In 1976 he was appointed Bishop of Gergy and Bishop Assistant of Santiago de Compostela. He was elected Archbishop of Compostela in 1984, playing a key role in the organisation of different events held in that town. In 1994 he was appointed Archbishop of Madrid, and he was the President of Spanish Episcopal Conference between 1999 and 2005.
Pope John Paul II made him Cardinal in the consistory held on February 21st, 1998.
After the pope's death, Antonio María Rouco Varela was one of the cardinals that participated in the Papal Conclave where Pope Benedict XVI was elected.
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