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Giovanni Benelli

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His Eminence 
Giovanni Benelli
Cardinal Archbishop of Florence
See Florence
Enthroned June 3, 1977
Reign ended October 26, 1982
Predecessor Ermenegildo Florit
Successor Silvano Piovanelli
Ordination October 31, 1943
Consecration September 11, 1966
Created Cardinal June 27, 1977
Other Substitute Secretary of State (1967-77)
Personal details
Born May 12, 1921(1921-05-12)
Vernio, Italy
Died October 26, 1982 (aged 61)
Florence, Italy
Styles of
Giovanni Benelli
CardinalCoA PioM
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Florence

Giovanni Benelli (May 12, 1921 - October 26, 1982) was an Italian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Florence from 1977 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1977.


Early life and ordination

Giovanni Benelli was born in Poggiole di Vernio, Tuscany, to Luigi and Maria (née Simoni) Benelli. Baptised the day after his birth, on May 13, he was the youngest of his parents' five surviving children, and his uncle Guido was a revered Franciscan friar. Benelli entered the Seminary of Pistoia in 1931, and then attended the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome. He received the clerical tonsure on December 23, 1939, and was eventually ordained a priest on October 31, 1943 by Bishop Giuseppe Debernardi. At age 22, he had not yet reached the canonical age for priestly ordination, and therefore was given a special dispensation. Benelli finished his studies at the Gregorian in 1947, and also undertook pastoral work in Rome until 1950.

Roman Curia

His abilities were noticed by the Church, and he soon became attached to the Roman Curia. Named private secretary to Giovanni Battista Montini on August 1, 1947, Benelli was later raised to the rank of Monsignor on July 16, 1950. He served as the Secretary of nunciatures to Ireland (1950-1953) and to France (1953-1960). Benelli was then appointed to the following posts: auditor of nunciature to Brazil (1960-1962), counsellor of nunciature to Spain (1962-1965), and permanent observer of Holy See before UNESCO in Paris (1965-1966).

Shortly after his episcopal appointment, on June 29, 1967, he entered the Roman Curia as Substitute, or Deputy, of Secretariate of State. As then Secretary of State, Cardinal Cicognani, was too old to fulfill most of his duties, they fell to Benelli. He worked closely with his former master, now Pope Paul VI, and remained in this post for ten years.


On June 11, 1966, he was appointed Titular Archbishop of Tusuro and Apostolic Nuncio to Senegal, as well as apostolic delegate to Western Africa. Benelli received his episcopal consecration on the following September 11 from Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, with Archbishop Pietro Sigismondi and Bishop Mario Longo Dorni serving as co-consecrators. On September 11 of that same year, Benelli became Titular Archbishop of Tusuros.

Benelli was promoted to Archbishop of Florence on June 3, 1977, and was created Cardinal Priest of S. Prisca by Paul VI in the consistory of June 27, 1977.


Upon the deaths of Popes Paul VI and John Paul I, Benelli was considered the leading moderate candidate to succeed them, because of his close ties with Paul and his Italian heritage. He was one of the cardinal electors in the conclaves of August and October 1978, though did not manage to gain enough votes to ascend the Chair of Peter. During the August conclave, Benelli supported Albino Cardinal Luciani, the eventual winner.[1][2]

Later life and death

Benelli continued in his capacity of Cardinal Archbishop of Florence until he died of a sudden heart attack in Florence, at age 61. His funeral Mass was celebrated by Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, and his remains were buried in the Santa Maria del Fiore.


  • Cardinal Benelli was unpopularly known as the "the Berlin Wall"[3] and the "Vatican Kissinger"[4] in the Vatican for his aggressive and almost authoritarian tenure as Substitute of State, including having the more senior Curialists channel business through him.
  • Cardinal Benelli is portrayed by popular actor David Suchet in a West-End production of 'The Last Confession' at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. In the play, Benelli demands an autopsy on Pope Luciani's death, but later refrains from the inquiry in order to not harm the Church. He has reprised the role in a production for BBC Radio 4 broadcast on October 4 2008.

See also


  1. Time Magazine. In Rome, a Week off Suspense August 28, 1978
  2. Time Magazine. A Swift, Stunning Choice September 4, 1978
  3. Time Magazine. The Pope's Powerful No. 2 March 14, 1969
  4. Time Magazine. Recent Events November 8, 1982

En español:

(1976) Pancorbo, Luis: "Monseñor Benelli" en "Diálogos italianos". Pp. 343-353. Sedmay, Madrid. ISBN 84-7380-124-5

External links

Preceded by
Archbishop Angelo Dell'Acqua
Substitute for General Affairs
29 June 1967–3 June 1977
Succeeded by
Archbishop Giuseppe Caprio
Preceded by
Ermenegildo Florit
Archbishop of Florence
3 June 1977 - 26 October 1982
Succeeded by
Silvano Piovanelli


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