Bernardin Gantin

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Bernardin Gantin
Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina
Gantin during his early years as a cardinal
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
Installed29 September 1986
PredecessorCarlo Confalonieri
SuccessorJosé Saraiva Martins
Ordination14 January 1951
by Louis Parisot
Consecration3 February 1957
by Eugène Tisserant
Created cardinal27 June 1977
by Pope Paul VI
Personal details
Born(1922-05-08)8 May 1922
Died13 May 2008(2008-05-13) (aged 86)
Paris, France
Previous post(s)
Coat of armsBernardin Gantin's coat of arms
Styles of
Bernardin Gantin
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
SeePalestrina (suburbicarian)

Bernardin Gantin (8 May 1922 – 13 May 2008) was a Beninese prelate of the Catholic Church who held senior positions in the Roman Curia for twenty years and the highest position in the College of Cardinals for nine years. His prominence in the hierarchy of the Church was unprecedented for an African and has been equaled by few non-Italians. He began his career in his native country first as an auxiliary bishop and then as archbishop of Cotonou. In 1971 he began his thirty-year career in the Curia. After he had spent several years in the role of senior assistant, he held a series of senior positions as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, and prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops

Pope Paul VI made him a cardinal in 1977, Pope John Paul II promoted him to the rank of cardinal bishop in 1986, and his peers elected him dean, the highest office in the College of Cardinals, in 1993. He retired to Benin when he turned 80.

Early career[edit]

Bernadin Gantin was born in Toffo, French Dahomey (now Benin), on 8 May 1922. His name means "tree of iron" (gan, iron and tin, tree ). His father was a railway worker.[1] He entered the minor seminary in Ouidah at age fourteen and was ordained to the priesthood on 14 January 1951 in Lomé, Togo, by Archbishop Louis Parisot of Cotonou. He then fulfilled pastoral assignments while also teaching languages at the seminary. In 1953 he was sent to Rome where he studied at the Pontifical Urban University and then at the Pontifical Lateran University, where he earned his licenciate in theology and canon law.[2]

On 11 December 1956, Pope Pius XII appointed him titular bishop of Tipasa and auxiliary bishop of Cotonou.[3] He received his episcopal consecration on 3 February 1957 from Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, Dean of the College of Cardinals.[4] On 5 January 1960, Pope John XXIII appointed him Archbishop of Cotonou.[5] As archbishop, he attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), where he first became friends with the future Pope John Paul II.[6]

He was chairman of the West African Episcopal Conference.[4]

Roman curia[edit]

Pope Paul VI appointed him to the Roman Curia and gave him a series of assignments, starring as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 1971 and secretary of that Congregation in 1973. On 19 December 1975 he was named Vice President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and on 5 January 1976 Gantin received the additional responsibilities of the Vice President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, as Pope Paul was combining those two departments.[2]

In 1976, Pope Paul appointed him head of the President of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, making him the first African to head a curial department. This commission was headed by a cardinal, so Gantin held the title Pro-President until Pope Paul made him a cardinal on 27 June 1977. He was made a member of the order of cardinal deacons and assigned the deaconry of Sacro Cuore di Cristo Re.[7]

On 4 September 1978, he was named President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum by Pope John Paul I, the only administrative appointment of his month-long papacy.[8] Gantin met with John Paul I the day before he died.[9]

He participated in the 1978 conclaves that elected Popes John Paul I and John Paul II.[9] At the first of them he was reportedly one of three cardinals who counted the votes. During the second of these conclaves, Gantin was thought to be one of the papabili, those cardinals who are thought to have a chance of being elected pope.[10]

Gantin celebrating Mass, San Fiorano (Lodi), Italy, 1984

In 1982, he accompanied Pope John Paul on his visit to Benin.[10]

On 8 April 1984, Pope John Paul II appointed him prefect of the Congregation for Bishops,[11] which supervises episcopal appointments in the non-missionary Latin Rite dioceses throughout the world. He was also made president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. On 25 June 1984, Gantin opted to become a member of the order of cardinal priests.[12] For the next fourteen years he collaborated with Pope John Paul in shaping the hierarchy of the Church, both in making appointments and in managing the agendas for the periodic visits bishops make to consult with the pope and the Curia.[6] On the pope's behalf he managed appointments of conservative prelates in dioceses that did not welcome them in the Netherlands and Switzerland, removed an outspoken liberal French bishop, contended with Latin American advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples, and the excommunication of Marcel Lefebvre, with whom he had worked in Africa in the 1960s.[6] Years later, John Paul referred to their years of "regular contact and an almost unique familiarity".[13]

Cardinal bishop and dean[edit]

On 29 September 1986, Pope John Paul appointed Gantin cardinal bishop of the suburbicarian diocese of Palestrina,[14] one of six Latin-church members of the highest rank of cardinals, responsible for electing the dean and sub dean of the college who manage the conclave that elects the pope.

The six Latin-church cardinal bishops elect the dean and subdean, who takes his position when the pope consents to the election. On 5 June 1993, Gantin was elected and confirmed Dean of the College of Cardinals, which gave him the additional title cardinal bishop of Ostia. He was the first non-European to hold this office and remains the only one.[15]

He ended his service as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America on 25 June 1998. Less than a year later, in April 1999, he endorsed a views of Cardinal Vincenzo Fagiolo that bishops need to consider themselves married to their sees and expect their relationship to be lifelong. He said he had been shocked by overt expressions of "careerism" and "social climbing". He suggested that bishops should be transferred "to less developed, more difficult sees rather than to more comfortable and prestigious ones". He also said that there should be no connection between a see and a place in the College of Cardinals, offering Milan as an example.[16]

On 29 November 2002, with the permission of Pope John Paul, he retired as Dean of the College of Cardinals and cardinal bishop of Ostia,[17][a] which required he reside in Rome. Now eighty years old, he retired to Cotonou,[4] which he had visited regularly throughout his years in Rome.[1] He remained cardinal bishop of Palestrina. Two years into his retirement he described his situation: "I left Rome in body but not in spirit. I am a Roman missionary in my country."[21]

In retirement he spoke more freely than he had while under the obligations of office. In 2006 he criticized his contemporary bishops in Africa: "If I have to make a complaint it would be this: if at one time the bishops moved little, today they travel too much. Sitting down, listening, praying with their own believers is more that ever necessary and urgent for them. Always keeping in mind what is set down in canon 395 of the Code of Canon Law on the obligation of residence in their diocese, they can also be an example to their own priests." He warned against allowing African priests to relocate permanently in Europe, to "roam the dioceses of the Western world more in search of their own material comfort than out of genuine pastoral zeal". And he warned European religious orders against such personnel transfers: "The European religious congregations on their last legs or threatened with extinction should not go seeking cheap reinvigoration among the young Churches in Asia or Africa."[22]

Death and legacy[edit]

Gantin died at Pompidou Hospital in Paris after a long illness on 13 May 2008, less than a week after being transferred there from Benin and five days after his 86th birthday.[1][4] The Beninese government declared three days of mourning for him, beginning on 14 May.[23]

Pope Benedict XVI visited his tomb in the chapel of the Seminary of Saint Gall in Ouidah on 19 November 2011.[24]

In May 2013, Vatican officials inaugurated a chair named for him devoted to "Socializing Policy in Africa" at the Pontifical Lateran University.[25]

The Cadjehoun Airport, Benin's main international airport, was named in his honor.[24][26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ His retirement allowed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to succeed him as dean, which some Vatican observers believe made Ratzinger's election as pope inevitable,[18] which may have motivated Gantin's repeated attempts to resign.[19] Another describes Gantin as "the inadvertent architect of Ratzinger's election" to the papacy.[20]


  1. ^ a b c "Bernardin Gantin, Cardinal, 86, Is Dead". The New York Times. Associated Press. 16 May 2008. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  2. ^ a b "The death of Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, Dean Emeritus of the College of Cardinals, first African appointed by the Pope to a prominent position in the Roman Curia". Agenzia Fides. 14 May 2008. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  3. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. XXXXIX. 1957. p. 81.
  4. ^ a b c d Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, Africa's leading cardinal, has died; The Times, 14 May 2008
  5. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LII. 1960. p. 328.
  6. ^ a b c "Cardinal Bernardin Gantin: Ally of John Paul II who exercised great influence at the Vatican as head of the Congregation for Bishops". The Independent. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  7. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LXIX. 1977. pp. 377, 380.
  8. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LXX. 1978. p. 755.
  9. ^ a b Gantin, Bernadin (September 2003). ""They were all very content"". 30Giorni (Interview). Interviewed by Gianni Cardinale. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  10. ^ a b Stanford, Peter. "Cardinal Bernadin Gantin". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  11. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LXXVI. 1984. p. 508.
  12. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LXXVI. 1984. p. 755.
  13. ^ "Letter of John Paul II to Cardinal Bernadin Gantin on the 50th Anniversary of his Ordination to the Priesthood". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 14 December 2000. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  14. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LXXVIII. 1986. p. 1070.
  15. ^ Mancini, Marco (30 August 2021). "I Decani del Sacro Collegio: il Cardinale Bernardin Gantin" (in Italian). Retrieved 2 January 2024.
  16. ^ Gantin, Bernadin (May 2008). ""Once a bishop is appointed to a particular see, he must generally and in principle stay there for ever"". 30Giorni (Interview). Interviewed by Gianni Cardinale. Retrieved 14 March 2021. This interview conducted in April 1999 was republished in 2008.
  17. ^ "Lettera del Santo Padre all' Card. Bernadin Gantin per la Dispensa dall'Ufficio di Decano del Collegio Cardinalizio, 30.11.2002" (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. 19 March 2002. Retrieved 13 March 2021. The pope's letter is date 19 March 2002 and published on 29 November without explanation.
  18. ^ Allen Jr., John L. (19 November 2011). "In voodoo capital, Benedict blasts 'occultism and evil spirits'". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  19. ^ Elie, Paul (January–February 2006). "The Year of Two Popes". The Atlantic. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  20. ^ Allen Jr., John L. (2007). The Rise of Benedict XVI: The Inside Story of How the Pope was Elected and Where He Will Take the Catholic Church. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307424105. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  21. ^ Gantin, Bernadin (January 2005). ""I remain a Roman missionary in my country"". 30Giorni (Interview). Interviewed by Gianni Cardinale. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  22. ^ Gantin, Bernadin (June 2006). "My Africa blessed by the Lord". 30Giorni (Interview). Interviewed by Gianni Cardinale. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  23. ^ "Benin starts three-day national mourning for late Cardinal Gantin". African Press Agency. 14 May 2008. Archived from the original on 18 May 2008. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  24. ^ a b Allen Jr., John L. (20 November 2011). "The lonely liberation theology of Benedict XVI". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  25. ^ "Conferenza Stampa di Presentazione della Cattedra "Cardinal Bernadin Gantin" nella Pontificia Università Lateranense" (PDF) (Press release) (in Italian). 25 May 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  26. ^ "Réaménagement de l'Aéroport International Cardinal Bernadin Gantin de Cotonou". Agence National de l'Aviation Civile (in French). Retrieved 13 March 2021.

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Henri Léonard
Titular Bishop of Tipasa in Mauretania
11 December 1956 – 5 January 1960
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Louis Parisot
Archbishop of Cotonou
5 January 1960 – 28 June 1971
Succeeded by
Christophe Adimou
Preceded by Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
26 February 1973 – 19 December 1975
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Ramón Torrella Cascante
Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace
19 December 1975 – 16 December 1976
Succeeded by
Vice-President of the Pontifical Council Cor unum
16 December 1976 – 4 September 1978
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace
16 December 1976 – 8 April 1984
Succeeded by
Preceded by Cardinal-Deacon of Sacro Cuore di Cristo Re
27 June 1977 – 25 June 1984
Himself as Cardinal-Priest
Preceded by President of the Pontifical Council Cor unum
4 September 1978 – 8 April 1984
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Sighard Kleiner
Vice-President of Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses
Position abolished
Preceded by President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
8 April 1984 – 1 March 1989
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops
8 April 1984 – 25 June 1998
Succeeded by
President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America
8 April 1984 – 25 June 1998
Himself as Cardinal-Deacon Cardinal-Priest 'pro hac vice' of Sacro Cuore di Cristo Re
25 June 1984 – 29 September 1986
Succeeded by
Preceded by Cardinal-Bishop of Palestrina
29 September 1986 – 13 May 2008
Succeeded by
Preceded by Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia
5 June 1993 – 30 November 2002
Succeeded by
Dean of the College of Cardinals
5 June 1993 – 30 November 2002