Australian Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, passed away on Saturday, 10 April, in Newcastle, Australia at the age of 96.
Born on 5 July 1924 in Sydney, Australia, to non-Catholic parents, Edward Idris Cassidy’s family split when he was just two years old. He was entrusted to the care of his paternal grandparents and, although he had been baptized into the Church of England, his grandmother brought him into the Catholic Church and he was baptized anew at Saint John the Baptist Church in Gulgong. As a boy, he attended both Catholic and public schools. He expressed his vocation to the priesthood at a very young age but, in 1939, after the death of his grandfather, he left his studies to work in the government job in New South Wales, and for about three months he worked at the Ministry of Transport and Traffic Control. Discouraged from his vocation due to his complex family situation, he later found a point of spiritual reference in then-Archbishop Norman Thomas Gilroy of Sydney. He began attending the seminary of Saint Colomba in Springwood in February 1943, and the following year entered Saint Patrick’s College in Manly, where he completed his studies.
In 1949, at the age of 25, he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Gilroy at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, along with the future Cardinal Edward Bede Clancy, who died in 2014.
From 1950 to 1952 he served as assistant in the parish of Yenda, in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga. In 1952 he moved to Rome, where he began to study canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University at the request of Bishop Francis Henschke of Wagga Wagga, and graduated with high honours in a historical and juridical study on the Apostolic Delegate of the Church. In 1953 he also began attending the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy where he earned a diploma, and thereafter joined the diplomatic service of the Holy See.
His first post was at the Apostolic Internunciature of India (1955-1962). He then spent five years at the Apostolic Nunciature of Dublin (1962-1967), two years in El Salvador (1967-1969) and one year in Argentina, beginning at Christmas of 1969.
In 1970 he was appointed Apostolic Pro-nuncio to the Republic of China (Taiwan) and received his episcopal ordination by Secretary of State Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot in the chapel of the Pontifical Urbaniana University, along with Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, and Archbishop Matthew Beovich of Adelaide. His episcopal motto was “Fortitudo mea Dominus”.
On 31 January 1973 he was appointed the first Apostolic Pro-nuncio to Bangladesh, which had recently obtained independence, and Apostolic Delegate to Burma, today’s Myanmar. On 25 March 1979 he was appointed Apostolic Delegate to South Africa and Apostolic Pro-nuncio to Lesotho. He served in these roles until 6 November 1984, when he was transferred to the Netherlands as Apostolic Pro-nuncio.
In 1988 he was appointed Substitute of the Secretariat of State for General Affairs, serving until the end of 1989, when he was called to preside the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. During his service in that position, which lasted until March 2001, he signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification on 31 October 1999 in Augsburg, Germany, along with Bishop Christian Krause, President of the World Lutheran Federation.
In 1990 he participated in the Eighth Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the formation of priests.
He was created Cardinal Deacon in 1991, and in the same year took part in the Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops. He also took part in the Special Assembly for Africa and in the Ninth Ordinary Assembly (dedicated to consecrated life) in 1994, the Special Assembly for Lebanon in 1995, the Special Assembly for America in 1997, and the Special Assembly for Asia in 1998, the same year in which he served as President Delegate to the Special Assembly for Oceania. In 1999 he also participated in the Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops, then played an important role in the ecumenical celebrations for the Jubilee of 2000.
Additionally, in 1996 he was the Pope’s Special Envoy to Ukraine for the celebrations of the fourth centenary of the Union of Brest and 350 years of the Union of Uzhorod. In 2000 he represented the Pontiff at celebrations for the one thousand years of Christianity in Iceland.
Cardinal Cassidy returned to Australia in 2001 and took great joy in representing the Pope as Special Envoy to the celebrations for the reopening of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta on 29 November 2003.
In 2005 he published the book Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue: Unitatis Redintegratio, Nostra Aetate (Rediscovering Vatican II), 40 years after the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate.
During Benedict XVI’s journey to Australia in 2008 for World Youth Day, the Pope invited prayers for Cardinal Cassidy, who was admitted to Sydney’s Saint Vincent private hospital at the time. In 2009 his book My Years in Vatican Service was published.
Within the Roman Curia, he was a member of the Congregations for Oriental Churches, for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for Bishops, and for the Evangelization of Peoples. He was also a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and of the Special Council for Lebanon of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
Cardinal Cassidy’s funeral is expected to be held at St Mary’s Cathedral but a date has not yet been set.