NEWS STORY: Pope Beatifies German Prelate Who Opposed Nazis

Print More

c. 2004 Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY _ Pope John Paul II on Monday (Dec. 20) approved the beatification of Cardinal Clement August von Galen, a German aristocrat who fought the Nazis so fiercely that he was known as “the lion of Munster.”

Von Galen’s was one of 22 “causes” for sainthood that received approval from John Paul, who already has proclaimed a record 1,345 “blesseds” and 483 saints in the 26 years of his pontificate. Beatification, or being declared blessed and worthy of veneration, is one step below sainthood.

A member of the aristocratic Spee family who became bishop of the city of Munster in Westphalia in 1933, von Galen was outspoken in the defense of Jews and the Catholic Church, which also came under Nazi persecution. He publicly shamed the Nazis into ending their program of systematically killing the mentally and physically disabled.

“He defended the people from errors and from the aggression of National Socialism, risking arrest and death,” Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, told the pope at a Vatican audience.

Von Galen (1878-1946) qualified for beatification when the congregation credited him with the miraculous cure of a gravely ill young Indian, Henrikus Nahak, who had prayed to him. Another miracle after beatification is required for canonization.

Attacking the Nazis’ euthanasia policy in the summer of 1994, von Galen warned, “If even once we accept the principle of the right to kill our unproductive brothers, then, in principle, homicide becomes admissible for all unproductive beings, the incurably ill, those who have been made invalids by work or in war, and ourselves when we become old, weak and thus unproductive.

“It is impossible to imagine that abyss of moral depravation and of general distrust even in the family that we would reach if such a horrible doctrine were tolerated, accepted and put into practice,” he wrote.

Von Galen’s protests caused such an outcry among the general public and in the army that the government of dictator Adolf Hitler announced on Aug. 24, 1941, that the euthanasia program was being abolished.

The Rev. Giovanni Sale, a Jesuit historian of the period, said the Nazis did halt their large-scale program but continued to practice selective euthanasia.

Following World War II von Galen was equally forceful in defending Germans who had never collaborated with the Nazis.

In a letter to Pope Pius XII dated Aug. 20, 1945, he said it was wrong to impute “a collective guilt” to all Germans, “even those who never paid homage to the erroneous doctrine of National Socialists and who, on the contrary, according to their own possibility, offered resistance to them.”

Pius XII made von Galen, along with two other German prelates who had opposed Nazism, Bishops Konrad von Preysing of Berlin and Joseph Frings of Cologne, a cardinal at a Consistory held on Feb. 18, 1946. Von Galen died a month later of an infection.

The decrees presented by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and signed by the pope recognized miracles qualifying three candidates to become saints and eight to be proclaimed blessed while a ninth candidate qualified for beatification through martyrdom. Recognition of the “heroic virtues” of other 10 candidates placed them on the first step to sainthood, below beatification.


Comments are closed.