This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March 22 -- Feast of Blessed Clemens August von Galen

You know how film actors used to show a character's discomfort by having him hook a finger inside his shirt collar  and tug it away from his neck?  Yeah, that's what I'm doing as I contemplate what to say about Blessed Clemens August, Cardinal & Graf von Galen, Bishop of Munster. 
Blessed Clemens August, the Lion of Munster

To begin, the "Graf" in his name is usually translated as Count. He was the scion of one of the big old aristocratic families in Westphahlia.  He was educated by the Jesuits and ordained in 1904.  I guess conservative would be his overriding political doctrine; that means too many things now, so to clarify, I might substitute Bismarckian or just plain feudal.  I'm not sure that's fair, but his ideas seem to be defined by what he opposed.

A kinder, gentler picture of the Blessed Graf
He was against democracy and modernism, a loud, persistent critic of the Weimar Republic.  He opposed socialism, but was even louder in his criticism of communism after the rise of Stalin and the suppression of religion (especially Catholicism, which took it on the chin) in the USSR.  He was a German nationalist, but loudly criticized the Nazis from 1934 on.  It's easy to jump on the Nazi-critic aspect and praise the man, and for sure I'm going to do that, but I want to take an uncomfortable moment to consider what kind of Germany the Blessed Graf might have favored.  It's true that Germany lived in France's shadow for centuries -- hell, it was born in the Versailles Palace outside Paris --  so I don't blame him for his nationalism.  Germany united on January 18, 1871; the Blessed Graf was born on March 16, 1878.  Can you imagine someone born in the USA in the 1790s not being a fierce American patriot? But what kind of Germany did he want? Not democratic, no socialist, nor communist.  My guess is one in which a Kaiser governed; perhaps a Reichstag of counts and barons would have some control over taxes, but otherwise an appointed chancellor and cabinet would run things.

Now for the easy stuff. As I said, he first criticized the Nazis in '34, so he was on board before it was cool.  He wrote a pastoral letter (to be read from all the pulpits in his See or diocese) in January 1934, condemning Herr Hitler's notion of race worship.  Alfred Rosenberg, whose work on racial theory, Liebensraum, and lots of other planks in the Nazi platform earned him a noose at Nuremberg, was the target of a pamphlet written and published by Bishop von Galen.

Died in 1946 of a ruptured appendix
And he kept it up.  True, the Graf's nationalism led him to support the reoccupation of the Rhineland and to encourage enlistment after the invasion of Poland, but he also preached, published, and distributed sermons condemning the euthanasia program called Aktion T4.  Under this program, mentally handicapped Germans were taken from their families and murdered.  The program was briefly suspended when popular opinion swung against the regime, but then recommenced with greater secrecy.  The Bishop's sermon, however, was distributed by the German and Polish undergrounds, including the White Rose Society, and was dropped by British planes on German cities as a propaganda piece. Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, read a copy while he was in the Polish Resistance to the Nazi occupation. 

With all the priests I have written about who died in the camps, you may be wondering how the Blessed Graf could continue to be such a thorn in Hitler's side.  In truth, after 1941, he was placed under house arrest, and while he continued to preach, his leash got shorter and tighter.  Some of the Nazis wanted him dead, but Dr. Goebbels understood that his death during the war would greatly weaken support for the regime in heavily Catholic regions like Munster. Instead, he planned to kill the Graf after Germany won the war.  But this brings up an uncomfortable conversation that has my finger tugging at my collar again.

The Bishop was given a cardinal's red hat by Pope Pius XII.  That particular pontiff comes in for some heavy criticism from folks who think he might have been more aggressive in denouncing the excesses of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.  At the ceremony in which he elevated Blessed Clemens August to cardinal, Pius told him how much he admired his outspokenness and courage.  The new Cardinal replied "Yes, Holy Father, but many of my very best priests died in concentration camps, because they distributed my sermons.".  The Pope wistfully remarked that he was aware that thousands of innocents would have been killed if he, the Pope, had protested.

It's complicated.  Morally murky.  What would Jesus do? Get nailed to a cross.  But the Romans went for him first, not for James and John and Mary.  What would Jesus have done if Pilate had told him to shut up or they'd nail Bartholomew and Thomas to crosses?  It depends on how human you believe Jesus was. 

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