Walter Mixa, Bishop of Augsburg said in his Easter Sunday sermon, “Where God is denied, or opposed, soon Man and his dignity will also be denied and disregarded.”
Mixa, who is also the Catholic church's military bishop in Germany, added, “The inhumanity of practiced atheism has been proven in the last century in the most terrible way by the godless regimes of National Socialism and Communism with their punishment camps, their secret police and their mass murders.”
He also claimed that Christians and the Church had been particular victims of those regimes.
Atheists have reacted with fury, accusing him of twisting history and trying to make the church look better with regards to its background.
Rudolf Ladwig, chairman of the International Association of the Confessionless and Athieists said Mixa's sermon was part of a “long-term strategy of the church to wrongly unburden the history of its own institution with regards to fascism.”
He told Der Spiegel magazine, the National Socialist dictatorship was, “in no way the dictatorship of a determined atheist movement.” It targeted communists, social democrats, liberals, trade unionists, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and other groups, he said.
“There was only resistance from the church from individuals,” he added.
Philosopher Michael Schmidt-Salomon, spokesman for the humanist Giordano-Bruno Foundation said, “When you know that during the Nazi era, the Jews were accused of godlessness, one can see how perfidious Mixa's argumentation is.”
He added that the idea that the Nazi regime was a godless one, was also wrong, and said that Hitler's book Mein Kampf showed that his ideology was largely based on Christian traditions, including his anti-Semitism. “The majority of the Nazi elite can be shown to have classified themselves as Christian,” he said.
The federal statistics office shows that around a third of Germans do not have a religious conviction.
Mixa has used Nazi references before – also sparking outrage, particularly when at the end of February when according to a newspaper report, he compared the number of Jews killed by the Nazis with the number of abortions conducted over the last few decades.