Vatican City, Mar 11, 2018 / 07:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Archbishop Emeritus of Mainz and one of the most prominent leaders in the German Church known for his ecumenical work, died at his home Sunday morning at the age of 81.
In a statement following the prelate’s death March 11, president of the German Bishops Conference Cardinal Reinhard Marx said in wake of Lehmann’s passing, “the church of Germany is bowing humbly in front of a personality who influenced the Catholic church worldwide.”
Marx praised the many accomplishments and longstanding contributions of his predecessor, who he said worked “tirelessly” to build bridges of understanding, reconciliation and dialogue.
After retiring from his role as head of the Mainz diocese in 2016, Lehmann last year suffered a stroke and his health has been in decline ever since.
In a March 11 CDU party press release on the cardinal’s death, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was sad to hear of the prelate’s passing, and voiced gratitude “for our good conversations and meetings over the years.”
She called the late prelate “an exceptionally gifted mediator, between the German Catholics and Rome, in the spirit of the economical movement between the Christian churches, but also between Christians and believers of other religions.”
Born in Sigmaringen, Germany, May 16, 1936, Lehmann played a leading role in advancing the Catholic Church’s dialogue with Lutherans and Evangelicals, in particular. And with 20 years as head of the German Bishops conference, he is widely considered to be one of the most influential leaders in the German Church.
After completing seminary, Lehmann was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Freiburg Oct. 10, 1963, and held doctorates in both philosophy and theology from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.
For three years, from 1964-1967, he was an assistant to Jesuit Fr. Karl Rahner at the University of Münster helping with the latter’s seminar on the Christian vision of the world and the philosophy of religion.
He graduated from the Gregorian University in 1967, and the same year continued to assist Fr. Rahner with his role in the Chair of Dogmatic and the History of Dogmatic at the Westfälischen Wilhelms University of Münster.
After completing his doctoral studies, writing his thesis on themes associated with Christ’s resurrection and Christian Revelation, Lehmann then taught dogmatic theology at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.
In 1969 became a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics and the Jaeger-Stählin working committee of Evangelical and Catholic Theologians. In 1975 he was named a scientific consultant for the Catholic part of the working committee, and in 1989 became its president.
Lehman later taught at the Albert Ludwig University, Freiburg im Breisgau, and for 10 years, from 1974-1984, was a member of the International Theological Commission.
At the time, the future cardinal also edited the official publication of the documents from the Joint Synod of the Dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany for the 1971-1975 Synod of Würzburg.
In June 1983, he was appointed Bishop of Mainz and received episcopal ordination that October. A year later, he became a member of the circle for dialogue between representatives of the German Bishops Conference and those from the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany.
From March 1986-1988 he also became a member and later president of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue between the World Lutheran Federation and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
The two entities in 2017 signed their latest joint-statement to mark their shared commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In a major ecumenical move, Pope Francis traveled to Lund, Sweden from Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2017, for a joint-commemoration of the landmark anniversary.
In addition to his role in helping advance ecumenism, Cardinal Lehmann was elected president of the German Bishops Conference in 1987 – a position he held for 20 years, being reconfirmed in the role in 1993, 1999 and again in 2005.
In 1995 he was named Special Secretary of the First Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops, and from 1988-1998 was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The prelate received awards from universities and institutions all over the world, and was the author of several publications.
He participated in the conclave of 2005 that elected Benedict XVI as Pope, as well as the conclave of 2013 that elected Pope Francis, and is rumored to have been one of the cardinals pushing for Bergoglio’s election.
Lehmann was given a red hat by Pope John Paul II in 2001. He retired from his role as head of the Mainz diocese in 2016, and died the morning of March 11, 2018.