Cologne,Germany: Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the former Archbishop of Cologne, has died at the age of 83.
Meisner, considered a leader of the conservative wing of the German episcopate, was one of the four cardinals who presented the “dubia” to Pope Francis, seeking clarifications on the document Amoris Laetitia.
The Cologne archdiocese said Meisner died Wednesday while on holiday in Bad Fuessing, near the Austrian border, where he had been living since his retirement.
Born Christmas Day in 1933 in the eastern German city of Breslau, which is today the Polish city of Wroclaw, Meisner’s family fled to the state of Thuringia in 1945 ahead of the advancing Red Army at the end of World War II.
He studied theology in the city of Erfurt, and was ordained in 1962.
After advancing up the Catholic hierarchy, Meisner was made Bishop of Berlin in 1980 and named a cardinal three years later. He served as the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Berlin from 1982-1989. He became the Archbishop of Cologne in 1989 and served in that role until 2014, staying five years past the retirement age of 75 at the request of Pope Benedict XVI. Francis accepted his resignation in 2014.
During his time in office, he was a strong voice for the pro-life movement, and denounced the government for trying to remove crucifixes from the classroom.
He also caused controversy by opposing plans to build a large mosque in Cologne, and once urged Chancellor Angela Merkel to apologize for criticizing the Vatican’s handling of the case of a Holocaust-denying bishop.
In 2005, he welcomed the newly-elected Benedict to Cologne for World Youth Day, his first trip as pope.
He expressed his shock when Benedict announced his retirement in 2013, stating “marriage and being pope are until death.” He later agreed with the decision, remarking upon Benedict’s frailty.
Last year, he and three other cardinals – American Raymond Burke, Italian Carlo Caffarra, and fellow German Walter Brandmüller – sent five “dubia” [yes-or-no questions] asking clarification on Amoris Laetitia, particularly on the matter of divorced-and-remarried persons receiving Communion, to Francis and the then-head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, Cardinal Gerhard Müller.
Subsequently, the four cardinals attempted to gain an audience with the pope to discuss the issue, but were refused.
“He was not afraid of death, he has always proclaimed it,” said Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Meisner’s successor in Cologne, in his first remarks after hearing the news.
“For him, God was the center; nothing else mattered to him,” he told Domradio, Germany’s Catholic radio service.
Woelki said Meisner looked at his entire world – in thought, action, and political and social views – through the lens of Christ.
“For him, death was just as he said it, the transition from one hand of God into the other hand of God,” Woelki said.
Woelki said his predecessor also stood up for truth, and “fought for the protection of life from the beginning to the end, and raised his voice wherever the dignity of the person was challenged.”
The cardinal also acknowledged the prominent role Meisner played in shaping both the German state and the German Church after the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of the country in 1989.