Count Clemens August Cardinal von Galen: The Lion of Münster

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Count Clemens August Cardinal von Galen was born on March 16,1878 in Dinklage Castle in Dinklage, Oldenburg, Germany to Count Ferdinand Heribert von Galen and Elisabeth von Spee. He was the eleventh of thirteenth children. His father was a politician of the Catholic Centre Party. He had a strict Catholic upbringing and was educated at Catholic schools. On May 28,1904, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Hermann Dingelstadt. From 1906 to 1929, he was the pastor of St. Matthias. During World War I, he volunteered for military service to show his loyalty to Kaiser Wilhelm II. He also encouraged his parishioners to support the war effort. He was a German patriot and a staunch anti-Communist, he was shocked by the relentless persecution of Christians within the Soviet Union since 1918, during which virtually all Catholic bishops were either killed or forced underground. He also dreaded the German surrender in 1918, the loss of the monarchy, and feared the lower classes would embrace radicalism and anarchy. To deal with immediate problems of hunger and poverty he worked to create soup kitchens, aid societies, and clothing drives. He believed the stab-in-the-back theory explained the German Army’s defeat in 1918—that Germany had been destroyed by defeatist elements on the home front. He deplored the disappearance of the monarchy. In the 1925 Presidential elections, he supported the Lutheran Paul von Hindenburg over the Catholic candidate Wilhelm Marx. In 1929, he became of St. Lambert’s Church in Münster. He was known for his political conservatism. He was appointed Bishop of Münster on September 5,1933. Even though he was a German national conservative, he was an opponent of the Nazi Regime. He condemned Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg for his anti-Christian and Pagan world view. He condemned the Aktion T4 euthanasia program perpetrated by the Nazis. He gave three powerful sermons against Nazi policies on euthanasia, Gestapo terror, forced sterilization, and concentration camps. For these sermons he was nicknamed the “Lion of Münster”. The local Nazi Gauleiter was furious and demanded Galen’s immediate arrest. Joseph Goebbels and party pragmatists preferred to wait until the end of hostilities to avoid undermining German morale in a heavily Catholic area. His sermons inspired various people in the German Resistance. His sermons were distributed by the Lübeck martyrs. He also inspired and influenced the Scholl siblings in founding the White Rose pacifist group. He was also praised by Generalmajor Hans Oster, a devout Lutheran and a leading member of the German Resistance. From 1941 until the end of the war, he was under house arrest. During Operation Barbarosa, he supported the German war effort against Communist Russia. After the war, Galen protested the mistreatment of Germans by the Allies. On April 13,1945, he protested to the to the American military forces against the rape of German women by Russian soldiers and the plundering of German homes, factories, and offices by American and British troops. He told the British, that he would fight any injustice. He preached in his sermons against these injustice. The British called him to cease and desist, but he refused. In face of his resistance and his growing popularity, they allowed him free speech without any censorship. In a Swiss media interview, Galen demanded that Nazi criminals be punished and 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 dismissal of Germans by the British from public service without investigation and trial. He also forcefully condemned the expulsion of Germans from former German provinces and eastern territories annexed by the Communists in Poland and the Soviet Union. On February 21,1946, he was created a Cardinal by Pope Pius XII. After returning home from Vatican City, he was rushed to St. Franziskus Hospital of Münster. 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 died on March 22,1946 in Münster. On October 9,2005, he was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.

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