Cardinal James Francis Stafford, Major Penitentiary emeritus of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Archbishop emeritus of Denver, was born on 26 July 1932 in Baltimore, Maryland (United States of America), the son of F. Emmett and Mary Dorothy Stafford.
He studied at Loyola College, Baltimore (1950-52) and at Saint Mary’s Seminary University, Baltimore (1952-54). He also studied at the Catholic University of America (1962-64).
He was ordained priest on 15 December 1957 in Rome. He served as assistant priest in the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (1958-62) and in the Parish of Saint Ann (1964-65), both in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He was also chaplain to Villa Maria, Baltimore (1976-81). After pastoral ministry in various institutions, he was named chaplain of His Holiness in 1969.
He was named titular Bishop of Respetta and Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore on 19 January 1976, and was ordained to the episcopate on 29 February in the Cathedral of Mary Queen of Peace by Archbishop William D. Borders of Baltimore. The co-consecrating Bishops were Cardinal Lawrence Sheehan, Archbishop emeritus of Baltimore, and Bishop Austin Murphy, Auxiliary of Baltimore.
On 17 November 1982, he was named Bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, and on 18 January 1983 he took possession of the Diocese.
On 30 May 1986, he was named Archbishop of Denver, Colorado, and on 31 July he took possession of the Archdiocese.
He has held many positions of responsibility. Co-President of the Dialogue between Roman Catholics and Lutherans, U.S.A. (1984-97); Vicar of the Archdiocese of Baltimore (1976-83); Administrator of the Parish of Saints Philip and James, Baltimore (1980-81); Director of the Associated Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Baltimore (1966-76); Member of the Council of the Center for Metropolitan Planning of Johns Hopkins University (1973-83); President of the Senate of Priests, Archdiocese of Baltimore (1971); Member and then president of the Bishops’ Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops(1984-91).
He was also President of the Catholic Conference of the United States’ Adhoc Committee for the Evaluation of the Catholic Telecommunications Network (1987-89); Member of the NCCB’s Adhoc Committee on Biblical Fundamentalism (1985-87); Member of Council of Administration of the Pope John Center (1986-89); Member of the NCCB’s Dialogue between Roman Catholics and Jews (1988-91): Co-President of the NCCB’s Consultation between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox (1988-91); President of the USCC’s Bishops’ Commission on Marriage and Family Life (1978-84); Member of the NCCB’s Commission on Doctrine (1978-84); Member of the Ordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family (1980); Co-President of the Dialogue between the World Methodist Council and Roman Catholics of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Rome (1977-87); Member of the Council of Administration of the Pontifical North American College (1989-96); Member of the Council of Administration of the Catholic University of America (1990-96); Member of the Congregation for Bishops’ Adhoc Commission on Episcopal Conferences (1990-92).
Resigned as Archbishop of Denver, 20 August 1996, he was named President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity on 20 August 1996, succeeding Cardinal Eduardo Pironio in the position.
As President of the Council, he organized the twelfth World Youth Day which took place in Paris in August 1997. At the beginning of the Eucharistic Celebration at Longchamp on Sunday 24 August, Archbishop Stafford expressed to the Pope the gratitude of all the young people gathered in Paris where, he said, there was born a new "revolution of love". "You have said to our young people" - were the Archbishop’s words to the Pope – "that the heart of Christian love lies in the scandal of the Cross. This means a great overturning, where the first will be last and vice versa. Accepting your invitation, many have shown in this way their free acceptance of the Gospel in their lives."
Previously in 1993, as Archbishop of Denver, he had welcomed Pope John Paul II to the city chosen for the 8th World Youth Day. Archbishop Stafford introduced the people of Colorado to the Pope. "We have come together to listen to your prophetic message", he said at the start of the Mass celebrated on the Feast of the Assumption at the conclusion of the World Youth Day.
At the American Synod on 25 November 1995 at the Thirteenth General Congregation he spoke on the theme, "The Laity in the Culture of Disillusionment". "How can the Church catechize in a world of virtual reality?" he asked at the Synod. "The formation of lay people for communio assumes great importance in a dechristianized culture."
President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, 20 August 1996-4 October 2003. As president of the council, he organized the international meetings of the 12th World Youth Day in Paris in 1987; the 15th World Youth Day held in Rome-Tor Vergata during the Jubilee Year 2000 and the 17th World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada in 2002.
Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, 4 October 2003 - 2 June 2009.
He participated in the conclave of April 2005, which elected Pope Benedict XVI.
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by St. John Paul II in the Consistory of 21 February 1998, of the Title of S. Pietro in Montorio (St. Peter in Montorio).