On July 15, 2017, Pope Benedict XVI sent a message that was read aloud at the funeral of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, in which he said that the Church is a boat“on the verge of capsizing”. The Pope Emeritus said that he was moved at the dubia cardinal’s ability to “live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”
Meisner was one of four courageous Cardinals who had written the dubia to Pope Francis, asking for clarification stemming from the confusion caused by Amoris Laetitia. Benedict XVI lauded Meisner, suggesting that the Church needs more cardinals like him. The Church, according to Benedict XVI, “stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination.” Because of this “pressing need,” Meisner “found it difficult to leave his post.”
The message of Benedict was read by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, his personal secretary and head of the papal household.
A Close Relationship Between Benedict XVI and Meisner
Meisner and Benedict XVI had a close, fraternal relationship. In fact, reports suggest that the two men had spoken just the day before the cardinal died.
Benedict further relates: “What particularly impressed me from my last conversations with the now passed Cardinal was the relaxed cheerfulness, the inner joy and the confidence at which he had arrived.”
The Pope Emeritus concluded: “What moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”
A Call to Combat the Dictatorship of Relativism
According to Benedict XVI, the Church needs more courageous and “convincing shepherds”, like Cardinal Meisner, who will resist the “dictatorship of the spirit of the age.” The Church is in danger of sinking, and very much needs its shepherds to rise up and proclaim the full Truth of the Catholic Faith against untruths that are besieging it across all levels.
Benedict’s words bear striking similarity to his homily during the Mass offered by the world’s cardinals, just prior to the conclave of 2005 that elected him as pope. In that homily, he called on the cardinals and bishops to resist the dictatorship of relativism:
Relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.
One of Four Cardinals Who Formally Submitted the Dubia to Pope Francis
Meisner, who was 83, died while still awaiting Pope Francis’ response to the five questions they raised in the dubia. Although Pope Francis hasn’t answered the dubia, he has given his approval to interpretations of the controversial exhortation that say those living in adulterous unions may receive Holy Communion. Meisner, together with Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Caffara, and Cardinal Brandmuller had suggested that they would issue a “formal correction of the Pope” if he doesn’t clarify ambiguous elements in Amoris Laetitia that run contrary to the Church’s teachings on morality, the Eucharist, and the Sacrament of Marriage.
Canon lawyer Kurt Martens said Pope Benedict’s message was an “amazing yet diplomatic form of support for [the] dubia Cardinals.”
In June 2017, Pope Benedict met new cardinals alongside Pope Francis. He had a brief message for them: “The Lord wins in the end.”
Meisner died holding his breviary, about to offer Mass.