"A Life in the Service of Life"
(Used with permission of The Wanderer.)
When Pope John Paul II established the Pontifical Council for the Family on May 13th of 1985 - the morning of the very day he was shot in St. Peter's Square - he may not have understood how countercultural this Council would be, nor how effective. Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo assumed the mantle of leadership for the Council in 1990 and hit the ground running on his new mission. Because of his experience defending the Church in his home country of Colombia, where he was threatened with death numerous times by terrorists, he was perfectly suited to be the custodian of the Church's splendid treasury of teachings on life, marriage and family in a worldwide ministry.
In Cardinal Lopez, the Church had a warrior for all that was true and good. For many years he was involved in the fight against liberation theology in Latin America, which was a systematic attempt to adapt the authentic Gospel message of freedom in Christ to pernicious Marxist doctrines. As President of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) in 1979, he invited Pope John Paul II to make his very first foreign trip to the CELAM conference in Mexico to help forestall what many considered to be an imminent schism in Latin America due to the bishops' overall endorsement of liberation theology.
Later, as head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, he worked tirelessly for the clarification and affirmation of the Church's teaching on all life and family issues from a pastoral point of view. One of the major, but behind-the-scenes, initiatives of Cardinal Lopez was his regular seminars with bishops around the world to educate them on ways to pastorally implement these teachings in their dioceses. He knew well the impact that a Cardinal from a Vatican Council could have on members of the hierarchy, especially in the poorer countries of the world. For that reason he also established the triennial World Meeting of Families to bring together the most influential organizations and brightest minds of the world community in the defense of life, marriage and family at a time of unprecedented attacks on these sacred realities.
Among the top achievements of the Pontifical Council for the Family under Cardinal Lopez' tenure has to be the magnificent document called The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality issued in 1995 dealing with the issue of educating the young in matters of human sexuality. In it, he lays out the Catholic version of human sexual education with all the rules, caveats and, indeed, the beauty of this task for parents and Catholic educators. The Council reaffirms a fundamental truth that is firmly ground in Catholic theology and tradition: namely, that parents are the proper educators of their children in these matters and that other educators, even in Church schools, only involve themselves under the authority and supervision of the parents. This document gave hope to countless parents and pro-life advocates who have seen the nefarious programs of sex education destroy the souls of children for decades.
Perhaps his greatest impact, however, was his intrepid willingness to publicly defend the truth about life, marriage and family in the face of attacks from both the pagan world and Church dissenters. Cardinal Lopez was nothing short of a tour de force for orthodoxy. Case in point; when Spain was debating the passage of a "same sex marriage" law in 2004, His Eminence urged government leaders to engage in civil disobedience and refuse to perform "gay marriages" if the law were passed. That gesture made him the whipping boy of the ultra liberal Spanish press for years. Similarly, in that same year when both he and Pope John Paul were attacked by the BBC for the Church's "retrograde" prohibition of the use of the condom to stop AIDS, Cardinal Lopez responded with one of the best documents ever produced by a Vatican dicastery, Family Values vs. Safe Sex, in which he set down, unequivocally, the Catholic and pro-life position declaring that the Church would not worship the condom god for any reason whatsoever. The Cardinal even went so far as to call for governments to put warning labels on condom packages because, as statistics prove, the chances of "death by latex" are much greater than the prospect of death by smoking.
In 2006, he unabashedly said something that can scarce be heard from the mouth of any Church authority these days; namely, that those who destroy human embryos should be excommunicated. The Church believes categorically that an embryo is a human being with all the rights inherent to born human beings, and so, logically, the destruction of innocent human life should merit the same canonical penalty as procured abortion. It was refreshing to see that someone at the highest level of the Vatican hierarchy was able to apply canon law to the real depredations of the culture of death.
Human Life International certainly enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with His Eminence. He was a keynote speaker at HLI's world conference in Houston in 1993 and thereafter participated in HLI-sponsored conferences in Chile, Argentina and Mexico. HLI translated and published the Council's monumental Lexicon of Ambiguous and Debatable Terms and massively distributed the Family Values document around the world. Just three weeks ago, HLI representatives in Rome visited with the Cardinal, little knowing that we would be one of the last groups to formally visit and work with this eminent champion of love, life and the family.
It is said that one dies the way one lives, and that certainly is true of this man who was the voice of conscience to the Church on these issues. In what must have been one of his last official acts, the Episcopal Conference of the Philippines received a letter from Cardinal Lopez last week advising them that it is never licit to accept funds or donations from companies that promote the culture of death. "Accepting such funding creates confusion among the faithful, as they give the impression that abortion, and the production, distribution, and use of contraceptives and abortifacients are acceptable practices," the prelate said; and he added that "it would provide those working against the family grounds for extremely persuasive criticism to attack and discredit Church organizations and the Church herself, especially through charges of incoherence and insincerity," he said.
If Pope John Paul II has been recognized as the "pope of life," Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo will undoubtedly be remembered fondly as the "prelate of life" for his uncompromising commitment to the good of life and family. Now, we pray that this champion of life will enjoy the fruits of his many labors in the Life that awaits us all.