Agostino Casaroli

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Agostino Casaroli : biography

24 November 1914 – 9 June 1998

Agostino Casaroli (24 November 1914 – 9 June 1998) was an Italian Catholic priest and diplomat for the Holy See, who became Cardinal Secretary of State. He was the most important figure behind the Vatican’s efforts to deal with the persecution of the Church in the nations of the Soviet bloc after the Second Vatican Council.

Cardinal Casaroli was portrayed by veteran character actor Ben Gazzara in the 2005 miniseries, Pope John Paul II.


Relations with communism

His signing of treaties with Hungary in 1964 and Yugoslavia in 1966 was the first time the Holy See had opened itself in this way to communist regimes, which had killed a great many Catholics since coming to power. Although his 2000 memoirs revealed a man hostile to communism, his remarkable diplomatic skill made this hostility appear non-existent.

Teilhard de Chardin

In 1981, on the 100th anniversary of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s birth, speculation erupted about his possible rehabilitation. It was fueled by a letter published in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, by Cardinal Casaroli, who praised the "astonishing resonance of his research, as well as the brilliance of his personality and richness of his thinking." Casaroli asserted that Teilhard had anticipated John Paul II’s call to "be not afraid," embracing "culture, civilization and progress."


Casaroli was born in Castel San Giovanni (province of Piacenza, Italy) to a family of humble roots. His father was a tailor in Piacenza. He was educated at the Collegio Alberoni in Piacenza the Episcopal Seminary of Bedonia, Piacenza, the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome where he earned a doctorate in canon law and finally at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.


He was ordained to the priesthood on 27 May 1937 in Piacenza. He went to further studies in Rome from 1937–1939. After his ordination he served at the Secretariat of State from 1940, while also doing pastoral ministry in the diocese of Rome from 1943. He was named Privy Chamberlain of His Holiness on 4 January 1945. He served as chaplain of Villa Agnese from 1950 to 1998. He was raised to the rank of Domestic prelate of His Holiness on 22 December 1954.

He served as an assistant to Cardinal Adeodato Giovanni Piazza at the First General Conference of the Latin American Bishops in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1955. He was papal envoy to deliver the red biretta to José María Monreal, Archbishop of Seville, on behalf of Pope John XXIII in December 1958. He served as a faculty member of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy from 1958 to 1961. On 24 February 1961, he was appointed Undersecretary of the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, effectively deputy foreign minister. In 1964, he represented the Holy See at the exchange of instruments in ratification of the modus vivendi with Tunisia, concerning the situation of the Catholic Church. He was a signatory of the partial agreement between the Holy See and Hungary in Budapest on 15 September 1964. He negotiated with the Communist Czechoslovak government over the appointment of František Tomášek as apostolic administrator sede plena of the archdiocese of Prague in February 1965. He was appointed secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs on 29 June 1967.

During the period following Vatican II, Casaroli gained a reputation as a highly skilled diplomat who was able to negotiate with regimes hostile to the Church. He headed the CSCE conference in Finlandia Hall, Helsinki from 30 July to 1 August 1975.


Although not made a cardinal with his close associate Giovanni Benelli in 1977, Casaroli was made a Cardinal-Priest of Ss. XII Apostoli in John Paul II’s first consistory in 1979, and at the same time he became Secretary of State. Although he was seen as less hardline than any other close associate of John Paul, Casaroli’s skillful diplomacy was seen by Wojtyła as an irreplaceable asset in the struggle against the Soviet Union.

In 1985 he became Cardinal Bishop of the suburbicarian diocese of Porto-Santa-Rufina, and in 1990 he retired as Secretary of State, being succeeded by Angelo Sodano. He was Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals from 1993 until his 1998 death of cardiorespiratory disease.

In November 2010, Mehmet Ali Ağca asserted that Casaroli had been the man behind the assassination attempt on John Paul II in 1981.