I recently learnt about Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Latin bishop of Münster during the Second World War. You may read about his extraordinary life on Nobility.org: “March 22 – He Stood Up to Hitler Without Flinching.” From the article:
In 1941 von Galen gave a string of sermons protesting against Nazi policies on euthanasia, Gestapo terror, forced sterilization and concentration camps. His attacks on the Nazis were so severe that Nazi official Walter Tiessler proposed in a letter to Martin Bormann that the Bishop be executed.
On July 13, 1941, von Galen publicly attacked the regime for its Gestapo tactics of terror, including disappearances without trial, the closing of Catholic institutions without any stated justifications, and the resultant fear imposed on all Germans throughout the nation. The powerful Gestapo, he argued, reduced everybody, even the most decent and loyal citizens, to being afraid of ending up in a basement prison or a concentration camp. As the country was at war, von Galen rejected the notion that his speech undermined German solidarity or unity. Using the lines of his friend Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, as written in Opus Justitiae Pax and Justitia fundamentum Regnorum, von Galen noted that “Peace is the work of Justice and Justice, the basis for dominion,” then attacked the Third Reich for undermining justice, the belief in justice and for reducing the German people to a state of permanent fear, even cowardice. He concluded: “As a German, as a decent citizen I demand Justice.”
In a second sermon on July 20, 1941, von Galen informed the faithful that all written protests against Nazi hostilities had proved to be useless. The confiscation of religious institutions continued unabated. Members of religious orders were still being deported or jailed. He asked his listeners to be patient and to endure, and that the German people were being destroyed not by the Allied bombing from the outside, but from negative forces within.
On August 3, 1941, von Galen informed his listeners in a third sermon about the continued desecration of Catholic churches, the closing of convents and monasteries, and the deportation and murder of mentally ill people (who were sent to undisclosed destinations), while a notice was sent to family members stating that the person in question had died. This is murder, he exclaimed, unlawful by divine and German law, a rejection of the laws of God. He informed them that he had forwarded his evidence to the State Attorney. “These are people, our brothers and sisters; maybe their life is unproductive, but productivity is not a justification for killing.” If that were indeed a justification for execution, he reasoned, everybody would have to be afraid to even go to a doctor for fear of what might be discovered. The social fabric would be affected. Von Galen then remarked that a regime which can do away with the Fifth Commandment (thou shalt not kill) can destroy the other commandments as well.
A Jesuit, by the way! The article notes that the White Rose Society featured the bishop’s sermon in its first publication (I mentioned die Weiße Rose in “Alexander Schmorell”). After the war, the bishop tried to defend the German people from brutality by the Allied occupiers. Von Galen died in A.D. 1946. May his memory be eternal!