Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the former Bishop of Mainz and for almost 20 years president of the German bishops’ conference, died yesterday [11 March].
Cardinal Lehmann died in the early hours of Sunday, in his house in Mainz. He was 81.
From the moment his death was announced, Bishop Peter Kohlgraf, Lehmann’s successor as Bishop of Mainz, began receiving messages of condolence.
“The German Church bows its head before a personality who had a pronouncedly formative influence on the World Church”, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, the bishops’ conference president, wrote, recalling that Lehmann had been “an impressive personality, an exemplary priest, ‘carer of souls’ (‘Seelsorger’) and bishop, an exceptionally gifted theologian and a good friend”.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised Lehmann as a “bridgebuilder between denominations and religions”.
Chancellor Angela Merkel recalled Lehmann’s joie de vivre and his great intellectual powers. She was deeply grateful for the many meetings and “good talks” she had had with the cardinal, she said. “He was a gifted mediator between German Catholics and Rome, between the Christian Churches and between Christians and believers of other religions”.
Born at Sigmaringen in May 1936, Lehmann’s father was a schoolteacher and his mother a bookseller. Lehmann studied for the priesthood at the seminary in Freiburg and at the Gregorian in Rome. He was ordained in Rome by Cardinal Julius Döpfner of Munich. During the Second Vatican Council, Lehmann served as assistant to Karl Rahner SJ.
In 1968, at age 32, he became Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Mainz.
Lehmann was appointed Bishop of Mainz in 1983 at the age of 47, the youngest bishop ever appointed in Germany. He served as Bishop of Mainz for 33 years until he retired in 2016. He was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
In his letter of condolence to Lehmann’s successor Bishop Peter Kohlgraf, which was published on Monday, 12 March, Pope Francis recalls that Lehmann had always attempted “to be open for the questions and challenges of the times and to answer them and give people orientation in the light of Jesus Christ’s message”. In doing so, Lehmann had concentrated on that which united rather than separated denominations, different convictions or countries. Francis praised Lehmann as an outstanding churchman and bridge builder.
Pic: Altar servers leaving after a Mass in Mainz cathedral after the death of Cardinal Lehmann. Karl Lehmann, who was bishop of Mainz for 33 years, has died at his house in Mainz. Picture by: Thomas Frey/DPA/PA Images