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College of Cardinals

Biographical notes

[Updated: 17.04.2004]


Notice: the biographical notes are only a working instrument for the press, for the exclusive use of accredited journalists.






Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, was born on 25 October 1923 in Brisighella, diocese of Faenza, Italy. He entered the diocesan seminary at 19 years of age, and where on 13 July 1946 he was ordained a priest. Contemporarily, he attended the University of Bologna and obtained a doctorate with a thesis entitled Lo Statuto fondamentale degli Stati di Santa Chiesa promulgato da Pio IX nel 1948. He then went to Rome and earned a doctorate in Utroque Iure at the Pontifical Lateran University.

In 1952 he became a student of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and on the 1st of December 1953 he entered the diplomatic service in the Section for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Secretariat of State, dealing with the problems of Vietnam, China, Indonesia and South East Asia. From 1958 to 1969 he was a collaborator to the Secretaries of State, Domenico Tardini and Amleto G. Cicogani. Returning to the Council for Public Affairs of the Church (the name assumed in 1967 by the Section for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs) he was responsible for the International Organizations Sector, peace problems, disarmament and human rights. In 1971 he accompanied Cardinal Agostino Casaroli to Moscow in order to deposit the document of adhesion of the Holy See to the Treaty of non-proliferation of nuclear arms. In 1972 he was adjunct delegate to the Helsinki consultations in preparation of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, participating in all the phases of the Conference in Helsinki and Geneva. In 1977 he was head of the adjunct delegation to the reunion in Belgrade, for the verification and development of the final act of Helsinki. He headed the delegations of the Holy See to the Conference of the United Nations on the pacific use of nuclear energy (Geneva, 1971) and to the Conference putting into effect the Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear arms (Geneva, 1975).

In July 1973 he was named Under Secretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church. For some years he taught diplomatic law at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. 

On 4 May 1979 he was Secretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church and on 27 May 1979 he was ordained titular Bishop of Novalcina with personal title of Archbishop.

From 1979, he headed the Delegation of the Holy See for the Revision of the Lateran concordant and conducted the negotiations with the Italian authorities until the signing of the Agreement of 18 February 1984. Numerous diplomatic missions: representative of the Holy See in Madrid at the reunion for the security and cooperation in Europe 1980-83; Malta (1981); Buenos Aires, for the Malvine-Falklands crisis (1982); Nicaragua and El Salvador (1983); Poland (May 1983); Haiti for the modification of the Concordat (1984); Stockholm as head of the Delegation of the Holy See at the inaugural session of the conference on disarmament in Europe (1984); Helsinki, for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Final Act of the Conference for the Security and Cooperation in Europe; Malta for defining an agreement on schools of the Church (1985); Lebanon and Syria (1986); Malta for the examination of the material regarding the relations between Church and State (1986); Poland (1987).

Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, 1 July 1988 to 24 May 1991.

Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, 24 May 1991 to 25 November 2000 and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, 3 April 1993 until 25 November 2000.

President Delegate of the Special Assembly for Lebanon of the Synod of Bishops (1995).

In his priestly ministry, he was dedicated to the young at the Villa Nazareth, which was founded in 1945 by Cardinal Tardini. Since 1969, he animated a community consisting of a group of ex-students (university graduates, professionals) and supporters. From this he created, in 1986, the Foundation ‘Comunità Domenico Tardini’, which has been entrusted with the management and the responsibility of the formative activities of the Sacred Family of Nazareth foundation. He is president of both foundations.

Created and proclaimed Cardinal by John Paul II in the Consistory of 28 June 1988, of the Title of S. Benedetto fuori Porta S. Paolo (St. Benedict outside St. Paul’s Gate),  deaconry elevated  pro hac vice to presbyteral title.


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