VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Joachim Meisner, best known recently as co-author of the dubia sent to Pope Francis, passed away Wednesday at age 83. According to German station Domradio, the archbishop emeritus of Cologne died "peacefully" in his sleep while on vacation in Bad Füssing.
The Holy Father sent a telegram to Cdl. Rainer Woelki, current archbishop of Cologne, on learning of Meisner's death. "With profound emotion I learned that, suddenly and unexpectedly, Cardinal Joachim Meisner was called from this earth by the God of mercy," the note read.
He acknowledged that Meisner was "dedicated to the proclamation of the Good News" and had a "profound faith and sincere love for the Church."
"May Christ the Lord reward him for his faithful and intrepid efforts in favor of the good of people of East and West," the telegram ended, closing with an apostolic blessing on all who "commemorate the late Pastor with prayers and sacrifices."
Meisner was known as a stalwart defender of orthodoxy, and signed his name to a set of questions, or dubia, sent to the Holy Father last year that, after publication, set off a firestorm of commentary.
Along with Cdls. Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra and Walter Brandmüller, Meisner was both supported and condemned by brother bishops for their attempt to seek clarity on questions raised in Amoris Laetitia, the papal exhortation on marriage and the family — including veiled criticism from the Holy Father himself.
"Some — think about the responses to Amoris Laetitia — continue to not understand," the pope told Italian paper Avennire in November. "They think it’s 'black and white,' even if in the flux of life you must discern." He went on to say that such concerns arise "from a certain legalism, which can be ideological."
In the same month, Abp. Fragkiskos Papamanolis, head of the Greek Episcopal Conference, issued a strongly worded public rebuke of the dubia cardinals, saying, "From your document it appears clear that, in practice, you do not believe in the supreme teaching authority of the Pope, reinforced by two synods of bishops from around the world."
He then accused them of "heresy" and "apostasy" before saying they should have presented themselves "to Our Holy Father Francis and asked to be removed from the College of Cardinals."
And following along the same theme, the dean of the Roman Rota, Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, remarked that, in days past, the cardinals could have been stripped of the red hat for the alleged "scandal" they were causing.
Laymen also weighed in with their denunciations, with British journalist Austen Ivereigh calling on the Church to ignore the dubia cardinals as "dissenters" spearheading the "anti-Francis revolt."
After silence from Pope Francis in response to the dubia, the four cardinals issued another letter to the Holy Father requesting a private audience with him to discuss their concerns. Authored by Cdl. Caffarra, archbishop-emeritus of the Bologna, Italy archdiocese, the letter, written April 25, was hand delivered to the Holy Father on May 6.
"And so it is happening — how painful it is to see this! — that what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta," the letter notes, "And so on."
"One is reminded of the bitter observation of B. Pascal: 'Justice on this side of the Pyrenees, injustice on the other; justice on the left bank of the river, injustice on the right bank,' the letter continues.
After noting that the cardinals "feel the weight of our responsibility" as shepherds, the missive closes with a humble plea to meet privately with the Holy Father. The pope has yet to respond.
Meisner consistently defended the Church's teaching on marriage and sacraments. In 2015, he co-write the book Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family, which confirmed doctrine and discipline on Holy Communion and the divorced and civilly remarried. The book was released before the 2015 Synod on the Family in Rome, and explicitly rejects the Kasper Proposal, offered by German cardinal Walter Kasper, at the forefront of pushing Holy Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried.
Cardinal Raymond Burke commented on Meisner's passing, "He has inspired me deeply by his profound love of Christ and of His Mystical Body, the Church. 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."