Catholic Church mourns death of Australian Cardinal Edward Cassidy

15 Apr 2021

By Contributor

Australian Cardinal Edward I Cassidy, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is pictured in Washington on 15 June 1998. Cardinal Cassidy died on 10 April at the age of 96. Photo: Nancy Wiechec/CNS.
Australian Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is pictured in Washington June 15, 1998. Cardinal Cassidy died April 10 at the age of 96. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

The Catholic Church – in Australia and globally – is mourning the death of Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who died on 10 April 2021 in Newcastle at the age of 96.

He celebrated his 80th birthday nine months before the death of St John Paul II, so was not eligible to vote in the April 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

After being ordained to the priesthood, Cardinal Cassidy served in parish ministry in Wagga Wagga Diocese before heading to Rome for ongoing study. Once he completed his additional training, he spent nearly 30 years serving as a Vatican diplomat in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

He was later appointed to the Secretariat of State, where he served for almost two years in a role equivalent to the Pope’s chief of staff.

He was named president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1989 and elevated to the rank of cardinal in 1991. He retired from the Pontifical Council in 2001 at the age of 76.

Cardinal Cassidy was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 1990 in “recognition of service to religion and to international affairs”.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said Cardinal Cassidy’s friendly and down-to-earth style were among his hallmarks while serving at the Vatican.

While Cardinal Cassidy was highly regarded for several reasons, it was at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity that he “shone”, Archbishop Coleridge said.

“Cardinal Cassidy showed not only diplomatic skill and political astuteness, but also human authenticity and common sense,” he said.

“There was a simplicity in it all – the simplicity of a man called to high office in the Church but with his eyes firmly on Jesus Christ.”

Cardinal Cassidy retired at the age of 76 in 2001 after spending 48 years abroad, the last 11 of those years as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and as president of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Born 5 July 1924, in Sydney, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1949 and served for two years at a parish in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga before being sent to Rome for canon law studies.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP paid tribute to Cardinal Cassidy online, saying the late cardinal “left a remarkable legacy on our Church, especially in the field of ecumenism”.

“Few other Australians have had such a profound impact on the Catholic Church on the international stage and I’m sure he will continue to inspire Church leaders for many years to come,” Archbishop Fisher said, adding that Cardinal Cassidy was a great support to him as a young bishop.

Cardinal Cassidy earned his doctorate in 1955 from Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University and began his diplomatic service that year, after also finishing his studies at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Vatican’s diplomat training school.

Named an archbishop in 1970, he served two years as the last nuncio stationed in Taiwan. Over the next 16 years, he served as nuncio to Bangladesh, then to South Africa and finally to the Netherlands.

In 1988, St John Paul named him substitute secretary of state for general affairs, a position similar to being the pope’s chief of staff. In December 1989 he was named president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. He was made a cardinal in 1991.

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli called Cardinal Cassidy “a wonderful man of God and servant of the Church, and a terrific Australian”.

Cardinal Cassidy’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 225 members, 126 of whom are under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new Holy Father.

The Archdiocese of Sydney advises that the funeral for Cardinal Cassidy will take place on Monday, 19th April, commencing at 10.30am AEST at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. Head to

Australian Cardinal Edward I Cassidy died on 10 April at the age of 96. He is pictured with German Lutheran Bishop Christian Krause at the signing of “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” in Augsburg, Germany, on 31 October 1999. Cardinal Cassidy, representing the Vatican, and Bishop Krause, president of the Lutheran World Federation, signed the document marking the resolution of a doctrinal dispute that sparked the Reformation. Photo: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters.