German Catholic Church Begins New Era With Unexpected Chief | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 12.02.2008
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German Catholic Church Begins New Era With Unexpected Chief

Robert Zollitsch, archbishop of Freiburg, unexpectedly has been named Karl Lehmann's successor as head of the German Catholic Church. He's considered a liberal and recommends making celibacy optional for priests.

Robert Zollitsch

Robert Zollitsch has called himself a "bridge builder"

After Cardinal Karl Lehmann, 71, announced his resignation in mid-January due to health problems, Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, was considered most likely to take his place. The announcement on Tuesday, Feb. 12, that Robert Zollitsch would succeed Lehmann came as a surprise.

Sixty-nine-year-old Zollitsch, who will serve a six-year term, is known for his strong organizational skills and diplomacy. His diocese in Freiburg is the second largest of the 27 Catholic dioceses in Germany.

After officially taking office on Monday, he will be responsible for leading the bishops' meetings, representing the Bishops Conference to the government and the public, and serving as its spokesman.

Big shoes to fill

Karl Lehmann

Cardinal Lehmann has served four terms

Lehmann, who became cardinal in 1987, held the office longer than anyone else since World War II. Politicians and church members called his resignation the end of an era.

Like his friend and predecessor, Zollitsch has a reputation for not shying away from both touchy political topics and church disputes.

"Problems shouldn't be kept quiet, they have to be dealt with," he's said.

Zollitsch is considered a liberal and has advocated easing the Church mandate that priests remain unmarried and celibate.

He was born in 1938 to a German family in Filipovo in former Yugoslavia. They were expelled after the Second World War and fled to Germany.

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