Here’s a curious passage from the first speech that the pope made on arriving in Britain:
“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…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).”
Why curious? Because of this phrase:
“a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society”
The pope is not only a clever and highly-educated man, he is also someone who grew into adolescence under the Third Reich. He will thus know perfectly well that the Nazi attitude towards religion is a highly complex topic. It is true, of course, that a number of leading Nazis were atheists. It is also true that the Nazi accommodation with Germany’s Christian churches was largely a matter of cynical political calculation (at its core National Socialism was profoundly anti-Christian), but if and when the time came to replace Christianity the best guess is that the regime would have adopted some form of neo-paganism rather than the nominal atheism of the Soviet or Communist Chinese states. At the same time (and as discussed before on this site), Hitler himself does not appear to have been an atheist, and atheism was not something required of those in his inner circle.
None of this would be news to Benedict, so why then did he say what he did?