862.404/177

The Ambassador in Germany (Dodd) to the Secretary of State

No. 2699

Sir: I have the honor to report as follows in amplification of the Embassy’s telegram No. 53 of February 25, 9 a.m.,44 respecting the situation of the German Churches.

The Evangelical Church.

At the national Synod held in Bad Oeynhausen from February 17 to 22, the militant wing in the Confessional Church which under the leadership of Pastors Niemöller and Koch of the Church of the Old Prussian Union has borne the brunt of the battle against State interference, won a complete victory over the episcopal elements represented by Bishop Marahrens of Hannover, Bishop Meiser of Bavaria and Bishop Wurm of Württemberg, who have shown themselves inclined [Page 166]to temporization and negotiation with the State authorities. Consisting of the lower clergy and lay leaders, the national Synod is so to speak the democratic assembly of the Confessional movement, and proof that the rank and file are now in fighting mood was-evident in the fact that many of the delegates from Hannover, Bavaria and Württemberg, the seats of the moderate bishops, voted with the militant group whose resolutions were adopted by majorities as high as 90 percent.

With the exception of Bishop Marahrens, who put in a brief appearance only to tender the resignation of the Central Confessional administration of which he has been head, the other two bishops of the larger provincial churches did not attend the Synod, the reason being, it is understood, that they did not wish to imperil certain compromises they have made with Church Minister Kerrl whereby they have avoided until now the imposition of official Church committees in their respective dioceses.

The Marahrens administration was replaced by two bodies which will be more directly responsible to the will of the Synod. A new Reich Council of Brethren consisting of 25 members was elected, 8 seats going to the Church of the Old Prussian Union where resistance to State control is strongest, 2 seats to the Bavarian Church, 1 seat apiece to those of Hannover and Württemberg, the remaining 7 seats being apportioned between the other provincial Churches. An executive board was also set up to serve as a central administration in the interim between synodal meetings. Pastor Müller of Dahlem, Pastor Boehm of Machnow, and Pastor Alberts of Spandau, all of them followers of Niemöller, were named to the board whose membership is later to be expanded to five.

In addition to reorganizing the Church on more combative lines, the Synod voted not to recognize Kerrl’s decrees of December 2 or the official Church committees set up under them. (See Embassy’s despatch No. 2519 of December 5, 1935.45) It also adopted a resolution setting forth in terms similar to the pronouncements of such Catholic leaders as Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich and Cardinal Schulte of Cologne the demand that parents should not be prevented by pressure in favor of the State schools from sending their children to religious schools. In connection with this last matter it is learned that a pamphlet entitled the “Dechristianization of the German Youth” was circulated among the Synod. Although consisting entirely of press reports of anti-Christian and anti-clerical statements by Nazi leaders, it was confiscated soon after by the Secret Police who were in constant attendance at the Synod.

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As reported in the Embassy’s telegram under reference, Kerrl permitted the Synod to meet in contravention of his decrees apparently because he believed that the moderate episcopal group would prevail or that at least a damaging split would develop in the Confessional ranks. What he will now do in the face of the Synod’s defiant gesture is entirely unknown. According to one Church authority whose judgment may be trusted, it is likely that Kerrl and the Government, occupied as they are with the Catholic question, will not take immediate action against the Confessional leaders, but that the conflict will develop gradually and, so to speak, from the ground up. It is foreseen that one way in which the issue may be joined is that Kerrl’s committees may order disciplinary measures against individual opposition pastors; the Confessional authorities would of course feel compelled to direct the pastors to continue their activity and in this manner a sort of guerilla warfare might ensue leading possibly to a struggle on a larger scale.

Since the above was written it has been learned that an official committee, with Bishop Marahrens at its head, has been set up for the provincial Church of Hannover. It is generally assumed that this step represents an alliance of Marahrens with the Kerrl administration by way of a more definitely formulated compromise, for, while the Bishop seems to have capitulated to the extent of accepting a State committee for his Church, it is understood that he will be permitted to appoint to it a majority of moderate Confessionals. The move appears to furnish yet another illustration of the clever tactics pursued by Kerrl throughout the Church struggle. If the other provincial bishops should accept similar arrangements, an appeasement may be created between the State and heads of the more important provincial Churches which would render the position of the independent radical Confessionals all the more confused.

The Catholic Church.

The Catholic situation has not altered appreciably during the past week. The arrests of Catholic priests and lay leaders have momentarily abated after having provided the Nazi radicals with a handsome yield of hostages in their campaign to discredit the Church. A blow to the Catholics as serious, however as the recent arrests has been struck by Dr. Goebbels in an order calling for a censorship of their press, which has hitherto been a powerful instrument in the clergy’s hands. The reason given for this order was that the Catholics had consistently abused the freedom granted them in press matters. It is understood that the Papal Nuncio has demanded full explanation regarding this step inasmuch as press liberty is explicitly guaranteed the Catholics under the Concordat.

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It is learned that the 55 Rhineland Catholics and the 7 Communist leaders with whom they are alleged to have been in contact are to be tried on a charge of high treason before the People’s Court. Of particular interest in this connection is the information set forth in report No. 106 of February 28 addressed to the Embassy by the Consul in Cologne, that the local authority who would ordinarily have performed these arrests was not consulted but that they were carried out by the secret police instigated by the radical elements in the Party. In the view of this person “it was bad politics inasmuch as it was silly to bring forth such a charge as that the Catholic Church had formed a partnership with the secret, underground communist movement.”

That the issue between Church and State is far from being clearly drawn as yet in the higher reaches of the Government is apparent from latest developments in the case of Mgr. Bannasch, the head of the Catholic information service who it will be recalled was arrested last November and against whom a charge of high treason was contemplated (see Embassy’s despatch No. 2544 of December 14, 193547). Bishop Preysing of Berlin, one of the Catholic leaders most in favor with the Government, is understood to have appealed to the Führer himself on Bannasch’s behalf. The high treason charge has been quashed and it is learned that Bannasch has been provisionally released with the understanding that he will be set completely free in a few weeks when it is expected that the danger of demonstrations being made in his favor will be past!

Respectfully yours,

William E. Dodd
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