Pio Laghi

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Pio Laghi
Patron of the Order of Malta
Laghi in 1984.
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
Appointed8 May 1993
Term ended10 January 2009
PredecessorSebastiano Baggio
SuccessorPaolo Sardi
Other post(s)Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli (2002–09)
Ordination20 April 1946
by Giuseppe Battaglia
Consecration22 June 1969
by Amleto Giovanni Cicognani
Created cardinal28 June 1991
by Pope John Paul II
RankCardinal-deacon (1991–2002)
Cardinal-priest (2002–09)
Personal details
Pio Laghi

(1922-05-21)21 May 1922
Died10 January 2009(2009-01-10) (aged 86)
San Carlo di Nancy Hospital, Rome, Italy
BuriedFaenza Cathedral
ParentsAntonio Laghi
Laura Conti
Previous post(s)
Alma mater
MottoIn verbo Tuo
Coat of armsPio Laghi's coat of arms

Pio Laghi (21 May 1922 – 10 January 2009) was an Italian cardinal of the Catholic Church. His service was primarily in the diplomatic service of the Holy See and the Roman Curia. He served as Apostolic nuncio to several countries and as the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1991. Cardinal Laghi was Pope John Paul II's secret emissary to the White House and to several presidents of the United States. He had a particularly close relationship with George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

His work as an apostolic nuncio in Argentina (1974–1980), during the years of dictatorship, has been and continues to be the subject of controversy.


Laghi was born in Castiglione di Forlì, Romagna, Italy. He was ordained to the priesthood on 20 April 1946 by Bishop Giuseppe Battaglia. He obtained doctorates in theology (1947) and canon law (1950) from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He entered the Roman Curia, in the Secretariat of State, in 1952, and then served as Secretary of the nunciature in Nicaragua until 1955. Laghi was raised to the rank of Domestic Prelate of His Holiness on 21 December 1965.

On 24 May 1969, he was appointed Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, and Titular Archbishop of Mauriana. Laghi received his episcopal consecration on the following 22 June from Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, with Archbishop Agostino Casaroli and Bishop Giuseppe Battaglia (who had also ordained Laghi) serving as co-consecrators.

During five years in Jerusalem he served as Pro-Nuncio to Cyprus (28 May 1973) and Apostolic Visitor for Greece. Laghi was a personal friend of Golda Meir.

Laghi was named Nuncio to Argentina on 27 April 1974. His six years in Argentina coincided with the worst excesses of the military dictatorship there in what is now known as the "dirty war". Many in Argentina believe that the church hierarchy supported the generals in their misrule, and that Laghi – who played tennis regularly with one of the leaders of the junta, Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera – turned a blind eye to the murder and disappearances of thousands.[1][2][3][4] "Perhaps I wasn't a hero", he later said of his time in Buenos Aires, "but I was no accomplice".[citation needed] The debate that his conduct generated was enough, however, to ruin any chance he ever had of becoming pope.[citation needed] In his book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality and Hypocrisy, Frédéric Martel alleges that Laghi was blackmailed by the Argentinean junta into not opposing them because of his use of so-called "taxiboys".[5]

Pope John Paul II transferred him as Apostolic Delegate (10 December 1980) and later (26 March 1984) Pro-Nuncio to the United States. In that role he helped place conservatives in key positions, such as Bernard Francis Law in Boston and John Joseph O'Connor in New York City.

On 6 April 1990, John Paul appointed Laghi Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education.[6] He made him Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria Auxiliatrice in via Tuscolana in the consistory of 28 June 1991, despite the accusations by Argentine writers of links between him and the dictatorship and the "Dirty War" in Argentina. On 1 July 1991, he was promoted to full congregation Prefect.

On 26 December 1994, the American magazine Time published an article titled "Who Will Be First Among Us?" which prematurely speculated on who would be the next pope "as John Paul approaches the twilight of his papacy." Laghi was listed among eight cardinals who were considered leading candidates; the article identified Laghi as head of the Congregation for Catholic Education with conservative credentials. In 1997 the Dirty War scandal was widely exposed, and, though Laghi denied the charges, it was considered to have ended his chance for the papacy.

Styles of
Pio Laghi
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal

He headed the Congregation for Catholic Education until his resignation on 15 November 1999. From 1999 to 2001 he was the Cardinal Protodeacon (the longest serving Cardinal Deacon), before exercising his right as a Cardinal Deacon of ten years' standing to become a Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli. On his 80th birthday, 21 May 2002, he became ineligible to vote in a papal conclave but continued to undertake special missions for his friend John Paul II.

In 2000, Laghi was awarded the F. Sadlier Dinger Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the ministry of religious education in America.

On 1 March 2003, Laghi, as special papal envoy to the United States, met with President George W. Bush and conveyed the Pope's request that the United States reconsider the decision to go to war against Iraq. Bush was photographed with Laghi and commented that he was "an old family friend". During the presidency of Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, Laghi, as Nuncio to the United States, was a frequent guest of Bush senior and his family.

Laghi died in Rome on 10 January 2009, from a blood disorder, aged 86.[7]


  1. ^ "Argentine military dictator confirms Catholic Church hierarchy was well aware of the "disappeared"". MercoPress. 24 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Vatican says its ex-envoy is innoncent". The Washington Post. 23 May 1997.
  3. ^ "Former Argentinian dictator says he told Catholic Church of disappeared". The Irish Times. 24 July 2012.
  4. ^ "Pio Laghi, Papal Envoy, Dies at 86". The New York Times. 13 January 2009.
  5. ^ Alison, James (23 February 2019). "Welcome to my world: Notes on the reception of Frédéric Martel's bombshell". ABC Religion & Ethics. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  6. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LXXXII. 1990. p. 536. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  7. ^ Vatican diplomat, Pio Laghi, dead at 86

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Apostolic Delegate to the United States
Succeeded by
Preceded by
none, new office
Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education
Succeeded by
Preceded by Cardinal Protodeacon
9 January 1999 – 26 February 2002
Succeeded by