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Von Galen against Euthanasia - I

Cursed Be Nazis Who Kill Sick Persons

Cardinal Clemens von Galen

Clemens August Graf von Galen (March 16, 1878 – March 22, 1946) was a German Count, Bishop of Münster (1933), and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church (1945). Born into an old noble family, von Galen received a Jesuit formation in Austria, and was appointed a pastor first in Münster's St. Lamberti Church. He fought and preached intensely against Modernism and the liberal tendencies of the Weimar Republic. For his strong and fearless preaching, he became known as the “Lion of Münster.”

Cardinal Clemens von Galen

Card. von Galen, the Lion of Münster
Bishop von Galen began to criticize Hitler's movement in 1934. He condemned the Nazi worship of race in a pastoral letter on January 29, 1934, and then went on to publish a series of essays criticizing the ideology of Nazism and opposing to them the teachings of the Catholic Church. Together with Munich's Cardinal von Faulhaber and Berlin's Bishop von Preysing, he drafted Pius XI's Encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (March 14, 1937) against Nazism.

Bishop von Galen was an especially outspoken critic of Nazi policies, issuing a forceful, public denunciation of its euthanasia program. What follows is his Third Sermon, preached in the Church of St. Lambert's on August 3rd, 1941, in which the Bishop attacked the Nazi practice of euthanasia and condemned the "mercy killings" taking place in his own Diocese.

Sermon of Cardinal von Galen -  Part I

My Beloved Brethren,

In today's Gospel we read of an unusual event: Our Savior weeps. Yes, the Son of God sheds tears. Whoever weeps must be in either physical or mental anguish. At that time Jesus was not yet in bodily pain, but here were tears. What depths of torment He must have felt in His Heart and Soul, if He, the bravest of men, was reduced to tears.

Why is He weeping? He is lamenting over Jerusalem, the holy city He loved so tenderly, the capital of His race. He is weeping over its inhabitants, over His own compatriots because they cannot foresee the judgment that is to overtake them, the punishment that His divine prescience and justice have pronounced: “Ah, if thou too couldst understand, above all in this day that is granted thee, the ways that can bring thee peace!” (Lk 19:42)

Why did the people of Jerusalem not know it? Jesus had given them the reason a short time before: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it! I your God and your King wished it, but you would have none of Me…’(Mt 23:37)

A stained glass window of Our Lord weeping over Jerusalem

Our Lord sheds tears over Jerusalem
This is the reason for the tears of Jesus, for the tears of God. … Tears for the misrule, the injustice and man's willful refusal of Him and the resulting evils, which, in His divine omniscience, He foresees and which in His justice He must decree. … It is a fearful thing when man sets his will against the will of God, and it is because of this that Our Lord is lamenting over Jerusalem.

My faithful brethren, in the pastoral letter drawn up by the German Hierarchy on the 26th of June at Fulda and appointed to be read in all the churches of Germany on July 6th, it is expressly stated: "According to Catholic doctrine, there are doubtless commandments which are not binding when obedience to them requires too great a sacrifice, but there are sacred obligations of conscience from which no one can release us and which we must fulfill even at the price of death itself. At no time, and under no circumstances whatsoever, may a man, except in war and in legitimate defense, take the life of an innocent person."

When this pastoral was read on July 6, I took the opportunity of adding this exposition:

For the past several months, it has been reported that, on instructions from Berlin, patients who have been suffering for a long time from apparently incurable diseases have been forcibly removed from homes and clinics. Their relatives are later informed that the patient has died, that the body has been cremated and that the ashes may be claimed. There is little doubt that these numerous cases of unexpected death of the insane are not natural but often deliberately caused, and result from the belief that it is right to take away life that is unworthy of being lived.

nazi euthanasia death registry

A page from a Nazi death registry listing false causes of death
This ghastly doctrine tries to justify the murder of blameless men and would seek to give legal sanction to the forcible killing of invalids, cripples, the incurable and the incapacitated. I have discovered that the practice here in Westphalia is to compile lists of such patients who are to be removed elsewhere as “unproductive citizens” and, after a period of time, put to death. This very week, the first group of these patients has been taken from the clinic of Marienthal near Münster.

Paragraph 21 of the Code of Penal Law is still valid. It states that anyone who deliberately kills a man by a premeditated act will be executed as a murderer. It is in order to protect the murderers of these poor invalids - members of our own families -against this legal punishment, that the patients who are to be killed are transferred from their domicile to some distant institution. Some sort of disease is then given as the cause of death, and since cremation immediately follows, it is impossible for either their families or the regular police to ascertain whether death was from natural causes.

I am assured that at the Ministry of the Interior and at the Ministry of Health, no attempt is made to hide the fact that a great number of the insane have already been deliberately killed and that many more will follow.

Article 139 of the Penal Code expressly lays down that anyone who knows from a reliable source of any plot against the life of a man and does not inform the proper authorities or the intended victim, will be punished. …

When I was informed of the intention to remove patients from Marienthal for the purpose of putting them to death, I addressed the following registered letter on July 29th to the Public Prosecutor, the Tribunal of Münster, and the Head of the Münster Police:

buses for euthanasia victims in Nazi Germany

Buses with painted windows used to transport patients to euthanasia centers
"I have been informed this week that a considerable number of patients from the provincial clinic of Marienthal are to be transferred as allegedly "unproductive" citizens and sent to the institution of Richenberg, to be executed there immediately; and that according to general opinion, this has already been carried out in the case of other patients who have been removed in like manner. Since this sort of procedure is not only contrary to moral law, both divine and natural, but is also punishable by death, according to Article 211 of the Penal Code, it is my bounden obligation, in accordance with Article 139 of the same Code to inform the authorities thereof. Therefore I demand at once protection for my fellow citizens who are threatened in this way, and from those who propose to transfer and kill them, and I further demand to be informed of your decision."

I have received no news up until now of any steps taken by these authorities. On July 26 I had already written and dispatched a strongly worded protest to the Provincial Administration of Westphalia, which is responsible for the clinics where these patients have been entrusted for care and treatment. My efforts were of no avail.

The first batch of innocent people has left Marienthal under sentence of death, and I am informed that no less than 800 cases from the institution of Waestein already have been transferred. So, we must await the news that these wretched defenseless patients will sooner or later lose their lives.

Why? Not because they have committed crimes worthy of death, not because they have attacked guardians or nurses as to cause the latter to defend themselves with violence, which would be both legitimate and even in certain cases necessary, like killing an armed enemy soldier in a righteous war.

No, these are not the reasons why these unfortunate patients are put to death. It is simply because, according to the decision of some doctor or some committee, they lost the right to live because they are "unproductive citizens." The opinion is that since they can no longer make money, they are useless individuals, comparable to some old cow that can no longer give milk or some horse that has gone lame.

Nazi euthanasia propaganda

A Nazi poster portraying the worker as bearing the heavy burden of the insane and miscreants
What is done with these unproductive individuals and cattle? They are destroyed. I have no intention of stretching this comparison further. The case here is not one of cattle which exist to serve men and give them abundance. They may be lawfully discarded when they can no longer fulfill their function. Here we are dealing with human beings, with our neighbors, brothers and sisters, the poor and invalids…

Are they unproductive? Perhaps. But have they, then, lost the right to live? Have you or I the right to exist only because we are productive? If the principle is established that unproductive human beings may be killed, then God help all those invalids who, in order to produce wealth, have given all their lives and sacrificed the strength of their bodies. If all unproductive people may thus be violently eliminated, then woe to our brave soldiers who return home, wounded, maimed or sick.

Once the right to kill unproductive persons is admitted … then none of us can be sure of his life. We shall be at the mercy of any committee that can put a man on the list of unproductive ones. There will be no police protection, no court to avenge the murder and inflict punishment upon him. Who can have confidence in any doctor? He has but to certify his patients as unproductive and he receives the command to kill.

If this dreadful doctrine is permitted and practiced it is impossible to conjure up the degradation to which it will lead. Suspicion and distrust will be sown inside the family itself. Cursed be men and the German people if we break the holy commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ which was given us by God on Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning, and which God our Creator imprinted on the human conscience from the beginning of time! Woe to us German people if we permit this heinous offense to be committed with impunity!



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Excerpt of Heinrich Portmann, Cardinal von Galen,
translated by R.L. Sedgwick, 1957, pp. 239-246

Posted August 27, 2012

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