Italian Cardinal, Carlo Caffarra, a moral theologian who made a public challenge to Pope Francis’ teaching on marriage and family, has died aged 79 the Vatican has confirmed.
The former Archbishop of Bologna was one of four cardinal signatories to a series of questions, termed “dubia”, concerning the Pope’s move to allow remarried divorcees to receive communion.
His death, however, means that just two of the “dubia” cardinals are left alive, with Cardinal Joachim Meisner dying in July.
Cardinal Caffara was widely respected as a prominent defender of long established formulas of Catholic moral teaching, but who was also willing to examine questions such as genetic engineering. In 1978 he represented the Holy See at the first world congress on sterility and artificial procreation.
It was during the papacy of St John Paul II that the cardinal came to the fore, with the Polish Pope appointing Caffarra as president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.
This was a year after he served as an expert at the 1980 synod on matrimony and the family, while he also was a member of the 2014 and 2015 synod gatherings convened by Pope Francis on the same topic.
These two latter meetings helped produce the Pope’s hotly debated apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia”, where an opening is offered to remarried Catholics wishing to return to the sacraments.
This has been vigorously opposed in some quarters who argue Francis is watering down the Church’s teaching on divorce.
Cardinal Caffarra was one of those concerned and last November he took the highly unusual step of joining three other cardinals in urging the Pope to clarify “Amoris Laetitia”. The “dubia” questions require “yes or no” answers and so far Francis has refused to respond.
In June, the retired cardinal wrote a letter - which was later leaked to the media - asking Francis for an audience to discuss the cardinal’s concerns. In that letter Caffara pledged his “absolute dedication and our unconditional love for the Chair of Peter and for your august person” but said he felt compelled to press Francis on what he is doing about the differing interpretations of his apostolic exhortation. Some bishops have said the remarried can return to the sacraments, while some are refusing.
In the end, the cardinal died without having his queries answered.
His death means that of the original four “dubia” signatories Cardinals Raymond Burke, 69, and Walter Brandmuller, 88, the former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, are left.
Cardinal Burke, the patron of the Order of Malta, has been an outspoken critic of Francis and has threatened to formally correct the Pope. While he’s yet to take such a step, the cardinal has outlined how it might happen.
PICTURE: cardinal Carlo Caffarra (Left) arrives at the synod on themes of family, sex and marriage at the Vatican on 6 October, 2014.