Turning 80 on Christmas Day of this year, Joachim Cardinal Meisner is among the oldest diocesan ordinaries. Bishops are required to tender their resignation upon their 75th birthday, although the Pope is free to allow or disregard it as and when he sees fit. Cardinal Meisner, the Archbishop of Cologne, has six other active ordinaries above him in age, as well as three Curial prelates, one auxiliary bishop and the prelate of Opus Dei. And four of these are clerics of non-Latin Catholic Churches, who may not always have the same rules regarding age and retirement.
When Pope Francis will allow Cardinal Meisner is as yet unknown, but the cardinal has his post-retirement plans ready nonetheless, as he reveals in Polish church magazine Gosc Niedzielny. He intends to be regularly available to hear confessions in Cologne’s Dom Cathedral, to visit sick priests and to be of help “where there is need”. He will be the first archbishop of Cologne to enjoy his retirement since Archbishop Paul Melchers, who left the see in 1885.
In the same interview, Cardinal Meisner also comes to the defense of his fellow countryman, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. “I am almost ashamed as a German, as a Catholic Christian, to see how little this great Pope’s proclamation has been accepted and valued here,” he says. “The Church in Germany does not know what ‘treasure in the field’ they had in this Pope.” And the reason for this, so Cardinal Meisner says, may be a “kind of condescension and arrogance”, and perhaps also the existence of an anti-Catholic attitude in the homeland of the Reformation. Germany, with its society that is often just as anti-Christian as the Marxist regime that once ruled in the eastern part of the country, with the sole exception being the lack of a socialist ideology, is once again mission territory, he claims.
A harsh farewell, perhaps, but not without its grains of truth. Let’s just hope the cardinal, who can look back on 38 years of service as a bishop, and more than 50 as a priest, does not retire with such negative feelings.
Photo credit: Harald Tittel dpa