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Saturday, 29 April 2017

Bishop Von Galen, the 'Lion' of Munster' 1933-46

                           High Mass in Munster Cathedral, 1946. (photo - New Liturgical Movement)

I have recently been reading an interesting book, 'Hitler, Mussolini, and the Vatican' by Emma Fattorini,  dealing broadly with the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, especially the last few years of his life. His long pontificate from 1922 – 1939 saw the rise and establishment of Bolshevism and Fascism, with revolutionary uprisings in Russia, civil war in Spain, a tyrannical masonic and anti-clerical persecution in Mexico, violent nationalism in Germany and Italy leading to the start of the Second World War a few months after his death. 
This pontificate also included the signing of the Lateran Pact (1928) between Italy and the Vatican, whereby the State of Vatican City was formerly acknowledged and agreed, with its own boundaries and laws. In 1935 Italy invaded Abyssinia to unite the Italian colonies in Eritrea and Somaliland, provoking world-wide condemnation, from which the Pope himself was not immune.
Economically, the world was dangerously unstable, with high levels of unemployment throughout Europe and the USA, crippling inflation and an ever- increasing divide between rich and poor. A culture of materialism and rationalism became ever more influential, to the detriment of religious faith and practice, which the Pope endeavoured to counter with numerous Encyclicals over many years.
In the early years of his pontificate, the relationship between Pope Pius XI and Mussolini, the head of the Italian republic, was cool but necessarily complementary, but by the end of the pontificate, this had changed completely. Mussolini’s increasing support and collaboration with Hitler, and his open contempt for the Pope and the Catholic Church, led to total estrangement from the Church, leading the Pope to compose a final  'discourse'  in which  he unequivocally condemned  Fascism with the same passion as he had consistently  
condemned Communism.
This was intended to be read in all the churches in Italy, but the Pope’s death intervened before this could be done, and all copies were destroyed on the authority of Cardinal Pacelli, in his role as 'Camerlengo',  prior to  his election as Pope Pius XII.  It may have been that the Cardinal, schooled in Vatican diplomacy, believed that the 'discourse' was too forthright in its condemnation of fascism, and as such would cause more harm than good. Whatever the reason, such a forthright condemnation of fascism by Pope Pius XI, albeit at the end of his life, clearly puts the lie to any suggestion of sympathy for the fascist cause.

          In the longer term it may be that Pope Pius XII came to regret his decision to destroy the 'discourse', for as the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany became more united they became more powerful, and opportunities for the Church to exercise its influence became less and less.
In 1941 however, the German Bishop of Munster, Bishop von Galen, preached in his Cathedral against the evil of Nazi policies, particularly the increasing practice of ‘euthanasia’, used by the regime to eliminate those considered useless by the State.
In my efforts to find out more about Bishop von Galen, I came across an excellent post on this courageous German Bishop, written by Joanna Bogle in October 2011, on the blogsite ‘Catholic Answers’. This post is quite long, but informative and compelling, and because it deals at length on Bishop von Galen's condemnation  of ‘euthanasia’, is as relevant today as it was in the 1940s, if not more so.  With the permission of ‘Catholic Answers’, much of this article is reproduced below.  
Due to its length it has not been practical to reproduce it in its entirety. Nevertheless I strongly recommend the whole of the original post to you, with the link shown at the end of this article.


Bishop Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Munster

‘Count Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Munster in the Rhineland, came from one of Germany’s most well-known aristocratic families. His opposition to the Nazi regime, and in particular his stance against its horrific euthanasia program, made him into an emblematic hero. He was known in his lifetime as the "Lion of Munster." Recently beatified by the Church, he is a figure whose life and message deserve to be better known, especially as the Second World War recedes into history.

"Neither Praise nor Fear"
Born in March 1878, Clemens August was the 11th of 13 children. He grew up in the castle of Dinklage, and in later life loved to recall his childhood and the pattern of its days. It was an old-fashioned, structured life: Each day began with early morning Mass, and it was a family rule that any child who turned up late got no butter on his bread at breakfast—and anyone who failed to turn up for Mass got no breakfast at all. But it was also a carefree existence, with the children encouraged to play freely out of doors and to enjoy country pursuits. It was a warm and affectionate family, all the children remaining close throughout their lives.

The von Galens were one of the leading noble families of Westphalia, and Count Heribert, the father of Clemens August, was a member of Germany’s Imperial Parliament. The tradition of the family was both staunchly Catholic and staunchly patriotic. It was also suffused with a sense of duty ….
From such a family, it was natural that vocations to the priesthood would be born. After a period at boarding school and at university, Clemens August announced his decision, trained as a priest, and was ordained in 1904.

His new life took him into a very different part of Germany—the industrialized and modern city of Berlin, where he worked as a curate in a working-class area. The harsh years of World War I and Germany’s eventual defeat saw him working as a pastor among people who were both poor and hungry. His own way of life, which he would continue as bishop, was based on hard work and personal austerity. The discipline instilled in childhood had become a habit.

Called back to the diocese of Munster in 1929, he was consecrated as its bishop in 1933. As his motto, he chose
  "Nec laudimus nec timere", indicating that he would be influenced by "neither praise nor fear." He was called to put these ideas into practice almost straight away.

                                                              Pope Pius XI  (1930)

'Hammer on Anvil'
When the new National Socialist government started to confiscate Church property, turning religious orders out of their houses and arresting priests, Bishop von Galen denounced this from the pulpit. When the Nazis published material accusing the Church of being anti-science and anti-human progress, he replied with vigorous pamphlets of his own setting out the Church’s record.  …..He referred openly to the Nazis as pagan and urged people not to allow great Catholic traditions to be usurped in the name of progress.

When war broke out in 1939,
  because of his opposition to the Nazis, Bishop von Galen became a popular figure in the British press, and his stance was frequently mentioned with warm approval—a fact that infuriated the Nazis more. But he continued to denounce the regime, listing each new restriction on Christian life: "Religion has been banned from the schools, our organizations have been suppressed, and now the Catholic kindergartens are about to be closed," he said from the pulpit in July 1941, urging Catholics to remain firm in their loyalty to the Church and likening them to an anvil on which a blacksmith was striking a heavy hammer.

'Animals Past Their Usefulness'

When the Nazi euthanasia program began, it was semi-secret. People began to suspect that something was happening: Those with handicapped relatives were informed of sudden deaths with no explanation, and there were whispers of evil things taking place.
It was Bishop von Galen who revealed the truth. Having collected evidence from many sources, he announced in a sermon that defenseless human beings were being rounded up and killed "because in the judgement of some official body, on the decision of some committee, they are judged as "unworthy to live"; they are judged as "unproductive members of the national community"

(sermon at St. Lambert’s Church, August 3, 1941).

His sermon caused a sensation. What had been happening in the dark was now thrown into the spotlight. People knew that the bishop was speaking the truth, for it was corroborated by what had been learned by people with relatives in hospitals and asylums. Duplicated secretly, the sermon found its way across Germany with great speed despite official censorship. It was reported in the foreign press, reprinted in secret newsletters, hand-copied, and passed around by word of mouth.
The first sermon denouncing the euthanasia program was followed by two more, which went into greater detail, citing specific cases .
Bishop von Galen pointed out that no one would be safe: men wounded in war, the gravely ill, the vulnerable. Human beings were being treated as if they were animals that had passed their usefulness: "Were these people to be treated "like a cow that no longer gives milk, or like an old lame horse"? No! We are concerned with men and women, our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters! Poor human beings, ill human beings, they are unproductive if you will. But does that mean they have lost the right to live? Have you, have I , the right to live only so long as we are productive, so long as we are regarded by others as productive?" (August 3, 1941)

He went on to spell out the implications of what was going on. No patient could trust a doctor, the courts and the police were to be implicated in murder, and the whole concept of justice perverted. He thundered, in powerful language,
"Woe to mankind—woe to our German people—if the Divine Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ which God our Creator wrote into man’s conscience from the beginning, if this Commandment is not merely violated, but this violation is tolerated and remains unpunished!"
Blunt, forthright language—backed by facts—meant that the bishop was a formidable opponent for the Nazis. It is a measure of his status that the euthanasia program was halted for a considerable period in Westphalia, and many lives saved. It was not easy for the Nazis to know what to do: To arrest the bishop would be to plunge the whole of that area, which had the closest of links with his family, going back through history, into passionate and probably open rebellion.

Bishop von Galen preaching in the rubble of Cathedral   Square, Munster.

The huge and unrelenting Allied air raids made it easier for the government to quell von Galen’s influence. Munster was reduced to ruins, its cathedral destroyed, the bishop himself made homeless and forced into temporary shelter on the outskirts along with many other refugees.
The invading Allied armies finally reached Munster. Seeking a public figure untainted by the Nazi regime with whom they could establish formal contact, they turned to the bishop. They found that his passionate anti-Nazism did not mean that he had ceased to care about his country, and although courteous to the incoming troops, he made clear that he did not relish having foreign rulers in charge of Germany.

As the months went by, he spoke out, at a time when it was very difficult for any German to do so, about the horrific plight of Germans forcibly expelled from their homes in eastern parts of the country which were now being handed over to a new, Soviet-dominated Poland.
In 1946 ,
 Pope Pius XII made von Galen a Cardinal, but worsening ill-health led to his death  on March 22 1946, shortly after his return from Rome.  He was buried in the ruins of his cathedral, where many of his ancestors had been buried over the centuries.

'A Voice for the Other Germany'
In 1956 von Galen’s cause for canonization was opened and in October 2005, Cardinal von Galen was formally declared blessed by the Church, the first step towards full canonization.

The Church now had a German Pope, Benedict XVI, a Bavarian. As a boy in an anti-Nazi family, the pope knew of Bishop von Galen and regarded him as a hero and a voice for the "other Germany" of non-Nazis, who longed for National Socialism to be consigned to history.

Cardinal von Galen is, of course, a figure of whom German Catholics feel they can be proud, from an era of their history of which they are all terribly ashamed, so this is of importance to them. But the message of his life is larger than that. All Catholics need to know that there was a bishop who was staunchly anti-Nazi. They need to know about his opposition and the way he stood firm and spoke out when others remained silent. It is important that we remind people of this when we hear about the Church’s "failure" to respond adequately to the Nazi’s evil actions.

And there is more: What about today, when legalized euthanasia is again firmly on the agenda, and when pagan ideology is regarded as the norm and Christianity marginalized as something old-fashioned and opposed to national community life? Where do we all stand? What approach should we take? In this hero-bishop from a different era, we can hear a message and a warning, a call to honour the faith we share with him, and a pattern to follow. Born in a castle, dying in a bombed-out city with his country devastated around him and its moral reputation in ruins, Bishop von Galen held fast to what was right, and his message lives on, while that of the pagan culture he opposed has been revealed for the evil it always was. We must ask him to pray for us.
                                  Portrait of Pope Pius XII (ack. Eman Bonnici)

                  From Bishop Von Galen’s Sermon against Euthanasia (Aug. 3rd, 1941)

"Thou shalt not kill." God engraved this commandment on the souls of men long before any penal code laid down punishment for murder, long before any court prosecuted and avenged homicide. Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was a murderer long before courts or states came into existence, and plagued by his conscience he confessed, "Guilt like mine is too great to find forgiveness . . . and I shall wander over the earth, a fugitive; anyone I meet will slay me." Because of his love for us God has engraved these commandments in our hearts and has made them manifest to us. They express the need of our nature created by God. They are the unchangeable and fundamental truths of our social life grounded on reason, well pleasing to God, healthful and sacred. God, our Father, wishes by these precepts to gather us, his children, about him as a hen shelters her brood under her wings. If we are obedient to his commands, then we are protected and preserved against the destruction with which we are menaced, just as the chicks beneath the wings of the mother. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it!" Does history again repeat itself here in Germany, in our land of Westphalia, in our city of Munster? Where in Germany and where, here, is obedience to the precepts of God? The eighth commandment requires "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." How often do we see this commandment publicly and shamelessly broken? In the seventh commandment we read, "Thou shalt not steal." But who can say that property is safe when our brethren, monks and nuns, are forcibly and violently despoiled of their convents, and who now protects property if it is illegally sequestered and not given back? . . . The first three commandments have long counted for nothing in the public life of Germany and here also in Munster . . . The Sabbath is desecrated; holy days of obligation are secularized and no longer observed in the service of God. His name is made fun of, dishonoured, and all too frequently blasphemed. As for the first commandment, "Thou shalt not have strange gods before me," instead of the One, True, Eternal God, men have created at the dictates of their whim, their own gods to adore: Nature, the State, the Nation, or the Race. In the words of St. Paul, for many their god is their belly, their ease, to which all is sacrificed down to conscience and honour for the gratification of the carnal senses, for wealth and ambition. Then we are not surprised that they should claim divine privileges and seek to make themselves overlords of life and death.

Delivered August 3, 1941 at the Church of St. Lambert in Munster

                                          The Nazis’ Euthanasia Solution (T4)
He who is bodily and mentally not sound and deserving may not perpetuate this misfortune in the bodies of his children. —Hitler, Mein Kampf

Beginning in 1939, the National Socialist regime begin systematically killing disabled children in "specially designated pediatric clinics" via starvation and overdose. By the end of World War II, an estimated 5,000 infants and children had been murdered by the Nazis. The program, code-named T4, was extended to adults beginning in 1940. Physicians working for the T4 program examined medical files (seldom the institutionalized patients themselves) and marked for death disabled and mentally ill adults, in most cases without the knowledge or consent of family members. Those selected for extermination were rounded up, processed, and directed into a facility for a "disinfecting shower." Instead, the victims were gassed to death via carbon monoxide. Their bodies were cremated and the ashes sent to families with an official death certificate listing a fictitious cause of death.

By 1941 the program had become public knowledge, in part because of the opposition from German clergymen, including Bishop von Galen. Hitler officially halted the adult killings, but the child program continued. In 1942 the adult killings resumed in secret and continued until the end of the war, with an ever-expanding range of victims, including the elderly, hospitalized war victims, and foreign labourers. In all, an estimated 200,000 people were executed as part of the Nazi "mercy killing" agenda.
(Source: The United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum,

N.B.  Due to its length, it has not been practical to reproduce this article in its entirety. Nevertheless I strongly recommend the whole of the original post to you, with the link shown below:-

Ack to Joanna Bogle, Catholic Answers,  October 2011.                                      

Today, unbelievably, legalised euthanasia has become a reality in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Colombia; with assisted suicide legalised in Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, and certain States in the USA. When one considers the worldwide condemnation and horror that euthanasia evoked in the 1940s, it seems impossible to believe  that humanity has now reached the point when  human life is expendable from conception to old-age, on the say-so of doctors and medical 'experts', with no thought to the omnipotence of God and His laws, both supernatural and natural.
It is tempting to think that if today, we had outspoken Christian witnesses of the calibre of Bishop von Galen,  politicians and society may have not been so ready to promote abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, same-sex 'marriage', and other related evils, with total disregard for our Christian faith and heritage. This may or may not be the case, but the courage of Bishop von Galen is a light to us all in the darkness of a world without God. We pray for our Pope and our Bishops, that they may be fearless in proclaiming the teachings of Christ, so strengthening our faith in the ongoing battle against the forces of evil.
Blessed August Clemens von Galen - pray for us.

Munster Cathedral, 'Crucifixion', with figures of Bl. Anna Emmerick, Bl.Maria Euthymia, Bl. Clemens von Galen, at foot of cross, and separated from them the figure of the Anabaptist King Jan Van Leiden (1535)seated on step, with various death symbols at his feet.  Bronze sculpture by Bert Gerreshem, installed in 2004. Photo M B Dortmund (own work).