Some Personal Reflections on the Late Cardinal Caffarra

As Steve Skojec reported this morning, our beloved Cardinal Carlo Caffarra died today, in Italy. Our hearts are broken over this news since he was such a lovable and charitable and truthful man for us. Just to know that he was out there, giving his support for our work, always meant so much. Steve Skojec also pointed out how Cardinal Caffarra died almost exactly 60 days after Cardinal Joachim Meisner, and nearly on the same day of the month (Meisner had died on 5 July, Caffarra on 6 September). But, there are even more striking parallels.

Cardinal Meisner died the day after he had talked over the phone with Cardinal Gerhard Müller about his own dismissal as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Caffarra died the day after news broke that Professor Josef Seifert had been fired from his Dietrich von Hildebrand Chair at the International Academy of Philosophy in Granada, Spain.

Cardinal Caffarra and Professor Seifert, as a matter of fact, had just recently re-connected in their friendship, and only a few days ago. While I was working with Professor Seifert on our own interview, he had asked me to put him in touch with his old friend Cardinal Caffarra, which I did at once. Cardinal Caffarra had first given me permission to pass on his personal e-mail address to Professor Seifert, saying:

Dear Maike, I read the Seifert articles. He has been really my old friend, and very beloved and estimated [highly esteemed] by S. Giovanni Paolo II [John Paul II]. You can give him my personal e-mail address. C.C.

This morning, I asked Professor Seifert as to whether he had actually gotten in personal touch with Cardinal Caffarra, and he sent me the following e-mail, among several others, which always started with “Carrissimo … and ended with un forte abbraccio!” (“Dearest… a big hug!”): on 30 August, Cardinal Caffarra answered back to Professor Seifert:

Carissimo  Josef, sono molto contento di aver ripreso i nostri contatti. Prego il Signore che ti conceda ancora tanti anni per lavorare per il bene della Chiesa. Quando potremo vederci? Ti abbraccio. Carlo card. Caffarra

Carrissimo [Most cherished] Josef, I am very pleased to have resumed our contact. I pray that Our Lord may grant you many years to work for the good of the Church. When can we see each other? I hug you. Carlo Card. Caffarra

Cardinal Caffarra and Professor Seifert knew each other for many years. As anyone can already see in these short sentences, Cardinal Caffarra had a big heart. (I will shortly describe how he was in communications with my own little family.) Is it, then, not logical also to think that his heart must have been broken (i.e., additionally burdened by this further sorrow in the Church) to see Professor Seifert’s own plight, namely his being so badly treated by the Archbishop of Granada, also after hearing privately about how Professor Seifert was dealt with?

Is not this new Spanish event an additional burden coming on top of all the smears, public rebukes, and insults that Cardinal Caffarra himself – together with the other three dubia cardinals – has had to endure? How much can a human heart take? Especially if one has such a good and warm heart. For, I know from my own personal exchanges with Cardinal Caffarra that his heart was also broken over the fact that Pope Francis has abidingly refused even to meet with the four dubia cardinals. On 12 August, Cardinal Caffarra had written to me (I omit here some things that pertain the dubia question, due to its continuing sensitivity) and said, as follows:

Dear Maike, I received your e-mail 8 August. I will try to answer. […] The situation of our Holy Mother Church becomes from bad to worse. […] As everybody knows, the Holy Father has not even granted an audience! It remains only prayers to Holy Virgin of Fatima.

Cardinal Caffarra then added a kind supportive note about my own recent rebuke in print of Dr. Austen Ivereigh’s recent attack on Catholic converts who defend the traditional moral teaching of the Church, saying:

PS. Dear Maike, your article on Austen Ivereigh is simply marvelous. According to me, it is the best among your articles. Robby is well?

As to his last question, Cardinal Caffarra was referring here (at the end of this e-mail) to our six-year-old son Robby. He had been praying especially for him and had loved receiving photos from both of our  children, taking much interest in the lives of our little ones. One time, after our telling him that our little son had fallen off a horse, he responded: “Robby is very well, if he fell off a horse. God bless you.” He obviously had his wink of deft humor!

Cardinal Caffarra also showed a poetic heart. As Steve Skojec quoted him this morning, from an interview that he gave to us at OnePeterFive, Cardinal Caffarra made reference to a martial and epically historical ballad written by G.K. Chesterton:

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.”

One other time, after I had sent to him an article written by my husband, Dr. Robert Hickson, on “The Language of Gesture and Its Calling to Life Some Sacred Signs,” in which my husband quotes Josef Pieper and Father (later Monsignor) Romano Guardini, Cardinal Caffarra responded: “Dear Maike, thank you very much for giving me the possibility of reading ‘Language of Gesture.’ [It is like] Water in the desert!”

All these little signs and gestures meant so much to our little family. It meant so much to know that Cardinal Caffarra is with us, even though we never met him in person. I believe that this is part of God’s goodness in now bringing certain sincere and dedicated people together in this grave crisis of the Faith, in order also to encourage us and to sustain us. He does not leave us alone! The same applies to our being in contact with Professor Seifert himself, who is so full of courage and charity. It is a great inspiration to us at OnePeterFive, too. In the recent past, Cardinal Caffarra repeatedly and warmly asked us for our prayers. He said (again I leave out those parts that are still sensitive with regard to the dubia question):

Dear Maike, thanks for your prayers. I need them very much. […] In nomine Domini we proceed. I trust to Robby’s prayers, above all. His guardian angel sees always the Father’s face. God bless you and your family.

As can be seen in all these e-mail messages from Cardinal Caffarra, he was so kind, so loving, so humble! And in light of such goodness and holiness, the coldness and the inhumanity of Pope Francis, not even to meet in person with him and the other dubia cardinals, must have troubled the dear cardinal deeply. Just like the current distancing conduct of the archbishop of Granada with respect to his “dear old friend” Professor Seifert.

In this context, I again reached out to Professor Seifert, asking him for his own personal witness with regard to Cardinal Caffarra, and he responded with the following words in his extended tribute to Cardinal Caffarra:

I have known Carlo Caffarra very well; I have given guest lectures in Italian for more than a decade twice each year for about 3-4 weeks during his presidency at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family – which he had founded in 1981 at the Lateran University. (Pope John Paul II – whom Carlo deeply loved and honored – wanted to proclaim the official founding of the Institute on 13 May 1981, but he was hindered from doing so by the attempted assassination. He – and also Caffarra – always also considered this attempted assassination as an attack of the devil against the holiness of marriage and the family and the truth about them.)

I deeply loved Carlo as a friend who always loved, with passion, the truth; and who taught it in many lectures, speeches, and writings. We were philosophically and theologically very closely connected.

He also had a delightful sense of humor and was a most sympathetic (North) Italian. He always called me “misero laico [miserable layman].” Once, when he had accepted my invitation to give a talk in Liechtenstein, but then did not appear, I rebuked him. He responded, saying that a Monsignore does not have to keep his promises which he had given to a miserable layman (to me, the misero laico). I replied to it with the words that he thus elevates himself above God. When he asked: howso? I answered: God once also gave to the misero laico Abraham an important promise – and kept it! He responded with a big laugh, and we often made jokes together. In this, he never was “frivolously goofy” nor did he let himself go with irritations, or foolishnesses, or temper tantrums, etc., although he saw so much and many people in the Church in a very, very critical way. He treated me always with the greatest respect and with a very modest, graciously reticent and tender friendship. When I once, after years, visited him with some students of the IAP (International Academy of Philosophy) in his episcopal palace in Ferrara, he welcomed us all in the most lovingly polite and lovely manner.

I believe that he lived fully for Christ and the Church and that he suffered much under its current crisis. He had a very deep love of God which also was expressed in the way he read the Holy Mass, in a deeply reverential and truly festive way. Often, he told me about – and even shared with me – his deep suffering from the conditions, heresies, and errors in the Church.

Caffarra was also one of the most decisive and deepest defenders of Humanae Vitae. Also in this matter, we worked deeply together – also with Pope John Paul II, who had this truth very close to his heart. Through him, I also got to know my friend Rocco Buttiglione and his family.

Caffarra also loved very much my children whom he met when Johannes was baptized by the pope and when Gabriel received First Holy Communion from the pope, and also later. He also cherished my wife Mary very much. Once, he said to me that he had had a dream in which he saw Gabriel as a priest (as of now, one cannot say that this dream was prophetic).

As a leader of the Institute, he paid much attention that the truth about marriage and the family was being taught wholly and without restrictions. Next to me, he also invited my dear friend John Crosby to collaborate with the Institute, and he loved him very much.

After his becoming a bishop, Don Livio Melina – at the time our student – became his loyal successor at the Instituto. Afterwards, he was once in a while present at the Pontifical Academy for Life to which he belonged. The full protection of each human life and the fight against any ways of violation of the dignity of the human person – about which he often and so beautifully spoke – were most intimately close to his heart. In this work, he had a very deep and speculative mind, whose moral theology was original and profound.

After reading and savoring Josef Seifert’s own heartfelt words, we also now feel even closer to the heart of Cardinal Caffarra. May Cardinal Caffarra’s soul now rest in peace.

Update: Lest anyone think that we claim the Seifert case was a determining cause of Cardinal Caffarra’s own death, we should consider that Cardinal Caffarra’s sensitive heart for the plight of his friend Professor Seifert might have been additionally burdened, something that, as a loyal friend, he embraced as part of his own cross: the intimate dolor.

The post has been updated.

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