Bonn. After the announced resignation of Karl Cardinal Lehmann as the head of the German Bishops' Conference the discussion about the succession has already begun.
The Vice-Chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Aachen Bishop Heinrich "God is not Catholic" Mussinghoff (67), has already ruled himself out as a candidate for the post of Chairman, a Diocesan spokesman said on Tuesday (Cathcon- that's a relief then!). The Bishops' Conference had earlier on Tuesday announced the premature resignation of Lehmann after some 20 years of office. The 71-year-old declared that he would retire on 18 February, for health reasons, and but also for a necessary generational change to take place. The successor will be elected in February.
Lehmann's longstanding efforts and, in particular, his commitment to social dialogue and the coexistence of religions have been appreciated positively by all sides. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) regretted the resignation. "Cardinal Lehmann enjoys a high reputation far beyond the borders of the Catholic Church," Merkel said after a telephone conversation with Lehmann. Federal Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) said with his going an era is coming to an end. The Rhineland-Palatinate Prime Minister and SPD chairman, Kurt Beck said Lehmann represented the Catholic Church nationally and internationally in an outstanding manner.
The fourth six-year term of office of Lehmann would have expired in 2011. He will still lead the Spring Plenary Assembly of the Bishops' Conference from 11 To 14 February in Wuerzburg. They will also choose the new Chairman. Lehmann will continue to exercise his office as Bishop of Mainz, wanting in the future to devote himself more strongly to basic issues such as ecumenism.
He had at the end of last year, a "life-threatening disease", Lehmann wrote in a letter to the bishops. With the heart-rhythm disturbance, he had reached "a clear break" where "in the future his strength no longer allows him this often absolute exhaustion". Lehmann also pointed to increasing time pressure: "The demands of the public or the media, personal interviews and written correspondence always become bigger." That's why he is now doing as already he had indicated as an option in September 2005 during his re-election, not to fully serve the term as chief representative of 26 million German Catholics.
On behalf of the German Bishops, Mussinghoff thanked Lehmann for his "tireless efforts". The Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who is a conservative counterpoint in the bishops' conference to Lehmann said that he had succeeded in the midst of great upheaval, to remain in discussion with the social partners (Cathcon comment- a German idea of the corporate state!) . The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Prof. Hans Joachim Meyer, praised Lehmann "principled strength, his sense of reality and his willingness to listen."
The Chairman of the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD), Bishop Wolfgang Huber, pointed to Lehmann’s advocacy of ecumenism. The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, said that over the years of trusting cooperation deep human bonds were created, "which also in politically difficult times have proved viable and resilient."
Lehmann was elected in September 1987 in Fulda as successor to Cardinal Joseph Höffner (Cologne), Chairman of the Bishops' Conference. The qualified theologian was reelected in 1993, 1999 and 2005. Lehmann, became Bishop of Mainz in 1983 and January 2001 appointed Cardinal by Pope John Paul II.
As a possible successor, the newly appointed Archbishop of Munich Reinhard Marx (54) is under discussion.. His election would be a generational change. But church experts hold a transitional solution with an even older Bishop with only one term of six years as conceivable. From the perspective of the reform movement, 'We Are Church " a chairman of the Bishops' Conference should not polarise opinion as Cologne's Cardinal Joachim Meisner (74), or the Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa (66) would. In the discussion in religious circles about the succession debate the names of the Freiburg archbishop, Robert Zollitsch (69), and the Archbishop of Hamburg, Werner Thissen (69), are heard.
Mussinghoff assumes that the entire team will be newly elected in Wuerzburg, said the diocese spokesman. These included: the Chairman and his deputies as well as the secretary of the Bishops' Conference.