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Italian cardinal who supported Savonarola’s sainthood cause dies

Italian Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli, retired archbishop of Florence, died on 9th July at the age of 92.

Pope Francis, offering his condolences, said the cardinal “served the Gospel with joy and wisdom and tenaciously loved the Church.” The pope telephoned the cardinal in the days leading up to his death, the Vatican newspaper reported on 9th July.

The cardinal long supported the sainthood cause of Dominican Fr Girolamo Savonarola, a controversial yet popular preacher who was burned at the stake in 1498 after denouncing moral corruption in society and the Church.

Pope Alexander VI, the infamous Borgia pope, excommunicated the Dominican, but Fr Savonarola defied the papal order and tried to provoke the pontiff’s removal from office. He was burned in the main square of Florence and soon after was revered locally as a saint.

The Florence Archdiocese, where Fr Savonarola lived and was put to death, opened the cause for his canonisation in 1997, and Cardinal Piovanelli had been optimistic that he would be recognised for his holiness.

He also urged Catholic women to fill roles and positions open to them in the Catholic Church, then try to be patient.

“The courage of farsightedness and patience for small steps is necessary,” the cardinal told women theologians and theology students at a conference in Rome in 1998.

The story of women in the Church “is made up of more silences than proclamations and announcements; the woman remains in the wings, while the man dominates the scene,” Cardinal Piovanelli said.

“Mary is the mirror and model for a contemporary woman who wants to participate with decision-making power in the choices of the community,” he said. “Mary was a responsible, courageous, certainly not passive or submissive woman who lived her maternity with a universal embrace.”

“Being the image of Christ does not consist in sexual similarity to him, but in conforming one’s life to his,” he said. “Theologically, women and men have the identical ability to be conformed to the image of Christ.” Cardinal Piovanelli told the women at the conference to “have the patience of taking small steps. Occupy with ease all of the spaces which you can occupy.”

Born on 21st February 1924, in a small town north of Florence, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1947. He served as auxiliary bishop of Florence for one year before being named its archbishop in 1983. Elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1985, he retired at the age of 77 in 2001.

His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 212 members, 112 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Picture: Italian Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli, the retired archbishop of Florence, pictured during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in this April 15, 2005, file photo. (CNS photo/Ettore Ferrari, EPA).