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

No. 3015

Sir: Referring to the Embassy’s despatch No. 3007 of August 27, 1936, I have the honor to discuss the situation resulting from the reading last Sunday of the pastoral letter drawn up by the German Roman Catholic bishops at their annual meeting at Fulda.

In terms somewhat similar to the manifesto proclaimed in the Confessional Evangelical churches the Sunday before, the letter opens with a sharp protest against Nazi attacks upon the Roman Church, its institutions and the clergy, mentioning among other grievances “unmerited generalisations and accusations”, affronts to the Pope and to the bishops themselves. It then passes on to a denunciation of Bolshevism, citing the menace from that quarter as being all the more a compelling reason for the Government and the Party to avoid action likely to disrupt both the religious and national fronts in their stand against a common enemy. The letter concludes with a restrained complaint against Government efforts to circumscribe and isolate the influence of the Church as well as against Nazi interference with the work of the Catholic youth organizations and labor associations, particularly the latter which, it is mentioned, are being practically forced out of existence by the prohibition upon acceptance of their members, on a basis of dual membership, in the Labor Front which almost all German workers must now join in order to be able to make a living. The Catholic congregations are reminded in the letter that freedom from molestation in all these spheres is guaranteed the Church by the Concordat concluded three years ago.

The portion of the pastoral letter dealing with Bolshevism is particularly significant as it was avowedly conceived with the idea of offering a common meeting ground with National Socialism. It is learned that contact having been established on this basis, these passages [Page 174] were drafted in concert with an official from the Church Ministry whose hand may perhaps be seen in the effusive compliments paid the Führer for his fight against Bolshevism. The truce thus concluded is said to embrace a promise by the Government to settle amicably and without further recourse to public trial the remaining currency smuggling and immorality cases pending against members of the Catholic orders. It is also reported that delegations from both sides have been appointed to resume once again negotiations concerning the application of the Concordat. Under somewhat better auspices than their Protestant brethren who made the same attempt, the Catholic bishops are understood to have addressed a memorial to Herr Hitler personally setting forth the chief points of the pastoral letter.

Well informed quarters regard it as still too early to venture a prediction as to the final outcome of these preliminary steps. The Catholic Church is perceived to have been driven to seek a rapprochement by reason of the weakness of its position resulting from the successful campaign of discredit which the Nazis have carried out during the past year. The Government for its part is seen to be willing to explore the possibilities of a compromise owing to a desire to consolidate its offensive against Bolshevism, as well as to remove a cause of internal friction that has lasted all too long. It is not impossible also that the drawing closer of Germany’s relations with the Catholic countries of Austria and Italy played a part in determining the change in attitude, a development which Herr von Papen,54 who is a Catholic, may well have helped.

Although the truce is regarded as a distinctly hopeful sign, Catholic authorities are understood not to be over-optimistic in view of the very great difficulties that stand in the way of a really permanent settlement. One of the most important of these would be the question as to whether the Government would be able to restrain anti-Catholic elements in the Party, particularly those preachers of neo-paganism who have support from high quarters. Another point of issue might arise with respect to the parochial schools. It is learned that just prior to the bishops’ conference the Government was seriously considering abolishing the schools by law. Although such a drastic legal step may now be regarded as postponed indefinitely, the same result may be attempted informally by Party groups, as it has been with notable success in Munich during the last two years.

The youth organizations may prove to be another stumbling block. It is stated on good authority that the Ministry of the Interior is working on a draft law which would require the compulsory membership of all the German youth in some kind of State organization, a measure [Page 175] that was presaged by Herr von Schirach55 in a New Year message, and which is long over-due. Whether or not it will be brought forward at the Nuremberg Congress as its advocates ardently wish may be the case, appears not to have been decided but should it be put into effect it might put an end to the Catholic youth associations unless a compromise could be worked out envisaging a form of dual membership.

Although the possibility now appears excluded that legislation aimed directly against the Catholics, as for instance a mooted dissolution of the orders, will be brought forward at Nuremberg, it may nevertheless be seen from the foregoing that many points of conflict may arise in what may be regarded as a normal evolution of Party policy.

Incidentally the treatment by the press of the bishops’ pastoral letter was particularly interesting. Breaking their long tradition of ignoring Catholic affairs, the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, as well as Göring’s paper, the Nationalzeitivng of Essen, published brief summaries of the section denouncing Bolshevism, whereas the foremost Catholic daily, the Germania, failed to make any mention of the letter at all. I understand that the later editions of the D.A.Z. were suppressed.

Respectfully yours,

William E. Dodd
  1. Franz von Papen, German Minister in Austria.
  2. Baldur von Schirach, leader of the Hitler Youth.