ROME — Swiss Cardinal Gilberto Agustoni, who died in Rome on January 13, was a “sincere and steadfast” member of the Roman Curia and gave a witness of “priestly zeal and fidelity to the Gospel” at the Vatican for almost 50 years, Pope Francis said.
The cardinal, who served as head of the Apostolic Signatura, the church’s supreme court, from 1992 to 1998, died at the age of 94. He began a series of assignments at the Vatican in 1950 and retired in the city in 1998.
According to the Vatican website, the late Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani had to get permission from Pope Pius XII to hire then-Father Agustoni for a position at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (then called the Holy Office), because the Swiss priest was not yet even 30 years old and the matters handled by the congregation were “so serious and delicate.”
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, celebrated his funeral Mass on January 17 in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis presided over the final rite of commendation.
Agustoni was born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, in July 1922. He completed his compulsory education in his hometown.
He finished his high school studies at the diocesan seminary in Lugano and was sent to Rome to study. He earned a philosophy degree at St. Thomas University, but because of World War II, his bishop called him back to Switzerland to complete his studies.
After earning his theology degree from the University of Fribourg, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1946. Four years later, Ottaviani called him to Rome.
While working at the doctrinal congregation, then-Father Agustoni attended Rome’s Lateran University, earning a degree in canon law. Later he was also a commissioner, dealing with marriage cases, in the then-Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments.
His work in central church courts began in 1970 when he was appointed a judge in the Roman Rota, the court of appeals for decisions regarding marriage annulments and other matters.
He worked at the Rota for 16 years before being named an archbishop and secretary of the Congregation for Clergy in 1986.
While still secretary of the clergy congregation, the future cardinal was named a member of the Apostolic Signatura by St. John Paul II, who named him head of the court in 1992 and inducted him into the College of Cardinals two years later.
Agustoni’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 226 members, 120 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave.