Monday, August 8, 2011

Silence Is Not An Option

I received a wonderful gift when I returned from holiday, a most precious gift: a relic of the great cardinal, Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, Adolf Hitler's courageous foe during the Nazi era in Germany.  The relic is a large portion of bone - a very generous portion in comparison with the normal ex ossibus relics usually given out by Postulators and Congregations.  It came at the right time for me as I am praying and trying to come to terms with recent developments in Ireland and the attacks on the Pope and the Vatican, and the lack of any decent response.  The relic will take its place beside my statue of St John Fisher on my desk and will probably get a kiss with John Fisher whenever I am tempted to complain about the inaction and failures of bishops. 

Blessed Clemens von Galen was the son of a noble German family, his aristocratic roots were marked on his personality and as a child and young man he was difficult to deal with because of a confidence which his teachers called "infallible".  This, confidence, once he had advanced in virtue, would be to his credit and was used in the service of the Church and the persecuted when dealing with Hitler and his cronies.  For all his "infallibility", he was known for his pure living and it was after meeting Pope Leo XIII that he decided to enter the service of the Church.  He was ordained a priest for the diocese of Munster in 1904.

He was appointed bishop of Munster in 1933, and though all not in the Church agreed with his appointment, events in Germany soon revealed that he was the right man for the job. From the start of his episcopate he preached against the doctrines of the Nazis.  He insisted that Catholic parents should keep their children as far as they could from the indoctrination the Nazis were bringing to the education system.  He also railed against their racist ideology.

Following the outbreak of war, when the Nazi euthanasia campaign become known, Blessed Clemens preached a series of sermons attacking the practice.  He condemned the Gestapo, and exposed what was happening in the concentration camps.  His sermons were secretly printed and distributed all over Germany and Europe.  He inspired Sophie Scholl and the other members of the White Rose resistance group in Munich - their first pamphlet was one of his sermons.  For his heroism he became known as the "Lion of Munster".

The bishop was at this stage one of the Hitler's greatest critics and a painful thorn in the Fuhrer's side.  The Nazis were determined to murder him, but instead they kept him under virtual house arrest - they did not manage to silence him: his words were setting Germany and Europe on fire, revealing the full extent of Nazism's crimes.   He survived the war, it seems almost miraculous that he did.  However he had suffered a great deal and the greatest pain was the realisation that many of his priests had suffered and had been killed by the Nazis in retaliation for his own heroic stance. 

His work was not yet done.  Blessed Clemens was fair minded and condemned wrongs regardless of who was committing them: following the Nazi downfall, he saw atrocities being committed by Germany's British and Russian occupiers and he was quick to speak.   Now it was the turn of the British to persecute him: for his words they took away his car and hampered his carrying out of his episcopal duties.  The press, however, listened to him and though the British tried to silence him, he was too well known and admired to be gagged.  He was determined to continue to defend his people from any oppressor.

In December 1945 Pope Pius XII announced that he was conferring the red hat on Bishop von Galen for his heroic defence of the Church and his people in the face of tyranny.  Deeply touched the bishop saw the honour as a sign of love for the innocent German people who had endured and who continued to endure great sufferings.  The British objected to the honour and when they could not stop Pius, they tried to prevent the bishop from getting to Rome for the consistory, but he got to the Eternal City all the same.  In an emotional ceremony on the 21st February 1946, the "Lion of Munster" was created cardinal in St Peter's Basilica.

He spent some time in Rome visiting friends, and returned to Germany on the 16th March.  Tens of thousands came out to see him and to hear him speak.  In his words to them the new cardinal insisted that as a bishop it was his duty to speak clearly and plainly about what was happening: in the face of oppression and when the Church is being attacked, silence for a bishop is not an option.

Few realised that the cardinal was gravely ill.  Three days later, on the 19th March, he was operated on, but to no avail.  He died suddenly on the 22nd March 1946 just a month after being created cardinal.  He was buried in the von Galen family crypt.   His Cause was opened in 1956 and he was beatified on 9th October 2005.  
At this present time we are the anvil, not the hammer! Remain steadfast and firm like the anvil receiving all the blows that rain down on us, in loyal service to our people and country, but also ready at any time to act, in the spirit of supreme sacrifice, in accordance with the precept: “Men must obey God more than men.”
Blessed Clemens von Galen, Sermon 20th July 1941


  1. Dear Fr John

    Thank you for your wonderful posts.

    On the silent Bishops - we need new Bishops who are on fire for the Faith and who can and will do their solemn duty as a Bishop. Age or years a priest or political considerations cannot enter into the choosing of the right priest: we are in too dire a situation to appoint another mediocre, bureaucratic, modern, diplomat, Media-pleaser type; we need holy, courageous Bishops whose main concern is to save souls, those within and without the Church.

    That said, even while Bishops are silent, and some even cooperating with evil, the priests need to do their duty, offer the sacraments properly and preach the truths of faith and morality, particularly as currently challenged by endemic sinning, from those outside the Church, but even more egregiously, from those within the Church.

    The souls of our priests and Bishops are in great peril if they do not do their duty in respect of the souls of the rest of us.


  2. The obstinate silence of the Irish bishops in the face of Enda Kenny's defamation of the Pope is evidence enough that they should resign. They are unable, and in some cases, incapable of leading the Church. You cannot run the Church from underneath the bed and I think that's where our bishops are hiding now counting down the days to a respectable retirement.