Count Clemens August Cardinal von Galen, The Lion of Münster

Count Clemens August von Galen was born March 16,1878 at Dinklage Castle in Dinklage, Grand Duchy of Oldenburg, Germany to one of the oldest and most distinguished Catholic noble families of Westphalia. He was the eleventh of thirteen children, the son of Count Ferdinand Heribert von Galen, a member of the Reichstag for the Catholic Centre Party (German: Katholische Zentrumspartei) and Elisabeth von Spee. Until 1890, Clemens and his brother Franz were tutored at home. At a time when the Jesuits were forbidden in Münster, he received his main schooling at Stella Matutina, a Jesuit school in Voralberg, Austria-Hungary (now Austria), where only Latin was spoke. While attending the school, he was not an easy student to teach, and his Jesuit superior wrote to his parents: “Infallibility is the main problem with Clemens, who under no circumstance will admit that he may be wrong. It is always his teachers and educators who are wrong.” Because Imperial Germany did not recognize Stella Matutina academy, Clemens returned home in 1894, when he was 16 years old and attended a public school in Vechta and by 1896 both Clemens and Franz had passed the examinations that qualified them to attend a university. In 1896, he went to study at the Catholic University of Freiburg, ran by the Dominicans who founded the university in 1886, where he encountered the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. In 1897, he began to study a variety of topics, including literature, history, and philosophy. Johann Peter Kirsch, a history professor and noted biblical archaeologist, was one of his teachers. Following their winter semester, Clemens and Franz visited Rome for three months. At the end of the visit he told Franz that he had decided to become a priest though he did not know whether to become a contemplative Benedictine or a Jesuit. In 1899, he met Pope Leo XIII in a private audience. He studied at the Theological Faculty and Convent in Innsbruck, which was founded by the Jesuits in 1699. In 1903, he left Innsbruck to enter the seminary in Münster and on May 28,1904, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Hermann Dingelstadt. His first job was as a Chaplain to the Auxiliary Bishop of Münster, a family friend. Soon he moved to Berlin and arrived there on April 23,1906, where he worked as parish priest at St. Matthias Church. From April 23,1906 to April 16,1929, he was a parish priest for St. Matthias Church. Berlin was Germany’s capital and largest city, and it was predominately Protestant. Berlin contained districts of Protestant elites, a Catholic community composed of primarily working-class people and a Jewish community of both middle-class and poorer immigrants. When he arrived in 1906, Berlin was a booming commercial and cultural metropolis. In 1871, the population was 900,000 residents and by 1920, it had less then 4 million residents. Sadly, religion did not bring the community together. For the working class, there was a rivalry for allegiance for Catholicism and Democracy. In this atmosphere, Father Count von Galen sought to be an energetic and idealistic leader of his parish. He was an impressive figure, he was six feet, seven inches tall and disliked the theatre, secular music (except for military marches, and literature. As a monarchist, he was loyal to Kaiser Wilhelm II and volunteered for military service for the German Army during World War I (1914-1918). He even encouraged his parishioners to serve for the Fatherland. When Germany surrendered on November 11,1918, he dreaded the loss of the monarchy and feared the lower classes would embrace radicalism and anarchy. He worked to create soup kitchens, aid societies, and clothing drives to combat the immediate problems of hunger and poverty. He was very critical of the Weimar Republic and blamed the revolutionary ideas of 1918 had caused considerable damage to Catholic Christianity. In German politics, he was a conservative, he often criticized the Catholic Centre Party of being too left-wing, he believed the stab-in-the-back theory, and deplored the disappearance of the German monarchy. In 1925, he supported the German World War I hero, Paul von Hindenburg for President of Germany against the Catholic Centre Party candidate Wilhelm Marx. Galen was a German patriot and a fierce anti-Communist, he detested of how the Communists persecuted and murdered Christians after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. In 1929, he was appointed Pastor of  St. Lambert’s Church in Münster and some parishioners were upset with his political conservatism. On September 5,1933, he was appointed Bishop of Münster by Pope Pius XI and on October 28, he was consecrated a Bishop in Münster’s cathedral by Karl Joseph Cardinal Schulte, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne. For his motto, Galen chose “Nec laudibus nec timore”. In 1934, one year after the Nazi Party came to power in Germany, Bishop von Galen attacked the Nazi ideology of propagandist Alfred Rosenberg, who was anti-Christian and Pagan. He even criticized Nazi racial policy in a Sermon in January 1934 and also criticized Hitler’s racial policies. He also condemned Alfred Rosenberg’s The Myth of the Twentieth Century (Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts). He even condemned the Nazis for attempting to introduce German Neo-paganism in his diocese. In 1936, when the Nazis removed crucifixes from schools, von Galen’s protest led to a public demonstration. He along with Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber, Archbishop of Munich and Konrad von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, they helped to draft Pope Pius XI’s anti-Nazi encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Concern) which was released on March 10,1937. He was also opposed to Alfred Rosenberg’s ideas of forced euthanasia and sterilizations on the disabled. Despite his opposition to Nazi policies, he along with his fellow German and Austrian Catholic bishops supported Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22,1941. At around this time, news began leaking out that disabled men, women, and children were being murdered through euthanasia. The euthanasia was authorized by Adolf Hitler, Leader of Nazi Germany on September 1,1939, the same day that Nazi Germany invaded Poland. When the truth came out, many Germans were distressed that their friends and family were being targeted for euthanasia. As a result, many Germans began to protest against the killings on innocent disabled people and many Germans who were supportive of the Third Reich, later turned against them. Between July 13,1941 to August 3,1941, Bishop von Galen delivered three powerful speeches against Nazi crimes. In these speeches, he condemned Gestapo tactics, the persecution of the Catholic Church, and the Aktion T4 euthanasia program against innocent disabled people. He earned the nickname the “Lion of Münster” and was joined by Bishop Theophil Wurm of the Lutheran Church and many other clerics both Catholic and Protestant against Nazi crimes. Bishop von Galen, was so powerful that Nazi official Walter Tiessler proposed in a letter to Martin Bormann, that the Bishop be executed. German Luftwaffe hero, Werner Mölders, a devout Catholic also had contact with Bishop von Galen, he threatened to return his awards if von Galen’s euthanasia accusation turned out to be true and even told Hitler to leave Bishop von Galen alone when presented the Diamonds to the Knight’s Cross. Bishop von Galen’s heroism inspired people in the German Resistance. The Lübeck martyrs distributed the sermons and sermons influenced the Scholl siblings in founding the White Rose pacifist student resistance group. Even Generalmajor Hans Oster, a devout Lutheran and a leading member of the German Resistance praised the Bishop. On August 24,1941, seeing a showdown with the Catholic Church and if the Nazis arrested prominent critics of the euthanasia program, Hitler signed the order to cancel the euthanasia program. After the war, he raised a protest with the American military authorities against the rape of German women by Russian soldiers and the plundering of German homes, factories, and offices by American and British troops. Bishop von Galen vowed that he would fight an injustice whether Nazi or anti-Nazi. He preached about these injustices in a sermon on July 1,1945 and the sermon was copied and distributed throughout Germany. The British ordered him to stop and he refused. In the face of his resistance and broad popularity, they chose not to censor him. Bishop von Galen demanded punishment for Nazi criminals but humane treatment for the millions of German prisoners of war who had not committed any crimes and who were being denied contact with their relatives by the British. He criticized the British dismissal of Germans from public service without investigation and trial. He also condemned forcefully the expulsion of German civilians from former German provinces and territories in the east annexed by communist Poland and the Soviet Union. Christmas 1945, he was among three German anti-Nazi bishops appointed a Cardinal. On February 5,1946, he traveled to Rome. On February 22,1946, he became a Cardinal by Pope Pius XII, and became popular and famous, that after the pope had placed the red hat on his head with the words: ‘God bless you, God bless Germany’, Saint Peter’s Basilica for minutes thundered in a “triumphant applause” for von Galen. While in 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. He was praised by Pope Pius XII for his courage against Nazi tyranny and even told this to Mother Pascalina Lehnert, Pope Pius XII’s faithful servant. He arrived back in Münster and was welcomed enthusiastically. He died a few days later in St. Franziskus Hospital of Münster due to an appendix infection diagnosed too late on March 22,1946. His last words were: “Yes, Yes, as God wills it. May God reward you for it. May God protect the dear fatherland. Go on working for him… oh, you dear Saviour!” He was buried in the family crypt of the von Galen family in the destroyed Cathedral of Münster. On October 9,2005, he was Beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on the 47th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII.


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