Cardinal Williams, born 1930, has led the Catholic Church in New Zealand since 1979 and is often considered as the voice of the New Zealand Catholic community.
He has played a significant role within the Christian community in New Zealand. Over the years, he has been at the forefront of a wide range of church and community activities and debates and taken a keen interest in social justice and welfare issues. He has also acquired an international reputation on Pacific Island Affairs and has displayed a pastoral wellbeing to the Pacific Island people in the South Pacific and those who have come to New Zealand to live.
He is also actively involved in human rights and the development of assistance to Third World countries, particularly in the Pacific and Asia, and is well-known for his promotion of the churches’ teachings on social justice, human rights, and international development.
He was ordained a Priest in Rome in 1959 after completing seminary studies at the Holy Cross Seminary in Mosgiel and the Pontifical College de Propaganda Fide in Rome. He has held appointments at the University College in Dublin, St Patrick’s in Palmerston North, in Leulumoega in Samoa, at the Holy Family Parish in Porirua, and was the Director of the Catholic Enquiry Centre in Wellington.
He was ordained Archbishop of the Wellington Archdiocese in 1979. It was in this role that he developed a close working relationship with the Maori people, not only within the church, but around the country. He was instrumental in the formation of the National Maori Catholic Organisation, Te Runanga o Te Hahi Katorika, which led to the appointment of the first Maori Catholic Bishop, and helped establish a programme to emphasise the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in the church in New Zealand. It is during this time he also fostered and encouraged a climate for understanding and learning about Maori cultural and spiritual values, and is consequently highly regarded in the Maori community.
Cardinal Williams was President of the New Zealand Bishops Conference, Founding President of the Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania, and was a Member of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples in Rome. In 1995, he was appointed Bishop of the New Zealand Military, and in 1983, he was created a Cardinal in Rome at the age of 52, one of the youngest Cardinals within the Church.
Over the years, he has been involved in the work of the Homes of Compassion in Wellington and supported the practice of ethically sound medicine through establishing the first National Catholic Bioethics Centre.
In addition, he was largely responsible for the work of the Bishops’ Commissions for Justice, Peace and Development, where he worked tirelessly to encourage Catholic people to financially support overseas relief and development projects. Cardinal Williams was also instrumental in the establishment of the Federation of Catholic Bishops, bringing Bishops of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands into one union.