Letter from Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli to the US Bishops, January 9, 1939


Cardinal Pacelli, with NCWC Bureau of Immigration director Bruce Mohler in the background, visiting George Washington's tomb on October 22, 1936

Vatican Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli wrote this letter to an unnamed US bishop on the plight of the so-called “non-Aryans” in Germany. As Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli (who would be Pope Pius XII 1939-1958), was tasked with running the secular aspects of the Vatican government, such as its relations with other states. The letter is marked, with an exclamation point, “Not for Publication!” and is not an official statement. Nonetheless, Pacelli says he writes at the behest of the Pope, who has tasked him with soliciting the American hierarchy’s aid for “non-Aryans”. People given this racial designation by the Nazis in Germany had at least one Jewish grandparent, and had the status of second-class citizens under Nazi legislation. The same constraints applied even if the person had converted to Christianity, as many Germans of Jewish ancestry had.  Many non-Aryans correctly predicted that the prejudiced legislation of the 1930s was only a foreshadowing of far worse things to come, and were fleeing Germany for their safety and freedom.  Pacelli does not use the word “Jewish” anywhere in the letter, despite the connection between being a non-Aryan and having Jewish ancestry. Nonetheless, he describes these non-Aryans as frequently being people of “virtue, talent, and science,” who deserve the sympathy and immediate aid of the universal Church. Pacelli’s letter also foreshadows the National Catholic Resettlement Council’s later direction when it recommends that the US bishops cooperate with other Catholic charitable societies. Rather than trying to aid refugees singlehandedly, the Resettlement Council’s work was to be a collaborative effort.



Pacelli to U.S. Bishops


As you read the document (linked below) reflect on the following questions:

  • According to Pacelli’s letter, were the criteria for immigration in most countries lenient and simple, or demanding and hard?
  • From this letter, would you deduce that Pacelli prefers that the immigrants be settled in separate communities created for them, or integrated into existing communities?