It sorrows me to report that last week the Catholic Church lost a valiant defender of Life and Family, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra.
A renowned moral theologian, His Eminence was personally tasked by Saint Pope John Paul II with founding the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. He also served as a member on the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Academy for Life, making him one of the Church’s foremost defenders of Her teaching on Life and Family.
I had the humble privilege of working with His Eminence on a few occasions and recently speaking with him during the Rome Life Forum and Rome March for Life in May – which he faithfully supported.
In his final months, Cardinal Caffarra played a significant role as one of the four “dubia” cardinals – that is, cardinals who had written a letter to Pope Francis asking for clarifications on several points they believed were ambiguous in the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.
Though Cardinal Caffarra was clearly troubled by the confusion that he felt was plaguing the Church on fundamental moral issues, he never wavered for a moment from his loyalty to the Church and to the Holy Father, providing a noble example of how to express concerns in a spirit of fraternal charity. Also profoundly instructive were the peace and the hope that he maintained to the end.
Indeed, Italian journalist Antonio Socci recounts a moving story told to him by a priest who visited the good Cardinal in the last days of his life. The priest expressed his own distress at some of the ills affecting the Church. According to Socci, the Cardinal burst into tears, but then said the following:
The Lord will not abandon His Church. There were twelve apostles, so the Lord will start again with a few. Imagine the suffering of Saint Athanasius, who was left alone to defend the truth for the love of Christ, of the Church and of men. We must have faith, hope, and fortitude.
And yet, as hope-filled as these words may be, they are also profoundly sobering, even painful to read. For they also reveal the Cardinal’s conviction that, in some way, in our age Christ is being forced to “start again,” building up his Church with the leaven of a faithful few.
One can hardly help hearing in these words an echo of a famous prediction made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – later Pope Benedict XVI – in a speech he gave in 1969. The entire speech is worth reading, but certainly the most famous section is the one in which he tentatively prophesied about the future of the Church:
From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. … The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek.
One might argue that in many respects this prophecy has already been fulfilled. Already we have seen the number of Church-going Catholics in most of the developed world plummet, many of the old monasteries and convents emptied, their grand buildings torn down or sold to secular institutions, old and venerable dioceses selling off parishes amidst priest-shortages, and declaring bankruptcy after shelling out billions to settle sex-abuse cases.
And yet, as heart-rending as all this has been, there are signs that it may be but the prelude to the passion of Holy Mother Church.
Much has been lost in the past few decades; but, without a powerful resurgence in faith, there remains much yet to be lost. Most valuable of all, perhaps, is the freedom that faithful Christians have long enjoyed to practice their faith, and to openly live and promote their beliefs in the public square.
This past week, we witnessed a chilling example of the growing threats to that freedom, as two Democratic Senators – Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Diane Feinstein – openly violated the Constitution by grilling one of President Trump’s judicial nominees on her Catholic faith.
Amy Coney Barrett is a Catholic mother of seven and professor at Notre Dame Law School. She has a track record of defending Catholic teaching, including on Life and Family. In 2015, for instance, she signed a letter by other Catholic women intellectuals condemning, “forms of ideological colonization, which are out to destroy the family.”
But in her Senate Judiciary hearings last week, Durbin and Feinstein made it clear that they believed her faith was an impediment to her nomination. “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” Sen. Durbin at one point asked Barrett. She affirmed that, yes, she is a “faithful Catholic.”
Senator Feinstein, who is pro-abortion and pro-homosexual, was even more blunt. “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” she said. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country.”
We can make a pretty good guess at what “issues” Feinstein – who considers Roe v. Wade a legal “super precedent” – was concerned about: above all abortion and same-sex unions. Her use of the curious phrase “the dogma lives loudly within you” has elicited much mockery on social media. But this is no laughing matter.
The United States is no stranger to anti-Catholicism. As Robert Royal observes at The Catholic Thing, Harvard historian Arthur M. Schlesinger once called anti-Catholicism, “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.” It was a motif that President Kennedy was forced to dodge in order to win the country’s highest office.
While this new anti-Catholicism may bear resemblances to the old, in many respects it is also a new beast. It is less concerned about Catholics’ loyalty to the Church, Rome – than their allegiance to the Church’s objective teaching on Life and Family – moral values that, until recently, the Catholic Church held in common with most Protestant denominations, and members of other faiths: in common, in fact, with the vast majority of Americans.
But this is no longer the case. Senators Durbin and Feinstein’s open attack on the faith of a Catholic mom of seven is only noteworthy because it occurred in Congress, at the highest levels of government, and was carried out so brazenly. Similar attacks are happening every day all around the country: faithful Catholics (and other Christians) openly mocked, forced to violate their consciences, and fined or otherwise punished if they refuse to do so.
Do not allow this to cause you despair; on the contrary! Like Cardinal Caffarra, I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that “the Lord will not abandon His Church.” And yet, as His Eminence said, so too must we “have faith, hope, and fortitude!”
One has to admire Mrs. Barrett’s unwavering confession of faith as she heroically confronted anti-Catholic bigotry within the judicial hearings. To be Jesus’ disciple requires a decisive choice – “do you love me more than these?”
Saint Paul, apostle and martyr, understood the seriousness and demand of the Christian vocation – willingness to detach from all else but Christ:
I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ. – Philippians 3:8
Yes, confessing the faith is demanding! We must be willing to lose our life, because it is only the one who loses his life that will find it again in Christ. The only solution in these difficult times is a renewed discipleship among followers of Christ – remaining awake (faithful) and vigilant (persevering). Only by means of a powerful and unwavering faith will we withstand the current trials and those forthcoming, and help build the Kingdom of God.
Please join me in praying for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Caffarra, as well as for the health of our nation and world.