Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the archbishop emeritus of Cologne who was a strong defender of the Church’s doctrine and orthodoxy, has died at the age of 83.

The German cardinal died “peacefully” after falling asleep while on vacation in Bad Füssing, Cologne’s Domradio reported on Wednesday, citing the archdiocese. 

Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne said he fell asleep at his bedside after having prepared to celebrate morning Mass and with his breviary in his hand.

Born in Breslau in what was then Germany but now known as Wrocław in Poland, Cardinal Meisner led Germany’s largest diocese for 25 years from 1989 to 2014.

He was considered for many years to be one of the country’s most influential bishops who had a close relationship with Pope St. John Paul II, and especially with Benedict XVI. He reportedly spoke on the telephone with the Pope emeritus just yesterday.

The cardinal made strong interventions to uphold faith and morals, in particular against abortion and assisted suicide, and was an outspoken critic of secularism.

“Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God,” he once said, “cult atrophies in ritualism and culture becomes degenerate.”

In a telegram to Cardinal Woelki, Pope Francis said “with profound emotion I learned that, suddenly and unexpectedly, Cardinal Joachim Meisner was called from this earth by the God of mercy.”

He said Cardinal Meisner was “dedicated to the proclamation of the Good News” with “profound faith and sincere love for the Church”.

“May Christ the Lord reward him for his faithful and intrepid efforts in favour of the good of people of East and West.”

He ended his message by imparting his Apostolic Blessing on all who “commemorate the late Pastor with prayers and sacrifices”.

 

'Dubia' cardinal

Last September, Cardinal Meisner put his name to the dubia, a series of 5 questions to the Holy Father asking him to clarify contentious passages in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia that have been subject to varying interpretations. The Pope has yet to respond to the dubia, or to grant the other cardinals — Walter Brandmüller, Carlo Caffarra and Raymond Burke — an audience.

In comments to the Register, Cardinal Burke said in tribute to the German cardinal that it had been “a great gift to me to know Cardinal Joachim Meisner over the past years.

“He has inspired me deeply by his profound love of Christ and of His Mystical Body, the Church,” Cardinal Burke said. “He spared no effort in showing that love clearly and courageously in practice. May he be granted the reward of the good and faithful servant. May he rest in peace.”

During the 2005 conclave, Cardinal Meisner led resistance against the so-called St. Gallen group of churchmen who were lobbying against the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

 

Biographical information provided today by the Vatican:

The Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop emeritus of Köln (Germany), was born on 25 December 1933 in Breslau, Silesia, Germany (present-day Wroclaw, Poland).

Having entered the seminary of Erfurt, he received a doctorate in theology. He was ordained a priest on 22 December 1962 and was made co-pastor of St. Giles Parish, Heiligenstadt and of Holy Cross, Erfurt. He was also the diocesan director of Caritas.

On 17 March 1975 he was elected titular Bishop of Vina and Auxiliary to Mons. Hugo Aufderbeck, Apostolic Administrator of Erfurt, East Germany. He was consecrated on 17 May 1975.

As Auxiliary Bishop of Erfurt, he signed the first agreement between Church and State based on the Democratic German Republic’s Constitution of 1963.

In December 1976, the members of the Bishops’ Conference of Berlin elected him as their representative to the Fourth Synod of Bishops, held at the Vatican in 1977.

In Rome, he once again met Cardinal Wojtyła, whom he had come to know two years previously. In 1975 the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Wojtyła, had taken part in a pilgrimage of Catholics from Thuringia and Eichsfeld to Erfurt. On this occasion he heard the homily of the Auxiliary Bishop of Erfurt, which expressed the theme of the pilgrimage: Spiritual renewal to change the world.

Intense and fruitful in his work within the territory of the apostolic administration permanenter constituta of Erfurt-Meiningen, on 22 April 1980 John Paul II appointed him Bishop of Berlin. A particular diocese, which consisted of the eastern and western parts of the city, including the surrounding countryside scattered with small parishes and communities.

He was also President of the Bishops’ Conference of Berlin, 1982-1989.

On 20 December 1988 he was promoted to Metropolitan Archbishop of Köln (Cologne). Archbishop emeritus of Köln, 28 February 2014.

President Delegate of the Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops (1-23 October 1999).

He was a Member of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

He participated in the conclave of April 2005, which elected Pope Benedict XVI and in the conclave of March 2013, which elected Pope Francis.

Created an proclaimed Cardinal by St. John Paul II in the consistory of 2 February 1983, of the Title of S. Pudenziana (St. Pudenziana).

Died on 5 July 2017.

This article has been updated.