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German cardinal dies unexpectedly

76 year old Cardinal Johannes Joachim Degenhardt, archbishop of Paderborn, died yesterday of heart failure, a spokesman for the archdiocese said.

Degenhardt died at his residence in Paderborn, in western Germany, archdiocese spokesman Thomas Schaefers said. The cardinal's death was "sudden and unexpected."

Degenhardt, viewed as a conservative, was appointed cardinal last year by Pope John Paul II. In a telegram of condolence, the pontiff expressed "deep sorrow" at his death.

As archbishop of Paderborn he was one of the first German bishops to halt participation in a program to counsel pregnant women, a step that is required before they can obtain abortions in Germany.

Degenhardt's speeches and publications stressed that the needs of human beings must be placed above those of the economy. He was known as a staunch opponent of abortion as well as an advocate of political cooperation in Europe and tolerance between Germans and foreigners.

In 1992, he made headlines by removing the right to celebrate Mass from priest Eugen Drewermann, who challenged the virgin birth and other basic church tenets.

In 1941, at the age of 15, Degenhardt was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo for three weeks for his work as a youth leader in the Catholic group Bund Neudeutschland, or New German Union, which was banned by the Nazis.

Upon his release he was forced to leave school by the Nazis for his "political unreliability" and began a business apprenticeship.

Erzbistum Paderborn


26 Jul 2002