With all the minute by minute press coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's first papal visit to the United States, scant attention is being paid to his schedule after his charted Alitalia flight lands in Italy. One of the first orders of business in Rome will be to celebrate a funeral Mass for the Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for the Family, who died this past Saturday at age 72.
For those not familiar with the hierarchy of Catholic Church, Trujillo — one of the Vatican's highest ranking cardinals and once a viable papabile, a candidate to become pope — was the Church's principal defender and point person for all issues related to the family. This meant, among other things, fighting a global battle to reject abortion and contraceptives of any kind. Instead, he chose to promote abstinence and "natural family planning," also known as the rhythm method, the latter of which has been proven ineffective at preventing pregnancy.
Trujillo was particularly active in the developing world where he preached against condom use. He argued that condoms were an ineffective prevention method against HIV/AIDS because they actually contributed to its spread by encouraging sexual promiscuity. Trujillo also argued, rather unscientifically that, "The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom." No matter that Trujillo's arguments were quickly debunked by the World Health Organization, and criticized by the European Union Commission and UNAIDS, Trujillo went so far as to recommend that condom packets include warnings, similar to those on packs of cigarettes, cautioning that condoms do not prevent but rather encourage the spread of HIV/AIDS. Trujillo wasn't single minded in his opposition to condoms; he disparaged all forms of contraception, which he referred to as "biological colonialism" imposed on poor nations by pharmaceutical companies and rich countries. This was certainly a polemical, if not persuasive, argument in regions dealing with the aftereffects of colonial rule.
Trujillo was no less outspoken about abortion, which more than contraception, emerged as his pet passion. Trujillo traveled extensively, visiting all range of local churches and massive cathedrals, inveighing against abortion. There was seemingly no audience too small for him preach to about the perils of abortion, and he readily lent his name and credibility to a host of marginal organizations, both in the U.S. and internationally, that advocated against abortion. One such group was the Staten Island-based Priests for Life, where he sat on the Episcopal Board of Advisors since the organization's inception, and which has, according to Catholics for Choice, close ties to "specialists of extreme and sometimes illegal protest."
Trujillo also inserted himself in international fora and strongly opposed advances made for reproductive rights, including the United Nations 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, whose Programme of Action represented a radically ambitious blueprint for women's reproductive health and rights. Referring to the ongoing fight for abortion rights Trujillo said, "the battle begins in Cairo," and indeed, the Vatican, led by Trujillo, was a constant roadblock to progress on women's rights and health at the United Nations.
Born in Villahermosa, Colombia in 1935, Trujillo quickly rose through the Vatican ranks and was made a bishop at age 35 and cardinal at 48. He served as archbishop of Medellin from 1979 until 1991, when he was made president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. From 1979 to 1983 Trujillo headed the Latin American Bishops' Council and was a forceful opponent to liberation theology, the Roman Catholic social and political movement, which originated in Latin America, and applied Catholic theology to defending and improving the lives of the poor and the oppressed. Trujillo reportedly attempted to purge the Council of advocates of liberation theology. These actions established his conservative bonafides within the Vatican and made him a close associate of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
At Trujillo's Mass this Wednesday Pope Benedict will likely commemorate the Cardinal's work to prevent women from accessing abortion and laud his efforts to eliminate contraceptives. What will be absent from the memorial is the tally of women who died or suffered grievous injury from unsafe and illegal abortions, and the number of men and women infected with HIV.
It is unlikely that Benedict — sometimes referred to as "God's bulldog" for his fierce defense of Catholic theology — will appoint a more moderate president to the Pontifical Council for the Family. Though one never knows, change can happen in the unlikeliest of places; last week Colombia, Trujillo's home country, issued a favorable ruling extending health and pension benefits to same-sex couples.