Controversy over the Holy Father’s substitution of CCC 2267 continues.

The controversy over the Holy Father’s substitution of CCC par. 2267 continues.

Keep in mind that, while the teaching of CCC 2267 concerns the death penalty, the real problem is that the Pope seems to have contradicted what the Church has always taught about something, in this case a contingent moral choice about a tiny percentage of criminals.  If that doctrine can be diametrically changed, what else can be diametrically changed?  At the very least seeming to contradict the Church’s teaching is hardly less bad, since the role of the Pope and of the CCC itself is to remove doubts and bring clarity and foster unity.

Recently a really good book came out about the issue concerned in CCC 2267.

Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette. Ignatius Press.


Also, I direct you to Ed Feser’s website.  There he has posted useful links about the topic of the death penalty and about the Catechism.

He writes:

In a new article at Catholic Herald, I analyze the recent revision to the Catechism in greater detail.  I argue that there are three serious problems with it.

An op-ed on the revision by Joseph Bessette, my co-author on By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed, appears at The Wall Street Journal.  
Joe and I were recently interviewed by LifeSiteNews.  Today I did a Skype interview on the subject with Michael Knowles at The Daily Wire.
At Public DiscourseProf. Korey Maas comments on my arguments concerning capital punishment and their relationship to the controversy over Dignitatis Humanae.

On the religious liberty point I highly recommend that last link.  V2’s Declaration Dignitatis humanae also seems to rest on “dignity of the human person” which is “inviolable.”   Really interesting.  It provides a good status quaestionis in a matter that so troubled, for example, Archbp. Lefevbre and members of the SSPX.

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  1. Mike says:

    One can’t help but think that a pope who believed in human dignity that strongly would have answered the Dubia.

  2. Traductora says:

    Bessette’s op-ed in the WSJ was excellent and sums it up. Of course, today I just read that all of the Florida bishops (I live in Florida) are screaming at Gov. Scott because of the upcoming execution of a man who – 25 years ago, because the process is scandalously slow – killed a 63 year old woman, stabbing her to death in her apartment. He was 30 and worked as a painter at the complex, and was attempting to burglarize the place. All the neighbors heard her being killed and tried to rescue her but he had locked the doors. There was never any doubt that he had done it, but of course the anti-death penalty crowd was on it immediately. So he got 25 years of life more than she did.

    I guess it could be worse. Our last bishop used to go up with a bunch of flaky sisters to throw fake blood on the School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

  3. JabbaPapa says:

    Father Z :

    Keep in mind that, while the teaching of CCC 2267 concerns the death penalty, the real problem is that the Pope seems to have contradicted what the Church has always taught about something, in this case a contingent moral choice about a tiny percentage of criminals.

    hmmmm, although the arguments about this seem to be clear, I’m still quite unsure as to anything in practical terms has changed, except for a new disciplinary requirement upon theologians and Bishops to work towards the abolition of the death penalty.

    The revision of CCC 2267 does not denounce the power of the Civil Authority to pronounce and execute such judgment upon those criminals, and so it seems to me that the contingent moral choice that such Authority has to do so remains.

    One deeper question is whether capital punishment has been taught or tolerated. (but God did not punish Cain in that manner, nor Christ the adulterous woman)

    Another deeper question is, if support by a Catholic for the death penalty were immoral, to what degree of immorality would that be ? Sin particular, or venial … or even from the Original Sin and so forgiven in Baptism ?

    These are serious doubts concerning the moral consequences of this change to the canon, and so long as these doubts will remain unresolved, confusion will abound.

  4. Malta says:

    I wish the bishops in Florida, and elsewhere, would scream as loudly about unborn babies being killed daily, than about, say, a man who rapes and kills a child and is given the death penalty. It’s silly-town in the Vatican right now. Hang the sickest of the sick evil, and hang them high! Agreement with civil authorities being allowed to administer the death penalty is a perennial teaching of the Church, whatever this pope says to the contrary.

  5. Malta says:

    “[3] For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. [4] For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. [5] Wherefore be subject of necessity, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” Romans 13 3-5. I guess this pope knows better than St. Paul.

  6. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    It’s amazing that the Popes abandoned the Triregna/tiara of political power….and now Popes are telling sovereign states what authorities they have and which powers the Pope is now abrogating from them.

  7. hilltop says:

    3 brief observations:
    1) Feser’s Catholic Herald piece shreds the CCC alteration – great read
    2) Popes used to use the “Papal ‘We’”. That helped them and us understand that what they taught they taught consistent with their predecessors AND their successors….”We”. That is lost.
    3) JPII’s revision to CCC 2267 is like Francis’ revision in its many flaws of logic including, but not limited to, his non-universal western centrism concerning a government’s ability/willingness to incarcerate humanely. And fatefully, Wojtyla’s explication at 2267 includes the modernist words “Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities…”. No fool, Francis doesn’t miss a beat in his revision: “Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that…” and “In addition, a new understanding has emerged of…” and “more effective systems […] have been developed”. Many of Feser’s arguments against Francis’ rationale can and should be directly applied to JPII’s. Seen this way, JPII’s intervention cleared a beachhead and established a (now Saintly) precedent for later CCC innovations modeled on his own.
    Wojtyla opened a crack in the CCC through which smoke has entered. The crack’s spreading.

  8. Shonkin says:

    I would like to point out a paragraph from the introduction to the CCC as promulgated by Pope John Paul II:
    “This catechism is not intended to replace the local catechisms duly approved by the ecclesiastical authorities, the diocesan Bishops and the Episcopal Conferences, especially if they have been approved by the Apostolic See. It is meant to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms, which take into account various situations and cultures, while carefully preserving the unity of faith and fidelity to catholic doctrine.”
    I don’t wish to minimize the damage done by capricious changes made to Church teaching, but this change made by Pope Francis doesn’t seem to have the force of an ex cathedra statement of doctrine, nor does it even constitute the final (whatever that means any more) statement of a moral principle binding on all Catholics.
    Or am I missing something here?

  9. Amateur Scholastic says:

    Anything by Edward Feser is brilliant. I understood the fundamentals of Aristotelian (and therefore Thomistic) philosophy for the first time after reading The Last Superstition. I’d picked up bits and pieces from other places before then, but had never really understood it.

    I can’t recommend his work highly enough.

  10. discens says:

    Is it significant that (in English at least) Pope Francis’ revision first speaks of “legitimate authority” and then of “the state” (“a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state”)? The “state” (liberal or otherwise) is actually a modern invention, being characterized, as Weber famously said, by claiming for itself “a monopoly of coercion”. In the past only open tyrannies made such a claim. Monarchies and empires did not. There were, for instance, no states in this sense in the Medieval period, for coercive power was suffused through many levels of political authority. Frankly I would not want any modern states deciding on the death penalty for anyone. They would almost certainly get it wrong, if only because they don’t believe in the “inviolability and dignity of the person” (despite declarations to the contrary). So maybe Pope Francis is being Jesuitically subtle again in opposing the death penalty. Maybe he’s really attacking the modern state — not the death penalty as such, or its imposition by “legitimate authority” in the past. A thought anyway…

  11. TonyO says:

    While Prof. Korey Maas correctly notes a number of similarities in the outward form of the debates about the DP and about religious liberty, with respect to the underlying subject matter (and the Church’s teachings) there is really more substantive difference and more real room for there to have been “development” in the latter where there has not been in the former. Ultimately, true development has to have one foot in the camp of “nothing has changed” and another foot in the camp of “the Church changed the teaching”, or it doesn’t qualify as development. So complaints from opposite extremes (or insistence by them) are, effectively, failures to notice nuance: Saying “The Church has kept the old teaching” is valid, even though saying “The Church now teachings something different than it used to” is also valid.

    Here’s an example: The Church used to say, simply and without qualification: the primary purpose of marriage is children. These days, the Church still says that, but says it with qualification and nuance: she also includes “unity of the spouses”, one might say that the two are co-partner aspects of “the primary end of marriage”. This does not contradict the former teaching, which remains valid, but it certainly is new compared to the old teaching.

    With regard to DP, the implications of what Francis is saying seems to be a flat out contradiction to what the Church used to say. That’s not “development”. And, if the Vatican wants to have a reasonable claim for it to be “development”, it can achieve that in one way only: by clarifying how the new teaching interacts with the old, and specifying how it maintains the old teaching intact. Not just asserting THAT it does.

    With regard to religious liberty, the old teaching can be reconciled with Dignitatis Humanae with much less quibbling and distortion of the actual text: the text allows that there is room for use of civil authorities to restrain religious liberty for the sake of public order and to restrain injustices against the virtue of truth. Since all heresies tend to spread through injustices against the virtue of truth, and since “public order” can be understood as to encompass the peace and order that obtains when a Catholic state worships God according to the rite God ordained, it technically leaves room for Catholic states to be confessionally Catholic.

  12. Shonkin says:

    I might agree with discens, except that until the last two or three centuries almost all governments were open tyrannies!
    On a related topic, when I attended Catholic elementary school (in the 1950’s), we were taught about the three essential or basic societies: the Family, the Church, and the State. The Family is of course the most basic society, since the other two could not exist without it. Nowadays the State is openly attacking the Family and the Church in this country, elsewhere in Western society, and in totalitarian societies.

  13. discens says:

    Thanks, Shonkin, for partial agreement. Tyrannies come in many forms, of course, but the state, at least by Weber’s definition, is essentially tyrannical. If Pope Francis is implicitly distinguishing between ‘legitimate authority’ and the ‘state’, he does not have to say anything about which, if any, past governments counted as legitimate authority. He simply has to insinuate that the state is not legitimate authority — which he may indeed have done.

  14. chantgirl says:

    Francis’ own address from Wednesday, October 11th, 2017, which he references in the catechism change, reveals much about his mindset in making this change.

    It appears to me that Francis uses the Church’s teaching on the dignity of man to contradict Scripture and Tradition on the death penalty.

  15. TonyO says:

    The “state” (liberal or otherwise) is actually a modern invention, being characterized, as Weber famously said, by claiming for itself “a monopoly of coercion”. In the past only open tyrannies made such a claim. Monarchies and empires did not. There were, for instance, no states in this sense in the Medieval period, for coercive power was suffused through many levels of political authority.

    Discens, I don’t know why we would prefer Weber’s definition over a more classical one. Weber certainly got many things wrong.

    It is also true in the US that “coercive power is suffused through many levels of political authority”. Cities and towns have jails and police with arrest authority, and judges with the authority to assign jail time. Counties have a broader range of powers. US states have “plenary” political powers except those ceded to the federal government. The federal has many powers including those of coercion.

    But underneath all of those, the parents of a family have coercive power over their children. And all individuals have the right to use force in order to compel respect for the safety of their persons and possessions (a person can use force to stop a thief or a mugger).

    One of the ways in which the Greeks distinguished themselves from “the barbarians” is this: they had a civil government, the government of a polis as opposed to the authority of a patriarch over a family or clan. By this they meant that they had a government with legitimate authority to command obedience and use force to compel it, which was not due simply on account of patriarchal priority. In the polis, the separate families’ origins were lost in the mist of antiquity, and no one clan could claim definitive precedence over all the others merely on that account, setting them – for purposes of being superior / subordinate – where the claims of a natural “archy” (i.e. ordering principle) were not applicable.

    It has been true in all past times of recorded history that men have had governing power that could compel obedience by force. For the purposes of DP (both the Catechism and older teaching) it matters not at all whether that governing authority was the local laird, the sheriff, the provincial governor, the local magistrate, the baron or count, the prince or the mayor or what have you. It also matters not at all whether a local laird shared the power to compel with higher authorities, such as the king or the emperor. All that matters is that for virtually all peoples under civilization, there WAS a governing authority that was generally agreed to have the power of coercion: in that context, it has virtually always been true that at some level of government, the authority in charge also exercised the authority to compel even by the death penalty.

    The more classical meaning of the word “state” would be, roughly, that political entity that holds plenary political authority. Entailed in that would be the notion of “independence” that Weber also had, because if it is dependent on some higher political authority, it would not hold plenary authority. But nothing about this entails that the state is the sole locus of the right to use force to compel.

    Nor is there anything about the DP discussion that hangs on whether the proper location for the right to apply the DP belongs at a lower level than that of the state, say at the city or barony level. That is irrelevant to the debate.

  16. discens says:

    Weber in ‘Politics as a Vocation’ (1919) writes as follows:
    “Today the relation between the state and violence is an especially intimate one. In the past, the most varied institutions have known the use of physical force as quite normal. Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that ‘territory’ is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence.”

    Weber is right that the state in this sense did not exist in the pre-modern world. The pre-modern world also did not use the word ‘state’ but other words, such as ‘civitas’, ‘polis’, ‘secular arm’, ‘kingdom’ etc. I would trace back the idea of the modern state at least to Machiavelli and Hobbes, both of whom openly favored what previous thinkers would call tyranny. Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas would have repudiated their views.

    But anyway I’m just wondering if a distinction between ‘state’ and ‘legitimate authority’ in Pope Francis’ revision may give us a clue to what he’s really up to. Speculation…that’s all.

  17. TonyO says:

    Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence.”

    And in the US, the “right to use force” is not viewed as belonging solely to the state, nor solely to those entities to whom the state grants it. Parents have the authority over their kids not coming from state permission. All persons have the right to protect themselves, again not coming from state permission. And the second amendment can be read as saying that the people do not, right from the outset, grant to either the federal or the state governments the authority to take away their guns, so “the state” never has the sole power to grant permission to use force. (It is a mere play on words to assert that parents and all the others “only have the right if the state lets it”, because that’s true of ANY bully or anyone else who is stronger than you. It says nothing at all about authority.)

    In any case, no, nothing rides on the distinction between “state” and “legitimate authority” for the DP debate.

  18. discens says:

    If we go by what is being said by not a few public figures in the US (not to mention other countries), parents’ authority over children is derivative from the authority (not merely the brute force) of the state, for children belong first to the state. A false idea to be sure but believed by influential people.

    Anyway, here’s more on the general question: “The monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force, also known as the monopoly on violence (German: Gewaltmonopol des Staates), is a core concept of modern public law, which goes back to Jean Bodin’s 1576 work Les Six livres de la République and Thomas Hobbes’ 1651 book Leviathan. As the defining conception of the state, it was first described in sociology by Max Weber in his essay Politics as a Vocation.”

    If such be the case, why does the distinction between state and legitimate authority not apply to the death penalty debate?

  19. GregB says:

    JabbaPapa wrote:
    One deeper question is whether capital punishment has been taught or tolerated. (but God did not punish Cain in that manner, nor Christ the adulterous woman)
    Cain was not at all grateful. He complained that his punishment was more than he could bear. Cain was selfish and self-centered. Christ came to redeem His idolatrous, adulterous spouse Israel the harlot. Christ did give a stern rebuke in Luke 11 with the woes, where He said that all the blood spilled from Abel to Zechari’ah would be required of the current generation. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 AD. The destruction of Jerusalem was particularly gruesome. This destruction is the fulfillment of the woes. There are mainstream views of the book of Revelation that identify Jerusalem as being the Whore of Babylon, and that the scroll with the seven seals is a covenant lawsuit brought by God against Israel for her faithlessness.
    From what I’ve read ancient blood covenants started with the slaughter of an animal, the person swearing the covenant stood in a pool of the animal’s blood while making the oath where the oath-taker said that if they violated the covenant that let what happened to the animal be done to them. Moses sprinkled blood on the altar and on the people when they swore a solemn blood covenant that included the command not to build idols. Building the Golden Calf broke this solemn blood covenant. Based on what I’ve read about blood covenants, God was within His rights to hold the entire people to being subject to the death penalty for this offense.
    You need to add the Good Thief to your Bible list. He thought that his death penalty was just. Christ never corrected him.

  20. TonyO says:

    One deeper question is whether capital punishment has been taught or tolerated. (but God did not punish Cain in that manner

    In addition to what GregB wrote: The story of Cain confirms that the death penalty belongs to the natural law: When God sentences him, he complains “…I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” God does not exclaim anything like “where did such an idea come from?” Nor does God deny that this is how people would react if left without intervention. What God does is to intervene: He sets up an EXCEPTION whereby Cain will be protected from the natural law punishment. This is God’s mercy, not a declaration of justice. It cannot be sheer justice: God declares he will punish anyone who violates His special protection of Cain with a sevenfold punishment – which would be manifestly unjust if God were merely stating natural justice (it cannot be 7 times more evil to kill a murderer than to kill an innocent man). See this link for an expanded discussion:

    Furthermore, virtually all civilized societies recognized the right of the legitimate authority to put malefactors to death, which is a sign of the natural law. When the Doctors explain the DP, they in no way derive its source from God’s special grant of authority, they derive it from the nature of government and civil authority. (God did not by a special license give the Romans the right to use DP, and by another act give the Greeks the right, and by another act give the Babylonians…so if God did it by special grant, it was a “special” grant that covered all nations and peoples (say, in Genesis 9:6?). And all those societies which did not have God’s special revelation through the Jews would have been using the DP with (at best) only accidentally falling in with God’s having given them the right to do so, i.e. they would have had no legitimate reason to know they were authorized to do so. )

  21. TonyO says:

    Sorry, only “confirms” was supposed to be bold.

  22. St. Epaphras says:

    I bought Feser’s and Bessette’s book last week when Amazon said “only 4 left”. While reading through some of the bios of criminals who have recently been executed in the USA I started feeling very sick. My heart was pounding and I had to lie down. Nice people who mess up once or twice don’t get the death penalty. I cannot imagine being on a jury of one of those types of cases.

    Here in Tennessee we just had an execution. All three Tennessee bishops had spoken out against this individual’s execution as well as the death penalty in general. So I forced (and I mean forced) myself to read more about his crime (from the ’80’s) against a little seven-year-old girl. It was sickening and horrifying. I have daughters and granddaughters and cannot imagine one of them being tortured and killed that way.

    Yes, it is a very serious and solemn thing the State does when executing someone. It is nothing to take lightly. But when I learned this man had indeed been executed I could only feel that justice had – at last – been done. Why cannot our good and well-meaning bishops see that capital punishment is not done merely to protect the public from a repeat offence by that individual. It is also retribution – but not vengeance. Some crimes are that bad.

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  24. JesusFreak84 says:

    I think it’s silly to presume Pres. Trump is actually playing 4D underwater chess, and I think it’s just as silly when people are trying to say Pope Francis is doing the same. The Pope is a big government guy; just look at who his idol was when he was growing up in Argentina.

  25. Amateur Scholastic says:

    I have begun sending emails of support to governors whose states are about to execute murderers, especially when I hear of bishops jumping on the abolitionist bandwagon. I suggest others do the same.

    A short two-sentence summary of natural law and Catholic teaching, and a promise of prayer, is enough.

    The Catholic Governor Ricketts of Nebraska is under fire at the moment. His state is about to execute a double-murderer. Email him your support.

  26. discens says:

    Dear JesusFreak84. Maybe you’re right that Pope Francis, despite being a Jesuit, is not being super subtle. But if he’s not, maybe the new CCC paragraph (or whoever write it) is. Anyway, that a distinction can be drawn between ‘legitimate authority’ and the ‘state’ seems clear enough. So why not draw it, and why not use it to interpret the said paragraph? I’m not propounding; I’m just musing.

  27. JabbaPapa says:

    I’m still unsure that “Thou Shalt Kill” is dogmatic …

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