Cardinal Carlo Caffarra Dies at 79

Widely thought to be the Church’s leading expert on marriage and the family and one of the four ‘dubia’ cardinals, the Italian cardinal passed away this morning after a long illness.

(photo: Screenshot)

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the archbishop emeritus of Bologna and one of the original four cardinals to sign the dubia sent to Pope Francis, has died suddenly at the age of 79.

The cardinal, who led the diocese of Bologna for nearly 12 years from late 2003 until October 2015, passed away this morning after a long illness, according to the Italian bishops' newspaper, Avvenire.  The sound of the bells in the Bologna archdiocese announced news of the cardinal's death. 

Arguably the Church’s leading expert on marriage and the family for decades, Pope St. John Paul II gave Cardinal Caffarra the mandate to found the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in 1981. 

Benedict XVI elevated him to cardinal in 2006, and together with Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke and Joachim Meisner (who died in July), he signed the dubia — five straight-forward questions put to Pope Francis last September aimed at clarifying parts of his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. (See Cardinal Burke's tribute here).

Both he and Cardinal Meisner died without receiving an acknowledgement or any form of reply to the dubia. His letter to Francis on behalf of the four cardinals requesting an audience also received no response. 

Born in Samboseto di Busseto, in the province of Parma but in the diocese of Fidenza, Cardinal Caffarra was ordained priest in 1961, specialized in canon law and moral theology before focusing on exploring themes of marriage, family and human procreation in the 1970s.

He stressed he was driven to devote his time to this area due to requests made "by many married and engaged couples who wanted to be introduced to the great Christian view of marriage” in the years of discussion that followed the publication of Blessed Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae

He held various august positions associated with marriage and family, teaching medical ethics, especially its theological and anthropological aspects, and serving as a member of the International Theological Commission, a position he held for two successive five-year periods. 

Author of books on fundamental moral theology and numerous articles, later translated into major languages, he wrote a carefully annotated edition of all St. John Paul II’s catecheses on human love.

In 1980, John Paul II nominated him as an expert at the Synod of Bishops on marriage and family, which led to John Paul’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio. He served as dean of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute from 1981 until 1995, and was a consultant for five years to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith led by the then-Prefect (and future Pope) Joseph Ratzinger. 

At the same time he taught courses and lectures at various foreign universities: from Chile to Sydney, from Navarra to Madrid, and oversaw the expansion of the John Paul II Institute internationally.

He succeeded Cardinal Giacomo Biffi as Archbishop of Bologna, and retired at the age of 77. He continued to be a member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and was made an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy for Life in June. 

Pope Francis personally chose him to take part in the two synods on the family, in 2014 and 2015.

But he died disturbed by the aftermath of Amoris Laetitia and the disparate interpretations of the document by bishops around the world. “Only a blind man could deny there’s great confusion, uncertainty and insecurity in the Church,” he said in a recent interview. He was particularly vexed by the confusion felt among priests which he said was immense.

In one of his last talks on the state of marriage and family in the West today, Cardinal Caffarra said Satan is hurling at God “the ultimate and terrible challenge,” to show he is capable of constructing an “anti-creation” that mankind will be deceived into thinking is better than what God has created.

He warned that societies elevating abortion to a “subjective right” and equating a homosexual relationship to marriage represented the destruction of “two pillars of creation.”

In supplementary remarks, he recalled a letter he received from Sister Lucia when he was facing trials in establishing the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

He said he would “never forget” the last words of her letter, “words that are engraved in my heart,” in which Sister Lucia wrote “there will come a time when the decisive confrontation between the Kingdom of God and Satan will take place over marriage and the family.”

He said she underscored that those who are going to work for marriage and the family “will undergo trials and tribulations” but added: “Do not fear, Our Lady has already crushed his head.”

Cardinal Caffarra told the conference that his talk was “based on these words of Sister Lucia, and therefore on the conviction that what Sister Lucia said in those days are being fulfilled in these days of ours.”  


The cardinal gave one of his last interviews in May this year, in which he told the Register why education is the key to protecting life, marriage and the family. See the interview here

In January, he gave an interview to Italy's Il Foglio newspaper in which he explained why he and the other three 'dubia' cardinals consider clarification of Amoris Laetitia to be so vital. See the full interview on Catholic World Report here, and my summary of the interview here

Cardinal Caffarra was a firm opponent of same-sex 'marriage'. In 2010, he issued this doctrinal note warning legalization of it would be "devastating" for society, and that Catholic politicians who support such legislation can no longer call themselves Catholic.