Blessed Clemens von Galen: The “Lion of Münster”

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This holy prelate is an example of uprightness of soul and unwavering faith in the face of evil. Denouncing the errors of Nazism, he unmasked the plan of the wicked out of fidelity to the Holy Church.

Newsroom (August 19, 2021, 10:28 PM, Gaudium Press) Clemens August Emanuel Pius Antonius Hubertus Maria Graf von Galen was born on March 16, 1878, in the castle of Dinklage, in the small town of Oldenburger Munsterland (Germany). He was the eleventh child of Count Ferdinand von Galen and the imperial countess Elisabeth von Spee.

Coming from a fervent Catholic family, Clemens, along with his twin brother Franz, received an education that focused on the ephemeral nature of earthly life and the idea of an eternity of heavenly joys.

The twin brothers entered the Jesuit high school Stella Matutina in Feldkirch (Switzerland), were transferred in the summer of 1894 to the high school Antonianum in Vechta, and three years later entered the Catholic University of Freiburg to study philosophy, literature, and history.

Priestly career

On May 4, 1903, Clemens entered the seminary, where he was ordained deacon in December of the same year and, after good preparation, was ordained a priest on May 24, 1904. After helping out in various places, he took over the parish of St. Matthias in Berlin-Schöneberg. After the death of the bishop of Münster, Bishop Johannes Poggenburg, Father von Galen was appointed bishop of that city (on September 5, 1933).

The spring of 1934 was the starting point of his fight against Nazism, through an attack on the “race worship” promoted by Alfred Rosenberg (writer of the book “The Myth of the 20th Century”). Thus, the bishop began to act in his diocese, warning against the Nazi danger, making speeches, winning the support of civil authorities, and, above all, clearly attacking Nazism in homilies.

On September 9, 1936, in Xanten, von Galen spoke about the hierarchy of obedience: it should be rendered to God rather than to human authorities; furthermore, he showed that as Catholics, they could not retreat in the face of the Nazi threat, but that it was better to die than to sin.

The Bishop of Münster’s actions were so widespread that it is said that in one of the most famous Protestant salons in Berlin, the authorities acclaimed the prelate. Moreover, the audience for his speeches grew steadily to 10,000 or even 40,000 people.

Anti-Nazi preacher

But 1941 was really the time of the Bataille mêlée. It was precisely in this year that the prelate made the three famous sermons against Nazism: the first, on July 13, protesting against the confiscation of convents and the expulsion of religious; the second, on July 20, forbidding any communion between Catholics and Nazis; and the third, on August 3, roaring against the mass murder of “unproductive lives” (sick and weak people). Such predictions sounded like atomic bombs. It is even said that they were so successful that they were considered merchandise and exchanged for other products.

Now, if it is true that von Galen became better known, it is also true that he was more persecuted; Hitler’s hatred was more and more declared, and he even considered ordering vol Galen’s imprisonment or even hanging in a public square. However, the fear of creating a hero-martyr figure did not allow him to carry out his plans.

Faced with the growing persecution, the “Lion of Münster” decided to redouble his attacks on Nazism: he said that there must be no agreement between the Catholic Church and the Nazi pseudo-religion, which is essentially anti-Catholic. Furthermore, the bishop fought against the Hitlerian idea of indifference between religions and explained that the Catholic Church is the foundation of society and the state, and must not be confused with false religions.

As a response to all the attacks, the diocese of Münster found itself in dire conditions: 556 priests and 96 religious were brought before the courts, 37 people were taken to the concentration camps (of whom 12 tragically died), convents were disastrously ransacked, and religious women were horrifically raped. In addition, in Hamburg, 3 priests were beheaded for echoing the bishop’s preaching.

The most hostile opponent to Nazism

This struggle continued until 1946, when Pius XII named Bishop von Galen a cardinal on February 8th. He was recognized throughout the world as the “most hostile opponent to the Nazi anti-Christian program.”

Nevertheless, with his health very weakened by peritonitis, the newly appointed cardinal was admitted to hospital on March 19, 1946, and 3 days later, he surrendered his soul to God.

In December 2003, John Paul II read the decree of the heroicness of his virtues, and on October 9, 2005, Benedict XVI proceeded to the beatification of the “Lion of Münster”.

Indeed, one can clearly perceive the virtue of Cardinal von Galen through what is written in his testament, like a martyr who feels the day of his encounter with God is near: “I want to welcome death at any moment with availability, everywhere, in any way, as God wants. I hope and pray insistently to die as a faithful son of the Roman Catholic Church”.

By Luiz Eduardo Trevisan

BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES:

1 FALASCA. Stefania. Un obispo contra Hitler: El beato von Galen y la resistencia al nazismo. Trad. Antonio Esquivias Villalobos. Madrid: Palabra, 2008.

2 WOLF. Hubert. Clemens August Graf von Galen: Gehorsam und Gewissen. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 2006.

3 REPETTO. José Luis. Todos los santos y beatos del martirologio romano. Madrid: BAC, 2007.

Compiled by Sarah Gangl

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