February 1, 2011


Von Galen and the Third Reich (Charles Colson, 2/01/11, Catholic Exchange)

Clemens August Graf von Galen was the Bishop of Muenster. He became bishop in 1933, the same year Hitler came to power, and from the start he made life difficult for Nazi officials.

He opposed Reich policies in education and its attacks on religious freedom. When others were bending over backwards to avoid provoking the Nazis, von Galen went on the rhetorical offensive: He mocked Nazi ideology and defended the authority of the Old Testament against Nazi attacks.

But von Galen’s most important confrontation with the regime came over the Action T4 program—the Nazi effort to eliminate the physically and mentally disabled. By 1941, Nazi persecution of Catholics, which included sending thousands of priests to concentration camps, had caused leading German prelates, as historian Richard Evans put it, to “[keep] their heads down.”

But as more and more disabled patients were being murdered, keeping one’s head down became tantamount to complicity with evil. What’s more, as von Galen realized, it was futile — because the Nazis were going to persecute the Church, anyway.

So, in July and August of 1941, he delivered a series of sermons that denounced the Nazi regime. He told the German people that if the disabled could be killed with impunity, “then the way is open for the murder of all of us, when we become old and weak and thus unproductive.” If a regime could disregard the commandment against murder, it could do way with the other nine commandments as well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 1, 2011 6:59 AM
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