“I received the news of the death of our esteemed brother and friend, Cardinal Karl Lehmann with deep sadness and sorrow. God, Lord of life and death, has called this faithful servant to himself. He died in profound faith in the God of Grace. A great theologian, bishop and lover of humanity has left us. With his death, we lose a bishop with a great and deeply human heart, who distinguished himself for the power of his words. The Church in Germany bows her head to a personality who has significantly shaped the Catholic Church worldwide.” With these words the Cardinal of Munich, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, H.E. Reinhard Marx, paid tribute to his confrere Cardinal Lehmann who passed away in the early hours of Sunday March 11. Lehmann had been unwell for a long time, he had a stroke past September, and a few days ago Msgr. Peter Kohlgraf, bishop of Magonza, where the late Cardinal lived, announced that the thin thread of life of this great man was soon going to break. Countless expressions of bereavement and grief followed the sad news of his demise, delivered over the past few hours, mourning the loos of a shepherd, a man who gave a great contribution to Germany. In a meeting with the press in Munich at 12:00 on Sunday, Cardinal Marx retraced an intense biographic outline of the late Cardinal.
Lehmann, who would have turned 82 next May 16, was ordained priest in 1963, after having earned a degree in Philosophy at the Gregorian University, followed by a degree in theology in 1967. Having been relieved from his pastoral duties by his bishop, Lehman dedicated himself completely to his studies, working as an assistant of theologian Fr Karl Rahner in Munich and Münster. In 1968, he was appointed Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Mainz and a few years later Professor of Dogmatic and Ecumenical Theology in Freiburg im Breisgau. After his appointment as Bishop on October 2 1983 and his arrival in Mainz, Lehman never interrupted his theological commitment made of scholarly studies, speeches, contributions to numerous, diverse areas of the German and Universal Church and to the ecumenical dialogue with the German Evangelical Church. He became a member of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue between the World Lutheran Federation and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. He led the German Bishops’ Conference from 1987 until 2008, when he resigned because of health issues. He served as member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith for ten years (1988-1998). He served as Vice-President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) from 1993 to 2001.
In his lifetime he received many awards and accolades, authored many publications, was member of numerous committees. The list is as long and generous as was his intelligence, his theological competence, coupled by utmost humility.
He was elevated to cardinalship by John Paul II in 2001. He participated in the conclaves that elected Popes Benedict XVI and Francis (April 2005 and March 2013).
“In the Bishops’ Conference Lehmann experienced highs and lows”, Marx recalled, always guided by the concern to be a “Church at the service of people and faithful to tradition.” Among the “lows”, Marx mentioned his counsel to pregnant women who opt for abortion or “the emergence of sexual abuses in the Church.” The “highs” include the reunification of the Bishops’ Conferences of divided Germany in 1991, the visit of John Paul II to Paderborn and Berlin in 1996, the World Youth Day in Munich with Benedict XVI in 2005. Lehmann “had at heart” the ecumenical rapprochement that he contributed to bring about with his “life, his ideas, his debates, and his reflections.” Marx recalled Lehmann’s major contribution at international level, a “great mediator” in the Joint Declaration on Justification. He always remained a “theology Professor” although within the Bishops’ Conference, whose contributions “always aimed at transmitting confidence to the people at a time of major transformations.” For Cardinal Marx, this earned him the
great esteem of the political world and of many civil society groups.
In the recollections shared yesterday in Munich emerged also the late Cardinal’s faithfulness to the Second Vatican Council, his deep generosity wherever his contribution was requested, in the German Church, in the European Church and in the Church worldwide. “Cardinal Lehmann was an exceptional person and an exemplary member of the clergy”, “most importantly, Karl Lehmann was a priest, a shepherd and a bishop, a gifted theologian and a good friend”, Marx said. “We will miss his theological acumen and the poignant remarks” of this “personality who served as a guide and a devout Catholic, who has lived his life according to God’s plan, dedicating himself to Christ’s mission and message.” He was “a friend, a brother who guided us all.”
In a message of condolences released a few hours after the death of Cardinal Lehmann, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier remembered him as a “man of clear words, who, despite his thoughtfulness and conciliation, did not shy way from political controversy when the issues were of central importance for coexistence in the State and in society.” “It was clear to people who met him – the President added – “that the cardinal did not only rely on his own strength, but also on the grace of God.” He recalled his attitude of “faithfulness and his contagious smile, stemming from a joyful, deep-rooted faith that Cardinal Karl Lehmann irradiated.” “Every conversation with him was enriching, his counsel was of special value to me”, Steinmeier concluded.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her sorrow in a message: “I am grateful for the good conversations and meetings over the course of many years. He has inspired me with his intellectual and theological strength and always remained a person full of the joy of life.” Merkel remembered him as “one of the most prominent faces of the Catholic Church in Germany”, “an exceptionally gifted mediator between the German Catholics and Rome”, “between Christian Churches” and “between Christian believers and believers of other world religions.” “I bow down to his life. I will cherish a grateful memory of him.”