The Archbishop-elect of Berlin said that he will meet with gay activists, after they criticized his appointment as the new archbishop of the German capital.
“We will meet with each other,” said Archbishop-elect Rainer Maria Woelk at a July 5 press conference, according to the Reuters news agency.
“I have respect and esteem for all people, independent of heritage, skin color and individual nature. I am open to all without reservations.”
The appointment of the 54-year-old auxiliary bishop of Cologne was announced on July 2, but his appointment was immediately met with hostility.
“The Church does itself no favor by sending to Berlin a representative of a backwards persuasion that contradicts peoples’ attitudes towards life,” the openly gay German parliamentarian Johannes Kahrs told the newspaper Berliner Zeitung. He went on to suggest that Archbishop-elect Woelk “openly has a problem with gay people.”
Archbishop-elect Woelk replied at the July 5 press conference, “The Church is not a moral institution that goes around pointing its finger at people.” He described himself as neither “progressive” or “reactionary” but merely “Catholic.”
“The Church is for me a community of seekers and believers, and the Church would like to help people find their happiness in life,” he said.
The interest in the new prelate’s appointment was so great that the news conference had to be switched to a larger venue at the last minute to accommodate the more than 100 journalists who turned out.
Archbishop-elect Woelk succeeds Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, who died last month at the age of 75, after a long illness.
A native of Cologne, Archbishop-elect Woelk was ordained a priest for his home diocese in 1985. In 1990 he was appointed chaplain and secretary to the Archbishop Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, a post he held for seven years. He also has a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. He has been auxiliary bishop of Cologne since 2003.
Although Catholics are a minority in Berlin – numbering about 390,000 amidst a population of 3.5 million – the post of archbishop carries significance because the city is the German capital.
Archbishop-elect Woelk will be officially installed next month. One of his first tasks will be to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Berlin during this September’s papal visit to Germany.