«Lin my head it is at the disposal of your majesty, but not my conscience ». The immense Clemens von Galen, in that summer of 1941, cited for example the fearless answer given in 1763 by Ernst von Münchhausen to Frederick II, the emperor who had dared to ask his minister to commit an injustice. He cited it and made it his own, to challenge Adolf Hitler.
Clemens von Galen (1878-1946)
He knew well, the Archbishop of Münster, that he was playing his game: “None of us are sure, whether they are convinced that they are the most faithful, the most conscientious citizens, whether they are convinced of their complete innocence, that one day they will not be taken from home, deprived of their freedom and locked up in the basements and in the camps of concentration of the secret police. I have no illusions: this can happen even today, or one day, even to me. And since then I will no longer be able to speak in public, I want to do it today. “
And he spoke. He spoke with such clear, severe, relentless words to explode like bombs in a Germany silenced by the ferocious Nazi repression. Bringing himself to the hatred of fanatics, like the head of the SS youth organizations: «I call him the CA pig, that is Clemens August. This traitor is a traitor to the country, this pig is free and takes the liberty of speaking out against the Führer. He must be hanged ». “Hanged!” Martin Bormann insisted. That beloved bishop, however, was now too great a symbol even for the regime. “We risk making him a martyr,” objected Joseph Goebbels. Adolf Hitler was forced to swallow. He would think about it when the war was won: “And he will pay up to the last cent.”
A file with the homily delivered on Sunday 13 July 1941
Born in 1878 in the Dinklage family castle, near Bremen, son of Count Ferdinand von Galen and Imperial Countess Elisabeth, raised by the Jesuits in the Austrian college “Stella Matutina” in Feldkirch chosen by the great Central European nobility, a priest since 1904, the one hailed by the “New York Times” as “the Lion of Münster »lived a kind of parallel life with the German despot. As he recalls in the beautiful book A bishop against Hitler (San Paolo Edizioni, 2006) the writer and Vaticanist (and friend of Pope Francis) Stefania Falasca, became bishop 9 months after Hitler came to power and died about 9 months after his death. Without ever giving him respite.
It began after 23 years in a Berlin parish, the same day of the episcopal consecration when, in spite of the forced declaration of loyalty to the State required by the concordat between the Vatican and the Third Reich (signed three months earlier by Franz von Papen and the future Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli) he chose a motto of challenge: «Not happy when praised, or the fear“. Neither with praise, nor with threats: he would never betray his mission.
A few months and the Nazis will understand. In his first pastoral letter after the widespread circulation of de The Myth of the 20th century by Alfred Rosenberg, the main theorist of racist Nazism, von Galen spread his first pastoral letter in the churches on 1 April 1934, Easter: “A new nefarious totalitarian doctrine that places race above morality, places blood above the law (…) repudiates revelation, aims to destroy the foundations of Christianity… ». It is only the first step, followed by several protests up to a sort of “call to arms” in May 1941, when he was fed up with delays and shyness and wrote to Bishop Wilhelm Berning that, in the face of the “almost unbearable violence inflicted on freedom of the Church “from the Reich, this can no longer remain silent. He himself has so far silenced his conscience by saying to himself that “if Cardinal Bertram and so many bishops, who surpass me by experience and by virtue, remain calm in the face of all this, and are content with papery and ineffective protests, completely ignored from public opinion “it would be arrogant, disreputable or” crazy “if he were to stand out above everyone:” But my conscience can no longer bear to be at peace with these arguments authorization“. He recalls how, in the name of Christian values, “St Thomas Becket, St Stanislaus of Krakow and other holy bishops died martyrs”. He quotes “Isaiah’s word about gods ignorant: dumb dogs not able to bark,», The dumb dogs, unable to bark …
On July 13, perhaps disappointed by the reactions to that letter with which he had tried to find those so upright men, he finally drops the first of three formidable Sunday homilies which will demonstrate how it was possible to shake even Nazi Germany.
Münster has just been bombed, the country is increasingly restless and von Galen denounces “the assault on the monasteries that has been raging for some time” and the risk “that one monastery after another will be confiscated by the Gestapo and its tenants, our brothers and sisters, children of our families, faithful German compatriots, are thrown to the pavement like slaves without rights and expelled as harmful insects ». Thunders: «Christ’s prediction to his disciples comes true: ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too’». He prophesies: “If the rule of Queen Justice is not restored, then our German people and our homeland, despite the heroism of our soldiers and their glorious victories, will perish from internal rot and corruption.”
But it is the third homily, on August 3, that changes history. The house-to-house roundups of the most fragile and their theorized decimation to forge the race as early as My fight (“Here the state must provide enormous educational work, which will one day appear as a grandiose work …”) are sowing panic among the Germans. Where do fathers, mothers, sick children disappear? Why are relatives returned only ashes? What are the theories about “lives unworthy to be lived”? The hero of Münster is furious when he hears that «I am like an old machine that no longer works, like an old horse that has become incurably lame. I am like a cow, which no longer gives milk. What do you do with such a machine? It is demolished. What do you do with a lame horse, with some other unproductive beast? (…) No, this is not about machines, it is not about horses and cows … It is about human beings, our fellow men, our brothers and sisters. Poor sick and, if you like, unproductive beings! But they don’t deserve to be killed for that. Do you have, do I have the right to life only as long as we are productive, as long as we are deemed productive by others? If we admit the now applied principle that “unproductive” man can be killed, then woe to us all when we are old and decrepit! Woe to the invalids, who in the production process have engaged their strength, their healthy bones have sacrificed and lost them! ”
More: «If they can be eliminated with violence unproductive beings, then woe to our good soldiers, who return home severely mutilated, disabled! ».
There is no German that, pulled like this, is not seized by a doubt. A lump in my throat. And the words spread in all the parishes, all the houses, all the environments arriving mimeographed even among the soldiers at the front. And they scream to the point of forcing Adolf Hitler to stop.
No one had officially started theAction T4, no one will officially declare its end. And of course, the Nazis’ eagerness to kill in the name of the “chosen race” does not stop. It will go on clandestine in clinics, hospitals, camps … Hidden as the most horrible atrocities. But millions of people, in those days, will finally understand that that bishop also saved a piece of their honor as Germans
Clemens Augustus von Galen (Dinklage, Germany, March 16, 1878 – Münster, March 22, 1946) was appointed bishop of Münster (Westphalia, northwestern Germany) on September 5, 1933, on October 28 he received episcopal consecration and already in November he denounced the violations by the Nazis of the concordat with the Holy See. He continued to attack Third Reich policies, particularly against the euthanasia program Action T4, which aimed to “eliminate” the sick, handicapped and “unproductive”. His homilies of July and August 1941 were broadcast by Allied planes over Westphalia in November. He was elevated to the rank of cardinal by Pope Pius XII on 21 February 1946. John Paul II declared him venerable on 20 December 2003 and on 9 October 2005 he was beatified by Benedict XVI.