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Germany’s Jewish community expressed “deep regret” over the resignation of the country’s top Catholic leader, an activist for Jewish-Christian relations.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann announced Tuesday that he was stepping down as the head of the German Bishops Conference. He will retain his position as the bishop of Mainz.

Charlotte Knobloch, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, lauded Lehman for many years as a “dependable and trustworthy contact,” but even more for his “friendly cooperation and the profoundly human connection which he maintained even in politically difficult times.”

One of those times occurred a year ago when representatives from the Bishops Conference, on a trip to Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas, compared Palestinian refugee camps and Israel’s security barrier to the Warsaw Ghetto. Lehmann in an open letter apologized on behalf of his colleagues.

In 2006, Lehmann received the annual Abraham Geiger Prize from Germany’s Reform Jewish organization for his contribution to Catholic-Jewish understanding. Lehmann reportedly has been ailing of late. His resignation takes effect Feb. 18.

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