Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, a wartime German prelate who denounced Nazi atrocities from the pulpit, was elevated to the ranks of the “blessed of the Church” at a ceremony on Sunday.
A tall and imposing aristocrat, Galen was known as the Lion of Muenster for his fierce attacks on Adolf Hitler’s policies, especially the euthanasia drive that killed almost 100,000 mentally and physically disabled Germans.
“The Lord gave us a courageous hero to defend the rights of God, the Church and mankind which the national socialist regime violated in a systematic, grave fashion in the name of a neopagan, aberrant ideology,” Pope Benedict told the congregation.
The German Pope arrived in St. Peter’s Basilica right at the end of the ceremony, after delegating the service to a cardinal.
Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul, used to lead beatification Masses himself during his 26 year papacy, often turning them into huge, open air celebrations of virtuous Roman Catholics.
But Benedict has decided to take a more low-key approach, raising speculation that he might slow down the frenetic pace of saint-making that was a hallmark of the John Paul pontificate.
John Paul took a particular interest in Galen, visiting his grave during a trip to then West Germany in 1987 and praising him for “fearlessly speaking out on behalf of the sacredness of sacred life.”
While the German Church did little to resist Hitler, the few clerics who did -- such as Galen and Bernhard Lichtenberg, who publicly prayed in Berlin for the Jews and died in a concentration camp -- have been highlighted as holy role models.
Galen himself did not specifically mention the murderous Nazi repression of the Jews. But in three thunderous sermons at the height of the war in 1941 he openly assailed the Berlin regime, risking both his freedom and his life.
“Woe betide mankind, woe betide our German people, if the divine Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ ... is not merely violated, but the violation is tolerated and goes unpunished,” he said in one of his famous speeches.
The Nazi leadership accused him of aiding Germany’s enemies, but did not try to arrest him. Historians say Berlin was worried that his deeply Catholic diocese was less pro-Nazi than other areas and was thus likely to protest if he were gagged.
Galen was made a cardinal in February 1946, less than a year after the end of World War II, in recognition of his courage. He died a month later aged 68 after doctors failed to diagnose appendicitis.
His beatification process started in 1956 and was concluded by John Paul in 2004 after he was credited with interceding with God to perform a miracle cure for a sick student in 1995.
Beatification places a Catholic halfway up the ladder to full sainthood. To become a saint you need a subsequent, second miracle to your name.