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To the Memory of His Eminence Carlo Cardinal Caffarra

Overcoming the schematism of the casuistic approach, which opposes the norm against conscience and remains entangled in the sterile debate between rigorism and laxism, Cardinal Caffarra has shown us that the origin of the moral dynamism consists in the encounter with Christ.

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy, is seen at the Vatican in this 2014 file photo. The Italian cardinal died Sept. 6. He was 79. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

As the emotions calm down in prayer, the first moment of dismay for the irreparable loss of a master and a father is transformed into the grateful awareness of a precious and unique gift received – a gift that is rooted in God, so that not even death can take it away. Whoever was a father in the truth remains a father forever.

And, indeed, like every authentic master, Carlo Cardinal Caffarra did not bind his students to himself or his own ideas, but helped to look together at a greater truth to be loved, sought and honored without human calculations and reservations. For him the Truth was a Person. Those who had the gift of being a student of his cannot forget the fascinating experience of clarity, into which his lectures introduced his hearers, while offering a new vision of moral theology.

Overcoming the schematism of the casuistic approach, which opposes the norm against conscience and remains entangled in the sterile debate between rigorism and laxism, he has shown us that the origin of the moral dynamism consists in the encounter with Christ. He has demonstrated how the truth about the good opens a path of the fullness of life, in harmony with the plan that God the Creator has written in the heart of every human being. The crystalline clarity of his teaching was therefore in no way an inflexible rigidity that is unaware of the complexities of concrete life, but rather a light that prepares one for a journey of conversion and growth toward the fulfilment of one’s own humanity, in the trust that God’s grace always makes possible what it commands. By grounding his understanding of the sacrament of marriage in the gift of the Covenant between Christ and the Church, he has outlined the traits of a dwelling place of human and ecclesial edification and a true and proper way to holiness.

As Eastern wisdom recognizes, true masters are the “parents of the heart”, and therefore also the fathers of our spirit. They continue to live and work in us; they ask our freedom to listen to them and welcome them, bringing fruit in our works.

As a passionate priest of Christ and of the Church, Carlo Cardinal Caffarra has exercised a fatherhood that was nourished by a simple and concrete concern for persons, with a strong ability to create around him a communion of life and a spirit of fraternity, inspiring people to work together. The great esteem and friendship with which Saint John Paul II had privileged him was expressed in a unique way in the construction of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, for which he gave his energies, his love and his creativity. He then developed it according to new dimensions and trajectories as Archbishop of Ferrara and then of Bologna, without ever forgetting the centrality of marriage and family in the new evangelization.

His unreserved love for Christ, the Church and the Pope has always had for him the form of a clear and frank witness to the Truth, free from compromise and pretense for personal advantage or for the love of comfort. For this reason, until the very last he was able to spend himself and expose himself, facing misunderstandings, hostility and even humiliations and derisions, convinced that the truest form of love and the best service that he could have given to the Church and to the Pope was fidelity to his own conscience and to the voice of God, which resounds in it.

He died in the one-hundredth year of the messages of Fatima, and the mysterious letter written to him by Sister Lucia in reference to his founding mission of the Institute allowed him to understand the present moment as part of the definitive clash of Christ with the Enemy, which, according to the visionary’s words, would take place precisely on the ground of marriage and the Christian family. He offered his life for this, with a generous and clear testimony. May the Lord make this sacrifice fruitful for us, at this dramatic moment in the life of the Church and the world!

The Apostle’s words are therefore particularly appropriate for him: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim 4:7-8).

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About Monsignor Livio Melina 1 Article
Monsignor Livio Melina is Ordinary Professor of Fundamental Moral Theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome, where he served as President from 2006-2016. The Institute’s first President, appointed by Saint John Paul II, was Carlo Caffarra (1981-1995).


  1. This man deserved the tribute. Everything I read of Cardinal Caffarra had integrity and honesty. Msgr Melina wrote well. Although perhaps due to a sense of propriety he didn’t do complete justice. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra fearlessly said what many dare not say, “Only the blind can deny that there is great confusion in the Church,” a reference to Amoris Laetitia and the unwillingness of the Pontiff to clarify what he meant, or perhaps more significantly to correct the disparity of doctrinal integrity within the Church, National Bishops Conferences in contradiction with one another on sacramental discipline and morals. “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. This decisive confrontation is taking place now, and is being fought primarily over marriage and the family”. Cardinal Caffarra was much more than a “true master” akin to the wisdom of Eastern masters. He was an unrelenting heroic witness to Jesus Christ and told the truth regardless of propriety and exactly as it must be told. We lost a great man of which there are few, now perhaps two remaining. The lesson he taught us to fearlessly say it as it is.

  2. We have lost a faithful ally who was fearless in his defense of Catholic doctrine. May he be an inspiration to his fellow cardinals and bishops.

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