Now Rainer Maria Woelki also wears the "pallium". Benedict XVI. ceremoniously presented the Berlin cardinal with the stole in St. Peter's Basilica on Friday; as a sign of their dignity as archbishops, Woelki and 44 other clergy from around the world accepted it. The ceremony almost coincided with the first anniversary of Woelki's appointment to head the Archdiocese of Berlin.
On 2. July 2011, Benedict XVI had. appointed the then auxiliary bishop of Cologne as successor to the late Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky. Woelki then took up his duties as capital bishop on 27. August. Since then, the 55-year-old has cut a good figure – unexpectedly so for some. Insinuations of a backward-looking officialdom, such as those that arose because of his doctorate from the Opus Dei community's "Pontifical University of the Holy Cross," have largely fallen silent.
From the beginning, the tall Woelki with his distinctive black glasses frame showed himself open and without fear of contact. He does not want to "wag his moral finger" but to approach his new task "with Rhenish cheerfulness and lightness," he announced at his first press conference in the capital.
Dealing more openly with divorced Catholics
Most recently, he proved this in an interview with the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" on current hot church topics. In it, he advised a more open approach to divorced Catholics who are excluded from sacraments such as communion after a second civil marriage. "We must find a way – without detracting from doctrine – that allows people to live," Woelki admonished. "Today, perhaps, on the part of the Church, we sometimes suffer from a false perfectionism," he admitted.
The cardinal also caused a stir with his position on same-sex partnerships. He said the church should not see homosexual relationships as merely "a violation of the natural law". "I also try to perceive that there are people who permanently take responsibility for each other, have promised loyalty to each other and want to care for each other," he said in the interview. Earlier, Woelki had not left it at words. Last September, he became the first Catholic bishop in Germany to meet officially with representatives of the Lesbian and Gay Association.
"The church must not be a men-only club"
Woelki also made a name for himself as a "Caritas bishop". And not only as chairman of the corresponding commission of the German Bishops' Conference, which he has headed since last fall. Already with the choice of his residence Woelki had previously set a sign. He moved to the district of Wedding, a social hot spot with a high percentage of migrants. He also celebrated his elevation to cardinal with about 100 poor Berliners at the Charlottenburg Malteser headquarters.
Woelki's promotion of women also attracted attention. Admitting them to ecclesiastical ordination offices would contradict "the divine will of the founder," he admitted. "However, the church must not be a men-only club," the cardinal stressed at the same time. With Ulrike Kostka in the Diocesan Caritas Association and Martina Koppen in the Catholic Office Berlin-Brandenburg, which does political lobbying, he appointed two women to top positions previously held by men.
"In terms of foreign policy," Woelki has "arrived" as the capital's bishop, according to many observers. Meanwhile, difficult tests still await him within the church. Like the other German dioceses, the archdiocese of Berlin is facing further structural reforms with noticeable consequences for pastoral care. Reason are the declining numbers of priests, church members and financial resources. Already the mergers of parishes in recent years under Cardinal Sterzinsky were sometimes hotly contested. Now the successor must prove his ability to balance interests.