Wednesday, July 26, 2017


The Lion of Münster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis.  By Daniel Utrecht, TAN Books, 2016.


The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church.  By Gerhard Cardinal Müller with Father Carlos Granados, translated by Richard Goodyear, Ignatius Press, 2017.


This review will cover two recent works about two prominent members of the Church hierarchy.  In The Lion of Münster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis, the life and career of Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, a churchman who openly spoke out about Hitler’s policies and politics, and galvanized many members of his flock as well.  The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church looks at a contemporary and prominent figure in the Church, as Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explains Church teachings and the pressing moral and ethical issues of our time.


The Lion of Münster opens with a summary of Bishop von Galen’s early life, and then quickly moves to the Bishop’s open condemnation of various policies, ranging from attacking Nazis who euthanized the sick and weak, to denouncing eugenicist racial policies:


“From the beginning of his time as bishop, shortly after Hitler took power, Clemens August von Galen had attacked the Nazi racial theories.  In the middle of 1941, when Germany’s war successes were at their height, he openly reprimanded the Gestapo for confiscating the houses of religious orders.  He had denounced the secret practice of deliberately putting sick and disabled people to death and, it seemed, had an influence in stopping it.”


Many historians and pundits have attacked the Church for remaining silent during WWII, but the work of recent historians has largely contradicted that view, refining certain allegations and outright contradicting others.  Several of these works have been addressed in recent reviews, such as Catholics Confronting Hitler and A Man for Others (both November, 2016), and Church of Spies (November, 2015).  In The Lion of Münster, the bishop explains why he was open and direct about his attacks on Hitler and all of the Nazi regime’s policies that contradicted Church doctrine.


“The dear God placed me in a position in which I had a duty to call black “black” and white “white”… I knew that many suffered more, much more than I personally had to suffer, from the attacks on truth and justice that we experienced.  They could not speak.  They could only suffer… But it was my right and my duty to speak, and I spoke… and God gave it His blessing.  And your love and your loyalty, my dear diocesans, also kept far from me what might have been my fate, but also might have been my greatest reward, the crown of martyrdom.”


Throughout the book, Bishop von Galen approaches his advocacy as a critical moral issue, and notes that this was a particularly dangerous and inflammatory time.  Politics and passions ran high, and making statements could have all sorts of repercussions, but failing to speak out would have even more dire consequences.


“For von Galen, this false theory of the unlimited power of the state was the sources of all the inner struggles that had kept Germany from developing a true sense of community.  The correct order of self-love was not respected, and so egoism ruled in its place.  Brother mistrusted brother; neighbor mistrusted neighbor.  Each one sought to win the majority to his side, in order to use the power of the state to defend his own interests by attacking the rights and freedoms of the other.  Might makes right is the motto of the modern state, according to von Galen.  Why should it not be the motto of private life as well?  People ask themselves, “If the might of the state, today the might of the majority, really makes right, then why only this might?  Why not also the might of the stronger fist, why not the might of money, why not the might of craftiness and clever business dealings?  The destruction that is introduced into the community by the working out of this fundamental principle should open people’s eyes to the destructiveness of this principle itself,” von Galen argued.  But in fact, he saw something else happening.  If the state is the creator of all rights and the all-powerful lord of all rights, then, many concluded, their rights and freedoms would be secure only if they themselves were the holders of state power.”


As a historian, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book was at the very end, where after the manuscript was completed, Utrecht discovered another historian’s work on the Holocaust, and Bishop von Galen was cited as having made some comments that clash very directly with Utrecht’s heroic depiction of the man.  Utrecht did a lot more research, and discovered that the document discovered in the other historian’s work was a forgery, circulated during the war in an attempt to discredit him.  This appendix is incredibly interesting, because it reveals how falsehoods can be spread through tainted evidence, and just how much thorough research goes into confirming or debunking evidence.


While The Lion of Münster is a work of history, The Cardinal Müller Report is more like a dialogue, where questions about Church teachings, culture, and the reasoning behind various Church decisions are addressed.


In his introduction, Father Granados writes that,


“Cardinal Müller’s tone is direct and frank.  He does not shrink from addressing the most sensitive questions.  He might sometimes make a joke and then add, in a conciliatory tone: “We had better not include that in the interview.”  He does not at all fit the stereotype– formal, diplomatic, cold, calculating– of a member of the Curia.  He sometimes takes his time in answering; a silence falls in which the interviewer considers asking another question.  But it quickly becomes apparent that he is thinking.  His conversation flows calmly and firmly.  He knows from the beginning where he wants to end up.  In addition to being the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller is one of the most outstanding figures in theology today.  As a theologian, he is a believer who strives to give God’s answers to men’s questions.  As the Prefect of the Faith. He has a privileged perspective on the circumstances. The horizons, and the questions that open up before us.


But what questions do our contemporaries have?  What answer do they demand from the believer?  People today do not see their lack of faith as a tragedy, but what does worry them profoundly is their lack of hope, for which– making matters worse– they try to make up with substitutes like optimism.  The key question, therefore, is one of hope.  And our contemporaries wonder whether there is hope for the “now,” they wonder whether they can find it in Christianity– and they wonder, above all: What is the foundation of Christian hope?”


There is no straight narrative to the book.  It’s more of a question-and-answer dialogue, with a special stress on what it means to live morally, to make the most out of one’s life in a spiritual and ethical manner, and how to improve the world.  In his opening chapter, “A Report on Hope,” the Cardinal writes:


“Man is always striving toward the future, imagining it, planning for it, dreaming about it… Life always holds the promise of the new and appealing, as we hope to find something different and great that will enable us to grow as a person.  Yet the future is the realm of the unknown, too, and it harbors threats that awaken fear.  Hope is precisely what enables us to move toward the future, placing our trust in the buds that are the harbingers of the plenty we long for and that, in addition, enable us to conquer our fears.


There are spheres of human life that engender what we can call “natural” hopes.  Consider the experience of love, which always carriers a promise of eternity and enables the lovers to imagine a future full of new possibilities.  Or consider the child who, just by being born, opens new horizons to his parents and society, lengthening their perspective on the future.”


Both of these books have a central question at the center– what does it take to stand up for one’s principles in the face of a hostile culture?  What consequences come from ignoring one’s moral and spiritual duties?  Through history and theology, these books pursue what it means to live out one’s faith.



–Chris Chan