March 22, 2006

Neither Woe, Grandeur, Nor Lust, Nor Fear -- The Lion of Münster

Laß höchster Gott / mich doch nicht auff dem Lauffplatz gleiten /
Laß mich nicht Ach nicht Pracht / nicht Lust nicht Angst verleiten!
Dein ewig-heller Glantz sey vor und neben mir /
Laß / wenn der müde Leib entschläfft / die Seele wachen
Und wenn der letzte Tag wird mit mir Abend machen
So reiß mich aus dem Thal der Finsternüß zu dir.
Aus: Abend

Let Highest God / me but not stumble on my pathway /
Let neither woe, grandeur / nor lust nor fear mislead me!
Your everlasting shine may guide and be beside me /
Let / once the tired corpse will sleep / the spirit stay awake
And when the final day will make its night for me
Then tear me from the vale of darkness home to you.
From: Night

Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664)

(Translation mine)

Count Clemens August Galen was the Bishop of Münster, the political and ecclesiastical capital of the strongly Catholic region of Westphalia from September 2, 1933 until March 22, 1946. He took an inordinately courageous stand against the Nazi policies, undaunted by the imminent danger to his own freedom and life.

His immense prestige at home and abroad and the staunch backing by the people of Westphalia was what ultimately saved him from the extermination other bishops, and many of his own priests, suffered. At the end of the day, not even the Nazis dared to touch the tall and powerful scion of one of the oldest noble families of the deeply Catholic Münsterland. In the end, the "simple pastor", who had been by far not the first choice of the Holy See as Bishop of Münster, had won the boundless reverence of his flock, an uncommon occurrence among the somewhat dour Westphalians, and, finally, the world.

Burg (Castle) Dinklage, Galen's birthplace

Clemens von Galen (he only took August as a second name when he became bishop) was born in 1878 at Burg Dinklage, seat of the family for centuries, in the Oldenburg part of the Münsterland. He was the eleventh of the thirteen children of Graf Ferdinand Heribert Galen (1831-1906), a notable member of the Catholic Zentrum party and his wife Elisabeth, née Countess von Spee. Graf Ferdinand Galen, then a member of the Deutscher Reichstag had in 1877 not just famously spoken about the importance of a social conscience and demanded a Christian-social order, but lived by it -- notably ridiculed by August Bebel.

A Long Tradition of Loyalty and Service

The Galen family looked back to a long tradition of deep loyalty and service to the Catholic Church and the family had indeed put forth many priests and bishops before.

Christoph Bernhard von Galen, "Bomben Bernd", (1606 -1678), Prince Bishop of Münster

An important part of the spiritual and political family heritage was a lively rememberance of the Prussian Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church in the 19th century, in which a relative, the Arch-Bishop of Cologne, Clemens August Droste zu Vischering, had played an important part. Droste-Vischering had been imprisoned by the Prussian authorities from 1837-1839 with the, for Prussia, unexpected and unwelcome result of a re-enforced political Catholicism.

Count Clemens' great-uncle was Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, Bishop of Mainz, the most eminent Bishop of the 19th century, who had been known as the "workers' bishop" for his indefatigable efforts for the oppressed and exploited unskilled German workers in their struggle to form trade unions to be able to fairly bargain for better wages and decent working conditions.

Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, Bishop of Mainz (1811-1877), "workers' bishop", Count Clemens' great-uncle

Following studies at the seminaries of Innsbruck (Tyrol) and Münster, Count Clemens was ordained to the priesthood in Münster cathedral in 1904 where, thirty years later, he would become the staunch spiritual and moral backbone of Catholic Germany.

He first served as chaplain to his uncle suffragan bishop Maximilian Gereon Graf Galen at Münster, then for 23 years as a big-city-pastor in the "diaspora" in Berlin, where he soon became known for his sense of duty, kindness and accessibility to the members of his congregation at all times.

Newly ordained priest Count Clemens within the circle of his family.

Dr. Carl Sonnenschein, Catholic priest, social reformer and head of an interreligious philantropic circle in Berlin judged him scathingly as being "entirely 13th century" because of his unfaltering opposition to any "modernisation" or revaluation of the Catholic church. 1929, Galen was appointed parish priest of the Town- and Market Church of St. Lambert, Stadt- und Marktkirche St. Lamberti zu Münster, the capital of his native Westphalia.

In January 1933 Hitler became chancellor of Germany. In February the Nazis took over the key positions in government and began to dominate all of Germany. On February 28, after the burning of the Reichstag, Hitler, persuaded Reichspräsident von Hindenburg to issue a decree effectively scrapping the basic citizen rights, which led to the passage of the Enabling Bill, the so-called Ermächtigungsgesetz, which de facto abolished the parliaments and gave the cabinet total legislative power.

On March 23, 1933 Hitler made a statement in which he promised to work for peaceful relations between Church and State. Five days later, the German bishops in a joint statement said that, though they maintained a negative attitude to Nazism in the past, in view of the public guarantee of Hitler to respect Catholic doctrine and the rights of the Church, they now believed that the previous general warnings and bans were no longer necessary, a step which paved the way for the signing of concordat between Nazi Germany and the Vatican, with the expectation of improved conditions for the Church. It was ratified on September 10, 1933.

On September 2 of this fateful year, Clemens Galen was appointed bishop of Münster. Nec Laudibus, Nec Timore, unconcerned about praise, undaunted by fear, became his eccesiastical motto, which already pointed towards the manner in which he would exercise his ministry in the midst of the 20th century's most cruel dictatorship.

Too Overbearing An Attitude for A Simple Pastor

It is worth noting that Pastor Count Clemens hadn't been the Holy See's first choice for Bishop of Münster. When the election of Pastor Count Galen became known in September 1933, it triggered a number of startled reactions. "The Holy Spirit will have to help a lot" was the majority's scathing reaction of those who had known the minister of St. Lambert as a passionate and well-liked pastor. However, apart from his noble birth and towering figure of 6'8", he had never appeared to be particularly notable, either as an independent theological thinker, a preacher, or a writer. His only published work was a small book through which he had expressed, in 1932, his disgust at the secularisation of public life by the progress of Liberal and Socialist ideas. Even the title of this literary attack "Die 'Pest des Laizismus' und ihre Erscheinungsformen" ("The 'Plague of Laicism' and its Manifestations", published by the renowned publishing house Aschendorff, Münster), made it obvious where the writer stood regarding any revaluation of the church.

In fact, Nuntius Cesare Orsenigo had written to then Cardinal State Secretary Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, about "overbearing attitude, stubbornness and too schoolmasterly a manner for a simple pastor." But, and this is not without irony, while in the Germany of 1933, Galen's conservative leanings seemed at first glance to be in line with the new powers, this turned out to be a superficial and grossly misleading notion. However, at that time, it may have backed him in the election.

Bishop Galen's travels to administer the sacrament of confirmation to the youth of his diocese were a purpose- and powerful statement of Catholic self-assertion post 1933

One of the first things the finally elected bishop did was to spiritually strengthen his people, immediately establishing Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist in a central church in his diocese and then enbarked on a campaign of ceaseless public challenges to the neo-pagan ideology of National Socialism, so that his people would not be swept away by the, no doubt, seductive appeal of nationalistic sentiment.

The bishop paid close attention to the literature of National Socialism, and in his first Lenten Pastoral already, in January 1934, he opposed the fundamental doctrine of the new politics, namely the veneration of the "race" as the Nazis understood it.

Hell Itself Is Let loose with Its Deceit

A few weeks later he wrote his Easter Pastoral. By now, he was much more certain of where National Socialism was leading -- to the systematic destruction of the Faith. Thus, he understood that it was absolutely necessary to address the matter head-on and to use all the authority and resources of the episcopal office to open people's minds to what was happening. The pastoral was read in a solemn manner, and was listened to by a crowded congregation in expectant silence. It didn't leave any doubt in its lucidity: "Hell itself is let loose with its deceit", the bishop warned, "which may even mislead good men". And: "With holy joy we will, should God permit them, like the martyrs endure abuse and persecution."

At the end of May 1935, Galen wrote to the Oberpräsident (governor) of Westphalia, protesting against a proposed rally in Münster where the chief Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg was scheduled to speak. In his Easter Pastoral, Galen had publicly denounced Rosenbergs infamous book 'Myth of the 20th Century' as "born-again-heathen heresy". "The overwhelming part of the Christian population of Westphalia", Galen said, "could regard the appearance of Rosenberg only as an outright provocation, designed to pour contempt on their holiest and most cherished religious convictions". On July 7, the massive rally was held in Münster's main square in front of the bishop's palace. Bishop Count Galen was reviled as a reactionary and as a leader of a political brand of Catholicism that refused to recognise that times had changed.

The next day, Catholic Münster retorted with a huge procession.

Galen spoke to the crowd and made it very clear that he would never yield to the enemies of Christianity and the persecutors of the Church.

One year later, when the day for the big Easter procession of 1936 arrived, the police, well aware of the huge crowd the bishop had drawn the previous year, roped off the cathedral square to prevent large numbers of people from assembling. The bishop went to the pulpit of the cathedral and thundered his protest: "Can the shepherd be severed from his flock? Can the police divide Catholics from their own bishop by ropes and chains?" (There were loud shouts of 'no!' from the crowd.) "They can't be divided... Sorrowful times, my dear people of Münster are at hand but I know that steadfastness will prevail".

The campaign of vilification of the clergy was intensified in the Nazi press. Readers were fed sensationalist charges of sexual immorality among priests and members of religious orders. "Immorality trials" were staged in courts and, by devious manipulation, were made to appear as an unbroken series of clerical offences.

"So it's not opportune to hurl ourselves now into a
struggle with the Churches.
The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural
Adolf Hitler, 14 October 1941.

Priests were pilloried as idlers and criminals and the bishop of Münster particularly targeted. Organised groups of thugs threw stones at the windows of his residence at night, singing obscene songs accompanied by the noise of breaking glass. The degree of observation imposed on Catholic bishops, both over their private lives and their high office, was unprecedented, even by Nazi standards, and got even worse during the war years. The Nazis gradually and effectively destroyed the independence of the Catholic press by a series of draconian laws. From April 1935, articles with a religious content were forbidden, in 1936 the publication of pastoral letters was altogether banned.

His Was A Simple Piety

What were the sources of the bishop's courage and vision during those years? We get some idea of this aspect of von Galen's life by a consideration of his personal piety. He had a deeply supernatural view of life, an attitude impressed on his mind from early childhood. The great truths of God's intervention in human history were constantly before his mind, reinforced by daily reading of the Scriptures. On the other hand, his was a simple piety which expressed itself in love for the Blessed Eucharist, in devotion to the Rosary, to relics and pilgrimages. He was very conscious of the effects of original sin, and consequently he not only went to confession frequently, but lived in a deep spirit of self-denial with regard to food and creature comforts. He did the Stations of the Cross every Friday afternoon. He renewed the consecration of his diocese to the Sacred Heart, a devotion which grew and matured deeply in his soul, especially during the war years.

He Called Them Thieves and Robbers to Their Faces

Time and again the bishop had argued with the authorities in Berlin because of the lawlessness of NSDAP and Gestapo and cited his lost honour as German man and bishop. That he thought it likely to be imprisoned at an early stage shows a document dating February 22, 1936, where the bishop ruled in detail what should happen in the case of, as he put it, "use of force" against himself, namely ringing of the mourning bells and after that total silence for the time of his "hold-up". The priests of his diocese appreciated the way their chief pastor stood up against the new heathenism, and how he supported them in their personal ordeals, when the Nazi campaign against his priests became increasingly vicious. Apart from those sent to the front, others were taken into 'protective custody', the disgusting euphemism used by the Gestapo for their actions, others were expelled from giving religious instruction, others again were sent to Dachau, the concentration camp near Munich, from which they were never to return. At Dachau had been established a "special block" for priests, where more than 2800 were imprisoned. Almost 500 from Germany and Austria, more than 1500 from Poland and about 150 priests from other countries, plus 60 Protestant pastors. From theology student to bishop, nobody was spared. The oldest priest captive was 82.

Bishop Count Galen in an undated photograph

Bishop Galen protested at every outrage committed against his priests and publicly exposed the crimes of the Gestapo with considerable risk to his own life. During the war years he maintained a copious correspondence with his priests at the front, who wrote to him about their experiences, the joys of their priestly work, or the burden of the Cross in their lives. They wrote to him as they would to a father, and he replied to every one of those letters personally. On the occasion of major feasts of the Church, he used to send them a circular letter to tell them about the joys and sorrows of their home diocese.

On Saturday 12 July, the Gestapo confiscated two Jesuit houses in Münster. As soon as the bishop heard about it, he went to the premises and caught the Gestapo in the act of driving the priests from their homes. He called them thieves and robbers to their faces. That night he wrote the sermon, which drew him to the attention of the world.

In this sermon he attacked the Nazis cadidly, without any thought of his own security. No German citizen, he said, had any defence against their power; they had replaced the courts and were above the law. He continued: "Not one of us is certain, though he be the most loyal, the most conscientious citizen, though he knows himself innocent, I say that not one of us is certain that he will not any day be dragged from his house and carried off to the cells of some concentration camp. I know full well that this may happen to me, perhaps now or on some future day. And it is because I shall then no longer be able to speak out publicly that I do so today. I openly warn them not to pursue these actions which I am firmly convinced will call down God's punishment and bring our people to misery and ruin".

"Christianity is an invention of sick brains."
Adolf Hitler, 13 December 1941.

He made it clear that because he was bound by his oath as bishop to uphold the moral order, he had to speak out publicly against the acts of the Gestapo and finished off with an uncompromising warning: "We demand Justice! If this plea is unheard and unheeded, if the rule of true justice is not brought back, our German nation will, notwithstanding the bravery of our soldiers and their splendid victories, collapse from internal corruption and uncleanness".

Bishop Galen was well aware that in saying what he said, he was not just going to be pilloried in the press, he knew he was playing with his life, but he was fully prepared to be martyred. Before delivering his famous sermons, he instructed his household to take a change of clothing to prison should he be arrested. Several times he was ready to speak up publicly for the Jews as well, but in the end he didn't because representatives of the Jewish community of Münster begged him not to because this might turn out as (according to their own, fatal, judgement) even more harmful to them.

Galen, together with his cousin the Bishop of Berlin Konrad Graf Preysing and the Archbishop of Freiburg, Conrad Gröber, a "hardliner" within the German episcopacy, had carefully contemplated the consequences of such a spectacular "resort to publicity", as he himself called his protests in a letter to his neighbour, Bishop Berning of Osnabrück, a correspondence that was discovered only in 1976. There he called it his conscientious duty to speak up publicly for freedom of the church and human dignity and "if necessary, sacrifice the own freedom and life". And, as he couldn't in the end convince the other bishops to go the way with him, he went alone.

On August 3, 1941, Galen thundered from the pulpit of his see, St. Lambert's church: "Woe to men, woe to our German people, if God's holy Commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill,' is not only disobeyed but if this transgression is also tolerated and goes unpunished."

Galen's secretary, who was present at St Lambert's for the sermon, recalled the scene. The bishop prayed for several minutes before he mounted the steps of the pulpit. There was a quiver in the first few sentences; after that he spoke with a great strength and composure. His towering figure left an impression of great dignity and superior presence. His voice sounded like thunder as the challenging words fell on the expectant congregation, some trembling, some gazing at him with tears in their eyes. Protest, indignation, fiery enthusiasm surged successively. The calm, the self-assurance, and latent power of Galen's delivery that morning in St Lambert's. This unwavering strength in those unnerving circumstances would remain with him all the way during the rest of his struggle against the Nazi regime.

At the end of July 1941, the chaplain at the mental asylum in Marienthal in the diocese of Münster, called on the bishop to inform him about one more sinister experience. A number of the mentally ill patients had been removed to be killed because they were 'unproductive'. This was what triggered off Galen's historic sermon, in which he attacked the Nazi practice of euthanasia and condemned the "mercy killings" taking place in his own diocese.

A curse on men if we break the holy commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'

Now, again at St. Lambert's, he condemned this ghastly doctrine which tried 'to justify the murder of blameless men', and which sought 'to give legal sanction to the forceable killing of invalids, cripples, the incurable and the incapacitated'. He had ascertained at the Ministry of Health that no attempt was made to hide the fact that many mentally ill people had already been purposely killed and that the process would continue. He called the perpetrators of these crimes murderers and demanded protection for the innocent. "If", he said, "the principle is established that unproductive human beings may be killed, then God help all those invalids who, in order to produce wealth, have given their all and sacrificed their strength of body. If all unproductive people may thus be violently eliminated, then woe betide our brave soldiers who return home wounded, maimed or sick. Once admit the right to kill unproductive persons, then none of us can be sure of his life. A curse on men and on the German people if we break the holy commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'... Woe to us German people if we not only licence this heinous offence but allow it to be committed with impunity".

The impact of his sermon reached far beyond the crowded congregation that flocked to hear him. Thousands of copies were distributed throughout the country; they were, too, smuggled to soldiers at the front where his references to the threat of death hanging over invalids and seriously wounded soldiers spread with lighting speed.

Galen's words had an unexpected, amazing and powerful effect. By the end of August, the programme for euthanasia had been suspended, but roughly 100,000 people had been killed already.

Copies of these 1941 sermons spread all over Germany; hundreds of thousands were printed in response to requests from many cities. These and other sermons were so important to the Allies that they were printed by the million and dropped by the RAF as anti-Nazi propaganda all over Germany and the occupied territories. The Nazi party staged a campaign against the bishop all over the country. Official German documents discovered after the war records of discussions among Nazi leaders about how to get rid of him. In Berlin, his sermons were regarded as 'the strongest attack against the German political leadership for decades' and he was declared to show staatsfeindliche Gesinnung, an attitude hostile to the German state as the Nazis understood it, usually akin to a death warrant. But the Nazis still hesitated to harm Galen personally, not to cause an uprising in the Münsterland, but planned instead to kill him after the "Endsieg".

Galen's see, St Lambert's Church, Lambertikirche zu Münster, the place of his his fateful sermons.

Hitler had any reason to fear him far beyond his regional importance as a bishop, because of the powerful anti-Nazi propaganda Galen provided to the Allies. One of the directors of propaganda in the British War Office, Brigadier R. L. Sedgwick, a convert to Catholicism, recalled that during the war the BBC sent out transmissions specifically targeting the forty million German and Austrian Catholics. Day after day, the broadcasts from London drove home the point of Hitler's hatred for the Catholic faith. The bishop's sermons, Sedgwick said, were like manna from heaven in the propaganda war against the Nazis. The BBC transmissions, drawing on these sermons, also endeavored to show that National Socialism implicated a serious threat to the family and the religious and ethical ideals for which it stood.

It was a great consolation for the bishop to know that by his words he had given courage and heart to those of his countrymen who repudiated everything Nazism stood for. Towards the end of August, he received a letter from the bishop of Innsbruck, telling him that the Holy Father had read his recent homilies aloud to his closest associates in the Vatican, expressing the strongest possible approval of them. Shortly afterwards, he received a letter of warm congratulation from Pius XII: "They (the sermons) have caused us also consolation and satisfaction such as we have not felt for a long time on the path of sorrows which we have followed with the Catholics of Germany".

Münster Cathedral, der Dom zu Münster, in today's restored state

He Wept in Silence

On October 10, 1943 Münster cathedral was bombed to rubble by the British. It was a Sunday. In the early afternoon, under a clear autumn sky, when the congregation had gathered in front the doorway to celebrate the motherhood of Mary and the high altar blazed with candles, the sirens howled. The first high explosive bomb fell with extreme precision on the vault of the west quadrant. From above, the west entrance of the cathedral, crowned by imposing Romanesque towers, was a target difficult to miss. The survivors fled, seeking shelter under the walls of the tower. Seemingly as solid as the sky, those towers had watched over the city of Münster for seven centuries. The second high explosive bomb hit them square. They fell, toppling like a garbage heap. Then a downpour of incendiary bombs followed, which lit the hit buildings up like torches. In a few minutes the proud ancient city of Münster went up in flames.

Canon Alois Schröer reported: "When the sirens sounded the alarm the bishop was putting on his vestments to go into the cathedral. He had no time to get to the air-raid shelter. High explosive bombs hit and destroyed his residence. He stood clutching the only wall left standing". When his secretary Heinrich Portmann found him while the planes were still flying over the city "I saw the Most Reverend Monsignor up above, under the open sky among the smoking ruins... miraculously he was unharmed. With difficulty I helped him down.... Later, in the shelter of the Ludgerianum College, I told him of the faithful who had died... of Vicar Emmerich and of the fifty nine nuns of the Charity of Saint Clement, who had all flown to heaven together from their convent, which had been hit squarely by an incendiary bomb. That night he asked me to accompany him to the cathedral. He stood there, motionless, in front of that rubble devoured by the flames. He wept in silence".

The destroyed city of Münster and Bishop Count Galen among the debris of the Cathedral square

Because of the damage to the city, the bishop and the diocesan administration had to move out to Sendenhorst, a small town about 20 km South East of Münster. As the weeks wore on and the Allies advanced, the bombardment of the towns became more and more intense. Bishop Galen was saddened by the constant flow of bad news, of destruction and death.

On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1945, American tanks finally rolled into Sendenhorst. Bishop Galen personally drove out to meet and welcome them, whereupon he entered into regular contact with the provisional military government for the assistance of his people, giving encouragement and hope to both sides. On 12 April, the Bishop went to Münster for the first time since it had been occupied by the Americans. His purpose was to make a public protest against the excesses of the freed Russian and Polish slave labourers who had been released by the Allies. They had been abominably treated and now, unrestricted by the military, were taking their revenge. Galen preached and protested as ardently against any injustices then as he had done so before, and on July, 24 1945 he had to account for his actions at a tribunal of the military government in Warendorf. He explained frankly that he would follow, as always, his pastoral duties and not abide to any directives and that they could do what they like with him. Thomas Mann, far away California, ridiculed him in July 1945 and mocked what he considered Galen's 'patriotic idiocies'.

Politically, the bishop was, not too surprisingly, deeply conservative. A befitting memorial for the man Galen was set up by the British Foreign Office by describing him as "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."

He had a mountain of correspondence to deal with from all parts of Germany. There were queues waiting for him at all hours of the day with all the anxieties of a people devastated by the war and its terrible consequences. Reporters came from all parts of the world trying to get interviews with the bishop who had defied the Nazi regime, and who had lived to tell the tale. The writer of these lines knows from contemporary personal witness that Bishop Count Galen worked in his shirtsleeves together with those who removed the debris that once had been the city of Münster.

In a letter dated 25 September 1945 Pope Pius XII he talked about the "the terrible conditions in the occupied territories" and begged him to intervene with "direct help through remonstrations to the victorious powers". On 6 January 1946 he had gone to celebrate the Epiphany in the ruins of the sanctuary of the town of Telgte. He closed his sermon with the words: "Under Nazism I publicly declared, and I also wrote it directly to Hitler in 1939, when no power was then intervening to block his expansionist aims: 'Justice is the basis of the State; if justice is not re-established, then our people will die from inner putrefaction'. Today I must declare: if the law is not respected among peoples, then peace and concord among peoples will never come."

The First Bishop of Münster Ever To Wear The Purple

Earlier, the Sunday before Christmas, it had been announced on the wireless that Pope Pius XII was going to create thirty new cardinals, among them Bishop Count Galen, Galen's cousin the Bishop of Berlin Konrad Graf Preysing and the Archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Frings. Galen would be the first bishop of Münster ever to wear the Purple.

Cardinal Count Galen on board of the US Airforce plane that took him (different from the erroneous German caption) home from --not to-- Rome

That he had earned it was the unanimous verdict of the Catholic world. After his famous 1941 sermons, letters arrived by the hundred at the episcopal palace to thank the Bishop of Münster for his courageous stand. Now five years later, letters of congratulation poured in by the thousands, cheering the honour bestowed on him. They were from people from every walk of life, academics, professional people, soldiers, non-Catholics, non-believers, government representatives -- the list was endless.

"God bless you, God bless your country"

The travel to Rome took seven days in post-war Europe. On Thursday morning, February 18, 1946, the new cardinals finally received the Red Hat from Pius XII in St Peter's in the public consistory. They then processed from the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where they had taken the oath always to defend the rights of the Holy Church, to the main altar, where the Holy Father was enthroned. Each national group in the huge congregation greeted their cardinal with applause. In a detailed account of the ceremony, the priest who was assigned train-bearer to Bishop Count Galen reported: "When the cardinals were entering St. Peter and Clemens August appeared at the door, a murmur came up from the crowd. 'There he is!' I, as train-bearer, walked immediately behind the cardinal and could hear what people said and when his towering figure crossed the central aisle, a wave of great joy arose. The applause turned into thundering ovations when the cardinal mounted the steps to the throne of the Holy Father." As the Italian newspapers described it the next day: Un applauso trionfale! The Holy Father imposed the red hat, and, as he leaned forward to embrace Galen, he whispered, "God bless you, God bless your country". When Galen turned to face the vast crowd he was greeted with a storm of applause led by the other cardinals, which lasted several minutes. The crowd in St Peter's that morning were conscious they were witnessing a unique event, a recognition of moral and physical courage on a par with that of the Roman martyrs of the nascent Christian Church.

After visiting a number of German POW camps in Italy, where he already appeared to be not feeling well, he returned to Germany in a plane, graciously provided by the US Airforce, and on the afternoon of Saturday 16th March, his 68th birthday, he arrived home in triumph to his episcopal city. Fifty thousand people had congregated around the great pile of rubble, which had once been the proud cathedral of Münster.

Cardinal Count Galen's reception in front of destroyed Münster cathedral on his return from Rome

He responded to all the addresses of welcome and congratulation with the simple dignity by which he was always known. Neither he nor the huge crowd who listened with pride and joy to his words realized that this was to be their bishop's farewell. His fight, so he told them, had been made possible by the unshakeable faith of the people of Münster; it was the staunch spirit of this unconquerable diocese that was the cause of his being alive that day. When he returned to his rooms after the fireworks display, he did not feel well.

The Only Man Who Had Stood Up for Their Rights Was Dead

The following day, Sunday 17th, he said a pontifical High Mass. His last words to the faithful of Münster were an exhortation to papal loyalty, especially to the reigning pope, Pius XII. The choir sang the Te Deum in celebration. Unfortunately, he wouldn't allow a doctor to be called until Tuesday morning. The diagnosis was serious and the operation revealed a perforation of the appendix. It was too late for the doctors to do anything about it. He died on Friday, March 22.

He lay in state for four days in the Church of St Mauritz during which an unending procession filed past the catafalque. It is not difficult to imagine the sense of loss which the people of Münster suffered. The only man who had ever stood up for their rights was now dead.

On March 28 the burial took place.

The same crowd that just a week before had shouted in joy and celebration at their cardinal's triumphant return from Rome, now stood silent and stunned in the rubble of the streets of Münster as the huge coffin, drawn by four horses, passed.

The cardinal's last resting place was the Galen Chapel amid the ruins of his cathedral, where the remains of a former Galen, Prince Bishop Christoph Bernhard, had been laid to rest in 1678. As the cardinal's coffin was lowered into the ground, a mighty sound rose up from the congregation, as they sang the magnificent Easter hymn Wahrer Gott wir glauben Dir ("True God We Believe in You", incidentally the work of another son of Münster, Christoph Bernhard Verspoell, dated 1810). It resounded through the ruins of the cathedral and the vestiges of the streets and lanes, bearing witness to the unconquerable hope, faith and spirit of the people of Münster.


On November 16, 2004, in the presence of Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for Causes of Saints promulgated a decree linking a miracle to Cardinal Clemens August Count Galen and on October 9, 2005 Galen was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI, and not surprisingly to the chagrin of the "progressive" fellowship in- and outside the Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul II and Bishop Reinhard Lettmann 1987 at Cardinal Galen's grave

The Catholic Church, so far, has been remarkably hesitant in beatifying its own leading members of the German resistance. Until Galen's beatification, only one, a layman, the Catholic labour leader and editor Nikolaus Gross (1898-1945), who was beheaded in Plötzensee prison in Berlin, was thus elevated.

Galen's rise to a position preceding sainthood is important for a number of reasons, of which the most poignant one is the fact, that, at a time, when euthanasia seems to have, again, become an acceptable practise in many Western countries, when the abortion of fetuses with Down's Syndrome, or just diagnosed with Down's Syndrome, has become a routine day-to-day operation and when children, having undergone a "late term termination of pregnacy", survive their own abortion, Cardinal Galen's maxim is as important now as it was 70 years ago.

"There is no such thing as life unworthy of living."

Sources and further reading:

Information including the full text of his famous sermons and the Gestapo correspondence regarding Bishop Galen.

Blessed anti-Nazi Cardinal by Uwe Siemon-Netto.

A bishop under the moral bombs: The Lion of Münster, «the most relentless opponent of Nazism», as the New York Times described him in 1942, condemned the terrible Allied bombing that razed German cities to the ground. These pages contain the letters that the bishop wrote to Pius XII during the war years by Stefania Falasca.

Biographical information and pictures from the archives of the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe.

Burgwald Dinklage with information on the Galen family history and the House Burg Dinklage.

Christendom Awake: FAITH AND FATHERLAND by Fr Thomas McGovern.

Hitlers Tischgespräche.