By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

NEW YORK, December 15, 2008 ( – Cardinal Avery Dulles passed away on December 12 at the infirmary of Fordham University in New York.  He was 90 years old. His loss is mourned by pro-life and pro-family advocates in the U.S. and around in the world, who found in the Cardinal a staunch supporter and a strong voice against the incursions of the culture of death. 

Dulles was known for his steadfast loyalty to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and defended its moral teachings on controversial subjects such as abortion, artificial birth control, priestly celibacy and other bioethical issues and areas of contention.

Avery Dulles was the son of former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who served under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

He was raised a Presbyterian but embraced Catholicism as an adult. After serving in the Navy during World War II he entered the Jesuit order in 1946. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1956 and was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in 2001, the first American theologian to be given this honor as well as the first priest to be made a cardinal without episcopal ordination.

Pope Benedict XVI expressed his condolences at the death of Cardinal Dulles in a telegram to Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, where Cardinal Dulles resided, in which the Pope said he commended his “noble soul to God, the Father of mercies.”

The Holy Father expressed his “immense gratitude for the deep learning, serene judgment and unfailing love of the Lord and his Church which marked his entire priestly ministry and his long years of teaching and theological research.”

“At the same time,” the Holy Father continued, “I pray that his convincing personal testimony to the harmony of faith and reason will continue to bear fruit for the conversion of minds and hearts and the progress of the Gospel for many years to come.”

“Cardinal Dulles was man of tremendous intellectual rigor whose teaching and writing contributed greatly to the vibrancy of Catholic intellectual life,” commented the President of the Jesuit Conference, Jesuit Father Thomas H. Smolich.

“Yet for a man with so many gifts, he never viewed himself as anything more than a poor servant of Christ,” Smolich added.  “In this way, he called all of us into a more intimate relationship with the Lord he so dearly loved.”

Cardinal Dulles served as a professor of theology at The Catholic University of America and later as the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University, where he spoke strongly in defense of the dignity of human life and condemned the evil of abortion.

In a Zenit interview in 2004, the Cardinal pointed out the difference in Catholicism between abortion and issues such as the death penalty and war.

“The Church recognizes that there are occasions when war and the death penalty are justified, even though such measures are undesirable and should be kept to the necessary minimum.”

However, with regard to abortion, Cardinal Dulles said, “Abortion is in a different class. As the deliberate taking of innocent human life, direct abortion can never be justified. About the moral principle, there can be no debate in the Church. The teaching has been constant and emphatic.”

On this point he concluded, “The civil law should not authorize, let alone encourage, such moral evils. It should protect human life and dignity to the maximum degree possible.”

In his last McGinley Lecture, spoken for him at Fordham University just before meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in a private audience on April 19 in New York, Cardinal Dulles wrote that “suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils, but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be accepted as elements of a full human existence.”

“Well into my 90th year,” he wrote, “I have been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ.”

The cardinal concluded: “If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord!’”


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