Blessed Clemens August Cardinal Graf von Galen (March 16,1878 – March 22,1946) was a German count, Bishop of Münster, and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He received his education in Austria at the Stella Matutina (Jesuit School). After his ordination he worked in Berlin at Saint Matthias, were he became close friends with Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli, later to be Pope Pius XII. An outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, he issued forceful, public denunciations of the Third Reich's euthanasia programs and persecution of the Catholic Church, making him one of the most visible and unrelenting internal voices of dissent against the Nazis.
Clemens August von Galen belonged to one of the oldest of most distinguished noble families of Westphalia, and was born in the Catholic, southern part of the Duchy of Oldenburg (Oldenburger Münsterland, near the border with the Netherlands), on the Burg Dinklage, now in the state of Lower Saxony. He was son of Count Ferdinand Heribert von Galen, a member of the Imperial German parliament (Reichstag) for the Catholic Centre Party, and Elisabeth von Spee.
He received his main schooling in the elite Jesuit boarding school Stella Matutina in Austria, where only Latin speech was allowed. He was not an easy student, as his Jesuit superior wrote to the parents: “Infallibility is the main problem of Clemens, who under no circumstance will admit that he may be wrong. Wrong are always his teachers and educators.
Galenchild.jpg Because Prussia did not recognize the Austrian degree, Clemens spent the last years of his education near home. Upon graduation, his fellow students wrote in the year book: Clemens does'nt make love or drinking , he does not like the worldly swindling. In 1897 he began to study all kinds of things, literature, history and philosophy. In 1899 he met Pope Leo XIII in private audience and after that decided for the priesthood. He studied in Innsbruck and Münster and was ordained in 1904. At first he worked for a family member, the Auxiliary bishop of Münster as Chaplain.
Soon he moved to Berlin, where he worked as parish priest in St. Matthias. A memorable event occurred there, which should change his life, when during a sermon he noticed the presence of the Papal Nuncio among the listening faithful. He lost his concept and began to stammer. From then on the two became very close friends. Eugenio Pacelli knew to poke fun: When Galen on a beautiful sunny day encouraged him to enjoy nature and stop working for a change, Pacelli replied with a laugh, before I could do that I must develop much humility, become parish priest in St. Matthias, so I too may get stuck in a sermon. They both joked over this incident in February 1946, when Pope Pius XII elevated von Galen into the College of Cardinals.
Von Galen was elected bishop of Münster in 1933. Documents in the Vatican Archives, which opened related information in 2003, indicate, that von Galen was elected only after other candidates had turned down the offer, and despite a protest of Nuncio Orgegnio to Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, expressing his opinion, that von Galen is bossy and paternalistic in his public utterances :
Once elected, he campaigned against the totalitarian approach of the National Socialist in the education, appealing to parents to insist on Catholic teaching in schools. He successfully used the just agreed upon Reichskonkordat (§ 21, granting the Church the right to determine on its own religious instruction) to force the National Socialists to permit continued instruction. It was one of the first instances, where the Reichskonkordat was used by the Church as a legal instrument against Germany, which was one of the intentions of Pope Pius XI.
Shortly thereafter, von Galen started to attack the racial ideologies of the new regime, partly poking fun at it, partly critiquing its ideological constructs as published by Alfred Rosenberg. He declared it as unacceptable to refuse the Old Testament because of its Jewish authorships, and to limit morality and virtue to usefulness of a particular race.
On July 13, 1941, von Galen publicly attacked the regime for its Gestapo tactics, disappearances without trials, the closing of Catholic institutions without any reasons given and the fear imposed on all Germans throughout the nation. The powerful Gestapo, he argued, reduces everybody, even the most decent and loyal citizens, to being afraid of ending up in a basement prison or a concentration camp. The country being at war, von Galen rejects the notion that he undermines German solidarity or unity with his speech. Using the lines of his friend Pope Pius XII, Opus Justitiae Pax and Justitia fundamentum Regnorum, Peace is the work of justice and justice the basis of domination, he attacked the Regime for undermining justice, the belief in justice and for reducing the German people to a state of permanent fear, even cowardness. He concluded: As a German, as a decent citizen I demand justice.
In a second sermon, July 20, 1941, von Galen informed the faithful that all written protests against Nazi hostilities were useless. The confiscation of religious institutions continued unabated. Members of religious orders are deported or jailed. Since Christians are not revolutionaries, he asked his listeners to be patient and to endure. The German people are destroyed not by the allied bombing from outside, but from negative forces within.
On August 3, 1941, he informed his listeners in a third sermon about continued desecration of Catholic churches, closing of convents and monasteries and the deportation and euthanasia of mentally ill people to destinations with a notice to family members that the person is question had died. This is murder, he exclaimed, unlawful by divine and German law, a typical rejection of the laws of God. He informed them that he forwarded his evidence to the State Attorney. "These are people, our brothers and sisters, maybe their life is unproductive, but productivity is not a justification for killing". If it would be, everybody would have to be afraid to even go to a doctor. The social fabric would be affected. A regime, which can do away with the Fifth Commandment, can destroy the other commandments as well.
The sermons were reproduced and sent all over Germany to families, and to German soldiers West and East. Allegedly, Karol Wojtyla is to have read a copy in Krakow. The protests led to an immediate end of the euthanasia program Aktion T4. The local Nazi Gauleiter was furious and asked for the immediate arrest of von Galen. However, Joseph Göbbels, Bormann and others preferred to wait until the end of World War Two, as not to undermine in the heavily Catholic area the German morale during the ongoing war. Potentially most effective was the question of von Galen, if permanently injured German soldiers would fall under the program as well. A year later, the regime continued the program in greater secrecy. But, .. "This powerful, populist sermon was immediately reproduced and distributed throughout Germany — indeed, it was dropped among German troops by British Royal Air Force flyers. Galen's sermon probably had a greater impact than any other one statement in consolidating anti-‘euthanasia' sentiment.
Von Galen openly supported the Protestant Paul von Hindenburg against the Catholic candidate Wilhelm Marx in the presidential elections 1925. Von Galen was also known as a German patriot and a fierce anti-Communist who favoured the battle at the Eastern Front against Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union. His views on communism were largely formed as a consequence of the Stalinization and relentless persecution of Christians within the Soviet Union since 1918, during with virtually all Catholic bishops were either killed or underground. He welcomed the 1941 German war against the USSR a positive development A sermon the Bishop gave in 1941 served as the inspiration for the anti-Nazi group The White Rose, and the sermon itself was the group's first pamphlet. The published sermons of von Galen show that he condemned the racist deportations of the Nazis. Von Galen, further, suffered virtual house arrest from 1941 until the end of the war.
After the war, his indignation turned on the British occupiers, who in his view, complicated with hostile acts (including starvation rantions for the common people) an already difficult life in post-war Germany. The British responded by taking away his automobile, disabling him from visiting parishes and carrying out planned confirmations. On April 13, Galen went to United States Army authorities, to protest against the raping of women by Russian and Polish soldiers, and against the plundering and stealing of German homes, factories and offices by American and British forces especially at night time. On July 1, 1945 he denounced "the ransacking of our homes [already] destroyed by bombs", "the pillaging and destruction of our houses and farms in the countryside by armed bands of robbers", the "murder of defenceless men", "the rape of German women and girls by bestial lechers" (mass rapes as acts of retaliation by Soviet soldiers, ex-POWs and workers were rampant, estimated at 2 million and many perhaps more than a million resulting in death mostly suicide) the indifference of the occupation forces to the risk of famine in Germany, all these horrors finding justification on the basis of "the false view 'that all Germans are criminals and deserve the most severe punishment, including death and extermination!".
In a joint interview with British officials, he told the international press, "just as I fought against Nazi injustices, I will fight any injustice, no matter where it comes from". He repeated these claims in a sermon on July 1, 1945, which, as in the Nazi years, was secretly copied and distributed throughout occupied Germany. The British authorities felt attacked by the von Galen sermon and ordered him to renounce it immediately, which he refused. His rising popularity may have contributed to their decision to afterwards allow him free speech without any censorship. In an interview with Swiss media, von Galen demanded just punishment for real Nazi criminals but a humane treatment for the millions of POWs who did not commit any crimes, but were prohibited by the British from any contact with their relatives. He critiqued the British custom to dismiss German nationals from public service without investigations and trial, noting that the Nazis had done the same in 1933, but that the Nazi victims at least had continued to receive a pension. He forcefully condemned the expulsion of German civilians from former German provinces and territories in the east, annexed by communist Poland and the Soviet Union. A paper from the Foreign Office called him "the most outstanding personality among the clergy in the British zone... Statuesque in appearance and uncompromising in discussion, this oak-bottomed old aristocrat... is a German nationalist through and through."
SS-General Kurt Meyer, accused in the shooting of 18 Canadian prisoners, was sentenced to death. Galen intervened at the request of the family. On second review, a Canadian General, finding only "a mass of circumstantial evidence", commuted his death sentence. Meyer served nine years in British and Canadian POW prisons. The British forces tried to get support by inviting Dr. Bell, the Anglican Bishop of Chichester, to meet von Galen for a three way-meeting in October 1945. Bell judged von Galen to possess enormous moral power, a passion for justice, well-educated behaviour, very concerned for his people and a defender of ecumenical cooperation.
Unexpectedly, at Christmas 1945 it became known that Pope Pius XII would appoint three new German cardinals, one of them Bishop von Galen, who, despite numerous British obstacles and denial of air travel, arrived in Rome February 5, 1946. Generous American cardinals financed his Roman stay, as German money was not in demand. He had become famous and popular, so after the pope had place the red hat on his head with the words:God bless you, God bless Germany, Saint Peter basilica for minutes thoundered in applauso trionfale triumphant applause for von Galen, He interpreted it as "a sign of the love of the Pope for our poor German people. Before all the world he has, as a supranational and impartial observer, recognized the German people as equal in the society of nations". While Rome, he visited the German POW camps in Taranto and told the German Wehrmacht soldiers that he would take care of their release, and that the Pope himself was working on the release of POWs. He took a large number of comforting personal messages to their worried families.
After receiving the red hat from Pope Pius XII, von Galen went to see Madre Pascalina, the faithful servant of the Pope. He told her, how the Pope had quoted long passages from his 1941 sermons from his memory and how he thanked him for his courage. Galen told the Pope, “Yes, Holy Father, but many of my very best priests died in concentration camps, because they distributed my sermons”. Pius replied, that he was always aware, that thousands of innocent persons would be sent into certain death as a result of his protests as pope. They talked about old days in Berlin, and von Galen was truly happy, for nothing in the world would I want to miss these two hours, not even for the red hat. Von Galen judged Pius XII to be “an unusually holy, unusually conscientious and unusually good person,” but one who had “obviously forgotten all my bad habits, otherwise he would not have given me the red hat”. When Madre Pascalina told him she would be present at his Roman mass, he responded with a smile, I better start preparing my sermon, otherwise I gets stuck again and you’ll tell him all about it.
Following his return from the cumbersome travel to Vatican City, the new cardinal was celebrated enthusiastically in his native Westphalia and in his destroyed city of Münster, which still lay completely in ruins as a result of the air raids. He died a few days after his return from Rome in the St. Franziskus Hospital of Münster due to an appendix infection diagnosed too late. His last words were: Ja, Ja, wie Gott es will. Gott lohne es Euch. Gott schütze das liebe Vaterland. Für ihn weiterarbeiten... oh, Du lieber Heiland! ("Yes, Yes, as God wills it. May God repay it to you. May God protect the dear fatherland. Go on working for him... oh, you dear Savior!") He was buried in the family crypt of the Galen family in the destroyed Cathedral of Münster.
The cause for beatification was requested by his successor, Bishop Michael Keller of Münster and began under Pope Pius XII in 1956. It was concluded positively in November 2004 under Pope John Paul II. Clemens August Graf von Galen was beatified on October 9, 2005 outside of St. Peter's Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI, the 47th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius (1958).