He was born on 21 September 1949 to a family of German origin. Ordained on 7 December 1976 for the diocese of Toledo. He then undertook further studies in Rome, and returned to have various academic and teaching roles in Brazil, as well as pastoral roles, including being parish preist of the cathedral parish in Toledo. He was an official of the Congregation for Bishops from 1994 to 2001.
Pope John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of São Paulo on 28 November 2001. He was consecrated in the Cathedral of Toledo on 2 February 2002 by Cardinal Hummes. Pope Benedict XVI promoted him to succeed Cardinal Hummes as Archbishop of São Paulo on 21 March 2007, and made him a cardinal on 24 November 2007.