VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI named Italian Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence to be the new president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
The 71-year-old cardinal filled a post made vacant by the April 19 death of Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who had headed the council for nearly 18 years.
Cardinal Antonelli said he was grateful for the pope’s trust in him as he felt the weight of his new role and the “great responsibility for the decisive importance the family has for the church and for society.”
While many people consider the family to be an important ideal, the family also “is seriously threatened and in crisis,” he told Vatican Radio June 7.
Surveys show the family is “highly regarded as an ideal,” but it is still under attack by cultural, economic and social phenomena that “are not favorable to the family,” he said.
The biggest challenges facing the family today are its “unity, marital stability, and also the fecundity” or low birthrate for married couples, he said.
Strong, solid families need “true love, intense love as a gift of oneself,” he said, which requires conquering oneself and “one’s own spontaneous inclinations” or spur-of-the-moment desires.
He said individuals must “learn to dominate” their own inclinations and their desire to fulfill their own personal interests and immediate pleasures.
But such a victory over selfishness is difficult when many people display an inner being that is “fragile” or “weak,” and culture and society are already unsupportive of families, he told Vatican Radio.
Cardinal Antonelli is known for his strong social teachings and his optimistic pastoral approach.
With a background in classics and art history, he ministered in one of the world’s most famous art cities for seven years and made appreciation of beauty a part of his pastoral ministry.
Three of the seven pastoral letters he issued while leading the Florence Archdiocese were dedicated to the family. The first tried to help families deal with “that pesky guest – the television.”
Another appealed to politicians to concretely support traditional families and not confuse the family “with other models.”
And in a letter released early this year, he issued “a decalogue for the family” in which he invited married couples to cuddle more and give each other gifts, make themselves physically appealing to one another, and pursue common interests.
Cardinal Antonelli is well known among Italy’s cardinals and bishops after serving as general secretary of the Italian bishops’ conference, 1995-2001.
He is a member of the pontifical councils for Social Communications and for the Laity and has put special emphasis on the role of laypeople in the church.
Born Nov. 18, 1936, in Todi, Ennio Antonelli entered the minor seminary in his hometown and finished his high school studies at the regional minor seminary in Assisi. Sent to Rome’s major seminary, he studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Lateran University and was ordained to the priesthood in 1960.
While serving as chaplain to a variety of parish and diocesan groups in Todi, he also earned a degree in Latin and Greek from the University of Perugia in 1966, followed by a teaching certificate in history, art history and philosophy.
He taught Greek, Latin and art history in high schools in Umbria, then from 1968 to 1983 served as an instructor of dogmatic theology at the Theological Institute of Assisi and in diocesan programs for the theological education of the laity throughout the Umbrian region.
He was named bishop of Gubbio in 1982 and archbishop of Perugia-Citta della Pieve in 1988.
In 1995, he moved to Rome when Pope John Paul II named him general secretary of the Italian bishops’ conference. He was named archbishop of Florence in 2001 and was elevated in 2003 to the College of Cardinals.