VATICAN CITY — On Saturday, Pope Francis sent a message mourning the death earlier that day of 83-year-old Italian Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop emeritus of Milan.
“In learning of the news of the passing of the dear Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, I wish to express my condolences to his family and members of that diocesan community, which lists him among her most illustrious sons and most lovable and beloved pastors,” the Pope said in an Aug. 5 telegram.
Addressed to Cardinal Angelo Scola, the recently retired archbishop of Milan, and Archbishop Mario Delpini, the archdiocese’s current leader, the telegram conveyed the affection and gratitude with which Francis said he would remember “the intense cultural and pastoral work lavished by this blessed brother.”
Francis praised Cardinal Tettamanzi, who “in his fruitful existence has borne witness to the joy of the Gospel and served the Church docilely.”
Cardinal Tettamanzi, he said, was “always distinct as a caring pastor, totally dedicated to the needs and the good of the priests and of all the faithful, with special attention to the themes of the family, marriage and bioethics, of which he was a particular expert.”
Archbishop of Milan from 2002 to 2011, Cardinal Tettamanzi was a moral theologian and a leading voice in the Italian Church, and at one point, he was even considered a likely candidate for the papacy.
Viewed as spanning the gap between liberal and conservative, the cardinal oversaw several dioceses and held various positions in the Italian Bishops’ Conference. He also collaborated in the writing of several Vatican documents in moral theology, including St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
Born March 14, 1934, in Renate, Italy, Tettamanzi was just 11 years old when he entered the seminary of Seveso San Pietro, where he began his initial studies.
He then attended the Seminary of the Lower Venegono until 1957, when he received a licentiate in theology. That same year he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milan and later obtained his doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
For more than 20 years, the cardinal taught fundamental moral theology at the Lower Venegono seminary and pastoral theology at the Priestly Institute of Mary Immaculate and the Lombard Regional Institute of Pastoral Ministry in Milan.
Throughout his career, the prelate authored several written works, contributing to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and the Italian bishops’ daily paper, Avvenire.
From 1979-1989, he was active in the Italian Confederation of Family Counseling Centers of Christian inspiration as well as in “Oari,” a pastoral movement dedicated to offering hope to those who suffer. He was also involved in the Milan branch of the Association of Italian Catholic Medical Doctors for nearly 20 years.
Cardinal Tettamanzi was given the title “Monsignor” in 1985, and just two years later, in September 1987, he was tapped to serve the Pontifical Lombard Seminary.
While in that role, he continued to serve the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) in various roles and collaborated with the Holy See and various theological institutes.
On July 1, 1989, he was named archbishop of Ancona-Osma and received his episcopal ordination Sept. 23, 1989. While there, he also served as head of the CEI’s Marche region. Then, in June of 1990, he was elected president of the CEI Bishops Commission for the Family.
He was named secretary general of the CEI in March 1991, and in April, he resigned from his position leading the Diocese of Ancona-Osimo. Four years later, on April 20, 1995, he was named archbishop of Genoa and served as president of the regional bishops’ conference.
Just a month later, in May 1995, he was named vice president of the CEI, a position he held until 2000.
In addition to the various responsibilities he carried out, Cardinal Tettamanzi participated as an expert in the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family and the 1987 Synod on the Laity convoked by John Paul II. He was also a synod father at the two special assemblies of the Synod of Bishops for Europe in 1991 and 1999, as well as the 1994 Synod on Consecrated Life.
He was named archbishop of Milan in July 2002, taking over for Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, whose legacy, for many, was carried forward by Cardinal Tettamanzi.
He was named a cardinal by John Paul II in the consistory of February 1998 and was tapped by Pope Francis to participate in the XIV Ordinary General Assembly on “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World” in October 2015.
Having been under the age limit of 80 during the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Tettamanzi voted in both that and the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
In his telegram for the cardinal’s passing, Francis prayed that God would “welcome this faithful servant, whom he loved so greatly, in joy and eternal peace,” and he offered his blessing to all those mourning and to those who “lovingly assisted” the cardinal during his last few years of illness.