A duty man

He does not think much of cardinals remaining in the episcopate beyond the age of 75. age to remain in the episcopate, he said recently. On the other hand, he said, he is a man of duty and makes his decision "dependent on the Dear God and the Pope". On 16. May marks the 75th birthday of Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, Germany. Already today he can celebrate the tenth anniversary of his appointment as cardinal by Pope John Paul II. celebrate.

Lehmann shaped the Catholic Church in Germany for more than two decades. He has headed the diocese of Mainz since 1983. From 1987 to early 2008, he was president of the German Bishops' Conference. He gave up this office for health reasons. But he has succeeded "only to a limited extent" in cutting back, he said now. Even the correspondence has tended to increase because people have turned to him with even more confidence.

As chairman of the Bishops' Conference, he gave impulses – in fundamental social ies as well as in ecumenical discussions. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he brought together Catholics from East and West Germany. As a theologian who experienced the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Lehmann stands for a church that is willing and able to engage in dialogue.

Communication and argumentation
Communication and argumentation are "irreplaceable for today's social situation of the church," the bishop says. This is all the more true since the abuse scandal. The church should not be surprised when it is measured by its own standards, he commented on the public uproar. "Whoever represents the strict Catholic sexual morals, it comes back to him like a boomerang when he commits his own misconduct. Accompanied by malice and gloating."

For him, the abuse scandal has also flushed other church reform ies back to the surface that had been kept under wraps for too long. As an example, he cites the debate on the diaconate of women or questions of sexuality and contraception. Within the bishops' conference, the bishop from Mainz stands for addressing such controversial ies openly and courageously. At the same time, he said, it had to be wisely weighed up which topics the church in Germany could not solve on its own and were necessary for talks with Rome.

"I have made every effort."
The interim balance Lehmann drew up in 2007 on the occasion of his "20th anniversary" as chairman of the Bishops' Conference remains a good motto for his work. He is still a member of numerous Vatican bodies, including the Congregation for Bishops, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

He has often gone beyond his powers. This is certainly true of the conflicts he has endured since taking office in 1987. These include not only the controversies with the Vatican over the church's participation in the state system of pregnancy conflict counseling or the pastoral treatment of remarried divorcees. Lehmann also did not shy away from conflict with politicians.

Core topic: protection of life
One of his core topics as chairman was the protection of life. After the German reunification, the abortion ie was at stake, as well as many other aspects of bioethics. In the struggle with Rome, Lehmann was seen by many as the spokesman of the critics – but he never was. Time and again he emphasized his loyalty to the pope. This is also reflected in his elevation to cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.

Lehmann, born in Sigmaringen, came from so-called humble beginnings. He says of his parental home – his father was an elementary school teacher – that it was soberly pious, but never bigoted. Lehmann studied philosophy and theology in Freiburg and in Rome, where he was ordained priest in 1963. He was an assistant to the renowned theologian Karl Rahner, was a professor of theology first in Mainz, then in Freiburg, before becoming bishop of Mainz in 1983. At 47, he was the youngest Catholic bishop in Germany at the time. And when he became chairman of the Bishops' Conference in 1987, he was the first bishop in that office who was not also a cardinal.

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