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Left to right, top then bottom: Cardinals Raymond Burke, Joachim Meisner (now deceased), Walter Brandmüller and Carlo CaffarraLifeSite

Editor's Note: This story has been updated Nov. 23, 2016 to include Vatican posts as well as academic qualifications of the four cardinals. 

November 22, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – While the four Cardinals who sent five yes-or-no questions to the pope asking him to clarify ambiguity in Amoris Laetitia have been called “witless worm[s],” “troublesome,” heretics and apostates, not many people know who these men are and what makes them uniquely qualified to ask the pope questions regarding his understanding of marriage, the sacraments, and morality.

Following what is essentially a standard, but little used, procedure within the Church, Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, and Joachim Meisner wrote to the Pope in September asking him to answer five questions that would dispel what they called the “uncertainty, confusion, and disorientation among many of the faithful” stemming from the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which was released in April.

The exhortation has caused confusion among Church leaders for what critics say boils down to ambiguous teaching on the crucial issues of the indissolubility of marriage, the existence of absolute moral norms, and the role of conscience in making decisions.

These four Cardinals are internationally renowned for having fought long and hard on the fronts of life, marriage, and the family in their service to the Church. One is the world's foremost authority on Roman Catholic canon law. Another was specifically tasked by St. John Paul II to found academic institutions globally to form students in Catholic teaching on love, marriage, sexuality, and the family. Another is a world-renowned scholar of church history. Some of them have held top Vatican posts. 

They are known for their faithfulness, uncompromising fidelity to the Gospel, and zeal for truth. All have worked hard in their various capacities to restore the world to what St. John Paul II called a “culture of life.”

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, 87 years old, continues to be one of the leading voices critical of proposals stemming from the Vatican’s Synod on the Family that critics say risk subverting Catholic teaching on the sacraments and morality.

He is a world renowned-scholar of church history, having published numerous books on the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Reformation. He holds a doctorate in theology and is the former President of the Pontifical Commission for Historical Sciences. 

Brandmüller was one of five cardinals who contributed to the 2014 book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, which criticized Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to open up Communion to civilly divorced and remarried Catholics.

He gave an interview in 2014 where he stated that pastoral work can in “no circumstances … be in contradiction with doctrine.” He also stated during this time that a valid marriage between a baptized man and a woman that has been consummated “is indissoluble: Only death can part them.”

IMPORTANT: To respectfully express your support for the cardinals' letter, sign the petition to Pope Francis. Click here.

In a 2015 interview, Brandmüller criticized what he called a “perverse lust for self-destruction” that he saw in the liberal agenda among Germany’s bishops, stating that the self-destruction comes about “by undermining the procreation of life in different ways and in putting into question the natural sexual identity of man and woman.” The Cardinal openly stated that same year that those who advocate for changing Catholic teaching on marriage are ‘heretics,’ even if they are bishops.

Earlier this year, just days before Pope Francis’ release of his exhortation, Brandmüller criticized as “impossible” the Synod’s suggestion that civilly divorced and remarried Catholic become “more integrated” into the Church. Married Catholics who enters into a new civil union are “committing adultery,” and that as long as such persons are unwilling to put an end to the sinful situation, they “cannot receive either absolution in Confession nor the Eucharist.” Any path other than repentance and change of life is “bound to fail,” the cardinal said, due to “its inherent untruthfulness.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, has been an outspoken champion of the Church’s pro-life and pro-family teachings, especially as articulated by Popes Benedict and John Paul II.

He is recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on Roman Catholic canon law and became the first American in 2008 to hold the position of Defender of the Bond of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the church’s highest court. He holds a Doctorate in Canon Law (JCD) with a specialization in jurisprudence, a Diploma in Latin Letters, a Licentiate in Canon Law (JCL), and various other theology and philosophy degrees. 

Cardinal Burke has served at the Vatican in various posts, including: Congregation for Bishops, Member of the Secretariat of State (second section), member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and member of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

In 2013, the Cardinal was removed by Pope Francis from the Congregation for Bishops, the influential department that oversees the selection of new bishops, while very liberally-minded prelates, such as Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Archbishop Vincent Nichols were added to replace him. Earlier this year, with Burke having been removed, then-Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, yet another leader of the so-called ‘progressive’ camp in the Church, was also added as a member to the all-important Congregation. 

Under Pope Benedict, Burke is said to have played a major role in the appointments of some of the currently most orthodox bishops for the United States and other nations.

Burke was also demoted by Pope Francis in 2014 from being the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura due to what critics said was his uncompromising defense of Church's teaching on life and family issues. He was also removed from the Congregation for Divine Worship this month, after submitting the “Dubia” to the Pope. 

In his commitment to defending the sacraments while holding fast to the Church’s teaching against abortion, the Cardinal has frequently insisted that persistently pro-abortion Catholic politicians be denied Holy Communion, as stated by Canon law.

He has called fighting the all-pervasive ‘contraceptive mentality’ “essential” for restoring the culture of life, has defended parents as the primary educators of their children, and has strongly defended marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman.

Burke has urged Catholics on numerous occasions in the past two years to brace for martyrdom in the face of growing opposition to the Church’s clear teachings on marriage and the family.

His motto “Secundum Cor Tuum” (After Your own Heart) comes from the prayer “O good Jesus, make me a priest after Your own Heart.”

The Cardinal was vocal about problems arising during the Synod on the Family, stating that a door to offering Holy Communion for civilly divorced and remarried Catholics “does not exist and cannot exist.” He called the final synod report “deceptive in a serious way,” especially for its treatment of the sacraments and of parental responsibility for education.

In a 2015 interview, Burke said he was happy to be labeled a “fundamentalist” if that meant upholding the basics of the faith.

He caused a firestorm earlier this year when he stated that the Pope’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia was “not an act of the magisterium,” but a “personal reflection of the Pope” and therefore not “binding in conscience.”

The 68-year-old Cardinal will likely vote in the next conclave.

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, 78 years old, who was tasked by Saint Pope John Paul II more than three decades ago with founding an institute to study marriage and the family, has been a respected leader in reinvigorating the life and family movement within the Church.

Along with having a doctorate in Canon law he also holds a diploma of specialization in moral theology. In his early priesthood he was a professor of moral theology to seminarians, giving special attention to the Church's doctrine on marriage and the ethics of procreation. He later taught medical ethics in Rome.

He was nominated an expert at the Synod of Bishops on Matrimony and the Family in 1980, and the following year, was appointed by John Paul II to as founder and president of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. From 1983-88 he held the position of Consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Cardinal serves as a member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Pontifical Council for the Family, and the Pontifical Academy for Life.

In 2008, Caffarra gave an interview in which he spoke about a letter he had received from the last Fatima seer, Sister Lucia dos Santos, concerning the final battle between God and Satan. When the Cardinal wrote to Sister Lucia 36 years ago asking for her prayers as he began the process of founding the institute, he never expected a reply. Instead, the seer responded with a message of profound significance.

States Caffarra: “In [her letter] we find written: ‘The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid,’ she added, ‘because anyone who operates for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue.’ And then she concluded: ‘However, Our Lady has already crushed its head.’”

In a 2010 doctrinial note issued in his diocese he wrote that any Catholic who approves of same-sex “marriage” can no longer be considered Catholic.

The Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna has called the Pope’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia ‘objectively unclear,’ noting how fellow bishops have conflicting interpretations of what it means.

Caffarra has been clear that where confusion arises in interpreting papal texts, one has to refer to the continuity of the Magisterium of the past as the principle guiding light. “In matters of Doctrine and Morals, the Magisterium cannot contradict itself,” he has stated.

Last year, the Cardinal contributed to a book released by Ignatius Press titled Eleven Cardinals Speak that defended Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who holds a doctorate in theology, has never minced words when it comes to preaching the Gospel truth about life and family issues.

In 2005, before Cologne hosted World Youth Day that same year, Meisner compared abortion to the Nazi holocaust in his sermon for the January 6 commemoration of the Epiphany. He stated that “first there was Herod, who ordered the children of Bethlehem to be killed, then there was Hitler and Stalin among others, and today unborn children are being killed in their millions.”

In 2007, the Cardinal established a $9.1 million fund dedicated to supporting marriage and the family, stating that “Fathers, mothers and children need more support and guidance.”

In 2013, he stated that stay-at-home moms having more children is the solution to Germany’s demographic crisis. “Where are women really publicly encouraged to stay at home and bring three or four children into the world? This is what we should do, and not – as Mrs. (Angela) Merkel does now – simply present immigration as the solution to our demographic problem,” he stated at that time.

When a topless pro-abort jumped on the altar during Christmas Eve Mass at Cologne’s Cathedral in 2014 while the Cardinal was celebrating Mass, Meisner stated about the event afterward: “I’m 80 years old. I've lived through so much. First the Nazi period, then the entire Communist period. Something like this can't shock me after that.”

He was a Member of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

The 82-year-old Cardinal, who is the former Archbishop of Cologne, is not eligible to vote in the next conclave because of his age.

While the animosity toward the four Cardinals coming from the Pope and his closest collaborators was expected, observers of the Vatican continue to be surprised at to what extent the character assassinations have gone. Despite the animosity, the Cardinals, who are not strangers to standing firm in the face of opposition, appear to be calmly proceeding with their course of action, indicating last week that should Francis refuse to answer their concerns, they would consider issuing a “formal correction” of the pope.