Cardinal Bernard Gantin, a Roman Catholic cardinal, is the highest-ranking African in the Vatican. Gantin, who is close to Pope John Paul II, has been given progressively more important positions until he is sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to the pope.
Gantin was sent to Rome for theological studies, where he took an advanced degree at the Urbanium, the Vatican university for third-world studies. He was ordained in 1951 and within five years was auxiliary bishop of Cotonou, the capital city of Benin. From 1960 to 1971 he served as its archbishop. In 1971, as part of Pope John Paul’s program to internationalize the Vatican bureaucracy, Gantin was called to Rome and made deputy head of the Congregation on Evangelization, which oversees all third-world mission dioceses. Soon, Gantin came into conflict with Mathieu KEREKOU, head of Benin’s Marxist government when Gantin protested from Rome the arrests of priests (including his successor as archbishop) and the suppression of religious education.
By 1977, Gantin was head of the Vatican Commission on Justice and Peace and was made cardinal. Over the years, tensions with the Benin government eased, and in 1982, Gantin accompanied John Paul on a visit to that country, where he received a tumultuous welcome. In 1984 he was appointed head of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, which gave him jurisdiction over the appointment of all Catholic bishops.
Although he was originally viewed by the church as a ‘mild man without much political weight,’ Gantin has proved a firm supporter of the pope’s conservative tendencies and is close to Opus Dei, the arch-conservative lay movement in the Catholic Church. With his friendly, open, outgoing personality, he is an effective administrator. In 1993 he was elected dean of the College of Cardinals, a prestigious but largely ceremonial post that involves directing papal elections. His choice shows his wide acceptance by other cardinals throughout the church.
Norbert C. Brockman
This article is reproduced, with permission, from *An African Biographical Dictionary, *copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.