Paulo Evaristo Arns, the son of German immigrants, was born in Brazil. In 1943 he entered the Franciscans and two years later was ordained a priest. For most of the next twenty years he pursued an academic ministry until 1966, when he was named the auxiliary bishop of São Paulo. In 1970 he became the archbishop.
Arns’s leadership coincided with dramatic changes in the post–Vatican II Church in Latin America and, following a coup in Brazil, an era of brutal military dictatorship. Arns fully supported the Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” He strongly promoted the growth of “base Christian communities” in his large diocese and maintained a close relationship with Brazil’s liberation theologians, including his fellow Franciscan Leonardo Boff (whom he accompanied to Rome for an investigation by the Vatican).
It was by his courageous advocacy for justice and human rights that he arguably made his greatest mark. Constantly denouncing torture and other abuses, he helped oversee a clandestine project to copy secret documentation of the government’s crimes. It was published as Brazil: Never Again.
His own relations with Rome were often cool, at best. He felt that the curia had too great a hand in running the Church, and he made his opinions known. Upon his death on December 14, 2016, Pope Francis hailed him as an intrepid pastor, who showed “to all the path of truth in charity and in service to the community, in constant attention to the most disadvantaged.”
“Those who stain their hands with blood are damned. Thou shalt not kill.”
—Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns