The Pope has sent a telegram of condolence to the sister of Cardinal Georges Cottier, former theologian of the papal household, who died last week at the age of 93.
In the telegram, the Holy Father spoke of his “profound gratitude” towards Cardinal Cottier and paid tribute to the cardinal’s “strong faith, paternal kindness, and intense cultural and ecclesial activity.”
Cardinal Cottier was born in Ginevra, Switzerland in 1922. He entered the Dominican Order in 1945 and was ordained as a priest in 1951. He was nominated Cardinal of the Consistory by Pope St John Paul II in 2003.
The cardinal had a diverse career as both a university lecturer and within the Church. He participated in the Second Vatican Council as an “Expert of the Council”.
Speaking about the impact of Vatican II on the theology of the Church, Cardinal Cottier said, “Those areas that regard justice and peace – these things didn’t exist before the Council, as well as concern for dialogue with the world, the idea itself of the New Evangelisation was born with the Council.”
The Cardinal served as the theologian of the papal household from 1989 to 2005, retiring at the age of 83.
Before his retirement, Cardinal Cottier explained to the Catholic News Service that the most important part of his job was to ensure that the many thousands of words written by Vatican aides did not contain any dubious theology or phrases which could embarrass the Church.
The cardinal explained that he also had to ensure that the Pope did not express too much about some topics. “By this, I mean that when we have a theological issue that is still open to discussion and study, it’s not a good thing that the Pope pronounce on it too early. Because when the Pope speaks with authority, it means the discussion is closed,” he said.
Cardinal Cottier served as president of the Vatican Theological-Historical Commission that prepared the way for the Church’s major “mea culpa” statements of Holy Year 2000, treating such specific themes as the Inquisition and Christians’ treatment of Jews.
Amid some controversy, the commission insisted the Church could and should ask forgiveness for the past sins of its members, while distinguishing between the holiness of the Church and the sometimes sinful behavior of individual Christians.
In professing belief in the “communion of saints,” Cardinal Cottier argued, the Church asserts a link among its members throughout history. He said the Church has an obligation to acknowledge “those things which were right to do and those which should not have been done and ask forgiveness for them.”
Asking forgiveness for historical wrongs has a practical value, he added, because “there are some facts which cast shadows and are an obstacle to evangelisation.”
His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 215 members, 116 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave.
The funeral Mass will be held at St Peter’s Basilica on April 2.
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