Wilhelm Freiherr von Pechmann
Wilhelm Freiherr von Pechmann was born on June 10, 1859 in Memmingen. He came from a Catholic family that had been ennobled in the 17th century. The son of a jurist, he was baptized Protestant in keeping with his mother’s faith. After attending school in Memmingen and Augsburg, he first studied classical philology and then law at the university in Munich. After graduating and performing his military service, he was hired by the Bayerischen Handelsbank in 1886 and rose steadily from legal counsel to senior director (1937) and chairman of the advisory board (1939). In addition to working for this financial institution, von Pechmann published articles on banking law and was active in Bavarian and German banking and stock exchange associations.
Politically, von Pechmann was active in the conservative and elitist German Imperial Party before World War I. He served in the war as a company commander and as a battalion commander. After Germany’s defeat and the Revolution 1918, he was unable to relate positively to ideologically neutral party democracy. Nevertheless, von Pechmann considered the political change to be a great opportunity to reform the church constitution and constructively realign the relationship between church and state in Bavaria.
Von Pechmann’s work for the Bavarian regional church, for which he was awarded an honorary doctorate in theology from the university in Erlangen in 1913, may be considered the mainstay of his life. A founding member of the Young Men’s Christian Association in Munich, he had been a member of the Bavarian general synod since 1901 and presided over the so-called tax synods of 1910 and 1913. Other senior posts in the church followed: von Pechmann was president of the Bavarian regional synod from 1920 to 1922, a member of the Dresden Church Congress in 1919, president of four German Evangelical Church Congresses from 1921 to 1930 and a member of the German Evangelical Church Committee from 1929 onward.
Ecumenically, von Pechmann had been active in the leadership of the Lutheran World Convention since 1923. He was additionally a member of the Continuation Committee of the Universal Christian Conference in Stockholm and several Lutheran organizations.
From the outset of the Kirchenkampf, von Pechmann criticized the Bavarian regional church’s course under Bishop Hans Meiser (1881–1956) strongly because of its abundant willingness to compromise. The first high point of this dispute was his resignation from the German Evangelical Church Committee in 1933, among other reasons, because of its silence on the treatment of “non-Aryan” Christians, which von Pechmann wanted to criticize publicly.
A well calculated symbolic act followed in 1934: Taking a step he had threatened for some time, von Pechmann announced to Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller (1883–1945) on April 2 that he was withdrawing his membership in the Reich Church, explaining that it had ceased to be the church. Von Pechmann joined the Confessing Church in Bavaria in June of 1936.
A layperson, von Pechmann immersed himself in Lutheran theology. At the same time, he had great respect for the Catholic Church, paid close attention to its persecution by the Nazis and continually took this as an opportunity to demand collective protests from the Protestant and Catholic Church against injustice by the state. Following a long process of theological examination and suffering under his own church, von Pechmann converted to Roman Catholicism in April of 1946. Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber (1869–1952), with whom he had corresponded for years, confirmed him in June of 1946. Von Pechmann died on February 10, 1948 in Munich.