Cardinal Caffarra, rest in peace

Sad news yesterday to hear that Cardinal Carlos Caffarra, Archbishop-emeritus of Bologna and the founder and first president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family had passed away.  He is the second of the four cardinals who presented Pope Francis with five Dubia or doubts to die without having received an answer or a requested audience.   Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop-emeritus of Cologne, was the first to die.  Cardinal Raymond Burke and Cardinal Walter Brandmuller are the ones who remain alive.  Cardinal Caffarra was considered the leader of the group, and the author of the Dubia text.

Here’s a text of his last letter to Pope Francis, requesting an audience. 

Here’s an excerpt:

Most Holy Father,

A year has now gone by since the publication of “Amoris Laetitia.” During this time, interpretations of some objectively ambiguous passages of the post-synodal Exhortation have publicly been given that are not divergent from but contrary to the permanent Magisterium of the Church. Despite the fact that the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith has repeatedly declared that the doctrine of the Church has not changed, numerous statements have appeared from individual Bishops, Cardinals, and even Episcopal Conferences, approving what the Magisterium of the Church has never approved. Not only access to the Holy Eucharist for those who objectively and publicly live in a situation of grave sin, and intend to remain in it, but also a conception of moral conscience contrary to the Tradition of the Church. And so it is happening – how painful it is to see this! – that what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta. And so on. One is reminded of the bitter observation of B. Pascal: “Justice on this side of the Pyrenees, injustice on the other; justice on the left bank of the river, injustice on the right bank.”

Numerous competent lay faithful, who are deeply in love with the Church and staunchly loyal to the Apostolic See, have turned to their Pastors and to Your Holiness in order to be confirmed in the Holy Doctrine concerning the three sacraments of Marriage, Confession, and the Eucharist.


I never had the opportunity to meet him but I did get to observe him last May when he came to give a talk at the Rome Life Forum.   Though he presented the talk in Italian, we in the audience were given English translations. posted the translation here.


Though much smaller than I expected, and already frail—he exuded life and passion and great affection for the people he encountered, some of whom had been fellow members of the Pontifical Academy for Life before all their memberships were rescinded.


Here he is siting next to Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider.


Here’s a photo of the Cardinal with editor and co-founder John-Henry Westen.  Here you get a glimpse of what was more constantly on display as he greeted people:  great warmth, humor and kindness.


The night before he gave his talk, Cardinal Caffarra joined Forum attendees at a restaurant on the Borgo Pio.  He is seated with historian Roberto de Mattei, who also spoke at the Forum.   I highly recommend de Mattei’s The Second Vatican Council (an unwritten story).   It’s a great read.IMG_20170518_192656

How far can you change the practice or discipline of the Church before you start to interfere with doctrine?

It is sad that Cardinal Caffarra and the other “Dubia Cardinals” have been called “dissenters” when they were among those most prominently in line with the teachings of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  How can this happen?

John Allen Jr. has an interesting piece on Cardinal Caffarra that puts his legacy into perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

Given how bitter debates over Amoris have been in some Catholic circles, I suppose I understand why people presented the news that way – though part of me can’t help thinking that it takes a special kind of myopia to reduce a man’s entire life, and death, to his stand on the one issue that happens to be obsessing us most right now.

I got to know Caffarra, though admittedly never all that well, in the late 1990s, when he was the archbishop of Ferrara-Comacchio in Italy. By that stage he’d already founded and been the leader of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at Rome’s Lateran University, and already established himself as a key voice, both in the Vatican and among the Italian bishops, on virtually every bioethical issue.

Knowing that reputation, I put him on my personal radar screen. Whenever Caffarra was in town to speak on something, I made a point of showing up, and over time I learned a great deal from him.

To put his legacy into a soundbite, Caffarra was one of the intellectual architects of what St. Pope John Paul II called an epochal struggle against a “culture of death,” especially in the developed West. He was a hero to the Church’s strongest pro-life forces, although his reputation for articulating hardline versions of those positions also made him a lightning rod in other quarters.

So, what does this have to do with Anglican patrimony?  For me, it’s about what we gratefully left behind when we said the Catholic faith, as put forward in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is our faith.  We left behind the Lambeth Conference that started the ball rolling on artificial contraception;  we left behind local churches determining doctrine and practice.  We left behind the idea of unity as being around something other than the shared bonds of faith in Jesus Christ, a revealed religion given to His eyewitnesses, the Apostles, and passed on faithfully from one generation to the next by their successors; we left behind the constant demands for dialogue with people who had no interest in orthodox positions except to change them.

We come into the Catholic Church and we find it’s more complicated than that.  Not that I’m becoming a fan of Hegelian dialectic . . .

John Allen Jr. sums it up this way and this has certainly been my experience covering the Catholic Church:

Many factors probably are involved, but one surely is that the Church at any given time never includes just one strong set of views, but several. It’s in the interplay among those perspectives – such as contrasts between liberals and conservatives, between first-world and developing-world ways of seeing things, between the Christian East and West, and so on – that real “catholicity” usually emerges.

To put the point differently, Catholicism wouldn’t be really “catholic” if it included just Caffarra, say, or just Martini. Its vitality depends on making space for both, listening attentively to both, and regarding them both as part of a greater whole.

Looked at that way, no matter where you stand, you can appreciate the values Caffarra strove to defend and the passion with which he did so, seeing them as permanently valuable contributions. Also looked at that way, perhaps partisans on all sides of today’s contested questions can resist the temptation to reduce him (or anyone else) to no more than a cardboard-cutout symbol for, or against, their cause.

Taken all in all, Carlo Caffarra was a remarkable, brilliant, feisty, stubborn, passionate man, not to mention a sincere believer and a loyal churchman, and such personalities don’t come along very often. Requiescat in pace.

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