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from issue no. 08 - 2004

The letters of Pius XII

We publish here the full text of three letters written in German by Pius XII to the Bishops of Berlin and Münster. The letters, which show the bonds of respect and sympathy of Pius XII with von Galen, are taken from volume II of the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde guerre mondiale entitled Les lettres de Pius XII aux évêques allemands, 1939-1944

Pius XII

Pius XII


From the Vatican, 16 February 1941

To our venerable brother Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Münster

For your sincere wishes for the current year we offer you, venerable brother, our most heartfelt thanks, which, because of the work and burdens that have piled up, reach you with some delay, but are all the more intimately felt. With all our heart we reciprocate them to you, to your clergy and to your faithful. We raise our prayers and we daily offer the sacrifice for you, so that this year, whose dark destinies fill us all with anguished waiting, may be transformed for you into a year of grace, in which God pours out his mercy on you (cf. Eccl18,9).
The letters that come to us in recent months from the German episcopate unfortunately give the impression that the year 1941 threatens to bring new and hard trials in your country to the Catholic Church also. Your account (with enclosures), of which we have taken account while suffering with you, brings out in particular the dangers to which Catholic youth is exposed. It is your and our greatest worry, all the greater as the dechristianization of youth goes course ahead with a force and violence such that often the domestic hearth and the Church, though animated by the best intentions, appear almost helpless against them. We acknowledge with all the greater praise what you have done for youth in the safeguarding of the faith through the special teaching of religion. Also from other sources we have been told with admiration of the success of the hour of religion [Glaubensstunde]. Though it seems to you little, continue to do what lies within your strength, and support religious life in the family as much as you possibly can.
We share your judgment on the fashion of proceeding against the ecclesiastical patrimony in the Oldenburg. The provision in question goes in the direction of those unilateral interferences of the State, through which the financial conditions of the Church in Austria, in the Sudetan region, in the so-called “Warthegau”, as also in Alsace-Lorain, have been gravely damaged. Furthermore it cannot be doubted that, in the case of the Oldenburg, the methods of the state bodies clearly violate the Concordat obligations.
The zeal with which you, venerable brother, keep alive in your faithful the awareness of belonging to the universal Church and the bond to the Vicar of Christ does us good, and does us good for your good. It would be fateful if the attempts to close off the German Catholics and distance them from the Pope were to gain ground. Our love is certainly, in equal measure, for all the children of the Church, without distinction of country or people, on both sides in the war. But that has not decreased our love for you. We are as close to you as we were in the years when we could pay you a visit from city to city, from district to district, indeed we are closer still, seeing you steadfast in fighting the hard struggle for the safety of your holy faith. Tell your faithful that we, in the awesome happenings of this moment, think and are working solely to alleviate the devastation of the war, above all the spiritual kind – distancing from God, hatred and cruelty - and to straighten the path to peace; a peace that respects the law of God and the freedom of his holy Church, a peace compatible with honor, with the rights and vital needs of all the people involved, as proclaimed by us in the Christmas Messages of the last two years.
As pledge of most abundant grace of God, through which may the Almighty keep alive and healthy in you the Catholic faith, Christian virtue, the sense of the Church, with all our heart we impart to you, venerable brother, to all your collaborators, priests and lay, and to all the faithful entrusted to you, the requested apostolic benediction.

The Bishop of Berlin Konrad von Preysing

The Bishop of Berlin Konrad von Preysing

Letter of Pius XII to the Bishop of Berlin

From the Vatican, 30 September 1941

To our venerable brother Konrad von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin.

Accept, venerable brother, our heartfelt thanks for your letters of 28 June, 16 August, 28 August, 4, 11 and 12 September.
The Bishop of Innsbruck, who has succeeded in reaching here, has amply reported on the annual Episcopal Conference of Fulda and on the communal pastoral letter that emerged from it. It is true that some would have desired the letter to show a little more yet of that Catholic conscience that emerges from the three sermons of the Bishop of Münster. But even they admit what we hear on all sides, that is, that the pastoral letter has had much effect on people.
The three sermons of Bishop von Galen give us also, on the way of pain we travel together with the German Catholics, a comfort and a satisfaction that we have not felt for a long time. The bishop has chosen the moment well to come forward with so much courage.
The high respect that his name and personality already enjoyed earlier may have contributed to the success. But these circumstances alone do not explain the deep effectiveness of his move. It is based, if we judge rightly, on the fact that the moral seriousness and the force of his protest have been judged to match up to the injustice that the Catholic Church has had to bear in Germany, as also to the offensive way in which this injustice has been done to her.
The bishop then has set his finger, in frank but noble manner, on the wounds and on the harm that, as we so as often hear tell, every German who thinks in terms of law and justice feels with such deep pain and bitterness.
If from the bold gesture of Bishop von Galen an end to the measures against the Church has come, even if short-lived and above all quite insufficient to repair the injustice done, these three sermons of the Bishop of Münster and the pastoral letter of the whole episcopate are a demonstration of what may be further obtained, within the Reich, with energetic and frank intervention. We stress this, because the Church in Germany depends all the more on your public action, the more the general political situation, because of the singular difficulty and often contradictoriness that characterizes it, imposes on the head of the universal Church, in his public messages, a dutiful caution. There is no need, therefore, for us to expressly assure you and your brethren that bishops who, like Bishop von Galen, intervene with such courage and with such irreproachability for the cause of God and of holy Church, will always find support in us.
As for your suggestion that the Holy See should undertake, through the embassy, a step with the government of the Reich in favor of the German bishops, it has so to speak anticipated your desire, and not just once, but often in recent years. And without doubt with such miserable success that, up to today, the letters of the Holy See have not even been deigned a response. Despite this, the greatest attention will continue to be paid so that no occasion escape it, though promising a feeble result, to defend the cause of the German Catholics in written and oral fashion.
In your last letter you told us of the meeting of three bishops with the representatives of the religious orders that, in Frankfurt, have been so harshly tried. We applaud similar meetings, and we would welcome with satisfaction the making concrete of the impulses issuing from the Fulda Conference, that is to say – through more frequent extraordinary councils of the bishops and then of the metropolitans amongst themselves – the transformation of the unity of intent of the German episcopate into living unity of action, to the extent that this unity of action is required by the situation of the moment. It would be a matter of doing no other than making use, in an effective way, and according to the ancient ecclesiastical custom, of the forces made available by the constitution of the Church and by the hierarchical order. With the informal conferences of the bishops of west Germany, without doubt and for some time, the launch has been given to a happy beginning.
We profit from the circumstance, venerable brother, to subject to your attention and in absolutely confidential fashion two questions….
Recommending you and your diocese to the mercy of Divine Providence, and begging with the same intensity for your intercession for the helmsman of the ship of Peter, who finds himself in the middle of the storm that is raging, from the bottom of our heart we impart to you, venerable brother, and to all those entrusted to your pastoral care, the requested apostolic blessing.

Von Galen  as a Theology student in Innsbruck in 1899

Von Galen as a Theology student in Innsbruck in 1899

Letter OF Pius XII to the Bishop of Münster

From the Vatican, 24 February 1943

To our venerable brother Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Münster.

We welcome with gratitude and joy the good wishes that you, venerable brother, have offered us on your behalf and of that of the faithful of your diocese on the anniversary of our election and coronation. They come to us without doubt from a pastor in whom, thanks to the Catholic tradition of his family and even more thanks to an understanding full of faith of his episcopal office, an awareness of the bond with the Vicar of Christ is particularly vivid, and from a flock that has always distinguished itself for its fidelity to the Church. We thank you above all for your prayers; for the prayer that you have raised for us to God on the occasion of the anniversary of our episcopal consecration, as also for the prayer with which, on Sunday, you, with the “Invocabit”, sought the blessing of God on the fifth year of our pontificate. We can only encourage you to persevere in interceding for the successor of Peter, for it is difficult to say which is greater, whether the needs and the dangers that threaten and that will threaten Holy Church still, or the huge tasks and hopes of the world that, in the near future and still to come, are opening up to it. There is no need to add that, on our part, in prayer and in the holy sacrifice, we daily remember your many and many intentions: we know how many they are and how much apprehension they bring.
We thank you besides for the two attachments, the pastoral letter of 22 March 1942, which was read, almost unanimously, in west Germany and in Baveria, and the pastoral letter for Advent, read by you in west Germany and in Berlin. Both appeals meet with our full approval, because they defend with so much courage the rights of the Church, of the family and of every individual person. Rarely in the modern history of the Church, perhaps never as today, has the unity of destiny of human dignity, the family and the Church shown itself in such a tangible way. It is a comfort to us every time we learn of a clear and courageous word from an individual German bishop or from the German episcopate. Farseeing thought will persuade you of the fact that with your resolute and courageous interventions in favor of the truth and of right and against harshness and injustice you do not harm the reputation abroad of your people, but are in reality of benefit to it, even if others, if only for an instant, mistaking in deplorable fashion the state of the facts, were to accuse you of the contrary. You, venerable brother, are among other things the last person to whom we need expressly point this out.
The two pastoral letters you have sent us have so to speak prepared the terrain for our Christmas Message of 24 December 1942. We learn with satisfaction that you have arranged for the contents of the Message to be treated by deacons’ conferences. This strengthens the spiritual bond between us and your clergy, between you and the vast Catholic world. Our words, throughout the earth, have had deep resonance among the belligerents and the few countries still not directly touched by the war. Our messages, above all the Christmas ones from 1939 onwards, were not based on the hypothesis that, through them, one might influence in a decisive way the events of the war as such. We have solely performed, as Vicar of Christ, our duty of making straight the path to the natural law and to the law of Christ in respect of the interior and interstate ordinances that are facing significant rearrangement today, and of standing against the danger to our faithful of non-Christian thinking and of an exasperated nationalism, and finally, if it were pleasing to God and if He were to give us his blessing for it, of preparing and pointing out in a clarificatory and conciliatory way the solution to the enormous and difficult tasks that, in conscience, will have to be faced at the end of the war.
In Münster in 1929, on his becoming parish priest 
of Saint Lambert

In Münster in 1929, on his becoming parish priest of Saint Lambert

The concerns, the cause of so much travail, that you list as regards your diocese - priests sent into exile or imprisoned in concentration camps for their faith (our peculiar blessing goes to the parishes and to the families of those who, amongst them, have perished there), the expropriation of the Episcopal College of Gaesdonck, so well deserving for the training of priests and of lay Catholics, and the shortage of priests because of the loss of those students fit for war and the drafting of young priests into the army - all these concerns bear on the general needs of the Catholic Church in Germany that we share with you bishops from the bottom of our heart and in the sharpest way. The shortage of priests is on the verge of becoming an emergency for the Church in Europe; further, it will have fateful repercussions also for the missions. The Church will accept the shortage of priests as the lesser evil and will step by step overcome it with the help of God, if at least the remaining clergy, especially those young ones who will return home from the front, with supernatural strength, faithful to the Church, united within, bound by sincere faith to the bishop and to the Pope, with meekness, spirit of service and spiritual fervor, will be ready to take on with open eyes two pressing priestly tasks: the proclaiming and the cogent defense of the Catholic faith and of the whole Catholic vision of the world down to its ultimate consequences for individuals and for the community, and the renewal, or rather the renewed creation, of forms of Christian life. Words do not suffice to express our apprehension that the clergy be aware and up to its responsibility, in a special way for what concerns the faithful and painstaking fulfilment of the pastoral office of preaching and the administering of the sacrament of confession. What gives us strength and solaces us in our apprehensions is information such as you give us in your letter on the visiting of the Marian sanctuaries in your diocese over the past year. While the indications of the religious life are that high, we and you, despite the storms of the past years and the darkness of the future, must not fear. We also believe that we must not doubt the fact that, according to the wish of God, in these dark days, safety, blessing and peace will come to the world precisely through prayer to the Mother of God.
Your desire, venerable brother, to come once again to the Holy Father in Rome is no less strong than our desire to greet you and the other German bishops in our home, and to discuss with you the aspirations of the Catholic Church in Germany. So much time has already passed since the day we saw the German bishops here. Despite that we respect and approve your plan to postpone for the moment your “visitatio liminum apostolorum”; we hope only that events may as soon as possible open for you the road that leads to Rome.
Tell the faithful of your diocese that we pray, offer sacrifices and work for a peace that may for all people, without exceptions, create bearable conditions; that few things are closer to our heart than “the freedom and the glory” of the Catholic Church and of the whole religious life in your country; that we thank God for the steadfastness in the faith of German Catholics, that we paternally admonish them to keep faithful to Christ with energy and courage, patience and stalwart faith in Divine Providence. As pledge of His unvanquished help and of His grace that overcomes everything, we impart with all our heart to you, venerable brother, to your clergy and to your faithful, in peculiar those who are at the front and to the young, the requested apostolic blessing.

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