Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Bishop Emeritus of Mainz, Germany, died on Sunday, March 11, 2018, after suffering a stroke. He was 81. Cardinal Lehmann was a leading Catholic academic and greatly committed to Christian unity.
Born on May 16, 1936, at Sigmaringen, he studied Philosophy and Theology for many years in Rome, notably at the Gregorian University, where he wrote a thesis on the thought of Martin Heidegger and another on the Resurrection.
He was ordained in Rome on October 10, 1963, and served an assistant to Jesuit Karl Rahner at Munich and later at Munster. He was exempted from pastoral duties to teach and to pursue his academic researches, especially on the theme of Revelation.
Pope John Paul II appointed him Bishop of Mainz on June 21, 1983: he took as his episcopal motto 'State in Fide' - 'Stand Firm in Your Faith' (1 Corinthians 16:13) and remained in the diocese's pastoral government until he retired on May 16, 2016. John Paul II created him Cardinal in the Consistory of February 21, 2001.
Within the Curia, Cardinal Lehmann was a member of the International Theological Commission and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
He was also very engaged in the ecumenical dialogue, as member, scientific adviser and President of the Ecumenical Work Circle of Evangelical and Catholic Theologians (Jaeger-Stahlin-Kreis); as member of the Circle for Dialogue between the German Episcopal Conference and the Council of the Evangelical Church of Germany; and as member and President of the Latin Catholic/Evangelical-Lutheran Dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
He was President of the German Episcopal Conference from 1987 to 2008 and also President of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE).
During his life, he received many awards, among them the Jewish 'Abraham Geiger' Prize, and wrote numerous publications.
His work as co-chair - with Protestant theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg - of a Protestant-Catholic study commission in Germany, following the visit of Pope John Paul II in Germany in 1980, about whether the 16th century mutual condemnations needed still to divide the churches was one of the sources for the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Lutherans and Roman Catholics.
Very early on, Lehmann urged that the 2017 Reformation anniversary be seen as an ecumenical opportunity for Protestants and Roman Catholics alike.
In an address to the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order Commission in 1974, Lehmann warned all churches, including his own, of the danger leaving the various traditions of belief to continue side-by-side, maintaining their own identities as they are.
"Cardinal Lehmann urged us to challenge each other more. He urged us to be radially changed not only by the gospel but by each other's experiences of faith, and to be subject to correction in decisive matters," said WCC general secretary Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. "Cardinal Lehmann taught us all that unity is not an end in itself but has to serve the reconciliation and unification of humankind. He was a true ecumenical pioneer and pilgrim, searching for new ways forward."
In a condolence message sent to Monsignor Peter Kohlgraf, Bishop of Mainz, Pope Francis said: "I learnt with sorrow the news of the death of Cardinal Karl Lehmann. I express to you and to the faithful of the Diocese of Mainz my heartfelt condolences, assuring you of my prayer for the late Cardinal, whom the Lord has called to Himself after a serious illness and suffering. In his long activity as theologian and Bishop, as well as President of the German Episcopal Conference, he contributed to mold the life of the Church and of society. He always had at heart openness to the questions and challenges of the time and the offering of answers and guidelines drawn from Christ's message. May Jesus, the Good Shepherd, give His servant the completion and fullness of life in His celestial Kingdom. Remembering in prayer the deceased Cardinal, I impart to you, and to all who mourn, my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing."
The European Bishops Conference said in a statement: "Having learnt the sad news of the passing of the Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Bishop Emeritus of Mainz, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa and President of the CCEE, addressed a message of condolence to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of the German Bishops' Conference, and to HE Mgr Dr Peter Kohlgraf, bishop of Mainz, assuring closeness and prayer to the faithful of Mainz and the Catholic Church of Germany, in which he remembers how "the European Bishops and, in particular, the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, of which His Eminence Cardinal Karl Lehmann was vice-president from 1993 to 2001, was able to know and benefit from his passion for Europe, and especially for the re-evangelization of the continent and his commitment for the unity of Christians, not only in Germany but throughout the European continent. "