Vatican attributes healing miracle to the intercession of the bishop who exposed Hitler’s covert euthanasia programme, writes Dan Frank “THE LION of Münster”, Cardinal Clemens August von Galen of Münster, is to be beatified after the Vatican recognised a miracle attributed to his intercession.
The miracle was recognised in December 2003 shortly after the 70th anniversary of his episcopal ordination, when the medical-theological Commission accepted its validity. Now that the miracle has been endorsed by the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, Pope John Paul II will sign the decree and choose a date for the beatification ceremony.
According to a statement issued by the Diocese of Münster “this announcement should take place days before the feast of Christmas”.
Henrikus Nahak, a student from India, was pronounced cured by medical doctors in 1995 after asking for the intercession of Cardinal von Galen, who served as Bishop of Münster during the Second World War.
Clemens August — Count von Galen — was born in 1878 at Oldenburg Castle to a noble family. After gaining excellent results in his academic studies he was ordained a priest in 1904 and in September 1933 appointed Bishop of Münster by Cardinal Karl Josef Schulte.
Cardinal von Galen earned his nom de guerre while still a bishop by speaking out against the Nazi regime and exposing the covert practice of euthanasia, rising paganism, and attacks on priests and laymen who were being persecuted for their beliefs.
Particularly concerned about Adolf Hitler’s burgeoning euthanasia programme, Bishop von Galen’s homilies, which were printed and distributed all over Germany, revealed that vulnerable people were being removed from care institutions and mental homes and subsequently dying in suspicious circumstances. In a 1941 homily he said: “If we allow one of us to kill those who are non-productive, misfortune will strike the invalid who exhausted and sacrificed themselves, and lost their health and strength in the productive process.
“If we even once accept the principle of the right to kill our non-productive brothers even if it is limited from the start to the poor and defenceless mentally ill — then by this principle murder becomes admissible for all non-productive beings, the incurably ill, those made invalid at work or in war, and ourselves, when we are old, weak and so not productive.
“Arriving at this point, the life of none of us will be safe. Any commission can include us in the list of the non-productive. No police, no court will investigate our murder, or punish the murderer as he deserves.
“Who will be able to trust a doctor? He could classify his patient as non-productive and receive instructions to kill him.” Bishop von Galen concluded: “It is impossible to imagine the abysses of moral depravity and general mistrust, even in the family realm, to which we would descend if such a horrible doctrine were tolerated, accepted, and put into practice.” Homilies such as this had a significant impact on wounded soldiers returning home from the front. Many feared that they too would become targets for elimination, especially once evidence arose showing that First World War veterans were among those who had already been killed. Sensing the damage such knowledge could do to morale, the Royal Air Force went so far as to drop reproductions of the homily all over Germany as propaganda.
By refusing to keep silent Bishop von Galen only narrowly avoided execution for treason but, with much of Austria and the Rhineland deeply Catholic, Hitler was persuaded that this could lead to an uprising.
Instead Hitler gave the order on August 3 1941 to “block officially the implementation of the euthanasia programme”, according to Fr Giovanni Sale, a historian at the Gregorian University, Rome.
“In the following years, despite Hitler’s order, euthanasia continued to be practised in some particular situations; but the programme was not resumed on a large scale,” Fr Sale said.
Amazingly, Bishop von Galen survived the war and, in December 1945, Pope Pius XII told visiting priests from Westphalia that he considered the bishop a hero. That Christmas Eve, Vatican Radio announced that the bishop would be made a cardinal at the consistory in February 1946. He died a month after he received his red hat from the Pope on March 22 and was buried in Münster Cathedral.
But while the Church prepares to honour the heroism of Bishop von Galen in the face of Nazi tyranny, it is also bracing itself for renewed criticism over its alleged role in smuggling some of the worst of Hitler’s henchmen out of Europe to South America.
Anew documentary film by Argentine director Rodolfo Pereyra uncovers uncomfortable links between the Vatican, top Nazis and the government of Argentina towards the end of the Second World War.
Oro Nazi en Argentina (Nazi Gold in Argentina) explores how many high-ranking Nazis fled to Argentina, laden with gold bullion stolen from Jews they had sent to the concentration camps. According to Pereya, many escaped with the direct assistance of the Catholic Church and the Argentine government.
The Vatican is accused of setting up safe houses and creating new identities for Nazi war criminals, including Josef Mengele, the doctor who carried out experiments on concentration camp inmates, and Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, who escaped dressed as a Franciscan monk. Krunoslav Draganovic, a Vatican priest, is known to have helped smuggle around 2,000 Croatian Nazis to Argentina.