Obituary: Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero

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The Independent Culture
CARDINAL ANASTASIO Ballestrero's most controversial duty as Archbishop of Turin for a dozen years was to handle the results of the scientific analysis of the Turin Shroud, of which he was custodian. Within a year of his appointment to Italy's third biggest diocese in 1977, Ballestrero put the relic on display for the first time in four decades. Among the three million pilgrims who came to view what was said to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ was the archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who was to be elected just six weeks later as Pope John Paul II. He would come to Turin twice more as Pope to pray in front of the relic, once in 1980 and again earlier this year.

Although the shroud had long been kept in the Royal Chapel of Turin cathedral and was in the care of the Archbishop, it was only in 1983 that it was bequeathed to the Pope by the late King Umberto of Savoy. In November 1983 John Paul named Ballestrero as the first Pontifical Custodian, scotching rumours that the relic might be transferred to Rome.

While the Pope showed a great enthusiasm for the shroud, Ballestrero was more restrained. He gave the go-ahead for scientific tests to be conducted on the linen cloth. Initial tests were carried out in October 1978 at the close of the public display of the shroud, followed 10 years later by more extensive tests, including carbon-dating. Small pieces were cut from the shroud in April 1988 and sent for testing at three laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson.

Later that year, when the results came back, Ballestrero announced with 95 per cent certainty that the shroud dated from the Middle Ages. He stressed that faith did not depend on the authenticity or otherwise of the shroud. Many thought its days as a relic were numbered. But enthusiasts impressed by the shroud's haunting image of an apparently crucified man continued to believe in its authenticity. Ballestrero's successor as Archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini, who took over as Pontifical Custodian in August 1990, put more faith in the relic's authenticity.

Although named a cardinal by Pope John Paul in June 1979, Ballestrero took a different line to the Pope in other ways. Viewed as a progressive, he rejected the approach of some Catholic movements, including one of the Pope's favourites, Communione e Liberazione. Reproached by the Pope for not liking them, Ballestrero reportedly replied: "Holiness, when you get to know them better, you won't like them either!"

Ballestrero was born in Genoa and after completing school studies entered the Order of Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites, making his monastic profession when he was 16. He was ordained priest in June 1936. He was Carmelite provincial from 1942 to 1948 and superior general 1955 to 1967. The respect he had gained as a leader within his order drew him to the attention of Pope Paul VI, who appointed him to the archdiocese of Bari in December 1973. He was consecrated archbishop in February 1974. After just three years Pope Paul moved him back north in August 1977 to succeed Cardinal Pellegrino as head of the Turin archdiocese.

In May 1979 Ballestrero was elected chairman of the Italian bishops' conference, a post he held until 1985. Noted as a theologian, Ballestrero was the author of a number of books of meditations and on St John of the Cross.

Felix Corley

Anastasio Alberto Ballestrero, priest: born Genoa, Italy 3 October 1913; clothed a monk 1929; ordained priest 1936; Carmelite Provincial 1942-48, Superior General 1955-67; Archbishop of Bari 1974-77; Archbishop of Turin 1977-89; named a cardinal 1979; died Bocca di Magra, Italy 21 June 1998.