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Clemens August Graf von Galen

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Blessed Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen
"Lion of Münster"
Born March 16, 1878(1878-03-16), Dinklage Castle, Germany
Died March 22, 1946 (aged 68), Münster, Germany
Beatified 9 October 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI
Feast 22 March

Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen (March 16, 1878 – March 22, 1946) was a German count, Bishop of Münster, and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He received his education in Austria at the Stella Matutina (Jesuit School). After his ordination he worked in Berlin at Saint Matthias, where he became close friends with Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli, later to be Pope Pius XII. An outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, he issued forceful, public denunciations of the Third Reich's euthanasia programs and persecution of the Catholic Church, making him one of the most visible and unrelenting internal voices of dissent against the Nazis.

Early years

Burg Dinklage Wikipedia

Von Galen was one of thirteen children born to an old aristocratic family in Burg Dinklage.

Clemens August von Galen belonged to one of the oldest of the most distinguished noble families of Westphalia,[1] and was born in the Catholic southern part of the Duchy of Oldenburg (Oldenburger Münsterland, near the German border with the Netherlands), on the Burg Dinklage, now in the state of Lower Saxony. He was the son of Count Ferdinand Heribert von Galen, a member of the Imperial German parliament (Reichstag) for the Catholic Centre Party, and Elisabeth von Spee.[2]

He received his main schooling in the elite Jesuit boarding school Stella Matutina in Austria, where only Latin was allowed to be spoken. He was not an easy student to teach, and his Jesuit superior wrote to the parents: “Infallibility is the main problem of Clemens, who under no circumstance will admit that he may be wrong. Wrong are always his teachers and educators.[3]


Because Prussia did not recognize his Austrian degree, Clemens spent the last years of his education near home. Upon graduation, his fellow students wrote in his yearbook: Clemens doesn't make love or drinking, he does not like the worldly swindling. In 1897 he began to study a variety of topics, including literature, history, and philosophy. In 1899 he met Pope Leo XIII in a private audience and after that decided to join the priesthood. He studied in Innsbruck and Münster and was ordained in 1904. At first he worked for a family member, the Auxiliary Bishop of Münster, as Chaplain.[4]

Soon he moved to Berlin, where he worked as parish priest at St. Matthias.[5] A memorable event occurred there, which changed his life: During a sermon he noticed the presence of the Papal Nuncio among the listening faithful. He lost his train of thought and began to stammer. From then on the two became very close friends. Eugenio Pacelli knew to poke fun: When Galen, on a beautiful sunny day, encouraged him to enjoy nature and stop working for a change, Pacelli replied with a laugh, before I could do that I must develop much humility, become parish priest in St. Matthias, so I too may get stuck in a sermon. They both joked over this incident in February 1946, when Pope Pius XII elevated von Galen into the College of Cardinals.[6]

Bishop of Münster

File:Galen 1899.jpg

Von Galen was elected bishop of Münster in 1933. Documents in the Vatican Archives, which opened related information in 2003, indicate that von Galen was elected only after other candidates had turned down the offer, and in spite of a protest from Nuncio Orsenigo to Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who expressed his opinion that von Galen was bossy and paternalistic in his public utterances.[7]

Once elected, von Galen campaigned against the totalitarian approach of the National Socialist Party in national education, appealing to parents to insist on Catholic teaching in schools. He successfully used the recently agreed-upon Reichskonkordat (§ 21, granting the Church the right to determine on its own religious instruction) to force the National Socialists to permit continued Catholic instruction in Catholic schools. It was one of the first instances where the Reichskonkordat was used by the Church as a legal instrument against Germany, which was one of the intentions of Pope Pius XI.[8]

Shortly thereafter, von Galen began to attack the racial ideologies of the new regime, partly poking fun at it, partly critiquing its ideological constructs as published by Alfred Rosenberg. He declared it as unacceptable to refuse the Old Testament because of its Jewish authorship, and to limit morality and virtue to the perceived usefulness of a particular race.[9]

Protests against euthanasia, Gestapo terror, forced sterilizations and concentration camps

In 1941 von Galen gave a string of sermons protesting Nazi policies on euthanasia, Gestapo terror, forced sterilizations and concentration camps.[10] His attacks on the Nazi's were so severe that Nazi official Walter Tiessler proposed in a letter to Martin Bormann that the Bishop be executed.[11]

On July 13, 1941, von Galen publicly attacked the regime for its Gestapo's tactics, including disappearances without trials, the closing of Catholic institutions without any stated justifications, and the resultant fear imposed on all Germans throughout the nation. The powerful Gestapo, he argued, reduced everybody, even the most decent and loyal citizens, to being afraid of ending up in a basement prison or a concentration camp. As the country was at war, von Galen rejected the notion that his speech undermines German solidarity or unity. Using the lines of his friend Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, as written in Opus Justitiae Pax and Justitia fundamentum Regnorum, von Galen noted that "[p]eace is the work of justice and justice the basis of domination," then attacked the Third Reich for undermining justice, the belief in justice and for reducing the German people to a state of permanent fear, even cowardice. He concluded: As a German, as a decent citizen I demand justice.[12]

In a second sermon on July 20, 1941, von Galen informed the faithful that all written protests against Nazi hostilities had proven to be useless. The confiscation of religious institutions continued unabated. Members of religious orders were still deported or jailed. Since Christians are not typically revolutionaries, he asked his listeners to be patient and to endure, and that the German people were being destroyed not by the Allied bombing from the outside, but from negative forces within.[13]


On August 3, 1941, von Galen informed his listeners in a third sermon about the continued desecration of Catholic churches, closing of convents and monasteries, and the deportation and euthanasia of mentally ill people (who were sent to destinations, usually concentration camps, while a notice was sent to family members stating that the person is question had died). This is murder, he exclaimed, unlawful by divine and German law, a rejection of the laws of God. He informed them that he had forwarded his evidence to the State Attorney. "These are people, our brothers and sisters; maybe their life is unproductive, but productivity is not a justification for killing." If that were indeed a justification for execution, he reasoned, everybody would have to be afraid to even go to a doctor for fear of what might be discovered. The social fabric would be affected. von Galen then remarked that a regime which can do away with the Fifth Commandment (thou shalt not kill) can destroy the other commandments as well.[14]

The sermons were reproduced and sent all over Germany to families, and to German soldiers on the Western and Eastern Fronts. Karol Wojtyla is said to have read a copy in Krakow (it is unclear whether he read a copy while already a member of the Polish Resistance, or whether the sermon itself influenced his decision to join). The resulting local protests in Germany led to an immediate end of the euthanasia program Aktion T4.[15] The local Nazi Gauleiter was furious and asked for the immediate arrest of von Galen. However, Joseph Göbbels, Bormann and others preferred to wait until the end of World War II , as not to undermine in the heavily Catholic area the German morale during the ongoing war.[16] Of von Galen's remarks, perhaps the most effective was his question asking whether permanently injured German soldiers would fall under the program as well. A year later, the euthanasia program was still active, but the regime conducted it in greater secrecy.

According to scholars, "[t]his powerful, populist sermon was immediately reproduced and distributed throughout Germany — indeed, it was dropped among German troops by British Royal Air Force flyers. Galen's sermon probably had a greater impact than any other one statement in consolidating anti-‘euthanasia' sentiment."[17]

German patriot


Clemens August Kardinal Graf von Galen.

Von Galen openly supported the Protestant Paul von Hindenburg against the Catholic candidate Wilhelm Marx in the presidential elections of 1925. Von Galen was also known as a German patriot and a fierce anti-Communist who favoured the battle at the Eastern Front against Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union. His views on communism were largely formed as a consequence of the Stalinization and relentless persecution of Christians within the Soviet Union since 1918, during which virtually all Catholic bishops were either killed or forced underground. He welcomed the 1941 German war against the USSR a positive development[18] A sermon the Bishop gave in 1941 served as the inspiration for the anti-Nazi group The White Rose, and the sermon itself was the group's first pamphlet.[19] The published sermons of von Galen show that he condemned the racist deportations of the Nazis. Von Galen, further, suffered virtual house arrest from 1941 until the end of the war.

After the war, his indignation turned on the British occupiers, who in his view, complicated with hostile acts (including starvation rations for the common people) an already difficult life in post-war Germany. The British responded by taking away his automobile, disabling him from visiting parishes and carrying out planned confirmations. On April 13, Galen went to United States Army authorities, to protest against the raping of women by Russian soldiers, and against the plundering and stealing of German homes, factories and offices by American and British forces especially at night time.[20] On July 1, 1945 he denounced "the ransacking of our homes [already] destroyed by bombs", "the pillaging and destruction of our houses and farms in the countryside by armed bands of robbers", the "murder of defenceless men", "the rape of German women and girls by bestial lechers" (It was estimated that 2 million German women were raped with a ten per-cent death rate mainly from suicide, with other nationalities also being raped). [21] the indifference of the occupation forces to the risk of famine in Germany, all these horrors finding justification on the basis of "the false view 'that all Germans are criminals and deserve the most severe punishment, including death and extermination!".

In a joint interview with British officials, he told the international press, "just as I fought against Nazi injustices, I will fight any injustice, no matter where it comes from".[22] He repeated these claims in a sermon on July 1, 1945, which, as in the Nazi years, was secretly copied and distributed throughout occupied Germany. The British authorities felt attacked by the von Galen sermon and ordered him to renounce it immediately, which he refused.[23] His rising popularity may have contributed to their decision to afterwards allow him free speech without any censorship. In an interview with Swiss media, von Galen demanded just punishment for real Nazi criminals but a humane treatment for the millions of POWs who did not commit any crimes, but were prohibited by the British from any contact with their relatives. He critiqued the British custom to dismiss German nationals from public service without investigations and trial, noting that the Nazis had done the same in 1933, but that the Nazi victims at least had continued to receive a pension.[24] He forcefully condemned the expulsion of German civilians from former German provinces and territories in the east, annexed by communist Poland and the Soviet Union. A paper from the Foreign Office called him "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."

SS-General Kurt Meyer, accused in the shooting of 18 Canadian prisoners, was sentenced to death. Galen intervened at the request of the family.[25] On second review, a Canadian General, finding only "a mass of circumstantial evidence", commuted his death sentence. Meyer served nine years in British and Canadian POW prisons. The British forces tried to get support by inviting Dr. Bell, the Anglican Bishop of Chichester, to meet von Galen for a three way-meeting in October 1945. Bell judged von Galen to possess enormous moral power, a passion for justice, well-educated behaviour, very concerned for his people and a defender of ecumenical cooperation.[26]

College of Cardinals

Unexpectedly, at Christmas 1945 it became known that Pope Pius XII would appoint three new German cardinals, one of them Bishop von Galen, who, despite numerous British obstacles and denial of air travel, arrived in Rome February 5, 1946.[27] Generous American cardinals financed his Roman stay, as German money was not in demand. He had become famous and popular, so after the pope had placed the red hat on his head with the words: 'God bless you, God bless Germany,' Saint Peter's basilica for minutes thundered in a "triumphant applause" for von Galen,[28] He interpreted it as "a sign of the love of the Pope for our poor German people. Before all the world he has, as a supranational and impartial observer, recognized the German people as equal in the society of nations". While in Rome, he visited the German POW camps in Taranto and told the German Wehrmacht soldiers that he would take care of their release, and that the Pope himself was working on the release of POWs. He took a large number of comforting personal messages to their worried families.[29]

After receiving the red hat from Pope Pius XII, von Galen went to see Madre Pascalina, the faithful servant of the Pope. He told her, how the Pope had quoted long passages from his 1941 sermons from his memory and how he thanked him for his courage. Galen told the Pope, “Yes, Holy Father, but many of my very best priests died in concentration camps, because they distributed my sermons”. Pius replied, that he was always aware, that thousands of innocent persons would be sent into certain death as a result of his protests as pope. They talked about old days in Berlin, and von Galen declared: "for nothing in the world would I want to miss these two hours, not even for the red hat."[30] Von Galen judged Pius XII to be “an unusually holy, unusually conscientious and unusually good person,” but one who had “obviously forgotten all my bad habits, otherwise he would not have given me the red hat”.


The tomb of Clemens August Cardinal von Galen in the Münster Cathedral.

Death and beatification

Following his return from the cumbersome travel to Vatican City, the new cardinal was celebrated enthusiastically in his native Westphalia and in his destroyed city of Münster, which still lay completely in ruins as a result of the air raids. He died a few days after his return from Rome in the St. Franziskus Hospital of Münster due to an appendix infection diagnosed too late. His last words were:[31] "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 Savior!" He was buried in the family crypt of the Galen family in the destroyed Cathedral of Münster.

The cause for beatification was requested by his successor, Bishop Michael Keller of Münster and began under Pope Pius XII in 1956. It was concluded positively in November 2004 under Pope John Paul II. Clemens August Graf von Galen was beatified on October 9, 2005 outside of St. Peter's Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI, the 47th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius (1958).


16. Wilhelm Ferdinand von Galen
8. Clemens August Johann Joseph Nepomuk Maria von Galen
17. Sophie von Merveldt
4. Graf Matthias von Galen
18. Johann Mathias Kaspar Friedrich Joseph von Ascheberg
9. Anna Angela Caroline von Ascheberg
19. Maria Franziska Carolina Josepha Ferdinanda von Etzbach
2. Ferdinand Heribert Ludwig von Galen
20. Clemens August Antonius Ignatz von Ketteler
10. Maximilian Friedrich Ludwig Alexander Clemens Joseph Maria Anton von Ketteler
21. Maria Anna Alexandrina von Galen
5. Freiin Anna Maria von Ketteler
22. Clemens August Franz Xaver Stephan von der Wenge zu Beck
11. Klementine von der Wenge zu Beck
23. Maria Ludovika Wilheklmine von Eynatten
1. Clemens August Joseph von Galen
24. Graf Carl Wilhelm Franz Xaver Adam von Spee
12. Graf Franz Ambrosius Joseph Anton Adam von Spee
25. Anna Elisabeth Augusta von Hompesch-Bollheim
6. Wilhelm Constantin Hubert von Spee
26. Ferdinand-August von Merveldt
13. Gräfin Sophie Maria von Merveldt
27. Gräfin Theresia von Pergen
3. Elisabeth von Spee
28. Aloys Friedrich Joseph von Brühl
14. Graf Friedrich August von Brühl
29. Josepha Christina Amalie Schaffgotsch genannt Semperfrei von und zu Kynast und Greiffenstein
7. Franziska von Brühl
30. Franz Joseph von Sternberg-Manderscheid
15. Auguste von Sternberg-Manderscheid
31. Maria Franziska von Schönborn-Heussenstamm

Terminology note

  • Regarding personal names, Graf is a German title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. The feminine form is Gräfin.


  1. Von Galen Family
  2. Heinrich Portmann, Kardinal von Galen Aschendorff, Münster, Westfalen, 1948 9-35
  3. Maria Anna Zumholz, Die Tradition meines Hauses. Zur Prägung Clemens August Graf von Galens in Elternhaus, Schule und Universität. In Joachim Kuropka (Hrsg.): Neue Forschungen zum Leben und Wirken des Bischofs von Münster. Regensberg, Münster 1992, S. 18, ISBN 3-7923-0636-0.
  4. Gottfried Hasenkamp: Der Kardinal – Taten und Tage des Bischofs von Münster Clemens August Graf von Galen. Aschendorff, Münster, 2. Aufl. 1985, ISBN 3-402-05126-5, S. 9 f.
  5. In Joachim Kuropka (Hrsg.): Neue Forschungen zum Leben und Wirken des Bischofs von Münster. Regensberg, Münster 1992, S. 32 f. ISBN 3-7923-0636-0
  6. Pascalina Lehnert, Ich durfte Ihm dienen, Würzburg, 1988, 41
  7. Ludger Grevelhörster: Kardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen in seiner Zeit. Aschendorff, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-402-03506-5, S. 57
  8. Löffler (Hrsg.): Bischof Clemens August Graf von Galen – Akten, Briefe und Predigten 1933–1946. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn/München/Wien/Zürich, 2. Aufl. 1996, S. 46 f. ISBN 3-506-79840-5; vgl. auch Rudolf Willenborg: „Katholische Eltern, das müßt ihr wissen!“ – Der Kampf des Bischofs Clemens August Graf von Galen gegen den totalen Erziehungsanspruch des Nationalsozialismus. Wirkungen auf Partei und Staat unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des oldenburgischen Teils der Diözese Münster. In Joachim Kuropka (Hrsg.): Neue Forschungen zum Leben und Wirken des Bischofs von Münster. Regensberg, Münster 1992, S. 101, 102 f. ISBN 3-7923-0636-0
  9. Rudolf Morsey, Clemens August Kardinal von Galen – Bischöfliches Wirken in der Zeit der Hitler-Herrschaft. Landeszentrale für politische Bildung, Düsseldorf 1987, S. 14
  10. Allen, John L., Cardinal Ratzinger, p. 26, Continuum International Publishingh 2000
  11. Allen, John L., Cardinal Ratzinger, p. 26, Continuum International Publishingh 2000
  12. Peter Löffler (Hrsg.): Bischof Clemens August Graf von Galen – Akten, Briefe und Predigten 1933–1946. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn/München/Wien/Zürich, 2. Aufl. 1996, S. 843 ff. ISBN 3-506-79840-5
  13. Peter Löffler (Hrsg.): Bischof Clemens August Graf von Galen – Akten, Briefe und Predigten 1933–1946. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn/München/Wien/Zürich, 2. Aufl. 1996, S. 855 ff. ISBN 3-506-79840-5
  14. Peter Löffler (Hrsg.): Bischof Clemens August Graf von Galen – Akten, Briefe und Predigten 1933–1946. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn/München/Wien/Zürich, 2. Aufl. 1996, S. 874 ff. ISBN 3-506-79840-5
  15. Winfried Süß: Bischof von Galen und die nationalsozialistische „Euthanasie“. In: zur debatte 2005, S. 18 f. Onlineausgabe
  16. Joachim Kuropka: Clemens August Graf von Galen (1878–1946) – Ein großer Niedersachse. Begleitheft zur Ausstellung im Niedersächsischen Landtag 10. bis 19. Juni 1992, S. 5 f.
  17. Robert Jay Lifton Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide 94
  18. Peter Löffler (Hrsg.): Bischof Clemens August Graf von Galen – Akten, Briefe und Predigten 1933–1946. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn/München/Wien/Zürich, 2. Aufl. 1996, S. 901, 902 ISBN 3-506-79840-5
  19. The White Rose Shoah Education Project Web
  20. Portmann 234
  21. Beevor, Anthony'They raped every German female from eight to 80', May 1, 2002 The Guardian
  22. Portmann, p. 237
  23. Portmann 239
  24. Portmann 245
  25. "According to what has been reported to me, general Kurt Meyer was sentenced to death, because his subordinate men committed crimes he didn't arrange nor did he approve. As a proponent of Christian legal opinion, which says that you are only responsible for your own deeds, I support the mercy petition for general Meyer and pledge for a pardon."
  26. Portmann 246
  27. Portmann, pp. 264–265
  28. Portmann, p. 290
  29. Portmann 296–297
  30. Pascalina Lehnert, Ich durfte Ihm dienen, Würzburg, 1988, p.151
  31. Gottfried Hasenkamp, Heimkehr und Heimgang des Kardinals, a.a.O., S. 13

External links

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