Milan cardinal seen as strong, articulate pastoral voice

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi has become one of the strongest and most articulate pastoral voices in Italy, building a reputation as a conservative on doctrine and a liberal on social issues.

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan, Italy, walks through St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 7. (CNS photo from Reuters)

In part because he heads Italy's biggest diocese, and in part because of his impeccable theological credentials, Cardinal Tettamanzi enters the conclave as a slight favorite for the papacy in the eyes of many observers, but it is far from a broad consensus, even among Italians.

The author of more than 25 books, the 71-year-old cardinal is considered one of the church's top experts in bioethics, marriage and family ministry, the lay apostolate and youth formation. He is said to have been a leading behind-the-scenes contributor to Pope John Paul's 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life").

Increasingly, Cardinal Tettamanzi has spoken out on social issues at home and abroad, highlighting in particular the pitfalls of globalization. He drew criticism from the right when, as archbishop of Genoa, Italy, in 2001, he defended protesters at a G-8 meeting in the city and spoke movingly of the new situations of poverty in the world.

Since his appointment to Milan in 2002, the cardinal has repeatedly challenged the city's residents and institutions to live up to Gospel values in the way they treat the weakest of society's members.

"The rights of the weak are not weaker rights, but are completely equal to the rights of the strong," he said.

Short, rotund and quick to smile, Cardinal Tettamanzi is well-known to his fellow cardinals and bishops around the world, who have watched him for years at Vatican synods and church conferences. Many see in him the traditional Italian talents for building consensus and calming disputes.

His positions on social and moral issues closely follow the teachings developed by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.

Speaking in mid-2004 at an annual Italian church conference on social issues, Cardinal Tettamanzi reflected on democracy and Catholicism. He said that in many Western countries, democratic values are undermined by "a false conception of man, of human life, of human sexuality, and of human relations with others and with God."

The right to life -- from conception to natural death -- is the source of all other rights, he said. He warned that biological advances today tend to manipulate or destroy human life rather than protect it.

Cardinal Tettamanzi also addressed the question of whether democracy can be exported to various countries and regions of the world. He said the values of democracy should indeed be spread, because they should be enjoyed by everyone. But he said the way to do this was never through violence -- a remark seen as an implicit criticism of the U.S. policy in Iraq.

The cardinal has strongly defended marriage as a permanent union between a man and a woman and criticized legislative efforts to legalize same-sex unions as an equivalent form of marriage.

His approach to the question of homosexuality is nuanced, however. In a 1997 article published by the Vatican newspaper, he emphasized that "the Catholic Church does not have a separate set of criteria for judging the morality of heterosexual and homosexual activity." He also cited the need for respect, compassion and sensitivity to those with homosexual orientation.

Cardinal Tettamanzi came to the world's attention during the 1999 Synod of Bishops for Europe. At that synod, the cardinal took on a leadership role, and Pope John Paul's favor and respect were reflected by his peers. The pope appointed Cardinal Tettamanzi head of the committee that produced the meeting's final message, and bishops elected the cardinal to the council that collaborated with the pope on his apostolic letter marking the synod's formal conclusion.

Since then, Vatican and Italian media often have turned to Cardinal Tettamanzi for an "expert opinion" on a host of topics, ranging from genetic engineering to political ethics, one of his specialties. He is a member of seven important Vatican agencies and has served as secretary-general and vice president of the Italian bishops' conference.

In 2000, Microsoft published Cardinal Tettamanzi's "Christian Bioethics" in eBook form, an event that gave him an online reputation. He acknowledged at the time, however, that he did not navigate the Internet much.

In 2001, he was asked to give the opening reflection on "The Bishop as a Man of Prayer" at a Vatican-sponsored retreat for young bishops from around the world.

Cardinal Tettamanzi repeatedly has called for greater responsibility in political life -- a touchy subject in Italy. His 1991-95 term as secretary-general of the bishops' conference coincided with Italian political upheavals.

At the time, investigations into alleged kickback schemes hit high-ranking officials, contributing to the collapse of the country's Christian Democrat Party and the ensuing lack of unity among Catholic politicians.

Following a general assembly of Italian bishops in 1993, then-Archbishop Tettamanzi urged politically disaffected Italians to rededicate themselves to the good of the country, within a Christian framework able to cut across party lines.

In 1998, he led a retreat for Italian politicians, telling them politics showed responsibility only when leaders accepted the religious dimension of their vocation to public office.

Born in Renate, near Milan, March 14, 1934, Cardinal Tettamanzi entered the seminary at age 11 and was ordained in 1957. He wrote his doctoral thesis in theology on the lay apostolate.

He taught for more than 20 years at seminaries throughout Italy, and in 1987 the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education appointed him director of the Archdiocese of Milan's seminary in Rome, where he remained for two years before being nominated archbishop of Ancona-Osimo.

He was appointed archbishop of Genoa in 1995 and was named to the College of Cardinals three years later. His appointment to Milan in 2002 marked the first-ever transfer of a cardinal from one Italian diocese to another.

Cardinal Tettamanzi often has contributed commentaries to the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano and has served as a top official of Avvenire, an Italian Catholic daily.

His expertise on contemporary ethical issues led to a 1996 book on bioethics and the church's defense of human life. He also participated in a 1998 European workshop on genetic engineering.

Cardinal Tettamanzi's interest in bioethics grew out of his long-standing work in pastoral outreach to families. He served as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family for more than 15 years and participated in a 1980 Synod of Bishops on the family.

Following the 1994 U.N. Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, the cardinal told the Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana that the meeting did not consider the centrality of the family or the importance of its unity.

"The church's family program, in the final analysis, is God's program," he said.

"In this sense, the church's proposal, while assuming the positive aspects of the United Nations' proposal, goes further, not in the sense that it sacrifices determined values and needs of so-called modernity, but in the sense that it offers a broader and richer vision," then-Archbishop Tettamanzi said.

Cardinal Tettamanzi took part in a 1999 Pontifical Council for the Family meeting on the issue of cohabitation, warning that "certain cultural forces of a radical character have the destruction of the family institution as their more or less manifest objective."


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