VATICAN CITY — “How can we not thank him for the courage with which he defended the non-negotiable values of human life?” Pope Benedict XVI said last week in eulogizing Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo.

In his homily at the cardinal’s April 23 funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope paid tribute to the cardinal’s “zeal and passion” as president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Cardinal López Trujillo died at age 72 in Rome April 19 after suffering a brief illness.

“We cannot help but be grateful for the tenacious battle he waged to defend the truth about familial love and to spread the ‘gospel of the family,’” the Holy Father said.

Benedict also cited Cardinal López Trujillo’s many achievements in the pro-life field, such as his “Lexicon of Ambiguous and Debatable Terms Regarding Family Life and Ethical Questions” — a document the cardinal devised and which the Pope credited for being a “valuable formational text” and an “instrument for dialogue with the modern world on the fundamental themes of Christian ethics.”

The lexicon has been translated into several languages, and plans are under way to expand on it.


Born Nov. 8, 1935, in Villahermosa, Colombia, the future cardinal moved with his family to Bogota as a young boy. After studies at the local archdiocesan major seminary, he went to Rome for studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, where he earned his doctorate in philosophy. He also took courses in theology, sociology and Marxism.

Ordained a priest Nov. 13, 1960, then-Father López Trujillo continued his studies in Rome for two more years before returning to Bogota. He taught philosophy for four years at the local major seminary and participated as an expert in the second general conference of Latin American bishops, held in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968.

On Feb. 25, 1971, Pope Paul named him an auxiliary bishop of Bogota. The next year he was elected as general secretary of CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council.

In May 1978 he was appointed as coadjutor archbishop of Medellin and became its archbishop in June 1979.

At the 1979 third general conference of CELAM, which was held in Puebla, Mexico, with the participation of Pope John Paul II, then-Archbishop López Trujillo was elected president of CELAM. He served in that capacity until 1983, when he was named a cardinal by the Pope. He was president of the Colombian bishops’ conference from 1987-1990. John Paul appointed him president of the Pontifical Council for the Family in November 1990.

Life and Family

Those who knew Cardinal López Trujillo personally remember his unwavering and tenacious defense of life and the Church’s teachings. “He really was a colossus — a great, great man,” said John Smeaton, director of Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Cardinal López Trujillo “never failed to support the efforts of pro-life and pro-family movements around the world,” Smeaton said. “He introduced the leaders of the pro-life world to each other and helped to forge a genuinely worldwide pro-life movement.”

And Smeaton vividly recalls how effective the cardinal was in 1994 when the United Nations appeared close to reaching an international agreement supporting the right to abortion at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

“The cardinal sparked a storm of activity around the world, which transformed the pro-life battle at an international level,” said Smeaton. “His response to Pope John Paul II’s urgent appeal concerning the dangerous situation at the United Nations changed pro-life history.”

Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, executive director of the Rome office of Human Life International, described the cardinal as a man of prayer and study.

“He never stopped reading and informing himself of everything that was happening,” said Msgr. Barreiro. “He was generous and had many friends.”

Joseph Meaney, director of international coordination at Human Life International, worked with Cardinal López Trujillo for four years as a volunteer in the Pontifical Council for the Family’s office. He remembers the cardinal’s “most shining courageous moment” as the time he stood up to the BBC in 2004.

On the 25th anniversary of the election of John Paul II, the BBC attacked the Church, and the cardinal personally, by broadcasting a program called “Sex and the Holy City.” It claimed the Church was responsible for AIDS deaths because of the Church teaching against using condoms.

“The cardinal wrote a wonderful statement, on the council’s section of the Vatican website, on the fallacy of ‘safe sex,’” Meaney said. “He took a great deal of heat but stayed firm.”

Standing up to critics was nothing new for Cardinal Lopez.

“He had immense personal courage and denounced the drug cartels when he was archbishop of Medellin, which led to death threats,” said Meaney. “John Paul II probably saved his life by bringing him to Rome to head the council for the family.”

Liberation Theology

Much of Cardinal López Trujillo’s strength and resilience was honed through battling with the liberation theology movement in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.

The errors of the Marxist-influenced theology were condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1984 document, “Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation.”

The conflation of Marxism with Christian ideas, the document stated, has led “to a disastrous confusion between the ‘poor’ of the Scripture and the ‘proletariat’ of Marx.”

Alejandro Bermúdez, director of the ACI Prensa news agency and a friend of the late cardinal, recalled how then-Archbishop López Trujillo organized the 1979 CELAM conference in such a way as to prevent a peripheral group of liberation theologians from manipulating the proceedings.

“He fought openly and used intelligence and shrewdness to basically paralyze or significantly reduce the influence of this group,” Bermudez said. “Basically, he pulled together a group of [faithful] theologians and Catholic intellectuals to do exactly the same as the liberation theologians — a sort of counterintelligence — to counteract their presence.”

As a consequence of the cardinal’s forceful intervention, aberrant liberation theology references were excluded from the conference documents. The confrontation marked the beginning of the end of the movement’s dominant influence in Latin America, according to Bermudez.

Liberation theology was so embedded at the time with the revolutionary forces of Latin America that Cardinal López Trujillo’s efforts to suppress the influence of the Marxist theological movement, Bermudez said, “basically changed the course of the whole continent.”

(CNS contributed to this story.)

Edward Pentin is based in Rome.