War II when there was a much higher rate of collaboration between the Protestant majority and the regime. He argues that public acrimony over the Concordat between the Third Reich and the Vatican in 1933 and the legacy of Pius XII emerged mainly as a proxy war between secular elites, leftwing Catholics, and the church establishment over the political dominance of the Christian Democratic Union in the 1950s and 1960s and the place of religion in modern democracies. Despite so much argumentation, empirical research, and open hostility, it seems that nobody ever changed their mind once their opinions formed on these matters. Combining rigorous research with accessible writing, Ruff authored a book that many listeners will enjoy.
Michael E. OSullivan is Associate Professor of History at Marist College where he teaches courses about Modern Europe. He will publish Disruptive Power: Catholic Women, Miracles, and Politics in Modern Germany, 1918-1965 with University of Toronto Press in August 2018.

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Michael O'Sullivan

Professor of History, Marist College
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