Cardinal Tauran’s behind-the-scenes diplomacy made the world a safer place
The death of French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has robbed the Church of one of its most skilful diplomats and one of most widely respected churchmen in the Muslim world.
Cardinal Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, died at the age of 75 in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was receiving medical treatment. He had been living with Parkinson’s disease for years, but led a Vatican delegation to Saudi Arabia as recently as April.
But it was his role as “proto-deacon” – the top-ranking cardinal deacon – that put him more squarely in the spotlight. On March 13, 2013, he appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica (pictured) to announce to the world, “Habemus papam” (“We have a Pope”).
In a telegram to the cardinal’s sister, Pope Francis sent his condolences and praised the cardinal’s “sense of service and his love for the Church”. Cardinal Tauran left a deep and lasting mark, the Pope said, noting the great trust and esteem in which he was held, particularly by Muslims. “I have fond memories of this man of profound faith who courageously served the Church of Christ to the end, despite the weight of disease,” he wrote.
Born in Bordeaux, on April 5, 1943, Jean-Louis Tauran was ordained to the priesthood in 1969 and entered the Vatican’s diplomatic service in 1975. He worked in apostolic nunciatures in the Dominican Republic and Lebanon from 1975 to 1983. He was a representative to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1983 to 1988, pressing the Vatican’s position on human rights at a time when Soviet Bloc regimes were weakening.
He was called to work in the Secretariat of State, first named undersecretary for relations with states in 1988, then secretary of the department in 1990. For the next 13 years, he was St John Paul II’s “foreign minister”.
Most of his work was behind the scenes, with daily unpublicised meetings with diplomats accredited to the Holy See and with visiting dignitaries. But sometimes he was called upon to express Vatican positions more openly – on war and peace, on the Holy Land or on the rights of minority Catholic communities.
John Paul ordained him an archbishop in January 1991 and elevated him to the College of Cardinals in 2003, soon after making him head of the Vatican Library and the Vatican Secret Archives. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named him president of Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the office overseeing the Vatican’s outreach to other faiths, including Islam. The pope had placed the interreligious council under the wing of the Pontifical Council for Culture in 2006 but, with Cardinal Tauran’s appointment, he returned the office to its previous autonomy and high profile.
Cardinal Tauran’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 225 members, 124 of whom are under 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave.
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