Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber: An Man of Extrodinary Courage and Role Model for Our Times

By Father Joseph Shea

A couple of weeks ago, two of my priest friends and I went to see the new movie, Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise.  The movie presents the true life story about a large-scale conspiracy within the German army to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  The heroic German Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg led the coup.  The assassination attempt on July 20, 1944, failed because the detonated bomb only injured Adolf Hitler.  

Colonel von Stauffenberg and the other conspirators were arrested and executed for treason.  Now, of course, they are honored as heroes who tried to stop the madness of Hitler. Unbeknownst to most people is that there was another hero living at that very same time who courageously opposed Hitler and his plans. 

His name was Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Munich from 1917 to his death in 1952.  An interesting side note is: the last man that Cardinal von Faulhaber ordained to the priesthood was one Joseph Ratzinger, our present Holy Father. As you might imagine, the years between 1933 and 1945, when Hitler was in power, were especially difficult for Cardinal von Faulhaber because he courageously chose to speak out against the Nazi regime and its policies, rather than remain quiet out of fear of the Nazis. At every opportunity, he condemned the crimes of the Nazis, risking his life every time he did so.

His Advent sermons of 1933, delivered in the glorious Cathedral of Munich, drew thousands of Munich citizens — standing room only. They came to listen to the Cardinal fearlessly challenge National Socialism, to assert the rights and freedoms of the Catholic Church and to call for the protection of the Jewish people.

Jesus, Mary, and The Star of David

By the 1940’s, when Hitler’s final solution became clear to all, in response to the atrocities that the Nazis were doing to the Jews, Cardinal von Faulhaber ordered yellow armbands with the Star of David to be placed on all the statues of Christ and Mary throughout his Archdiocese.  Cardinal von Faulhaber’s courageous actions infuriated Hitler and the Nazi leaders, but the Gestapo didn’t dare remove the yellow armbands for fear of a Catholic uprising.

So Munich , the birthplace of the Nazi movement, became the center of Nazi resistance. And although Dachau was located only 10 miles outside Munich’s city limits, within Munich, Hitler and his policies were weakened severely by the courage of one man who chose to speak out and to act courageously rather than to remain silent.

What made Cardinal Faulhaber so courageous?  Why would he risk his life for people he did not know, for people who were not considered “worthy of life” because they were Jewish or because they were physically or mentally impaired, or too old and using up too much of the society’s resources, or because they were homosexual, or because they protested too much against Nazism and its evil policies, such as many Catholic priests and Christian ministers did? Why? 

Because Cardinal Faulhaber had met the Savior Jesus Christ, just as John and Andrew did in today’s Gospel. Cardinal Faulhaber had heard Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” who Jesus was, and that encounter changed his life forever.  From that moment, Cardinal Faulhaber followed Jesus faithfully, never wavering in his dedication to Christ, despite incredible hardship.

That raises the fundamental question that each one of us needs to answer on this Sunday — dedicated as Pro-Life Sunday because this coming Thursday, January 22nd, marks the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling of Roe vs. Wade. Like Andrew and John and Cardinal Faulhaber, will we respond to Jesus’ invitation to be His disciples, to “come and see” who Jesus is, and faithfully follow Jesus in a way that neither our lives will nor our moral positions will ever be the same again? 

That’s the fundamental and challenging question set before us today. I ask this question because we find ourselves in an eerily similar situation as the German people nearly 70 years ago.

How did it happen?

One of the most troubling questions facing the German people after World War II was: how was it possible that a Holocaust of so many innocent people went on without a huge protest.  How was it possible that a great people, such as the Germans, could have been fooled by an evil leader with such a diabolical political agenda?  Wasn’t Germany the country that produced Frederick the Great, the philosopher-king?   Wasn’t Germany, in the late 1800’s, arguably the most enlightened and free nation in Europe ?   What happened that caused the majority of people to get confused, deceived or intimidated?

Let me explain. If you remember, Germany was on the losing side of World War I and the German people had to pay very costly war reparations.  The conditions of the Treaty of Versailles bankrupted Germany, and Germany ’s economy went into a freefall.  The German currency of the time, the Reichsmark, was worth less than the paper it was printed on.  

Hyperinflation was so great that it was cheaper to burn money than firewood. Hitler came to power in the midst of this incredibly difficult time.  He promised the German people that he would revive the German economy, that he would reestablish order to a society falling in disarray, that he would give the German people a renewed sense of pride, and that he would save Germany.   It sounded great to a nation that had been beaten down.

The problem was how Hitler planned to “save” Germany.  His plan was based on very evil principles: the killing of the innocent; the genocide of neighboring people and the plundering of nearby nations; a systematic eugenic movement to eliminate the Jews, the handicapped, the infirmed, the aged, homosexuals, and any dissenting voice — all in the name of progress — all in the name of creating a “master race” — a utopian society that would last, not for 1000 years, but for 10,000 years.

How could so many Germans, especially German Christians, have supported Hitler?  Because some of them viewed their economic prosperity, their comfort, the strengthening of their public institutions and army, and the pride of a restored nation as more important than certain groups of people.  And others because they became part of the conspiracy of silence.   They were confused, deceived or intimidated.   And the terrible Holocaust happened — over 10 million people were executed.

What does this have to do with me?

Today, we find ourselves facing a similar, but even more horrible Holocaust of innocent people. I say more horrible because over 36 million innocent people — the most innocent and defenseless of all — babies — have been aborted since the Supreme Court ruling of Roe vs. Wade in 1973.

But the horror of the Holocaust doesn’t stop there.  This Holocaust also includes the manipulation of stem cells harvested through abortions and the termination of life of our elderly through euthanasia solely for the purpose of a national agenda of convenience, economic prosperity and creating another “master race” of people who will never get sick, who will be as beautiful as the models and movie stars we see on TV, in the movies or the Internet, or who will be the brightest and most talented in the world — another Albert Einstein or another Michael Jordan — a super race.

Again, why? And why is this happening?  Because some people in this nation really do believe that the end justifies the means.  They believe that the evil means of abortion, euthanasia and some genetic engineering justify the good end of a better nation and society, better health and a more  convenient life. But also this present day Holocaust is happening because the majority of people have become part of a conspiracy of silence. They have been confused, deceived or intimidated. Hitler tried to intimidate Cardinal Faulhaber and many others into silence during the first Holocaust. 

The secular world tries to do the same today with this Holocaust. Edmund Burke expressed it best in a quote from his essay “Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents:” “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” That’s why we must answer the question that the Gospel reading lays before us today:  Will we be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ? You see, brothers and sisters, Jesus is very clear about what His followers should do in the face of the evil of this modern day Holocaust of abortion and euthanasia. I was listening to a CD of a retreat that Father Benedict Groeschel recently gave to priests. 

Father Groeschel told a story about a prominent New York celebrity who approached Mother Teresa and asked her, “Mother Teresa, what is your view about abortion?” Mother Teresa stared at him, like Daniel Boone drawing a bead on a poor raccoon in a tree, and replied, “What do you think Jesus thinks about abortion?”  Utter silence. Jesus is very clear about abortion and euthanasia.  There is no confusion and no ambiguity.  Abortion and euthanasia are murder.  The only ones who are confused, ambiguous, and deceived are unbelievers and fair-weather Catholics.

Fair-weather Catholics are gung-ho followers of Jesus when it comes to the light, easy, cheerful teachings of the Gospel.   But when it involves the challenging, moral dictates that Jesus teaches, they stumble over their euphemisms, excuses, their doublespeak, and their rationalizations. You’ve heard them: “I am personally opposed to abortion, but I believe that a woman has the right to choose.”

I wonder: would those same people say, “I’m personally against stealing, but I believe that a person has the right to steal my car?”  No way!  Isn’t amazing how people wouldn’t accept that rationalization with any other Commandment.  It’s just with the 5th commandment and the issue of abortion and euthanasia. Jesus is very clear about His teaching on abortion and euthanasia.  There is no confusion, no ambiguity.  It is only unbelievers and fair-weather Catholics.

Be Not Afraid

There is still the majority of Catholics out there who are good and trying to be faithful, but, who have been intimidated or confused into silence.  I urge you not to be afraid.  We Catholics make up more than 25% of the population of America.  [Christians make up more than 74% of the total U.S. population]  If we stood together as dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ and Catholics faithful to Christ’s teachings, we would change the entire moral fabric, fiber and direction of our country.

And we need to stand up.  We need to speak out for all those unborn or elderly citizens who have lost their voice in our sleek, chic, sophisticated world.  I will tell you why. President-elect Barack Obama has stated publicly that the one of the first things he will do when he gets into office is to the sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).

For those who do not know, the Freedom of Choice Act currently before the Congress, which Barack Obama sponsored as a Senator, will roll back all the restriction on abortion that the majority of Americans want and have voted in during the past 36 years.  FOCA will invalidate for the entire country all restrictions on abortion including parental notifications, waiting periods, and partial birth abortions, yes — the brutal killing of 9-month old fetuses while they are in the birth canal, ready to be born.

FOCA, the possible closure of Catholic hospitals and President Obama’s response FOCA also will attempt to force Catholic hospitals to adopt these evil measures. Thank God, Cardinal George of Chicago, the president of the National Council of Bishops, has told President-elect Obama and his team that, if FOCA is signed into law, the Catholic Church will close their Catholic hospitals rather than participate in evil.  By the way, Catholic hospitals make up one third of all hospitals in the nation.

Do you know what President–elect Obama’s team said to Cardinal George?  “That’s OK!  We’ll just buy your hospitals.”  To which Cardinal George replied, “You didn’t hear me! I said that we will close our hospitals. You will have to build your own!”  Good for him and all the Cardinals and Bishops standing with him!  

They are the new Cardinal Faulhabers, standing up against evil! Brothers and sister, our Cardinal Roger Mahony has urged all of us in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to get involved with a postcard campaign to turn back this terrible legislative act.  As your pastor, I also strongly urge you to stand up and speak out. After communion, the ushers will pass out postcards, already addressed to our Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, and to our Congressman Elton Gallegly.  

I would ask you to take the time to sign them and then to drop them into the baskets at each Church door.  I will put the postage on them and mail them for you. Hitler wanted the Church to remain silent in the face of all the atrocities of the first Holocaust, all in the name of progress and pride of a nation.  Fortunately, a small group of great Christians, such as Cardinal Faulhaber, Dietrich Bonhoffer, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and others stood up and shouted in defiance.  

Ultimately, their voices were heard, but not before 10 million innocent people lost their lives in the Holocaust. Many in our government, in our nation, and sadly, even some in our Church today, want the Church to be silent about this new Holocaust.  Many want the Church to not get involved in politics — all in the name of economic prosperity, comfort, convenience, progress and pride of our nation. 

Many say that the Church shouldn’t say anything because there is a separation of Church and State. I’ll tell you what:  The Church and I won’t speak to or about politics if the government will stay out of our beloved Church and the Gospel.  Once the government comes across that boundary, we will speak, and speak loudly.

Courage and Faith

Brothers and sisters, don’t be intimidated, confused or deceived.  Jesus is very clear what He wants us his faithful disciples to do. Let’s act with courage and faith. If we don’t, we will rue the day, as the German people still do now about the first Holocaust.  If we don’t stand up and speak out, then we will stand condemned by future generations, and maybe even before God, because we failed to heed Edmond Burke’s admonition: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do and say nothing.”

Fr. Shea, a diocesan priest and the pastor of Saint Rose of Lima Parish, Simi Valley, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, delivered this sermon on Pro-Life Sunday, January 18, 2009.  Reprinted here with permission.