Blessed Clemens August Graf Cardinal von Galen (16 March 1878 – 22 March 1946) was the Catholic Bishop of Münster from 1933 to 1946. His term as bishop thus closely coincided with the Chancellorship of Adolf Hitler.
Von Galen was a consistent and tireless critic of the Nazi Party, preaching against the party's policies on euthanasia, criminal justice, education, and its attempts to subvert the ecclesiastical authority of the Catholic Church in Germany. He also wrote essays refuting Nazi racial theories from historical, theological, moral, and even satirical perspectives. He showed open contempt for Nazi efforts to intimidate him into silence, but after Victory in Europe Day would admit that he had been deeply upset by the knowledge that many priests were sent to concentration camps as punishment for disseminating his anti-Nazi sermons.
During World War II, the Western Allies found von Galen useful for propaganda purposes; the Royal Air Force used his sermon against Action T-4 in pamphlet drops over Germany. In the Soviet Union he was vilified by the state-run media because of his attacks on Joseph Stalin's human rights record and especially Soviet violations of religious freedom. After the war he found himself falling out of favor with Allied occupation forces. This was partly because he had initially spoken out in support of the war against the USSR, believing that even Hitler looked like a just ruler in comparison with Stalin. He further eroded the Allies' goodwill during the occupation by preaching against brutal Allied occupation policies, agitating for the speedy repatriation of German POWs, and condemning the ethnic cleansing of Germans in territories annexed to the Soviet Union and Poland. However, von Galen had become extraordinarily popular among Germans and other Europeans, and fear of political fallout constrained Allied (particularly British) attempts to muzzle the bishop. (The same fear had, to a much lesser extent, protected him from the Nazis. For instance, Josef Goebbels once overturned a warrant for von Galen's arrest issued by local authorities. Had the arrest been carried out it would very likely have resulted in the bishop's execution.)
In early 1946 von Galen was summoned to Rome and made a cardinal by Pope Pius XII, who shared a long and complicated personal history with the bishop going back to Pius' time as papal nuncio in Berlin. Cardinal von Galen returned to Münster and was almost immediately hospitalized. He died of appendicitis in the hospital. Von Galen was beatified on 9 October 2005 by his compatriot, Pope Benedict XVI.
Clemens August von Galen in The War That Came Early
Clemens August von Galen visited Münster City Hall in the winter of 1940. While there he encountered a long line of Jews waiting to see city bureaucrats, including Sarah Goldman and her family. Von Galen asked the Jews what brought them to city hall and on learning that the Jews had been ordered to get new ID cards with their names changed to reflect their Jewish heritage, von Galen expressed open anger that the city's Jews were being forced to endure yet another indignity at the hands of the Nazis. This expression of solidarity by a prominent gentile was comforting to many of the Jews waiting on the line.
Samuel Goldman reflected that, as Bishop von Galen was already in political disfavor because of his open opposition to Adolf Hitler's attempts to influence the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the Reich, it was much harder for the Nazis to intimidate him into acquiescing to their other programs. He also reflected that, if a few hundred prominent German citizens of von Galen's stature had been openly critical of Nazi racial policies since the early 1930s, those policies could not have been implemented.
Bishop von Galen had long been a consistent critic of the Nazis in general. He had frequently preached against the confiscation of buildings owned by the Church, the expulsion of members of religious orders from Germany, and the euthanasia T4 Program. (He was not critical of the war against the Soviet Union, though he was at best an unenthusiastic supporter of the war against the Western democracies; the Sunday following a British air raid on Münster, his homily was on the importance of forgiveness.)
The Nazis attempted to discourage von Galen's criticisms, but failed to silence the bishop's attacks against government policy. In the early spring of 1941, the Gestapo finally arrested von Galen. As a testament to the bishop's popularity, Münster's generally law-abiding citizens staged a mass demonstration in front of the cathedral. The Gestapo used force to break up the protest, and a number of civilians were killed. Following the incident, unrest spread across Germany, with Catholics in every part of the country coming to be considered politically suspect. This was even true in the military, where restrictions against soldiers and sailors led to even greater tensions.  The Ministry of Propaganda, of course, suppressed stories about the growing tension to the best of their ability.
In the spring of 1943, another demonstration in the square outside of Münster's cathedral erupted into violence when police officers fired on the crowd. While several protesters were shot, other were able to charge the line of police, inflicting damage in return. In response, German government sent the SS into Münster, who fortified the cathedral. While the people of Münster publicly accepted martial law, resentment boiled just below the surface, finally erupting the following year.
|Bishop of Münster
September 1933 to March 1946