Brazil’s Cardinal Agnelo has curial, pastoral experience

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With both curial and pastoral experience, Brazilian Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo is seen as a leader who can bridge the universal and local church.

 

Cardinal Agnelo, 71, spent nearly eight years as secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments before his 1999 assignment as head of Brazil's oldest diocese, Sao Salvador da Bahia.

A member of the College of Cardinals since 2001, he has popped up on lists of papal contenders given his leadership skills in the world's largest Catholic country.

Cardinal Agnelo served as one of two vice presidents of the Latin American bishops' council from 1999-2003 and in 2003 was elected president of the Brazilian bishops' conference, the largest in Latin America, with more than 400 bishops.

In response to economic reform proposals in 2003 that raised interest rates and taxes while cutting pension benefits, the conference accused Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of caving in to pressure from the financial community.

"Those who earn (just) enough to survive must not be taxed, while those who earn more have an obligation to improve the social condition of the country as a whole," Cardinal Agnelo said.

A year later, the cardinal said da Silva had not fulfilled his election promises of alleviating poverty. Cardinal Agnelo said agrarian reform had yet to show signs of progress and that it "must be capable of breaking the spine of Brazil's unjust social structure: the concentration of property in the hands of a powerful few."

As conference president, the cardinal has reaffirmed abstinence and fidelity within marriage as the best ways to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and has spoken out against a government review of abortion laws. Abortion is currently illegal except in cases of rape or danger to the mother's life.

"Respect for the defenseless and for fragile life is an expression of true culture and humanity," the cardinal said in a 2004 statement.

In a 2003 interview with the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Giorni, he praised the idea of collegiality within the Brazilian bishops' conference.

"Obviously each bishop has personal responsibility for his own diocese. Collegiality is not a burden, but a possibility of help offered to the individual in confronting common problems," he said, adding that the freedom of individual bishops "has always been respectful of the indications that came from the Holy See."

During his Vatican tenure, he accompanied Pope John Paul II to the 1992 fourth general conference of the Latin American bishops' council in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

He also worked with the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, praising and encouraging the group's efforts to establish common English liturgical texts while downplaying criticism from some circles that ICEL took an ultraliberal approach with its translations and inclusive language. After Cardinal Agnelo returned to Brazil, the worship congregation grew increasingly critical of ICEL and revised the commission's statutes, taking a more centralized role in staff appointments.

Geraldo Majella Agnelo was born in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, Oct. 19, 1933. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo June 29, 1957.

In December 1969, after studies in Rome, he obtained his doctorate in liturgical theology. In May 1978, Pope Paul VI appointed him bishop of Toledo in the southern state of Parana, and four years later, Pope John Paul appointed him archbishop of Londrina, also in Parana.

In 1991 he was called to serve at the Vatican, and Jan. 13, 1999, he was named head of the Archdiocese of Sao Salvador da Bahia.

After his appointment, Cardinal Agnelo said, "The Holy Father says our archdiocese is called ... to a courageous testimony of fidelity to Christ and to his Gospel.

"We Christians bear the name of Christ, and that is a huge responsibility," he added.

Following the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Cardinal Agnelo wrote, "The graces of the jubilee have strengthened our conviction that the evangelization has to reach all corners of the archdiocese and all the human fields."

 

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