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from issue no. 12 - 2005

Awaiting Valencia

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, talks about the preparations for the fifth World Meeting of Families, planned for July in Spain, where the Pope is expected

Interview with Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo by Gianni Cardinale

The Holy Mass cebrated by Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo at the fourth World Meeting of Families in Manila in 2003

The Holy Mass cebrated by Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo at the fourth World Meeting of Families in Manila in 2003

Last December the third meeting of the presidents of the Commissions of the Latin American Episcopal Conference for the Family and Life was held in the Vatican. The meeting was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family presided over by Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, former archbishop of Medellin and former secretary general and president of the Episcopal Council of Latin America (CELAM). To deal with some of the subjects discussed in this meeting, touching on certain burning issues especially for some countries of the Western world, 30Days asked some questions of the Colombian cardinal, who for more than fifteen years has headed the “Ministry for the Family” of the Holy See. In the course of the discussion, obviously, the fifth World Meeting of Families was also talked about, the celebration of which is planned for the first week of July in Valencia, in Spain.
Your Eminence, what is the situation of “the family and of life” in Latin America, as it emerged from the meeting in December?
ALFONSO LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: In Latin America we find ourselves faced with a complex situation, at times delicate, on this point. Not all the countries are in the same situation. There are nations where the constitution and the governing laws are highly respectful of the doctrine of the Church. There are others instead which suffer the influence of various legislative tendencies that are becoming widespread in certain parts of the world. Tendencies that go against the right to life from conception and against the family as such.
What is happening in concrete?
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: In Colombia, for example, they have tried to de-penalize abortion. Thanks be to God the Constitutional Court opposed it. But certainly they will make a fresh attempt on this point. Every crime – and, as Vatican II reminds us in number 51 of Gaudium et spes, «abortus necnon infanticidium nefanda sunt crimina» – every crime, I was saying, has its penalty, even if there are mitigating or aggravating circumstances that it is up to the judge to evaluate. To de-penalize abortion, to recognize that it is not a crime, is the first step leading to its complete legalization, without limits. We have seen it in the United States where, in practice, with its so called Partial birth abortion, it was possible to abort up to the last month of pregnancy. Fortunately President George Bush signed the law of Congress that made this practice illegal. Even if I have been told that the Courts in some States – Nebraska, California and New York – have declared that the law is unconstitutional.
The problem is dramatically simple: the embryo is a human being who is a holder of rights and is not a fragmentary ensemble of cells or, worse, a tumor that can be excised without problems from the mother’s stomach! As I said there are many constitutions in Latin American countries that protect life from conception on. The attempt underway in not a few countries is that of introducing exceptions so as to open the way to free abortion. And it is an attempt that seeks to exploit the ideological push added by the well-known new laws introduced in Spain, some of which, however, it is well to remember, must still have the definitive placet of the Constitutional Court. This is well-known information, as the doctrine of the Church, strongly proclaimed in the encyclical Evangelium vitae, is well-known.
So at the December meeting the Latin American bishops denounced outside influence…
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: The danger denounced by the Latin American bishops is that of the prevailing of an ideology that is not Latin American but which can have a certain contingent success, as sometimes happens with the democratic majorities that are here today and gone tomorrow. A danger arising out of anthropological confusion and out of the juridical positivism reigning in some countries, whereby the law, as law, is always good. But this is not a certain criterion, history is full of examples that run counter. And this is valid for abortion as for marriage. In this case also the Church is defending a conception of the family that has been valid for all times and all cultures. Marriage is a union between two people of different sex. Now instead there is an attempt to introduce a different concept, a new arbitrary definition. But if that path is taken, then tomorrow anything will be possible, even the most unimaginable aberrations. With devastating consequences for the family, and this danger is clearly perceived by Pope Benedict XVI. Luckily there are encouraging signs…
What are you referring to?
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: I am thinking of Italy where the situation is different from that of Spain. In Italy one can discuss these issues with important figures from the so-called secular world, with non-believers who by the simple light of reason judge the thought of the Church on these topics as valid. I am thinking for example of such different figures as the President of the Senate Marcello Pera, the journalist Giuliano Ferrara and, in certain respects, the writer Oriana Fallaci.
Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo next to Benedict XVI at the concert by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir of Ratisbon Cathedral, 20 October 2005 in the Paul VI Aula in the Vatican

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo next to Benedict XVI at the concert by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir of Ratisbon Cathedral, 20 October 2005 in the Paul VI Aula in the Vatican

Let’s return to Latin America. You’ve already mentioned your country, Colombia. But what is the situation in concrete in the other countries?
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: In Brazil numerous bills tending to liberalize abortion have been introduced. It is not the first time. Recently then an incredibly permissive bill was opportunely withdrawn. In Honduras however the situation is clear: life is protected constitutionally from conception on and there are no attempts underway to subvert this law. The same can be said of Peru, where I was in early December. In Argentina, according to what I’ve been told, the national government does not intend to intervene in these matters - even if there is contradictory information coming from the Ministry of Health - while at the local level, that of municipalities and single provinces, attempts to introduce laws that we may describe as unjust and which have in some cases been approved are underway. In Venezuela, as far as I know, thanks be to God, there are no tendencies of this kind; even if some say that ugly surprises may be in store. I hope that the Catholic soul of these countries will be recognized. In Chile then civil divorce has recently been introduced, something which was not anticipated. It’s to be hoped, as the local Church is hoping, that the new president elect, Michelle Bachelet, will respect the values of such a Christian country as Chile, will respect the values of man «in his entirety», according to the expression of the Pope in his first encyclical Deus caritas est. The good of man is at the center of society, and it is a common integral good.
Previously you mentioned the negative influence that the legislation introduced by the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in Spain could have in Latin America. Yet one reads in US newspapers, such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and so on, lots of news reports and editorials favorable to the extension of the right to abortion on the continent…
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: These are means of communication that perhaps don’t reflect the full reality, fortunately, nor the position of the current US administration. We know well that some aspects of the politics of the United States can be criticized, as the decision to undertake the war in Iraq, where problems are not lacking today. And in this regard we know well what the prophetic thought of John Paul II was. But on the subjects of the family, of marriage, of abortion, safe sex, we must recognize, as John Paul II himself did when he received Bush in audience, that an objective harmony exists between the US administration and the Holy See for the respect of moral values and the defense of life and the family. And we must be grateful to the United States for this, whereas at the same time we must be troubled about other situations in which an opposite ideology prevails, that should however in the future recognize where the truth lies.
President Bush recently nominated two new judges to the Supreme Court, John G. Roberts jr. and Samuel A. Alito. They are both Catholics and are considered conservatives who could contribute to overturning or attenuation of the historic sentence of the Court which in 1973 liberalized abortion in the United States. How do you assess the nominations?
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: I believe that the Supreme Court has returned to a plenum of its membership, with people who have the fundamental values of man at heart. But I am not a United States citizen… I am only a Christian who prays that the Supreme Court of the United States, as that of any other country, will always take decisions in favor of life and the family, for rational, scientific, legal and also religious reasons.
Your Eminence, the fifth World Meeting of Families is expected in the first week of July. It will be held in Valencia, in Zapatero’s Spain. Is it a provocative choice perhaps?
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: I very much want to make clear that the decision to hold the meeting in Valencia was taken three years ago, a year and a half before Zapatero’s government came to power, when indeed the eventuality seemed somewhat remote even to the shrewdest observers. But it can be said that it was a providential choice. The meeting aims to present the value of the transmission of the faith in the family positively. It doesn’t want to be and will not be a meeting against someone or against a government. But certainly on this occasion the mission of the family as domestic Church and sanctuary of life will be defended in an unequivocal manner. The teaching of the Church is universal for all times and for governments, for the good of man.
Will the Pope be present?
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: There is still no official decision. But it is clear that we are confident and await with joy the presence of the Pope in Valencia. The Pope convened this meeting. And the Pope repeats every day with vigor and clarity the importance of the defense of the rights of the family and of human life.
How will the meeting be organized?
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: It will progress in three stages. There will be an international fair for the families which will last from July1-7, then a pastoral theological Congress, in which about seven thousand people will participate, on the subject “The transmission of the faith in the family”, that will last from July 4-7 and will also be organized in study groups on various themes, such as economy and the family, the family and evangelization, the family and ecumenism, the family and poverty, education and children, education and the family, demography and the family, international organizations. Finally, on Saturday 8, there will be the feast of witness before the Pope and Sunday 9, the real and proper celebratory moment with the mass presided over by the Holy Father in a splendid place, in the heart of the city.
Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo

How many families will take part?
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: I hope a great many. Our department even though very poor is making every effort to help facilitate a larger participation from all over the world. Also because Valencia is a very beautiful city, it has a dynamic Church, and the pastoral theological Congress will be hosted in a fair complex equipped with every comfort and a meeting hall which is four times larger than four Nervi Halls!
Your Eminence, two other questions about current issues. In Italy discussion has begun about the so-called unmarried couples…
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: In this regard the article by Professor Francesco D’Agostino, President of the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists, that appeared on the first page of L’Osservatore Romano on 14 January was particularly interesting. It explained how the ulterior motive of the dispute is in fact that of allowing some legal recognition to homosexual couples. For my part, I’m concerned to stress that the very concept of unmarried couples, as the Spanish bishops correctly pointed out, is a mistaken concept, a kind of counterfeit coin. In this field, the answers can come from private law, but the State cannot concede anything to those who promise nothing in terms of stability, not only coram Deo, by a canonical marriage, but not even coram societate, by a civil marriage.
You have also intervened recently to confirm the position of the Church on the situation of remarried divorcees…
LÓPEZ TRUJILLO: There are those In this world who would like to give lessons in mercy to the Church and to the Lord Himself. They say that the Church is very rigid. But the Church cannot betray the words of Jesus on this. Personally, I have many friends who suffer the situation of being divorced: to them also I cannot but say that we don’t have the power to change the words of the Lord. The Church must act with mercy, but it cannot say to remarried divorcees that they are in a situation of harmony with God and that therefore they can receive Holy Communion. As I have already said, when, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is in front of the adulteress and those who wanted to stone her have left, Saint Augustine comments: «Relicti sunt duo, misera et Misericordia», they remained in two, the wretchedness of the prostitute and the mercy of God, the sinner and the Lord. And then Jesus says to her: «Go and sin no more». The Church, as Jesus, must be merciful, but cannot deny the commandments.

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