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He was born on June 1, 1938 at Samboseto of Busseto (Parma). He attended the Episcopal Seminary of Fidenza and was ordained a priest by Bishop G. Bosetti on July 2 1961, in Samboseto. He continued his studies in Rome, where he obtained the doctorate in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, submitting his thesis on the purpose of marriage, and the postgraduate diploma in Moral Theology at the Pontifical Academy Alfonsina.
He has been teaching for a few years Moral Theology at the Seminary of Parma and Fidenza, then fundamental moral theology at the Theological Faculty of Northern Italy in Milan and the Department of Religious Studies at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, established in those years by the Rector Lazzati.
In the Seventies, he begins exploring the themes of Marriage, Family and human procreation. He teaches medical ethics at the Faculty of Medicine, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome, and in August 1974 he is appointed Member of the International Theological Commission by Pope Paul VI, holding the assignment for ten years.
In 1980, John Paul II appoints him expert at the Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family and in January 1981, gives him the mandate of establishing and chairing the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, where he teaches Ethic of procreation and holds Seminars about general Ethic and Bioethic.
In 1983, for five years, he is Consultant of the Congregation of the Faith; furthermore, he is also called to be part of the Study Commission for genetic engineering, ad actum created at the Ministry of Health. At the same time he teaches in several foreign universities: the University of Mistral and the Catholic University of Santiago of Chile, the University of Bamberg, the University of Sydney, the University of Navarra, Pamplona and Complutense University, the University of Madrid.
In Washington, DC, in 1988, he founds the first extra-urban Section of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, followed by Mexican and the Spanish ones, where he holds regular academic courses. He also receives the H.C. doctorate in Christian Letters by the Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio).
After he’s consecrated Bishop in the Cathedral of Fidenza on 21 October 1995 by the hands of His Eminence Cardinal Giacomo Biffi; in that year he starts his ministry in the Archdiocese of Ferrara-Comacchio. On 16 December 2003 he is called to lead the Archdiocese of Bologna, in place of Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, retired owing to the age limit. He settles in his new office on 15 February 2004. He receives the cardinal's hat from S. S. Benedict XVI on 24 March 2006.
He is member of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, of the Presidential Committee of the Pontifical Council for the Family, of the Pontifical Academy for Life. He’is honorary member of the Real Academia de los Doctores of Madrid, President of the Regional Episcopal Conference and Moderator of the Court Flaminio in matrimonial cases.