Paulo Evaristo Arns

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His Eminence
Paulo Arns
Cardinal, Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo
Paulo Evaristo Arns (1982).jpg
Paulo Evaristo Arns in 1982
See São Paulo (Emeritus)
Appointed 22 October 1970
Installed 1 November 1970
Term ended 9 April 1998
Predecessor Agnelo Rossi
Successor Cláudio Hummes
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Antonio da Padova in Via Tuscolana
Ordination 30 November 1945
by José Pereira Alves
Consecration 3 July 1966
by Agnelo Rossi
Created Cardinal 5 March 1973
by Paul VI
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Born (1921-09-14) 14 September 1921 (age 97)
Forquilhinha, Santa Catarina, Brazil
Previous post
  • Auxiliary Bishop of São Paulo (1966–1970)
  • Titular Bishop of Respecta (1966–1970)
Motto ex spe in spem
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Styles of
Paulo Evaristo Arns
Coat of arms of Paulo Evaristo Arns.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See São Paulo (emeritus)

Paulo Evaristo Arns OFM (Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈpawlu evaˈɾistu ˈaɾns]; born 14 September 1921 in Forquilhinha) is Cardinal and Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo. He is currently the Cardinal Protopriest of the Holy Roman Church.

Early life and education

Paulo Arns was born as the fifth of thirteen children of the German immigrants Gabriel and Helana Arns. Three of his sisters would later become nuns and one of his brothers a Franciscan. One of his sisters, Zilda Arns, a pediatrician who founded the Brazilian bishops' children's commission, was reportedly killed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

On 10 December 1943, Arns joined the Franciscans; he was ordained a priest on 30 November 1945.

From 1941 to 1943 Arns studied philosophy in Curitiba and then theology from 1944 to 1947 in Petrópolis. Then he attended the Sorbonne in Paris studying literature, Latin, Greek,Syriac, and ancient history, he graduated with a doctorate in classical languages in 1946. Arns later returned to the Sorbonne to study for a D.Litt., he obtained his doctorate in 1950 for a dissertation written about Saint Jerome.[1]

Prior to his episcopal consecration Arns carried out various educational roles in a number of institutions throughout Brazil. He spent a significant amount of time serving as a professor at the seminary of Agudos in São Paulo, lecturing on the faculty of Philosophy, Science and Letters of Bauru furthermore, he had responsibilities at a number of other higher education institutes (normally being on the faculty), finally becoming a professor at the Catholic University of Petropolis, this being the last academic office he held before becoming a bishop.

Dr Arns had also been elected to the vice-provincial of the province of the Immaculate Conception of the Friars Minor. He was the director of the monthly review for religious Sponsa Christi.[2]


On 3 July 1966, Arns was consecrated titular bishop of Respecta and then appointed archbishop of São Paulo on 22 October 1970. In the consistory on 5 March 1973, Pope Paul VI made him a Cardinal-Priest of Sant'Antonio da Padova in Via Tuscolana.[3] As Archbishop he sold the Pius XII episcopal palace, a mansion standing in its own park. Two things horrified him, one was the massive electricity bills, and the other was the staff – 25 sisters and brothers all to look after one man. Indeed, at the beginning of his term as archbishop he decided to take the unprecedented step and sell the Episcopal Palace, using the money to build a social station in the favelas. As of 23 July 2015 following the death of Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, Paulo Evaristo Arns is the last surviving Cardinal elevated by Pope Paul VI.


Clerical celibacy

Having garnered a reputation for being one of the more liberal of Cardinals and bishops within the hierarchy of the church, Arns frequently expressed viewpoints that did not necessarily cohere with the official position of the Church. In 2002, he became one of the highest ranking members of the church to express publicly disagreement with the church position of clerical celibacy, claiming that it was an unnecessary rule without biblical basis. He further criticised Pope John Paul II for having prohibited a proper debate on the matter.[4]

Roman Curia

Toward the end of his time as Archbishop of São Paulo Arns gained notoriety due to his criticism of the hierarchy and governance of the Vatican, notably the leadership style of Pope John Paul II. Arns expressed shock at the behaviour of the Vatican in attempting to control the activities of priests and remove those who did not act in the appropriate manner.

Later Arns stated that he felt that the Roman Curia holds too much influence and should not have been given a free rein by the pope. Arns criticised the Curia for not promoting diversity of opinion within the Church, and for lacking an ecumenical attitude.[5] Arns, with Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco criticised the bureaucracy of the church, stating that his impression was that "the curia is governing the church", further, that he 'strongly disagreed' with the Pope's understanding that "the curia is the pope".

Liberation theology

He defended the liberation theologian and former Catholic priest Leonardo Boff, producing letters from the Roman Curia that he believed were evidence that Boff was treated unfairly.

Archdiocese of São Paulo

Another matter that Arns was critical of was the division of the Archdiocese of São Paulo. Arns felt that the manner in which his plan had been executed had ensured its failure, remarking on the event that "everything I asked for was disregarded and the traditionalist line prevailed. It was our wish that a different way of dealing with pastoral activities in the metropolitan regions be adopted, but the Roman curia, treating this just as any other matter, paid no heed for it... because of the way it was done, the church in São Paulo is spending 10 times more in order to produce results which are 10 times smaller".[6]

Preferential option for the poor

Dr Arns had always encouraged a preferential option for the oppressed and poor within a society, encouraging religious orders in São Paulo to transfer their energies from middle class schools and hospitals in central areas of the city to the millions of marginalised people living on the periphery. This passion for the marginalised, with his lack of concern for other matters, caused Arns to receive bitter criticism from some Catholics, and to an extent split the opinion of bishops in Brazil.

Opposition to the military dictatorship

Arns swiftly earned respect within Brazil because of his unwillingness to remain silent about his contempt for the dictatorship. He became one of the most popular clergymen of Brazil because of his tireless campaigning for human rights.[7]

Arns himself must be reckoned a significant cause of the military withdrawal and return of civilian government in Brazil. During the dictatorship he visited political prisoners speaking out against the abuses of the military. Prior to governmental change in 1985, Arns had, with the assistance of the Presbyterian minister Jaime Wright, photocopied the military government's records on torture, and then smuggled the copies out to have them published, the book Brazil Never Again which was based on this evidence became a bestseller and began the widespread move for change in Brazil.

Arns himself led many direct campaigns against the dictatorship in Brazil. Shortly after taking office he learnt that a young priest had been arrested and detained after his home was raided by secret police, the priest being arrested for having possession of documentation encouraging rebellion, Arns wrote to the Governor of São Paulo, then when he was denied entrance to the prison holding the detainee Arns used the Archdiocese's radio service and newspaper to denounce the events, also choosing to have a description of the arrest and torture nailed to the door of every church. One reporter for the National Catholic Reporter described the occurrence as the beginning of “an open war between the archdiocese and the military.”[8]

Use of torture

After the arrest and torture of Ribeirão Preto nun Sister Maurina, Arns led several campaigns against the use of torture during the military dictatorship, and pursued the topic to the extent of forcing the Brazilian conference of bishops to make it a priority. Speaking out on the matter frequently, the New York Times described Arns' analysis of the affairs as "the strongest, most courageous affirmation ever made by a Brazilian prelate against the torture of prisoners". Arns had managed the project Tortura Nunca Mais (Never Again Torture) at the end of the 1970s.

Eating meat on Ash Wednesday

Typical of his commitment to the wellbeing of the impoverished, and also an example of his dividing the Bishops Conference, Arns told the impoverished that on Ash Wednesday, "if they can find meat to eat, which is rare, they should eat it, and do some good work to mark the day, because not eating meat is not the point". He defended his position by saying that "Canon law gives me full power to dispense people from abstinence; there is no problem".

Fidel Castro

Arns did not shy away from controversy relating to his perceived left wing politics. In 1989 he angered many, primarily conservatives, because of his praise of the Cuban President Fidel Castro. Writing on the 30th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Arns addressed his letter to "dearest Fidel", informing Castro that he is "present daily in my prayers" and that he [Arns] "ask[s] the Father that he always concede you the grace of guiding the destinies of your country". Arns also articulated his wish that Castro always govern over Cuba. Provoking fierce reaction, Arns was subject to criticism from the conservative publications of Brazil's media, and numerous bishops, including Eugênio de Araújo Sales of Rio de Janeiro, the most prominent conservative ordinary in the Brazilian church. However, Arns was in turn defended by his admirers, notably former priest Leonardo Boff.[9]

George W. Bush

Arns also expressed a political opinion in criticising the President of the United States, George W. Bush. Condemning the interventionist foreign policy of the Bush administration, Arns expressed his wish that "a peaceful way" could be pursued by the United States.[10]


Cardinal Arns retired at the age of almost 77 on 15 April 1998, becoming Archbishop Emeritus, after he had already sought and received the right to retire from Pope John Paul II on his 75th birthday in 1996. He did not take part in the 2005 conclave nor in the 2013 conclave because he had already passed the age limit of 80 years. On 19 March 2013 at the papal inauguration of Pope Francis, Cardinal Arns as the protopriest or senior-cardinal priest had the privilege of pronouncing the formal prayer for the new pope but due to his absence, the protopriest's duties were discharged instead by Cardinal Godfried Danneels.[11][12][13][lower-alpha 1]

Following his retirement Arns has held the UNESCO Chair for Peace Education, Human Rights, Democracy and Tolerance at the State University of São Paulo, returning to the educational role he left behind upon taking episcopal office.


Written works

  • A quem iremos, Senhor? – To Whom Shall We Go, Lord?
  • A humanidade caminha para a fraternidade – Humanity on the Road toward Fraternity
  • Paul VI: voce é contra ou a favor? – Paul VI: Are you for or against?
  • Cartas de Santo Inácio: Introdução, Tradução e Notas – Letters of Saint Ignatius: Introduction, Translation, and Notes
  • Cartas de São Clemente Romano: Introdução, Tradução e Notas – Letters of St. Clement of Rome: Introduction, Translation, and Notes
  • A guerra acabará se você quiser – Wars Will End If You Want
  • Comunidade: união e ação – Community: Union and Action
  • Da Esperança a Utopia – The Hope of Utopia (Autobiography)


  • A Corresponsabilidade na Igreja de hoje – The Coresponsibility of the Church today – Cardinal Suenens
  • Nova História da Igreia" – A New History of the Church – Cardinal Danielou.

Honorary degrees


  1. Godfried Danneels was the most senior cardinal-priest to participate as a cardinal-elector at the 2013 conclave.


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Agnelo Rossi
Archbishop of São Paulo
Succeeded by
Cláudio Hummes
Preceded by
Eugênio Sales
Cardinal Protopriest
9 July 2012–present