Italian Cardinal Sebastiani dies at 92: Vatican budget expert

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Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani
Italian Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani arrives for the general congregation of cardinals in 2005. (CNS photo from Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Italian Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani, the retired president of the office overseeing the Vatican budget, died Jan. 16 at the age of 92.

Pope Francis, offering his condolences, said the cardinal “generously spent his life in service of the Gospel and the Holy See, alongside so many of my predecessors, who entrusted him with important responsibilities.”

“In the light of faith, I give thanks to God for the witness of the late cardinal,” the pope wrote.

Cardinal Sebastiani was president of the Prefecture of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, the Vatican budget office, from 1997 until his retirement in 2008. While he held this important role, he used various speaking opportunities to reflect on ethical issues related to the economy.

Advancing competition while looking out for the weak

His speeches at special synods of bishops focused on economic globalization and the need for national and international measures to ensure that while healthy competition advanced, the weak and the poor would not be pushed aside.

He continued his predecessor’s practice of holding a press conference to release the Vatican’s final annual budget reports, but discontinued the practice of releasing budget forecasts, saying in 1999, “because what bishops want to know is how the Vatican spent the money it received.”

Service to the pilgrim Church

Before being named to head the budget office, he served from 1994 to 1997 as general secretary of the Vatican committee preparing for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and as president of the Vatican-related pilgrimage agency, “Peregrinatio ad Petri Sedem.” St. John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001.

At the committee, he was responsible for laying the groundwork for meeting the logistical needs of expected pilgrims, organizing hotels and convents to welcome pilgrims, convincing the city of Rome to improve public transportation, raising money for jubilee projects through corporate sponsorships and use of the Holy Year logo, and establishing a solidarity fund to enable poor people to make a pilgrimage to Rome.

The preparation of the Holy Year, he had said, “is not so much a matter of opening doors as opening hearts” and addressing the many logistical needs was to help Holy Year pilgrims concentrate on the spiritual side of their visit.

Before working on the Vatican jubilee committee, Cardinal Sebastiani had served a nine-year term as nuncio to Turkey, starting in 1985, and before that, St. Paul VI had named him an archbishop and nuncio to Madagascar and Mauritius in 1976.

Born April 11, 1931, in Montemonaco, Sergio Sebastiani earned degrees in theology from Rome’s Gregorian University and in canon law from the Lateran University.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1956, he entered the Ecclesiastical Academy, the school for Vatican diplomats. In 1960, he began his service as a Vatican diplomat and was assigned to Vatican embassies in Peru, Brazil, Chile and France.

His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 239 members, 132 of whom are under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Carol Glatz

Carol Glatz writes for Catholic News Service.