Cardinal Joachim Meisner is one of the Four Cardinals who have recently made public their own important dubia with regard to Amoris Laetitia. What is striking is that he seems now to have been singled out to receive several harsh critiques in Europe – especially in Italy and Germany.
As we already reported, Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota, specifically targeted Meisner in his earlier criticism of the Four Cardinals, saying that now a “shadow” was lying upon the German cardinal’s life history.
However, Dr. Markus Büning, a German theologian and book author, has recently come to the defense of the Four Cardinals, especially Cardinal Meisner. In his defense of Meisner, Büning also points out the fact that Pinto is Meisner’s inferior in rank and that he thus effectively violates a subordinate’s duty to show respect toward his superiors, especially in public. As I reported elsewhere:
Büning also shows himself “personally wounded” by these attacks [coming from Monsignor Pinto], especially those against Cardinal Meisner, whom he knows personally. He says: “Here I feel challenged to take sides with clarity about our beloved cardinal who has supported my book apostolate with a deeply impressive foreword to my last book on the virtues (“Encouragement to Holiness”), describing in a very personal way his own vocation to become a bishop. This man himself had to grow up under Communism [just as Bishop Athanasius Schneider did] and he still became priest – in spite of the obstacles. He always bravely witnessed to the Faith.” In a piercing tone, the German author comments: “Here, it is not fitting that a [subordinate] curial member [Monsignor Pinto] should rebuke him. And certainly not in this manner. [my emphasis]
At the time of his comment, Büning could not have been aware of Edward Pentin’s 6 December report that a “reliable source” had “told the Register that Francis had instructed Msgr. Pinto at that event to say something publicly critical of the cardinals.” Nevertheless, he appeared to have deduced that Pinto’s special harshness could only have been made possible by the protection he receives from above, likely from Pope Francis himself:
This clergyman of the Curia [Pinto] can, it seems, only use such [harsh] tones because his own superior – who sets the tone – wants it done, or at least tolerates it. If this is not the case, the pope should, please, rebuke this clergyman – who is now engaged in his fits of anger – and to do it in order to make clear to us Catholics that he himself does not accept such a style in our Church.
To return to the targeting of Cardinal Meisner, two different sources in Germany have now also issued comparably harsh rebukes against him. As the German branch of Vatican Radio reported on 5 December, Thomas Schüller, a German professor of Canon Law at the University of Münster, accused the Four Cardinals of being disloyal to Pope Francis. He said: “The open attempt of Meisner and of three additional cardinals to put pressure on the pope with the help of urgent letter is an act of disloyalty.” In Schüller’s eyes, however, Cardinal Meisner “could sleep quietly” because most probably he will not lose his red hat – even though this would be possible and permissible according to Canon Law: “the pope is free to name cardinals and to revoke their cardinalate.” Schüller continues his rebuke with the claim that Meisner’s recent public initative “has nearly something tragic about it,” since it was Meisner who was heretofore always especially loyal to all the previous popes. However, according to Schüller, now this cardinal “takes the position of a renegade.” [my emphasis]
A similarly – and surprisingly – strong rebuke comes from the prominent German newspaper Die Zeit, in whose sub-section Christ & Welt the author Christina Rietz compares Cardinal Meisner to a “guerrilla fighter.” In an article (entitled “The Poisoned Lines”) in the 8 December edition, she also highlights that Meisner was once known as an “officer in the General Staff” of the popes, and that, “politically, he was always in line.” Rietz rebukes Meisner for now acting more like a guerrilla enemy partisan than like an obedient officer. The author then also points out that Meisner, with this Four Cardinals’ Letter, effectively criticizes the pope for having become a “renegade” himself, one “who left the correct teaching [on marriage and morality].” Then she quotes Pope Francis against Meisner, claiming that the latter has now become himself one of those “throwers of rocks” who have a rigid and “cold morality,” as mentioned in Amoris Laetitia. She ends her article with these words:
The power is not any more on his side [Meisner’s]. He turned from being an officer into a man of resistance and opposition, and this without any change of ideology. Treason [sic!] is always a question of date. [my emphasis]
It is noteworthy that the progressive media and theologians now in Germany unhesitatingly rebuke the Four Cardinals for their conscientious objections against parts of Amoris Laetitia. Did they also apply the same strictness with regard to their own obedience toward the pope when they were dealing with a progressive prelate such as Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who especially in the 1990s openly opposed Pope John Paul II and his Catholic moral teaching with regard to abortion by participating in the German system of providing counseling certificates which are necessary for a legally approved abortion? As we have reported earlier, Lehmann even spoke in an interview in May 2016 about his own manifest disobedience to Pope John Paul II’s own authority – who, in spite of Lehmann’s admitted many-year disobedience to him with regard to abortion, and also with regard to contraception, nonetheless still gave him “the red hat” in 2001. Lehmann – who is a member of the Sankt Gallen Group – himself had then said:
And with everything that smelled like a feint [such as the German Bishops’ participation in the abortion counseling system in the 1990s], this pope [John Paul II] – who was morally so straightforward – had great difficulties. I knew that, and I also knew that it was finally he who decides. This dissent, obviously, did not damage our relationship. An intimate friend of the pope told me first hand that my own nomination to the cardinalate in 2001 happened due to an explicit and conscious intervention by John Paul – and this after all the struggles. Today, I can well worship him as a saint. [my emphasis]
This quote is preceded by another one where Lehmann states how he himself opposed Pope John Paul II with regard to Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae:
And all that [experience] has helped me, for, when, in 1978 as a new president [of the German Bishops’ Conference], I sat with Pope John Paul II and he came to me with the same demand – namely, that the Declaration of Königstein [opposing Humanae Vitae] has to be removed – I responded with the words: “Holy Father, you did not ask this from my predecessor for ten years. Then, please, do not ask it from me now.” Today, I think I was quite bold. But, he might probably have realized that the difficult intimate questions of sexual morality are not solely to be solved by the means of prescriptions and interdictions. I myself wrote for him an assessment. He certainly had had more second thoughts. [my emphasis]
Did these journalists and theologians quoted in this article ever rebuke Cardinal Lehmann for his dissent? It seems now that certain media and theologians do not object if people who are “remarried” divorcees now disobey God’s Law; however, they do mind if some of the cardinals seem to disobey the unclear words of the current pope. This is an irony of our history.
But let us ask a more fundamental question with regard to Cardinal Meisner. What could be the reason for these harsh verbal attacks on him? He who already himself had so much to endure in order to live under a cruel dictatorship in Communist East Germany? Could it be that it is because he later came to have a special importance and prominence in Germany, also due to his close personal bond with the former Pope Benedict XVI? As we have reported recently, Meisner is known to have played a pivotal role in fighting off the Bergoglio camp at the 2005 Conclave which then elected Pope Benedict. Is this current harsh criticism of him then, perhaps, a late and spiteful revenge for his valiant fight back in 2005? And maybe even also for his earlier resistance against the apparatus of the Sankt Gallen Group, as well?