QUAERITUR: If something is in the Catechism, do I have to give in, believe it even though it is different from what the Catechism taught before?

I am getting questions from lots people about Pope Francis’ move to change the Church’s doctrine concerning capital punishment.


If this is in the Catechism, do I have to give in and believe it even though this is different from what the Catechism taught before?


What is required of Catholics regarding the change to the teachings on capital punishment? I don’t agree with the change, and what’s worse, I don’t believe what the Holy Father has written is Church teaching.

These changes disturb my peace and cause me to question if I can recieve communion.

At the very least Francis seems to have cut the legs out from under the authority of the Catechism, if not the Catholic Faith, by introducing something into that Catechism which seems to contradict the Church’s perennial teaching.

What is the authority of the Catechism?  

I often tell people that, when they hear something confusing, go to the CCC.   That is a bit more difficult now, but I stand on it.  Why?

Teachings found in the Catechism are not true, reliable and sure because they are in the Catechism. 

Teachings are true because they’re true.

Teachings have authority in themselves, because they are rooted in natural law, revelation, the Church’s entire body of teaching and the Rule of Faith, going back to Apostolic Times.

The Catechism is a sure reference and authoritative because it has sure teachings in it.

Teachings don’t become sure because they are included.

In Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (US HERE – UK HERE) Joseph Ratzinger wrote:

The individual doctrines which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess. The weight of the Catechism itself lies in the whole. Since it transmits what the Church teaches, whoever rejects it as a whole separates himself beyond question from the faith and teaching of the Church.

In the same section, Ratzinger said that the CCC is not a “super-dogma”, which can repress theologians in their free explorations.

Let’s stress: “as a whole”.

It is possible that some point in the Catechism will have greater authority on the mind and conscience of a Catholic than another.  For example, what the Catechism contains concerning the Holy Trinity is far more binding on the minds and hearts of Catholics than what it says about religious liberty or the death penalty or other matters of contingent moral decision making.

Even within matters that concern moral decision making, some issues have more weight than others.  For example, the right to life of the innocent is found within the Church’s teaching on abortion and euthanasia, which is unquestionable.  However, capital punishment concerns NOT the taking of the life of an innocent person, but rather of a guilty person who has in some way demonstrated a lack of respect for the right to life of others.   This point about innocence or guilt has always been at the heart of debates about the legitimacy of capital punishment.

So, if you say “I reject the content of the CCC” you reject the Catholic Faith in its entirely: it is comprehensive.  If you say that you reject a doctrine in the CCC which is at the very core of the Catholic Faith, such as the Trinity or the Incarnation or the Resurrection, you reject the Catholic Faith: you cannot believe as a Catholic if you reject the Trinity.  If you reject some highly controverted teaching that involves moral contingencies, such as the just war teaching of the Church or such as capital punishment, you do not reject the whole of the Catholic Faith, for the Faith doesn’t depend on those murky issues.

Let’s pretend for a moment – and it doesn’t take much – that baseball’s designated hitter rule is a matter for the Church’s Magisterium.   If I, Pope Clement XIV The Second, were to drop into the Catechism a paragraph stating that the designated hitter is wrong and inadmissible, that opinion’s presence in the Catechism wouldn’t make that statement true and necessary for belief.

Things in the Catechism don’t become true when they are put into the book.  They are put into the book because they are true.  The fact is, you can argue about the designated hitter forever.

So what happens if something blatantly false is put into the Catechism, such as, “abortion is not intrinsically evil”.  That would be a serious violation of the purpose of the Catechism and it would reveal the insertor as a heretic.  But what about the insertion of something ambiguous?   For example, stick into the CCC that, because of the human dignity of the person, the capital punishment is “inadmissible”.  I suppose we can argue about what “inadmissible” means.  It doesn’t manifestly state that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, as abortion and euthanasia is intrinsically evil.

The Church in CCC 2271 teaches what she has always taught from the earliest times: abortion is a grave moral evil.  That teaching is in the CCC because the Church has always taught that.

The Church in the CCC 2277 teaches that direct euthanasia is, in English, “morally unacceptable”.  Not too different from “inadmissible”, right?  But it goes on to call it “murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person… a murderous act”.

What Pope Francis wrote about capital punishment doesn’t call it intrinsically evil or a murderous act.

But he does say that it is “inadmissible”… “not allowable”.

Is that a hedge?   It is hard to take it as a hedge.

There is going to be a lot of ink spilled about this.

Finally, it seems to me that Pope Francis has emphasized the Church’s outward, pastoral policy which she desires to argue before the state: don’t put people to death.

Having thought about it, I am not entirely convinced that Pope Francis didn’t attempt to change the Church’s teaching about capital punishment.  At the very least, he made it far murkier than before.

It seems to me that someone could place the new paragraph side by side with the rest of the body of the Church’s teachings on capital punishment and then make a well-informed choice to stick with the traditional teaching, while embracing the pastoral policy of diminishing the application of the death penalty.

The admissibility of the death penalty WAS, in fact, in the Catechism.  And it was there for a reason: it is the traditional teaching of the Church and, therefore, TRUE.

Meanwhile, we seem to be pushing outrage about McCarrick out of the news cycle.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. FrAnt says:

    I may be standing alone in the piazza, but will this change on capital punishment necessarily change the Church’s teaching concerning a “just war?”

  2. twoadaydanny says:

    “Teachings have authority in themselves, because they are rooted in natural law, revelation, the Church’s entire body of teaching, the Rule of Faith, going back to Apostolic Times.”

    And how is Joe Catholic supposed to know which teachings are rooted in natural law, revelation, the Church’s entire body of teaching and the Rule of Faith, going back to Apostolic times… and which teachings aren’t?

    I’m not a professional theologian, Father. I don’t have a PhD in anything. I’m just a poorly-catechized Catholic layman trying to figure it all out. And until recently, I thought I could rely on the pope, Vatican publications, and the CCC to give me trustworthy, authoritative answers to my questions about morality and the faith.

    Doesn’t it seem that the standard you describe above is susceptible to subjective judgment and differences of opinion–so that we’re headed to a future where we each decide what our “own truth” is, and act accordingly. Blech!

    How can we know if a teaching meets the standard you describe above? Do we each just decide for ourselves? Or is there some authority? If so, what is it now?

  3. Sawyer says:

    @twoadaydanny, yes this seems to be the papal equivalent of a pastor or DRE inserting things into the parish religious ed or RCIA curriculum that don’t square with official church doctrine. So much relies on having good shepherds. So much. And so much relies on having good catechetical materials. The church’s official catechetical guides should be sound in every way, to the very smallest detail. They should not have to be explained away.

  4. joekstl says:

    I believe we as Catholics have always developed teaching over decades. The same reference to teaching on capital punishment as from Apostolic times should also reference Scripture on slavery and keep it mind that as late as the mid 1860s the predecessor of the CDF stated that slavery was not incompatible with Church teaching.

    [Read THIS. Then, sitting quietly, think about it for a day or two, and then read it again.]

  5. Traductora says:

    I think it’s just another Francis exercise in plausible deniability. He gives the impression of doctrinal change in something that is not itself a document meant to be binding or even doctrinal. [?!? No.] So he’s implanted the impression of change in people’s minds, confused them and made them think something has been changed by him, but has still managed to dance nimbly out of the way of being charged with heresy or willful error.

  6. Benedict Joseph says:

    “…we seem to be pushing outrage about McCarrick out of the news cycle.” Surely not the primary purpose, [Surely not!] but if it does serve that purpose as well — two birds with one stone, you know.
    In any event, what is it? The Charles Manson’s of our age are fed and housed for $70,000 per annum? Could those funds be better utilized? Not being keen on the chair, the noose or the firing squad myself, I nevertheless characterize this last “word of wisdom” from the Domus Sanctae Marthae as ninety-nine percent of the rest of the noise from there – merely more left-wing knee jerk Jesuit balderdash. Yes the broken clock is right twice a day but this isn’t one of those times.
    Credence squandered is not easily regained, and rest assured squandered it be. Start cleaning house – beginning at the very tippy-top so we can get on with business. No other topic is so pressing as that right now. It’s called proper prioritization.
    Get it? Get with it. Putting it off to the next millennium or the next pontificate (which ever comes first) won’t due.

  7. Imrahil says:

    Dear twoadaydanny,

    though I am not our reverend host, whom you addressed:

    We can be sure about the dogmas.

    The Church should provide us with creditable information beyond that; but in this latter part, we cannot be entirely sure that she always does so. Alas that this once rather theoretical caveat – which as such always has been clear – seems to have gained practical importance.

  8. Mark says:

    Father, the text seems to say that in the past we thought that under certain circumstances the death penalty was morally acceptable, but now we know better and now we are saying it is never morally acceptable under any circumstance, even the circumstances that we used to think it was acceptable under. That would be a change to the moral teaching of the Church, would it not? This is very upsetting to me.

  9. Orlando says:

    The more he talks the less authority he has, let him talk away. This too shall pass for the true faith will never change.

  10. Mike in VA says:

    I find it interesting that, “the human dignity of the person“ appears to be a new concept in Rome; I thought the Church taught that we are all made in the image and likeness of God?

    Like one of the earlier posts, I am concerned about the slippery slope of the logic for this change, that since we have better jails so we don’t need to execute anymore. The same logic could be applied to self defense – why does anyone use lethal force when there is an array of non-lethal tools to protect oneself?

  11. kat says:

    Well, as confusing as it all is…I think I will stick with the Catechism of the Council of Trent, or even the Baltimore Catechism from not so far back. That way I am sure of what the Church teaches. No confusion about ‘let him be anathema” in the previous works.

  12. MitisVis says:

    “…we seem to be pushing outrage about McCarrick out of the news cycle.”
    What if this is the case and it’s related? All the build up and screaming and whining has been about how the wording in the CCC is hurtful and degrading about homosexuality and “must be changed”.
    What if the wording WAS changed so that it forgets to mention intrinsic evil and replaces that with a more modern interpretation (purely by intentional accident of course). Would McCarrick and others be as guilty, as horrible, as predatory then? If the armor of the CCC absorbs such a dent as capital punishment changes it won’t be long before the core and substance of our faith is an open target. Teaching without definitive authority will suddenly turn to attempting to muddy the water so any idea can be interpreted through creative wordsmiths.

  13. richdel says:

    This is such a curiously timed announcement. I will gladly grapple with the idea of the Catechism developing in such a manner after seeing Pope Francis swiftly and decisively dealing with the McCarrick situation with courage and justice.

  14. TheBone says:

    Justice Scalia’s First Things article from about sixteen years ago is a lengthy, but pertinent, read:


  15. VP says:

    “Inadmissible,” “unacceptable,” “intrinsically evil,” “accompany,” “pastoral solution,” “if someone is seeking the Lord and has goodwill…” Use any words you like. Bergoglio’s role, and his worldly, political mission is simple – to cast doubt into the minds of the faithful on important matters of Church teaching. One only has to make the cracks now, and hope that the edifice will fall in its own time. It seems that he and those around him sense that time is running short, and they are pouring on the abuse.

    Our own task is to hang on and continue to teach our children the true faith as Church leaders continue to swamp the Barque. There is comfort in Fr. Z’s analysis, “…if something blatantly false is put into the Catechism…it would reveal the insertor as a heretic…”

  16. Rob83 says:

    It seems more and more likely as this papacy goes on that at some point down the road there is going to be some sort of act to supply clarity to this papacy after it ends. Whether Francis intends it or not, he is the Pope of Confusion.

    The good news is that it is entirely possible to be good Catholics even when the Church’s mortal leaders are being…unhelpful let’s say. So Francis or McCarrick or McModernist has done something controversial, sinful, or stupid. The Mass and the sacraments are still here, Fr. Z (and A through Y also) will still hear confessions, [So long as the powers that be permit!] God and the saints will still listen to prayers, the angels will not abandon the field, the sun will still rise in the east, and what was solid teaching yesterday will be solid teaching tomorrow.

  17. omgriley says:

    To me the real question seems to be: Is capital punishment an affront to inviolable human dignity? Francis obviously answers in the affirmative.

    If that is the case then the Church has previously taught error by allowing (and engaging in) a practice which is an attack on human dignity. If it’s contrary to human dignity, then how could the church have engaged in it? Was it not an attack on human dignity before, and now it is? What sense does that make? How could the Popes, the Doctors and saints have all gotten that wrong? I am at a loss. How do you square that circle?

  18. Unwilling says:

    Fr Z has an extraordinary gift of the supreme cardinal virtue of prudence (in the classical sense of that word). This is daily and consistently shown in the way he constructs his opinions and selects his terms. I have not seen anywhere he has had to retract or substantially modify things he has written. Thus, I have learned – especially when the matter invites spittle-flecked nutties like this one – to closely read his original posts before offering something additional that might be useful to fellow readers.

  19. robtbrown says:

    Fr Z says,

    Meanwhile, we seem to be pushing outrage about McCarrick out of the news cycle.

    The action against McCarrick is like kicking a dead dog. He has been out of action (completely, I hope) for some time.

    And there is the action against Pineda, auxiliary in Tegucigalpa. Financial mismanagement at the least and a seminary with a revolt by students because of the moral problems.

    What do Cardinal McCarrick and Bp Pineda have in common? Add Cardinal from the first and Honduras from the second. And what does that equal? Maradiaga.

    IMHO, les affaires McCarrick and Pineda followed by an unsubstantial additon to an already ambiguous text in the catechism adds up to an attempt at diversion from Maradiaga’s situation.

    Bergoglio cronyism.

  20. Malta says:

    Pope Francis said the death penalty is never allowable. BS. I think is should be expanded, such as in Texas, where if have molested a child once, and the second time there is DNA to prove it, into the chair you go. In law, there are three reasons for punishment: 1) rehabilitation, 2) retribution, 3) deterrence.

    There is no greater deterrence against crime than death.

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  22. Chuck Ludd says:

    I have long opposed the death penalty in the United States for numerous reasons. Yet, I simply do not understand the language used in the new “edit”? What does the term “inadmissible” mean? It is not a theological term; it is not an ethics term; it is, however, a legal term but not in the way it is used in the “edit.”

    For the moment, I will assume that “inadmissible” means something like immoral or “wrong.” Does it mean “intrinsically wrong” — then how could so many saints and doctors of the Church have been so consistently wrong on something intrinsically wrong? It can’t be said to be intrinsically wrong under today’s circumstances because intrinsically wrong things are always bad and they don’t turn intrinsically evil over night. So that leads me to conclude that: (a) the “edit” is a prudential matter raised to a teaching of the Church — a highly dangerous matter for all the reasons Dr. Z pointed out, or (b) it is wrong under the facts and circumstances judged by Europeans and Americans — using assessments that are Euro- and American oriented. But both of those instances assume the entire world looks and act like Paris. It does not.

    There is going to be a lot of confusion on this for a long wile.

  23. iamlucky13 says:

    We’re Catholics after all, so lets get exegetical (about the actual text, NOT what the secular media is reporting).

    “Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. “

    The revision is based upon and starts with recognition that the inadmissibility of the death penalty is not a perennial teaching of the Church. Likewise, the prior entry also does not allege to represent the perennial teaching of the Church – only that the Church did not exclude recourse to the death penalty.

    So what was said before was not presented as inerring and unchangeable, nor is what is being said now stated in a plainly definitive way. Rather, to quote the Catechism with perhaps an excessively long ellipsis, the death penalty, “Today…is inadmissible.”

    That inadmissibility is stated as a consequence of, among the other factors, the observation that “more effective systems of detention have been developed.”

    So the former entry warns us that “recourse to the death penalty” is only admissable “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” while the current entry recognizes the prior text and says that we now have other possible ways of effectively defending human life.

    I understand the confusion, but on close examination don’t see actual conflict.

    That last part is a bit challenging though, when I reflect on a local story from a few years ago where a repeat rapist and attempted murderer serving a life sentence used years of model behavior to carefully gain enough liberty in the prison to plan an opportunity to escape supervision, then corner and strangle one of his corrections officers.

    While it makes sense to me to say that if we can safely imprison those who are a danger to others, we no longer have recourse to the death penalty, it doesn’t appear we have yet reached the point where we can safely imprison all such people.

  24. Semper Gumby says:

    “The Catechism is a sure reference and authoritative because it has sure teachings in it. Teachings don’t become sure because they are included.” Amen Fr. Z.

    Fr. Neuhaus once wrote: “Thinking with the Church, Sentire cum Ecclesia, begins with thinking.” Amen to that too.

    So, when Francis revokes the papal award given recently to the monstrous abortionist Lilianne “She Decides” Ploumen then perhaps this latest Hagan lio Communique expressing concern for the “dignity of the person” would be less absurd.

    Genesis 9:6

    Acts 25:9-12

  25. Imrahil says:

    Dear joekstl,

    while it is clear that the Holy Office can err – as can the Holy Father outside dogmas – it would be interesting what precisely the wording of this 1860 Holy Office statement condoning slavery was.

    What is (in my view) manifestly un-Catholic about slavery is the idea that slavery positively should be part of the constitution of affairs, and certainly the idea that some races positively should enslave others. Likewise off-bounds is hence, of course, to aim for the reintroduction of slavery in a society where it has been abolished. So it would be interesting whether the Holy Office taught anything of that, and if we were talking in real life to each other, I’d bet a couple of euros on the assumption that it did not.

    Whether it is actually sinful not to manumit one’s slaves immediately if one is a slave owner in a society where slavery (regrettably) still exists is an entirely different question.

    (Note also that the Bible often refers to slavery, but its tone about it is always: “This is an instutition that exists, and has to be managed and hedged”, never “This is an institution that should exist in a perfect world”.)

  26. Imrahil says:

    So what happens if something blatantly false is put into the Catechism […] That would be a serious violation of the purpose of the Catechism and it would reveal the insertor as a heretic.

    With all due respect, Reverend Father, but no, it would not – per se. It would only if the thing in question is not only blatantly false, but also an actual heresy, as your example, reverend Father, happens to be: “abortion is not intrinsically evil” is a heresy (formally, because condemned in Evangelium vitae with the force of dogma), and for that reason the putting of something like that into the Catechism would reveal the insertor as a heretic, but only for that reason, not just because he inserted something blatantly false into the Catechism.

    Thing is, the recent change does at least come very near to being “blatantly false”; but it is certainly not a heresy.

  27. Ian Coleman says:

    I haven’t yet seen a reference to Romans 13:3-4, which reads:
    ‘For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.’
    This is very sobering stuff from St Paul: his assertion that a ruler is God’s servant (‘diakonos’) seems analogous to the Gentile King Cyrus’ status as the Lord’s anointed (‘Messiah’) in Isaiah 45. In other words, we can see legitimate (and just) authority as part of the Natural Law, no matter ‘where’ it comes from. Not that this makes the debate easy – there is still a lively argument to be had over this arm of Natural Law as against the dignity of the human person (also part of the Natural Law), but the Romans text should definitely form part of the ‘evidence’.

  28. Traductora says:

    Sorry, I wasn’t very clear. I was trying to compare his using the Cathechism to slip in a new or changed doctrine the way he used the footnote in Amoris Letitia, also in itself not the type of document automatically considered the place to make a magisterial proclamation. While I think there’s a lot of other things wrong with AL, the footnote was the most specific thing that people could identify. But because it was just a footnote and its interpretation was left to other members of Francis’ gang, he had deniability but at the same time had achieved his goal of changing praxis by implying doctrinal change. Communion for the divorced and remarried now seems to be generally accepted, and is rapidly being followed by Communion for anyone.

    His followers know how to play the game, because Ladaria, who signed off on the catechism claim, came out a little later and said it represents a “development of doctrine,” thus admitting that wily old Francis did mean to make a doctrinal change – but at arms length.

    For those who hope to catch Francis in a clear and undeniable heresy that might lead to his removal, he’s too slippery for that. He takes refuge in either an ink-cloud of confusion or behind the stonewall of silence, simply refusing to respond personally to questions (Dubia, anyone?).

  29. Legisperitus says:

    TheBone: Thanks for citing Justice Scalia’s article. It’s worth remembering that this same section in the Catechism was the only one altered from the 1992 version when the Latin edition came out, so as to reflect the opinions Pope John Paul had expressed in Evangelium Vitae. So capital punishment has for some time been the locus of an unhealthy adulteration of Catholic doctrine with Popes’ opinions about matters outside their magisterial authority such as statecraft and modern penology.

  30. Fallibilissimo says:

    Dear VP,

    Respectfully, I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest the Pope has such ill-will or malicious intentions. It’s a very serious accusation to place at the feet of any Catholic, let alone our Holy Father, of wishing to sow confusion.
    Can’t it be possible he sees things differently and is a man with firm convictions on these and other matters?

  31. Fallibilissimo says:

    Dear Unwilling,

    If I could offer a “star or the day” it would be for your comment! I agree fully!

  32. StephenM says:

    Dear Fr. Z.

    It seems a problem with the text, as usually happens with modern theologians formed out of scholatic circles, and also the theological justification for the change.

    The new text wants to emphatize that, today, in “our modern society” [european? african? the brazilian isolated tribes?] the death punishment is inadmissible. OK. The old version, after “Evangelium Vitae”, was very similar, at least in the intention. The problem is that the new text is “closed”, and see no possibility of an just aplication of death punishment, in all possible situations, even in case of War, or a total collapse of the criminal system in a country.

    About the theological fundament, the text is also problematic. It says that the capital punishment is against the Gospel, without underline that “it seems be against the Gospel in our modern prisional systems”, what would be OK. Because, if it is simply against the Gospel in all cases, so in the past it was also against the Gospel, and the indefectibility of the Church went down the drain, as the Church taught that it is possible, at least in some cases.

    But I have still another question, collocated also by OnePeterFive: if the possibility of death punishment was declared possible by the pope and all bishops in the past, according with Dei Filius, it’s not a case of an infalible teaching?

  33. WVC says:

    @ Ian Coleman – Agreed. And it’s important to remember what earthly ruler St. Paul was writing this under – one that could in no way be described as a good and just ruler. That didn’t dissuade St. Paul from still making his case in Romans, and that case includes punishment for evil done and not simply “keeping society safe from bad guys.”

    It is a very liberal and modern concept to somehow thing human dignity trumps justice, therefore death penalty = bad. I link it to our modern mania with individual liberty which we hold as the highest of all goods. It’s the main current of thought today, and it has infected everyone, liberal and conservative, Catholic and atheist. It is a way of thinking that is completely alien to mankind prior to our current epoch, and I suggest we may not be on the right side on this issue.

  34. Sawyer says:

    If capital punishment is against the Gospel because it is contrary to “inviolable human dignity,” then it would seem, a fortiori, that consignment to hell is also against the Gospel. How can God condemn a person to eternal suffering? Isn’t that also contrary to “inviolable human dignity”? After all, capital punishment is merely the loss of earthly life; hell is the eternal loss of happiness and fulfillment. Maybe another revision to the Catechism will be forthcoming from Pope Francis.

  35. The Masked Chicken says:

    I was going to start this comment with something snarky, like there are four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance (from the CCC):

    1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel [i.e., murder], the sin of the Sodomites [i.e., sodomy], the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt [no longer relevant], the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan [oppressing them], injustice to the wage earner [i.e., defrauding them of their wages].

    It looks like the current Powers in the Vatican are going for a quadrafecta in turning these four sins that cry out for vengeance into the four sins that whimper and pout and throw a tantrum. Let’s see, the Synod on the Family tried to soft-pedal sodomy (although they didn’t get very far, but wait until Dublin), the CCC has been changed to soft-pedal the death penalty, the vengeance for the cry of the oppressed foreigner (immigrant) has been turned into vengeance for mere whining by some immigrants, regardless of whether an actual injustice has been committed by a country towards them, and wasn’t the Vatican banking scandal (has that been fixed?) about fraud?

    Don’t you see, they had to change the death penalty application or they wouldn’t get the prize for the quadrafecta.

    Now, I would say this if I were being snarky. I don’t mean to be snarky. It’s just that I noticed this correlation, this morning.

    If the inadmissibility of the death penalty is a merely prudential circumstantial application of doctrine, then it is evidence of pretty poor thinking, indeed, because, as commenter Tony O mentioned in an earlier post, every single assertion made in the suspect paragraphs:

    Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the (1)dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a (2)new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, (3)more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively (4)deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

    Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an (5)attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

    can be argued at a research level. Indeed, the jury (no pun intended) is still out on the status of these assertions, made with no citations, but merely asserted as fact. It can be proven that allegation number 3 does not hold, absolutely. One need only cite a single prison break to show this. Prisons are only relatively safe, not absolutely. It seems, from what I know, that this change in the application of the death penalty is asserting something without valid, provable, tested reasoning. Where is this “new understanding” of the significance of penal sanctions that the paragraph asserts? Can they give me a citation? Where can I read about it in the Penal literature? Whose understanding? Is the understanding fair? Has it been evaluated in an unbiased fashion?

    Cremation, for a time was inadmissible. One could imagine a time and place where there was so little land that cemeteries could not be created, so cremation was permissible, as during the Black Plague, but once new land was discovered during the Age of Discovery or made open by other means, the increased ability to bury people rendered cremation prudentially inadmissible. It did not render it, however, prima face, immoral, but merely prudentially immoral, as in going against the prudential judgment of the Church. If this is all the change in the CCC is meant to be, then, ho hum. What is changed can be changed, again. If it is meant as a back door change to doctrine, then it is irrational, given that the points in the paragraph cited above are definitely not either settled by penologists, research, or circumstances.

    Pope John Paul II left some wiggle room for changes in circumstances. His was not a moral pronouncement on the evils of Capital Punishment, but a circumstantial pronouncement.

    I am afraid that Pope Francis or his advisors haven’t really thought though the consequences of making the death penalty inadmissible.

    In the U. S., during jury selection for first degree murder trial, one of the questions asked during void dire is whether or not the juror could recommend the death penalty. Now, Pope Francis has, effectively, excluded EVERY Catholic from answering yes, so, from now on, if logic is applied and Catholics hold to the new teaching, no Catholic can adjudicate a death penalty case. Now, that almost certainly means that juries with no Catholic sensibilities will vote more often for the death penalty. Thus, by making the death penalty inadmissible, Pope Francis might have, inadvertantly, acted to actually increase the number of people put to death by the death penalty, at least in the U. S.

    Let no one cite development of doctrine as an excuse. Bl. John Newman used an unfortunate word, “development.” The word, develop, can have different senses, ranging from refinement (surely what Newman meant) to evolution, which can lead both to greater maturity, but, also, to atavism. Evolution responds to environmental stressors and this change to the understanding of the death penalty does not seem to be borne of a deeper or wider understanding of the death penalty (again, citations, if that is the claim), but of a response to a change in environment, whereby modern prisons have changed so the doctrinal application responds. So, this is not a development of doctrine, but an evolution in application, in my opinion.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very rapidly turning into The CateSchism of the Catholic Church. Does Pope Francis see the restriction of the death penalty as an American football game where the last two Popes carried the ball to the five yard line and he thought it time to run it into the end zone? I cannot say, but, one must wonder if the Pope is listening dispassionately to both sides of the issue. Pope Paul IV did with contraception and it brought us the wonderfully lucid Humanae Vitae. One hopes that Pope Francis would do the same with Capital Punishment, but the recklessness, at least from my perspective, of this change to the CCC seems to indicate the contrary.

    The Chicken

  36. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Obviously, capital punishment is not punishment, but a demanding of the case to a higher authority with more secure prisons.

    Or it is the right of self defense expressed collectively. Or it is a smaller version of just war.

    Surely that is what Francis meant. Heh.

  37. Pingback: Worried Catholic: If something is in the Catechism, do I have to believe it even though it is different from what the Catechism taught before? | Blithe Spirit

  38. jhayes says:

    It has a history:

    “The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 27). I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.

    Pope John Paul II, January 27, 1999, St. Louis, Missouri

    For other Papal statements, see HERE

    [Big deal.]

  39. JohnE says:

    “Recourse to the death penalty…was long considered an appropriate response…”
    “Today, however…”
    “More effective systems of detention have been developed…”

    The change to paragraph 2267 seems to be saying what the application of doctrine should be *today*, in most places, under certain circumstances (where “effective systems of detention have been developed”). I think anytime the catechism is changed to be a teaching regarding “today” and not to all times and places, then it has been relativized to whatever circumstances belong to “today”.

    A further clarification could be to insert the words “under these given circumstances”, but it would have been better not to muck with it in the first place. Which makes me wonder, what is driving this change in the first place?

  40. WVC says:

    @ Chicken

    You said, “I am afraid that Pope Francis or his advisors haven’t really thought though the consequences . . .”

    Pretty sure that actually sums up pretty much everything that’s been going on over the past several years. And that’s the Charitable Interpretation!!

  41. Xopher says:

    Sewing the seeds of confusion on marriage, divorce, homosexuality, and now this. There’s just so much confusion being sewn from the very highest offices in the Church these days. Something about Penance Penance Penance keeps ringing in my mind somewhere.

  42. teomatteo says:

    May i offer this. .?

    Prayer For The Silence of A Pope.

    Dear loving and merciful Father,
    We pray for your Son’s earthly guardian
      of the deposit of faith.
    Grant to your humble servant N. __________
    that he may reserve and decline both speech and writing so as to safeguard your tradition that you so lovingly have bestowed on us for thousands years.
    May you grant our Vicar the peace and courage needed for earthly solitude and contemplation.
    Eternal and loving giver of all that is good, we beseech thee, to guide Him in his duties in living the gospel without words.
    We ask this thru Christ Our Lord.

  43. Semper Gumby says:

    FrAnt: Good question. A few items, with Fr. Z’s permission due to the lengthy response, that may be relevant:

    1. Business Insider 18 Aug 2014

    In other comments to journalists returning from South Korea…Francis was asked if he approved of the unilateral U.S. airstrikes on militants of the Islamic State who have captured swaths of northern and western Iraq and northeastern Syria and have forced minority Christians and others to either convert to Islam or flee their homes.

    “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” Francis said. “I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.”

    But, he said, in history, such “excuses” to stop an unjust aggression have been used by world powers to justify a “war of conquest” in which an entire people have been taken over.

    “One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor,” he said, apparently referring to the United States. “After World War II, the idea of the United Nations came about: It’s there that you must discuss, ‘Is there an unjust aggression? It seems so. How should we stop it?’ Just this. Nothing more.”

    2. National Catholic Register 15 Apr 2016 (the following conference was widely reported)

    Pax Christi International, with the backing of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has just concluded their three-day conference on non-violence, which brought together 80 theologians and peace activists from around the world. The conference drafted a statement which will be presented to Pope Francis by Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The statement says, in part,

    “Any war is a destruction and there is no justice in destruction of life, of property…so no spending of resources for the destruction of life.”

    The statement calls on the Church to no longer use or teach “just war theory,” which recognizes war as morally justifiable in certain circumstances. Conference participants believe that modern methods of warfare make “just war” an impossibility. Too often, they allege, the “just war theory” has been used to endorse, rather than to prevent or limit military action.

    3. Sojourners 26 Apr 2016:

    In a recent interview, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana said it is “plausible” that Pope Francis may write a new encyclical updating Catholic teaching on war and peace, an update that could include a retreat from just war.

    4. A 17 May 2016 papal interview in La Croix:

    Pope Francis: Today, I don’t think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam. It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.

    5. See George Weigel, a supporter and official biographer of John Paul II, in his 2017 book “Lessons in Hope” pp. 293-4. A quote regarding early 2003:

    The Vatican formally accepted the just war tradition as the normative framework for a Catholic analysis of war and peace. But there was little serious just war thinking inside the Leonine Wall…The just war tradition itself was regularly misconstrued and misrepresented by Vatican officials…The urgent just war questions being raised by the rise of global jihadism were not being explored…The Vatican “foreign minister,” Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, so helpful to me in preparing “Witness to Hope,” said time and again that the world must vindicate the “force of law, not the law of force”- a trope that ignored the hard facts that law is never self-vindicating and that the man who created the Iraq crisis, Saddam Hussein, was an international outlaw by any standard. Tauran and others also kept using, and deprecating, the term “preventive war,” as if military action in response to an imminent threat was never admissible in just war thinking- which was surely not the conviction in the classic just war tradition.

    6. James Turner Johnson in his 2005 book “The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: Just War and the New Face of Conflict”:

    The difficulty of judging whether preemptive use of force is justified does not mean that it is never allowable; rather, as I have already said, in some cases, preemption may be the most moral course, heading off a more devastating use of force or a highly destructive war.


    FrAnt: It seems to me that any encyclical on Just War must work with the Just War tradition and not discard it; be well-researched and well-written; be devoid of globalist and ideological boilerplate; and cognizant of the wide spectrum of modern warfare to include: hostile, deranged, and apocalyptic regimes, violent non-state actors embedded in host countries, various paramilitary organizations, special operations, weapons of mass destruction, and modern military and dual-use technology.

    Such an encyclical would be welcomed by serious practitioners of warfare, and would further the cause of reducing warfare and expanding peace.

  44. For myself I have long ago had to wrestle and come to terms with the issue of the death penalty. My initial personal feeling was that we should use it. However as I moved more and more into the faith I came to the realization that the Church did have a problem with it. For a long time it bothered me but I didn’t become a Catholic to to be told that all me previously held opinions were already correct and that I had no improving to do. From what I understood from even before Pope Francis did this was that while the death penalty wasn’t morally evil, if there’s a better way, do that instead. To be frank, I don’t trust the government to impose the death penalty properly. Governments are made by people and people are human with fallen human nature. With every case that ends in the death penalty we should hold those who impose it to scrutiny and make them prove to us that there was no other way. Instead if the governor of a state’s inaction allowing an execution to go forward, we should require the governor’s direct action. They should have to put their name on it and own it. And if anyone on the jury, or the judge, or the apellet judge, or the lieutenant governor objects to the execution, then the state should not be allowed to execute. Right now I know that in my state it is too easy to resort to the death penalty and more often than not it is used for revenge instead on enacting a just punishment or to keep society safe. I’m not in favor of completely abolishing the death penalty, but as Catholics who are the ones who are the real Christians, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than the barbarians who murder their children in the womb, kill their grandparents off, and who want to abuse their privates with all manner of sin. Do we really trust protestants or muslims or athiests to give us true followers of Christ a fair shake? I don’t. So we can’t allow the state, which can be controlled by all manner an evil people, to have the power to put anyone to death unless the is absolutely no other option and if a mistake is make we have someone to hold accountable.

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