The Church, the State, and Transnational Organizations


Displaced Nuns entering the United States at Ellis Island

Bruce M. Mohler Papers

            These documents help us to see, not only the inner workings of the National Catholic Welfare Conference and its various departments, but also the NCWC’s interaction with other groups and organizations.  It is important to remember that the NCWC does not reflect the stance of the Catholic Church as a whole, but, rather, only one aspect or piece of the Church; in these documents, we see the NCWC not only giving orders and corresponding with other people and organizations, but also taking orders from the higher members of the Church hierarchy at the Vatican, in Rome.

  •  In what areas did the Vatican hierarchy allow the US bishops some leeway for independent action? When did the Vatican give specific instructions to the US bishops? On what subjects?

 The groups that the NCWC worked with, cooperated with, and negotiated with over the course of its efforts to aid and resettle refugees included other Catholic organizations, Protestant and Jewish groups, ethnic organizations, the US government and its varying levels of bureaucracy, and transnational organizations such as the United Nations. Many of these transnational organizations were new entities that had come into being as a response to World War II, and were part of an international effort to repair, as far as possible, the humanitarian crisis caused by the war.

            Some examples of negotiation between the US bishops and other organizations include the NCWC’s push for more lenient immigration regulations for refugees, which involved extensive dialog with the US government, and the NCWC’s cooperation with other Catholic and ethnic organizations in the US during the process of resettlement.

  • Can you think of any other goals that transnational organizations had, beyond immediate charitable work?
  • What do you think might be some of the benefits of transnational organizations built around a common respect for human rights? In what ways might the action of these organizations be limited? Why might the Catholic Church be somewhat suspicious of transnational organizations, especially at the period in history covered by these documents?
  • In the documents on the Resettlement Council meetings, what other organizations are listed as participants? What other demographic groups within the Church and within American society do these organizations represent? Would the interest of, for example, a Polish-American group in immigration laws be motivated by the same factors as the NCWC’s interest?
  • Can you think of other examples of how the motivation of different groups might differ, even though they were working for the same cause?