Editor’s note: the following is an exclusive interview with Cardinal Carlo Caffara, conducted by OnePeterFive’s Dr. Maike Hickson. Cardinal Caffarra is Archbishop emeritus of Bologna and former member of the Pontifical Council for the Family. It was in a letter to Cardinal Caffarra that Sister Lucia of Fatima revealed that “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.”
Maike Hickson (MH): You have spoken, in a recent interview, about the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and you have said that especially Chapter 8 is unclear and has already caused confusion even among the bishops. If you had the chance to speak with Pope Francis about this matter, what would you tell him? What would your recommendation be as to what Pope Francis could and should now do, given that there is so much confusion?
Cardinal Caffarra (CC): In Amoris Laetitia  the Holy Father Francis writes: “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion.” I infer from these words that His Holiness realizes that the teachings of the Exhortation could give rise to confusion in the Church. Personally, I wish – and that is how so many of my brothers in Christ (cardinals, bishops, and the lay faithful alike) also think – that the confusion should be removed, but not because I prefer a more rigorous pastoral care, but because, rather, I simply prefer a clearer and less ambiguous pastoral care. That said – with all due respect, affection, and devotion that I feel the need to nourish toward the Holy Father – I would tell him: “Your Holiness, please clarify these points. a) How much of what Your Holiness has said in footnote 351 of paragraph 305 is also applicable to the divorced and remarried couples who wish still anyway to continue to live as husband and wife; and thus how much of what was taught by Familiaris Consortio No. 84, by Reconciliatio Poenitentia No. 34, by Sacramenttum unitatis No. 29, by the Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1650, and by the common theological doctrine, is to be considered now to be abrogated? b) The constant teaching of the Church – as it has also been recently reiterated in Veritatis splendor, No. 79 – is that there are negative moral norms which allow of no exceptions, because they prohibit acts which are intrinsically dishonorable and dishonest – such as, for example, adultery. Is this traditional teaching still believed to be true, even after Amoris Laetitia?” This is what I would say to the Holy Father.
If the Holy Father, in his supreme judgment, would have the intention to intervene publicly in order to remove this confusion, he has at his disposition many different means to do so.
MH: You are also a moral theologian. What is your advice to confused Catholics concerning the moral teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and the family? What is an authoritatively, well-formed conscience when it comes to issues such as contraception, divorce and “remarriage,” as well as homosexuality?
CC: The condition in which marriage finds itself today in the West is simply tragic. Civil laws have changed the definition, because they have eradicated the biological dimension of the human person. They have separated the biology of generation from the genealogy of the person. But I shall speak about this later. To Catholic faithful who are confused about the Doctrine of the Faith concerning marriage, I simply say: “Read and meditate upon the Catechism of Catholic Church nn.1601-1666. And when you hear some talk about marriage – even if done by priests, bishops, cardinals – and you then verify that it is not in conformity with the Catechism, do not listen to them. They are the blind leading the blind.”
MH: Could you explain to us, in this context, the moral concept that nothing that is ambiguous is binding upon the Catholic conscience, and especially so when it is proven to be intentionally ambiguous?
CC: Logic teaches us that a proposition is ambiguous when it can be interpreted in two different and/or contrary meanings. It is obvious that such a proposition can have neither our theoretical assent nor our practical consent, because it does not have a sure and clear meaning.
MH: In order to help Catholics in this time of much ambiguous equivocation and “mental reservation,” would there be something that Pope Pius XII could still especially teach us, concerning the questions of marriage and divorce, and on the forming of the little children unto Eternal Life, since he has so amply written about these matters?
CC: The Magisterium of Pius XII on marriage and child-rearing was very rich and frequent. And in fact, after Holy Scripture, he is the author who is most quoted by Vatican II [the Second Vatican Council]. It seems to me that there are two speeches which are particularly important to answer your question. The first is the “Radio address on the correct formation of a Christian conscience in the young,” March 23, 1952, in AAS vol. 44,270-278. The second is the “Allocution to the Fédération Mondiale des Jeunesses Feminines Catholiques,” ibid. 413-419. This latter is of great magisterial importance: for, it deals with situation ethics.
MH: The German Jesuit, Father Klaus Mertes, just said in an interview with a German newspaper that the Catholic Church “should now help to establish a human right to homosexuality.” What should be the proper response of the Church to such a proposal? To include the fitting disciplinary sanction, as well as the moral doctrine.
CC: I honestly cannot understand how a Catholic theologian can think and write about a human right to homosexuality. In the precise sense, a (individual) right is a morally legitimate and legally protected faculty to perform an action. The exercise of homosexuality is inherently irrational and hence dishonest. A Catholic theologian cannot – may not – think that the Church must strive to “establish a human right to homosexuality.”
MH: More fundamentally, to what extent may men have a human right – eg., a claim in justice – to do what is wrong in the eyes of God, such as, for example, practicing polygamy?
CC: The issue of individual rights has now changed substantially in its meaning. It identifies the right with its own desires. But we do not have here the space to address this issue from the human legislator’s point of view.
MH: Since Father Mertes has stressed in his interview the importance of separating procreation from the marriage act in order to make the way free for homosexuality – could you explain to us the traditional moral teaching of the Church about the ordered ends of marriage and the primacy of the procreation and education of children for Heaven? [see below for the response]
MH: Why is procreation such an important purpose of marriage? Why could it not be that the mutual love and respect between the couple come first and should take precedence? Do you see practical consequences if one inverts the ends of marriage – namely, if one puts mutual love and respect above procreation of children for Heaven?
CC: I would prefer to give a synthetic answer to the three questions posed in these two [previous questions]. They in fact touch upon one big question which is of fundamental importance for the life of the Church and of civil society. The relationship between the aspects of conjugal love on the one side, and of the procreation and education of children on the other, is a correlation, the philosophers would say. That is to say: it is a relationship of interdependence between two distinct realities. Conjugal love which is being sexually expressed when the two spouses become one flesh is the only place ethically worthy of giving life to a new human person. The capacity to give life to a new human person is inscribed in the exercise of conjugal sexuality, which is the spousal language of reciprocal self-giving between the spouses. In short: conjugality and the gift of life are inseparable.
What happened especially after the Council? Against the teaching of the Council itself, one then so much insisted on conjugal love, that one considered procreation merely to be the collateral consequence of the act of conjugal love. Blessed Paul VI corrected such a view in the encyclical Humanae Vitae judging it to be contrary to right reason and to the faith of the Church. And St. John Paul II, in the last part of his beautiful Catechesis on Human Love showed the anthropological foundation of the teaching of his predecessor: namely, the act of contraception is objectively a lie saying it with the spousal language of the body. What are the consequences of the rejection of this teaching? The first and most serious consequence was the separation between sexuality and procreation. One started with “sex without babies,” and one arrived at “babies without sex”: the separation is complete. The biology of generation is separated from the genealogy of the person. This leads to “producing” children in the laboratory; and to the affirmation of the (supposed) right to a child. Nonsense. There is no right to a person, but only to things. At this point, there were all the premises to ennoble homosexual conduct, because one no longer sees its intimate irrationality, and all the serious and intrinsic dishonesty of the homosexual union. And so we have come to change the definition of marriage because we have uprooted it from the biology of the person. Really, Humanae Vitae has been a great prophecy!
MH: What is, in its essence, the purpose of marriage and the family?
CC: It is the legitimate union of one single man and one single woman in light of procreation and the education of children. If the two are baptized, this reality itself – not another – becomes a real symbol of the Christ-Church union. It gives them a status in the public life of the Church, with a ministry of their own: the transmission of the faith to their children.
MH: In the context of the current increase of moral confusion: to what extent does religious indifferentism (eg., the claim that one can be saved in whatever religion) lead to moral relativism? To be more specific, if one religion favors polygamy but is claimed to be salvific, is then not the conclusion that polygamy is not illicit, after all?
CC: Relativism is like a metastasis. If you agree to its principles, each human experience, be it personal or social, will be or will become corrupt. The teaching of Blessed J. H. Newman has here great actuality. Toward the end of his life, he said that the pathogen that corrupts the religious sense and moral conscience, is “the liberal principle,” as he calls it. That is to say, the belief that with regard to the worship we owe to God, it is irrelevant what we think of Him; the belief that all religions have the same value. Newman considers the liberal principle thus understood as being completely contrary to what he calls “the dogmatic principle,” which is the basis of the Christian proposition and affirmation. From religious relativism to moral relativism, there is only a short step. There is thereby no problem in the fact that one religion justifies polygamy, and another condemns it. In fact, there thus purportedly exists no absolute truth about what is good and what is bad.
MH: Would you like to make a comment about Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s recent remark that Amoris Laetitia is binding doctrine and that all the previous magisterial documents concerning marriage and the family have now to be read in the light of Amoris Laetitia?
CC: I reply with two simple observations. The first observation is: one should not only read the previous Magisterium on marriage in the light of Amoris laetitia (AL), but one should also read Amoris laetitia in the light of the previous Magisterium. The logic of the Living Tradition of the Church is bipolar: it has two directions, not one. The second part is more important. In his [recent] interview with Corriere della Sera, my dear friend Cardinal Schönborn does not take into account what has happened in the Church since the publication of Amoris Laetitia. Bishops and many theologians faithful to the Church and to the Magisterium argue that, especially on one specific – but very important – point, there is not a continuity, but, rather, an opposition between AL and the previous Magisterium. Moreover, these theologians and philosophers do not say this with a demeaning or revolting spirit toward the Holy Father himself. And the point is, as follows: AL says that, under some circumstances, sexual intercourse between the divorced and civilly remarried is morally legitimate. Even moreso, it says that, what the Second Vatican Council has said about spouses – with regard to sexual intimacy – also applies to them (see footnote 329). Therefore: when one says that a sexual relationship outside of marriage is legitimate, it is therefore a claim contrary to the Church’s doctrine on sexuality; and when one says that adultery is not an intrinsically dishonest act – and that therefore there might be circumstances which render it not to be dishonest – that, too, is a claim contrary to the Tradition and Doctrine of the Church. In such a situation like this, the Holy Father, in my opinion – and as I have already written – thus has to clarify the matter. For, when I say “S is P,” and then say “S is not P,” the second proposition is not a development of the first proposition, rather, but its negation. When someone says: the doctrine remains, but it is only about taking care of some few cases, I answer: the moral norm “Do not commit adultery” is an ABSOLUTELY NEGATIVE norm which does not allow of any exceptions. There are many ways to do good, but there is only one way not to do evil: not to do evil.
MH: What is your general recommendation, as a shepherd, to us laypeople, as to what we should do now in order to preserve the Catholic Faith whole and entire and in order to raise our children unto eternal life?
CC: Caffarra: I will tell you very frankly that I do not see any other place outside the family where the faith which you have to believe and to live can be sufficiently transmitted. Moreover, in Europe during the collapse of the Roman Empire and during the later barbarian invasions, what the Benedictine monasteries then did can likewise be done now by the the believing families, in today’s reign of a new spiritual-anthropological barbarism. And thank God that they [the faithful families] exist and still resist.
A little poem written by Chesterton brings me to this reflection; he wrote it at the beginning of the twentieth century: The Ballad of the White Horse. It is a great poetic meditation on an historical fact. It takes place in the year 878. The King of England, Alfred the Great, had just defeated the King of Denmark, Guthrum, who first had invaded England. And thus came a moment of peace and serenity. But during the night after the victory, King Alfred has a terrible vision [in Book VIII: 281-302]: he sees England invaded by another army, which is described, as follows: “… What though they come with scroll and pen [a strange army it is, indeed, which has no weapons, but pen and paper – Cardinal Caffarra], And grave as a shaven clerk, By this sign you shall know them, That they ruin and make dark; By all men bound to Nothing, …. Know ye the old barbarian, The barbarian come again.”
Believing families are the true fortresses. And the future is in the hands of God.
Note: Since Cardinal Caffarra has chosen such piercing and evocative lines from G.K.Chesterton’s Verse Ballad, we have thought it especially fitting to present the fuller passage and context of the specific lines quoted by the Cardinal himself. This last Chapter of Chesterton’s Ballad will also give us much to ponder.
From Book VIII (lines 231-312, and a few ellipses) of The Ballad of the White Horse:
“But dark and thick as thronged the host,
With drum and torch and blade,
The still-eyed King [Alfred] sat pondering,
As one that watches a live thing,
The scoured chalk [the sculpted White Horse]; and he said,
“Though I give this land to Our Lady,
That helped me in Athelney,
Though lordlier trees and lustier sod
And happier hills hath no flesh trod
Than the garden of the Mother of God
Between Thames side and the sea,
“I know that weeds [destructive errors] shall grow in it
Faster than men can burn;
And though they scatter now and go,
In some far century, sad and slow,
I have a vision, and I know
The heathen shall return.
“They shall not come with warships,
They shall not waste with brands [torches],
But books be all their eating,
And ink be on their hands.
“Not with the humour of hunters
Or savage skill in war,
But ordering all things with dead words,
Strings [superstitious and astrological] shall they make of beasts and birds,
And wheels of wind and star.
“They shall come mild as monkish clerks,
With many a scroll and pen;
And backward shall ye turn and gaze,
Desiring [nostalgically] one of Alfred’s days,
When pagans still were men.
“The dear sun dwarfed of dreadful suns,
Like fiercer flowers on stalk,
Earth lost and little like a pea
In high heaven’s towering forestry,
—These be the small weeds [of heresy and speculation] ye shall see
Crawl, covering the chalk [of the pure White Horse].
“But though they bridge St. Mary’s sea,
Or steal St. Michael’s wing–
Though they rear marvels over us,
Greater than great Vergilius
Wrought for the Roman king;
“By this sign you shall know them,
The breaking of the sword [of honour],
And man no more a free knight,
That loves or hates his lord.
“Yea, this shall be the sign of them,
The sign of the dying fire;
And Man made like a half-wit,
That knows not of his sire [from “evolution”].
“What though they come with scroll and pen,
And grave as a shaven clerk,
By this sign you shall know them,
That they ruin and make dark;
“By all men bound to Nothing,
Being slaves without a lord,
By one blind idiot world obeyed,
Too blind to be abhorred;
“By terror and the cruel tales
Of curse in bone and kin,
By weird and weakness winning,
Accursed from the beginning,
By detail of the sinning,
And denial of the sin;
“By thought a crawling ruin,
By life a leaping mire,
By a broken heart in the breast of the world,
And the end of the world’s desire [i.e., the Blessed Mother];
“By God and man dishonoured,
By death and life made vain,
Know ye the old barbarian,
The barbarian come again—
“When is great talk of trend and tide,
And wisdom and destiny,
Hail that undying heathen
That is sadder than the sea.
“In what wise men shall smite him,
Or the Cross stand up again,
Or charity or chivalry,
My vision saith not; and I see
No more; but now ride doubtfully
To the battle of the plain.”
(Lines 231-312, Book VIII, The Ballad of the White Horse—my emphasis and brackets added)