Shaking the head in the Vatican: When Pope Pius XII. (1939-58), himself once a nuncio in Germany, entrusted the 62-year-old US Archbishop Alois J. Muench with this task, he relied on a lateral entrant in papal diplomacy. Because the son of German emigrants, born on February 18, 1889 in Milwaukee / Wisconsin, was actually “only” Bishop of the Diocese of Fargo in remote North Dakota on the border with Canada. On March 9, 1951, 70 years ago, Muench, who had already been working in Germany for five years and knew the needs of the people, was appointed by the Pope as Apostolic Nuncio.
With the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), the Vatican diplomats had managed to establish a papal mission in Germany. The aim was to be able to better help the population, the displaced and the “displaced people” – people who had been abducted by the Nazis as forced laborers.
Muench campaigned against the “policy of punishment and revenge”
Eisenhower enforced that the head of this mission, based in Kronberg / Taunus, had to be an American. The Pope’s choice fell on Muench, whom he appointed on May 16, 1946 as Apostolic Visitator “ad interim”. The US military government in Germany also appointed him as an advisor on religious matters. The US bishops entrusted him with the management of the military chaplaincy in the American-occupied part of Germany. Because the bishop was the son of German emigrants, he had few problems coming into contact with the population, and in the immediate post-war period they turned to him for help often enough.
Muench’s promotion to nuncio became possible after the Western Allies withdrew from the Morgenthau Plan, the final destruction of Germany. They began to set up state administrations again to promote the development of the economy. In the spring of 1948 the Six Power Conference in London cleared the way for the establishment of a West German state. This is also thanks to Muench, explained General Lucius D. Clay (1897-1978) when he retired as military governor of the US zone of occupation in Germany in 1949.
Muench had helped to shake the American people awake: “In this way, a change to an occupation policy could be brought about that corresponds more to our national character than the initial policy of punishment and revenge.” On May 23, 1949, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany came into force. With the founding of the GDR in October 1949, the division that was to last for four decades was sealed.
As complicated as the history of the two post-war German states, the beginning of the Vatican representation was just as bumpy. On October 21, 1949, the Pope appointed Muench “Regent of the Apostolic Nunciature in the German Reich”. It was in Eichstätt, where the last Reich Nuncio, Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo (d. 1946), fled with his staff from the Soviet troops from Berlin at the beginning of 1945.
The Holy See clung to the nunciature, which had diplomatically expired at the end of the war, and waited for a while. He signaled that if the occupation status were to be relaxed, he wanted to accredit a nuncio to the Federal Republic, but not to the GDR. The reactivated nunciature should be responsible for the whole of Germany – as it was until 1945.
Apostolic Nuncio “to the German people”
On April 4, 1951, Muench presented Federal President Theodor Heuss with his accreditation in the Villa Hammerschmidt in Bonn. In it the Pope certified him as Apostolic Nuncio “to the German people”. His official title “Nuntius Apostolicus in Germania” also corresponded to the all-German claim. After the nunciature moved to Bad Godesberg in June, Muench worked on the Rhine for almost eight years.
One of his services is that he regulated the continuation of the Concordats with the West German post-war government. Visits to eastern Germany, which he was denied as a visitor in Kronberg, were possible twice as nuncio: in 1954 he came to the GDR for the 1,200th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Boniface and in 1957 on the occasion of the 750th anniversary of the death of St. Elisabeth of Thuringia. More than 70,000 people came to the mass on the steps of the Erfurt Cathedral.
Pope John XXIII (1958-63) appointed Muench to the Curia and made him cardinal in December 1959. This ended his time as nuncio in Bonn and also his episcopal office in Fargo, which he had not given up until then. Muench died in Rome on February 15, 1962 – three days before he would turn 73.