Achille Silvestrini

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Achille Silvestrini
Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
Cardinal Silvestrini in November 2006
Cardinal Silvestrini, November 2006
Appointed24 May 1991
Term ended7 September 2000
PredecessorDuraisamy Simon Lourdusamy
SuccessorIgnatius Moses I Daoud
Ordination13 July 1946
by Giuseppe Battaglia
Consecration27 May 1979
by Pope John Paul II
Created cardinal28 June 1988
by Pope John Paul II
Personal details
Birth nameAchille Silvestrini
Born (1923-10-25) 25 October 1923 (age 95)
Brisighella, Italy,
DenominationRoman Catholic
Alma materUniversity of Bologna
Pontifical Lateran University
Styles of
Achille Silvestrini
Coat of arms of Achille Silvestrini.svg
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal

Achille Silvestrini (born 25 October 1923) is an Italian prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served in the Vatican diplomatic corps, either in Rome or abroad, from 1953 to 1990. He was Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches from 1991 to 2000.

Early life and ordination[edit]

Born in Brisighella, Italy, and educated in Rome, Silvestrini was ordained a priest on 13 July 1946 in the cathedral of Faenza by Giuseppe Battaglia, Bishop of Faenza. He earned a doctorate at the University of Bologna in 1948 and a doctorate in canon and civil law at the Pontifical Lateran University.[1]

He began studying at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in 1952 and joined the Vatican diplomatic service, section of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, Secretariat of State, in 1953. He was in charge of affairs of Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia in general. In 1955, he formed part of the section of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, directed by Domenico Tardini.

He served as personal secretary to Cardinals Domenico Tardini and Amleto Giovanni Cicognani. In the Council for Public Affairs of the Church from 1969 to 1979 where he was in charge of the section for international organisations, peace, disarmament, and human rights. He traveled to Moscow with Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, secretary of the Council for Public Affairs of the Church, to deliver the instrument of adhesion of the Holy See to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1971.

He headed the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations Conference on peaceful use of nuclear energy in Geneva in 1971 and to the Conference on compliance with the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in Geneva in 1975. He was appointed Under-secretary of the Council for Public Affairs of Church on 28 July 1973.

He continued as administrative secretary to Vatican Secretary of State Jean-Marie Villot.

Bishop and Diplomat[edit]

Silvestrini was appointed Secretary for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State on 4 May 1979 and assigned the titular see of Novaliciana with the title of archbishop. On 27 May 1979 he was consecrated a bishop by Pope John Paul II with Cardinals Eduardo Martínez Somalo and Duraisamy Simon Lourdusamy as co-consecrators.

He worked for the next five years on the renewal of the Lateran Treaty on its fiftieth anniversary, and signed a revised treaty that reflected the rapid secularisation of Italy since the 1960s.

He was involved in a number of other concordats between the Vatican and other countries, most notably in the Falklands War of the early 1980s and the war in Nicaragua.


On 28 June 1988 Silvestrini was made Cardinal-Deacon of San Benedetto fuori Porta San Paolo. On 24 May 1991 he became Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and on 3 April 1993 Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. He retired from both those positions on 25 November 2000.[1]

In 1993 he visited film director Frederico Fellini on his deathbed and presided at his funeral Mass.[2][3]

In May 2001, when a consistory of cardinals discussed the role and performance of the Synod of Bishops, Silvestrini was among the critics. He called them "monologues without debate or response".[4]

He was present at the death of Pope John Paul II.[5] In the days before the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, he said the next pope needed to address the relationship between the pope and the world's bishops. He said: "More than divisions, there is a feeling of distance. The bishops feel a little far from what is happening in Rome." He proposed the creation of an elected consultative council of bishops to promote "collegiality" between them and the pope and the Roman Curia.[6]

In 2010, he provided his assessment of the actions during World War II of Pope Pius XII, with whom he worked for many years beginning just after the war. He said:[7][8]

In that tragic period, [Pius] was concerned about the Germans leaving Rome in peace and respecting its sacred character. It was not a choice against the Jews, because the pope believed that a gesture of protest would have been counter-productive. At the same time, however, he worked to see that as many Jews as possible were sheltered in churches and Catholic institutions.... Pius XII considered what had happened to the Dutch bishops a warning not to do the same. The Dutch episcopacy had written a letter that condemned the "merciless and unjust treatment reserved for the Jews".... The intentions were the best, but the results were disastrous.... It was precisely the country where priests and bishops most vocally denounced the anti-Jewish persecutions that had more deportations than any other nation of Western Europe.

Following the election of Pope Francis in 2013, he said the Church needs to "start from the Second Vatican Council, from all that has not yet been implemented and must still be accomplished". He called the work of the Council and the plans of Pope John XXIII "an unfinished task" and said the Church needs "a new language to talk to humanity today, and in particular to the new generations, and to give adequate answers to modernity".[9]

When Pope Francis named his first cardinals in 2015, some thought Silvestrini had influenced some of the selection of Edoardo Menichelli, Archbishop of Ancona-Osimo,[10][11] who worked for Silvestrini in two assignments in the Roman Curia.[12]

As of 2016 he was chair of the Collegio universitario Fondazione Comunità Domenico Tardini [it], which was founded in 1946 to support war orphans.[13][14]

Papal elections[edit]

In the 1990s, Silvestrini was mentioned as a successor to Pope John Paul II in the secular press,[15] though Vatican observers noted that his advanced age made his election unlikely.

Silvestrini was one of about a dozen like-minded cardinals and bishops who met annually from 1995 to 2006 in St. Gallen, Switzerland, to discuss reforms with respect to the appointment of bishops, collegiality, bishops' conferences, the primacy of the papacy and sexual morality; they differed among themselves, but shared the view that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was not the sort of candidate they hoped to see elected at the next conclave.[16][17]

After turning eighty in October 2003, Silvestrini was a principal critic of the rule that only cardinals under the age of eighty can vote in a conclave. He called it "one of the unhappy reforms of Paul VI".[18] Too old to participate in the 2005 conclave to choose the successor of John Paul II, he was nevertheless a vigorous opponent of Ratzinger's election.[19] He told reporters to watch Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster.[20]


  1. ^ a b "Biography: Silvestrini Card. Achille". Press Office of the Holy See. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  2. ^ "Cardinal prays for dying Fellini". The Independent. 20 October 1993. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  3. ^ "Standing-Room Crowd Attends Fellini Funeral". New York Times. 4 November 1993. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Synods Come Under Cardinals´ Scrutiny". Zenit. 24 May 2001. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  5. ^ Renehan Jr., Edward J. (2007). Pope John Paul II. Chelsea House. p. 14. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  6. ^ Sciolino, Elaine; Wakin, Daniel J. (5 April 2005). "John Paul II: Gatherings; Procession for Pope Draws Thousands; Viewing Begins". New York Times. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  7. ^ Allen Jr., John L. (5 January 2015). "Pius XII was 'totally anti-Nazi,' former aide says". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  8. ^ "Nothing Novel Seen in New Pius XII Documents". Zenit. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  9. ^ "Il secondo tempo del Concilio" [The Council's second chance]. Avvenire (in Italian). 25 October 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  10. ^ Winters, Michael Sean (5 January 2015). "The New Cardinals". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  11. ^ Mickens, Robert (5 January 2015). "Francis chooses new cardinals from the margins". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  12. ^ Marcolivio, Luca (11 February 2015). "'A Prophetic Church That is Neither Silent Nor Seeks War'". Zenit. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  13. ^ "Pope's Q-and-A at Villa Nazareth". Zenit. 23 June 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  14. ^ San Martín, Inés (19 June 2016). "Pope says 'martyrdom, not 'genocide,' is the best word". CRUX. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  15. ^ Reese, Thomas J. (1996). Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Harvard University Press. p. 94. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  16. ^ Pentin, Edward (24 September 2015). "Cardinal Danneels Admits to Being Part of 'Mafia' Club Opposed to Benedict XVI". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  17. ^ Pentin, Edward (26 September 2015). "Cardinal Danneels' Biographers Retract Comments on St. Gallen Group". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  18. ^ Gallagher, Delia (20 October 2003). "Crux of the Crucifix, and Over-80 Cardinals". Zenit. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  19. ^ Owen, Richard (18 April 2005). "Progressive cardinals try to block Ratzinger". The Times. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  20. ^ Kaiser, Robert Blair (2006). A Church in Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future. Knopf. Retrieved 27 August 2017.

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