Tveit: Cardinal Lehmann worked tirelessly for unity

Cardinal Karl Lehmann. Photo: Raimond Spekking, 2014.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the former head of Germany’s Catholic Bishops Conference, died on 11 March. He was 81.

As bishop of Mainz from 1983 to 2016, Cardinal Lehmann was one of the most influential ecumenists exercising a senior position in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany.

His work as co-chair – with Protestant theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg – of a Protestant-Catholic study commission in Germany, following the visit of Pope John Paul II in Germany in 1980, about whether the 16th century mutual condemnations needed still to divide the churches was one of the sources for the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Lutherans and Roman Catholics.

Very early on, Lehmann urged that the 2017 Reformation anniversary be seen as an ecumenical opportunity for Protestants and Roman Catholics alike.

In an address to the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order Commission in 1974, Lehmann warned all churches, including his own, of the danger leaving the various traditions of belief to continue side-by-side, maintaining their own identities as they are.

“Cardinal Lehmann urged us to challenge each other more. He urged us to be radially changed not only by the gospel but by each other’s experiences of faith, and to be subject to correction in decisive matters,” said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. “Cardinal Lehmann taught us all that unity is not an end in itself but has to serve the reconciliation and unification of humankind. He was a true ecumenical pioneer and pilgrim, searching for new ways forward.”

More information on the WCC Faith and Order Commission

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