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Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes

(LifeSiteNews) – On March 15, the sad news came that the German Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes died at the age of 89. Cordes, who in the 1970s was shortly an auxiliary bishop of the German Diocese of Paderborn, spent his life in the Vatican beginning in 1980. He worked first for the Pontifical Council for the Laity as vice-president and then for the Pontifical Council Cor Unum as president. He was not a prominent critic of the radical changes in the Catholic Church since the election of Pope Francis, but he raised his voice of concern and resistance in a quiet and steady way.

In the following, we will sum up for our readers what different topics he raised throughout the last decade and what he stood for.

Having been made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, Cordes was opposed to the secularization of the Catholic Church. Thus, under the pontificate of Pope Francis with its secularizing tendencies, Cordes tried to resist.

Cordes defended the Church’s traditional teachings as ‘Kasper proposal’ was debated

For example, in 2015, only two years into the pontificate, Cordes became one of the 11 cardinals who wrote a book defending the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and the family. This was written in light of the 2014-2015 Synods on the Family which discussed prominently the idea of giving Holy Communion to remarried divorcees, the so-called “Kasper proposal.”

In the same year, Cardinal Cordes also resisted the arguments coming out of the German Bishops’ Conference – arguments which were especially presented by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who at the time strongly pushed for changing the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family. The matter of marriage lies at the center of theology, Cordes argued, and thus “a Cardinal cannot easily separate the pastoral approach from the teaching, unless he wants to ignore the binding meaning of Christ’s words and the binding words of the Council of Trent.”

Cordes then insisted on the infallible teachings of the Church, saying that “the Faith of the Catholic Church can only flow out of Holy Scripture and of the Magisterium of the Church.” Resisting the claim that the Church must listen to the voice of the faithful, he went on to say that “it would be paradox, if one wanted to give a little group of members of the Church who lives in a pitiable, but objectively irregular situation, the function of a source of Faith.”

After the publication of Pope Francis’s post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia in 2016, which established that Kasper proposal as the new norm of the Church, four cardinals – the so-called “dubia cardinals” – questioned in their dubia to Pope Francis some of the fundamental principles of that exhortation which seemed to contradict Church teaching. Cardinal Cordes, among few, joined their ranks at least by openly defending them.

He wrote at the time: “With an objective tone, the four cardinals have asked for the removal of doubts about the text [Amoris Laetitia]. They were met with a disproportionate protest. I was not able to understand this indignation; I also had doubts that these indignant persons were motivated by a desire to find the truth.” Cordes went on to ask: “How can the Church today claim reliability for a certain statement of Faith when another, former statement of Faith has no relevance any more and is considered now to be false?”

Cordes: Idea of blessings for homosexual couples ‘truly seems sacrilegious’ 

In 2017, the German prelate added some facts to the larger discussion of Pope John Paul II’s 1984 Consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in which he didn’t mention Russia explicitly, despite it being requested by Our Lady of Fatima. Cardinal Cordes, a close collaborator of the pope, explained that the papal counselors advised against mentioning Russia by name: “He talked in a small circle about how he felt this urge inside also to mention Russia at that Consecration, but that he then gave way to his counselors.”

One year later, in 2018, the German cardinal saw it fit to raise his voice once more, again opposing some statements made by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, then the head of the German Bishops’ Conference. Marx had proposed the consideration of a liturgical blessing for homosexual couples, something that Pope Francis established himself with his December 18, 2023 document Fiducia Supplicans. Marx’s idea “truly seems sacrilegious” and “ignores the clear Revelation of God,” Cordes then stated, adding that the Church in its pastoral care is “bound to Holy Scripture and to its interpretation through the Church’s Magisterium.”

“Marx does not even mention that homosexuality always contradicts the Will of God,” Cordes added.

Cardinal Cordes raised his voice once more, and in an excellent manner, during the discussions surrounding the 2019 Amazon Synod that considered the question of female “deacons” and married priests, as well as lay involvement in the governance of the Catholic Church. Cordes saw principles at work that would undermine the Catholic priesthood as such, as well as dilute the Catholic faith with a sort of a Mother-Earth ideology, and so he issued two statements on these matters. He kindly submitted one of them exclusively to LifeSiteNews.

First, at the beginning of 2020, Cordes analyzed Pope Francis’s post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia that summed up the synodal discussions of 2019. Similar to Amoris Laetitia, which permitted Communion for remarried divorcees in a footnote, there was also a problematic footnote in Querida Amazonia. Cordes detected that that footnote quoted canon law in a defective way, and he went on to reject the idea of separating the priesthood from its governing mission. The Pope had referred, in footnote 136, to canon 517§2, which gives a bishop the possibility of tasking laymen with the participation in putative leadership roles in the field of pastoral care. Cardinal Cordes showed that Pope Francis didn’t quote the end of the paragraph. That is to say, he omitted the part of the paragraph which insists that the bishop also must “appoint a priest who, endowed with the authorities and rights of a pastor, leads the pastoral care.”

Commented Cordes: “That is to say, in the reference of QA [Querida Amazonia] the key statement of the CIC – leadership of the parochial pastoral care by an ordained priest – is simply being omitted.”

However, the authority of leadership in the Church, Cordes insisted, “is sacramentally and grace-wise laid down in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.” In other words, governance is given to ordained ministers of the Church, not to laymen. Linking the priesthood directly to Jesus Christ, Cordes reminded his readers that the three spheres of the ecclesial office and duties – the munera docendi (teaching), sanctificendi (sanctifying), and regendi (governing) – have a “spiritual interdependency.” They are “theologically inseparable” and they lose their “efficacy” when separated.

As can be seen in this analysis and critique, Cardinal Cordes was a learned prelate who shied away from polemics and insisted on theological debate.

This can be confirmed by LifeSite. In dealing with the cardinal, he was always careful to maintain a respectful tone and was out to discern whether time had come to speak up. He also was very polite, and it was a great pleasure working with him.

Comments on Pachamama and coronavirus

Finally, Cardinal Cordes also resisted this idea of earth worship, as it became a topic also during the Amazon Synod discussions. After explicitly mentioning “Pachamama” – whose statue had been worshipped in the Vatican during the Amazon Synod – and analyzing biblical passages speaking about idol worship, Cordes concluded that “the light of Revelation opposes decidedly all worship that is not directed at God. Tempted in the desert, the Lord Himself answers the devil with a quote from the Old Testament: ‘You shall not bow down before other gods and you shall not commit yourself to serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God’ (Deut 5:9; Mt 4:10).”

“Not worship of cosmic powers, but deliverance from them is the biblical message,” Cordes expounded.

In 2020, during the coronavirus crisis, the German cardinal was among the very few churchmen who saw this event as a chastisement from God for our sins. “God’s Word also clearly states that life contrary to God can lead to illness,” he wrote then. According to biblical exegesis, “Sickness is the wages of sin.” Among other biblical passages, Cordes pointed to the story of the paralytic in the Gospel of Mark, which “makes the link between illness and sin irrefutable.”

As these multiple interventions by the German cardinal show, he remained engaged and active until late in his life, until his mid-eighties. He was a charitable man, cautious not to enter into harsh polemics, and keeping his eyes on God. It was a joy working with him.  In 2020, after LifeSite published a report on one of his statements, the cardinal wrote the following words which show his humility and trust in God’s Providence: “I am very grateful for your efforts to bring my silly impulses into the Church. We will not become unemployed. But the Lord of Church and history is on our side. Let us trust in HIM.”

May Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes rest in peace.

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.