“Once admit the right to kill unproductive persons . . . then none of us can be sure of his life.” So spoke Cardinal Clemens von Galen, of Munster, Germany, in 1941. This Cardinal was called the “Lion of Munster,” because he roared with the voice of the Gospel against the atrocities of the Nazi Regime. Two decades later, in the United States, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say to preachers, on the night before he was assassinated, that while it’s fine to preach about the “New Jerusalem,” the preacher must also preach about “the new New York…and the new Memphis, Tennessee.” Cardinal von Galen knew about what Dr. King later called “a relevant ministry,” one that does not hesitate to name names, and apply the eternal teachings of Christ to the temporary regimes of human making.
As of October 9 of this year, Cardinal von Galen will be known as Blessed Clemens von Galen. He will be beatified at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
His beatification means, of course, that the Church is holding him up as an example. Since he was a priest and a preacher (as well as a bishop and Cardinal), those of us who exercise those roles would not be far off the mark in concluding that the Church intends to raise him up as an example for us.
Cardinal von Galen’s blistering sermons about the Nazis remind us of a point made in the recently released Vatican document the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The document declares, “The Church’s social doctrine has the task of proclamation, but also of denunciation (emphasis in the original).” The document continues, “This social doctrine also entails a duty to denounce, when sin is present: the sin of injustice and violence that in different ways moves through society and is embodied in it” (n. 81).
Cardinal von Galen’s homilies of the summer of 1941 became famous and brought him to the brink of being arrested and condemned to death. Von Galen protested with special force against euthanasia: “There is little doubt that these numerous cases of unexpected death in the case of the insane are not natural, but often deliberately caused, and result from the belief that it is lawful to take away life which is unworthy of being lived... The opinion is that since they can no longer make money, they are obsolete machines, comparable with some old cow that can no longer give milk or some horse that has gone lame. ...Here we are dealing with human beings, with our neighbours, brothers and sisters, the poor and invalids . . . unproductive—perhaps! But have they, therefore, lost the right to live? Have you or I the right to exist only because we are ‘productive’?” (August 3, 1941).
Let the example of von Galen live and pulsate through the Church at every level, as we attack the Culture of Death! Let him teach us not to fear lawsuits or complaints! Blessed Clemens von Galen, pray for us!
(Read the Cardinal’s sermons at www.priestsforlife.org.)