Thoughts about the change to CCC 2267 on the death penalty

When the change was made to the Latin text of CCC 2267 – concerning the death penalty (claiming that it is now always “inadmissible”) – I both said in sermons and wrote here that the change was troubling and for more than one reason.

First, when changes are made to doctrinal statements, they should make the teaching of the Church clearer, not less clear.  The change to CCC 2267 created confusion.

Second, it struck me that perhaps this was a trial-balloon, floated before attempting to change CCC 2358 on objectively disordered homosexual inclinations.

Also, I explained that something doesn’t become true by the fact of it being put into the CCC. It is put into the CCC because it can be demonstrated to be true. Look at pages in your CCC and you will find lots of footnotes with pertinent references to Scripture and the Fathers and Councils, etc. Look at CCC 2267 and you find one note, referring to a statement that Francis’ himself made in a speech a short while before.   That’s it.   It’s a bit self-referential. Of course it would be challenging to find references in Scripture or the Fathers or Councils etc. to uphold the position asserted in 2267, for, using all those, the Church has always upheld that capital punishment is admissible in some cases.

Hence, I refer you back to my first point.

Look.  You can be, personally, sincerely against any application of the death penalty in any circumstance, but you should still be really concerned about this change.   It’s puzzling… and that’s not what catechisms are for.  Catechisms might make you stop and think and scratch your head as you work it out, but they are not supposed to leave you puzzled.

People are confused by CCC 2267. It appears to be a radical change to the Church’s teaching. You have to read a lot of things into the vague word “inadmissible” to get to a place where 2267 doesn’t look like a reversal.

The other day, the US Bishops voted with only 8 NO votes – who are those guys, I wonder – to approve a change to the US edition of the Catechism to bring it into line with the Latin of CCC 2267.

Also, I see that Peter Kwasniewski gave a talk in Chicago about the change t0 CCC 2267. HERE

Ed Feser and Joseph Bessette co-authored a useful book about capital punishment.


Finally, does this mean that the CCC is not, any longer, a sure reference work, as John Paul II, called it, for the Faith?   No.  It is still useful, to the extent that it was intended to be used.   The CCC – any catechism – is not and must not be thought of as the final word on every issue of faith and morals.   It’s a catechism.   As such, it is intended to be a summary for the introduction of teachings to the young and converts, catechumens, and to refresh the knowledge of those who haven’t been maintaining what they had once learned.   We could include reverts and the lapsed.   Catechisms are imperfect… but useful.

I’ll turn on the moderation queue for this one.

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  1. exNOAAman says:

    God didn’t say it was “admissible.” He commanded it.
    This “inadmissible” thing is just another case of us holding a middle finger to the sky. “Here’s what I think of your commands pal.”

  2. ArthurH says:

    A repeat to correct an error– sorry.

    Fr. Z said: Finally, does this mean that the CCC is not, any longer, a sure reference work, as John Paul II, called it, for the Faith? No. It is still useful, to the extent that it was intended to be used.

    Well, that’s surely true, but….. EVEN IF there be a genuine uncertainty in whether it is inadmissible (the Church’s Tradition for 2000 years says it is, if also that it were better there were none– esp no need for one) the METHOD employed in making the change sets a terrible precedent.

    This will not be the last such change… and little by little, changes that are seen as “of almost no consequence” will be otherwise. And then to what good is the book if one cannot assume it is the best explanation of the truth available in that format, to use when in doubt.

    Sorta the same as the “minor” liturgy changes that gave us an ever more Protestant-looking (we still retain THE differences) Mass .

  3. JRP says:

    If we had impeachment, this would be exhibit A: an intentional and formally propagated defecting of the faith for worldly ends.

    Sure, the Church will survive.

    Niebuhr, while wrong on many points, did get this right (via M. Novak) “Modern liberal perfectionism actually distills moral perversity out of moral absolutes. It is unable to make significant distinctions between tyranny and freedom because it can find no democracy pure enough to deserve its devotion; and in any case it can find none which is not involved in conflict, in its effort to defend itself against tyranny.” …”It is unable to distinguish between the peace of capitulation to tyranny and the peace of the Kingdom of God.”

    Fundamentally, the reason to take the death penalty off the table isn’t to protect murderers. It’s to protect traitors.

    As a psychological form, it’s quite suggestive that those who – in their hearts – know they commit treason against their Lord, would seem most to want to avoid the punishment: immanetizing the eschaton as if they can also stave off the second death by vociferous agreement with “the measure by which you measure will be measured back to you”. So, if you never judge sin sin, never judge evil evil, you may avoid justice.

    This, these people make a blasphemous mockery of the Person of God who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And “Go and sin no more.” There is no repentance and so there is never possibility forgiveness or mercy. Instead, these just and good things are replaced by only denial and avoidance, like Adam in the garden.

    ‘Unregenerate’ (as an noun) is a word we do not use enough, but so is degenerate. So, one can almost say: “Where the Catholic left is not positively degenerate, it seems at least vehemently unregenerate.”

  4. JMody says:

    Even before this change, the CCC language was disturbing. The Church USED TO SAY that the death penalty was extreme but permissible because it took away that most valuable thing, LIFE, as a punishment for having done something heinous, and severing the rotting limb from the living body, etc. The 1997 language says it is permissible WHEN OTHER PREVENTATIVE MEANS are not available — if the state is too poor to inter for life. So NOW, a matter of morals, taking a life, is dependent on NOT the deed of the guilty but the WEALTH of the punisher. This flies in the face of 1,964 years of church teaching. Now we say it is not admissible — but WAS it before, and not now, so morals depends on time? Or even worse, did Holy Mother Church ERR when she said that taking a life, normally a mortal sin, in these circumstances was acceptable? So now a once righteous judge and executioner are retro-actively condemned? That means the Church is not protected from teaching error, WHICH IS FALSE.
    This is a nightmare.

  5. Lurker 59 says:

    Is the Catechism inerrant? No, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. What the Catechism is is a codex for teaching truths of the Faith, not something to be argued against, but not something to be taken as being absolutely perfect truth. Consider it on par with a dictionary or encyclopedia in how it lays out fundamentals of truth but not inerrant truth. Arguing against a dictionary is not to be done lightly, the same with a Catechism.

    That said, this codification of a philosophical and theological falsehood is not simply an introduction of unclarity. Rather, it is clear what the false teaching is and it will be used to browbeat and charge those who support the teaching of the Church regarding the legitimacy of the death penalty with heresy.

    It is simply not going to be an option anymore to teach that the death penalty is legitimate in an official capacity within a parish, institution of learning, or from the pulpit.

  6. It is not possible for something clearly declared to be immoral in Catholic theology according to the magisterum to be redefined as moral by anyone, including the pope. Usury is not an exception since what was considered evil by the Fathers and Scholastics—collateralized loans for consumption, if you know that means (most Catholics don’t)—is still immoral.

    On the other hand, it is possible that, in the development of moral theology, that that what was, even in the Bible and Church tradition, considered tolerable might eventually be decided to be absolutely immoral, for example, racial chattel slavery. And, as our Lord said, divorce.

    I do not think that the revision of the Catechism by the Holy Father is a magisterial act. But, even if it were, since this would be a new restriction, rather than a permission to do something previously declared immoral.

    We need to dial down the rhetoric, I think.

  7. Charles E Flynn says:

    Footnote 14 of Prof. Kwasniewski’s lecture refers to the “Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests“. A Kindle edition costs $1.99 on Amazon:

    After a detailed and captivating history of the origin of the catechism, the text begins with a one-compound-sentence demolition of the worldview of many:

    Issued by order of Pope Pius V

    The Necessity Of Religious Instruction

    Such is the nature of the human mind and intellect that, although by means of diligent and laborious inquiry it has of itself investigated and discovered many other things pertaining to a knowledge of divine truths; yet guided by its natural lights it never could have known or perceived most of those things by which is attained eternal salvation, the principal end of man’s creation and formation to the image and likeness of God.

    Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566) . Kindle Edition.

  8. carn says:

    “People are confused by CCC 2267. It appears to be a radical change to the Church’s teaching. You have to read a lot of things into the vague word “inadmissible” to get to a place where 2267 doesn’t look like a reversal.”

    Its not only inadmissible.

    The whole thing is just horribly written:

    “2267. 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.

    Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively 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 attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

    So “Consequently” (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) due to “increasing awareness”, “new understanding” AND (!!!!!!!!!!!!) “effective systems of detention” the death penalty is inadmissible.

    What now if some country finds itself in a situation, in which the “effective systems of detention” are not available for the foreseeable future?

    Then death penalty still inadmissible or not?

    You want to bring fans of Pope Francis to white hot rage?

    Just ask them that; you likely won’t get an answer except for insults that you are evil cause you love getting people killed and so on.

    But simply stating that yes, in continued absence of such detention system death penalty would be admissible for the time being, or simply stating no, even if you have no effective detention and repeatedly serial killers escape and rape and murder small children while their parents are forced to watch death penalty would be inadmissible, aren’t answers you will get.

    And i really have no idea, what at least Pope Francis himself intends for situations in which no effective detention system is available.

  9. EC says:

    The idea of a lateral development is just diabolical. You have in the new paragraph a road map to “develop” any doctrine you want. The principle goes: this thing has more dignity than previously thought, therefore this other thing connected to it, which we once taught was good/bad, is now recognized as bad/good. Just cut and paste into the formula.

    It would be one thing if there had never been real positive teaching on the death penalty, and only mere toleration of it in practice – but that is not the case. Further, doing away with the State’s authority to care for itself in this way begins to threaten the sense of more intuitive moral prerogatives such as private lethal self-defense.

  10. DeGaulle says:

    Just as well the ancient Romans didn’t think like this.

  11. Dismas says:

    They honestly believe that The Party won’t reverse its stance on capital punishment once The Revolution starts in earnest…

  12. carndt says:

    So when we get called to serve on a jury and the death penalty is in the table we are to say I can not ever vote for the death penalty?

    I have sat on such a jury and I have voted for the death penalty. And I will again if it warrants the crime.

    Secondly, as far as I am concerned, Benedict is still the Pope.

  13. In 1992, we get the first universal catechism in 450 years. Pope John Paul writes: “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved June 25th last (1992) and the publication of which I today (October 11, 1992) order by my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magesterium. I declare it to be a SURE NORM for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.”

    Then we get a revised section #2267 on capital punishment in 3 years (1997) and another in 21 years (2018). These ambiguous revisions are used by death penalty opponents to distort and confuse 3,000 years of Catholic and Scriptural teaching. Changing the wording in a catechism in order to change the substance of the teaching can never be legitimate. Opponents will attempt to circumvent this by claiming that the teaching had been correct in the past but today, in practice, it is immoral if applied. This is the “foot in the door tactic” for the beginning of many heresies.

    There is a 2,000 year record of Catholic saints, popes, biblical scholars, doctors and fathers of the church and theologians supporting the death penalty, a record of scholarship which far overwhelms any modern day position to the contrary. Catholics who support capital punishment need not fear that they are not in accord with the teaching of the Catholic Faith. To support capital punishment is to be nothing less than authentically Catholic.

  14. JonathanTX says:

    The other day, the US Bishops voted with only 8 NO votes – who are those guys, I wonder – to approve a change to the US edition of the Catechism to bring it into line with the Latin of CCC 2267.

    The problems with the original Latin text aside, shouldn’t the Bishops be voting to update the US edition to reflect the new text? I’m not sure why this would be a bad thing.

  15. LDP says:

    I’m pleased about this post because looking at the current pontificate so far, the change of the Catechism on this issue has certainly been the single most worrying action to date for me. Unlike with some of the more ambiguous- though also unsettling – things that have been done, this change has been enacted with seemingly no ambiguity at all, even though it seems clearly inconsistent with Catholic Tradition on the matter. I have tried to calmly consider the issue but am afraid I simply cannot agree in good conscience that the death penalty is inadmissible, certainly not because of any intrinsic problem with the punishment as opposed to the application thereof which one might – though not necessarily- legitimately oppose. Glad I’m not the only one to think this!

  16. Hidden One says:

    I do not like it when prudential decisions, whether right or wrong, are included in catechisms.

    I would have preferred, if it was thought necessary, a footnote reading something like, “For the prudential judgments of Pope Francis and Pope St. John Paul II concerning the use of the death penalty, see X and Y.”

  17. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    “Inadmissible” strikes me as an unusual term. The claim isn’t that the death penalty is always and everywhere immoral, but that it is “inadmissible”, which sound far more like a judge’s ruling that certain evidence, relevant to the case, is not to be introduced to the jury or, if already introduced, not considered in reaching the verdict. Is this a translation problem or does the revision to the Catechism merely give the impression of a moral precept, when it doesn’t, in fact, advance one?

  18. Johann says:

    Either the Catholic Church was wrong for two thousand years on the legitimacy of capital punishment, at least in principle or in certain circumstances (which includes Popes St John Paul II and Benedict XVI, even though they prudentially opposed it in practice) or Pope Francis is wrong now for saying it is always wrong regardless of circumstances.
    The former is impossible, as the Church is infallible and cannot err on such an important issue for most of it’s history (as the recent Declaration of Truths by Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider et all noted).
    The latter is possible, as Popes can and do err when they do not speak infallibly (Honorius and John XXII coming to mind). It is common cause that this “change” to the Catechism does not qualify as an infallible statement.

  19. Avery Cardinal Dulles, 2004
    “The reversal of a doctrine as well established as the legitimacy of capital punishment would raise serious problems regarding the credibility of the magisterium. Consistency with scripture and long-standing Catholic tradition is important for the grounding of many current teachings of the Catholic Church; for example, those regarding abortion, contraception, the permanence of marriage, and the ineligibility of women for priestly ordination. If the tradition on capital punishment had been reversed, serious questions would be raised regarding other doctrines.” — Avery Cardinal Dulles, “Catholic Teaching on the Death Penalty”, in Owens, Carlson & Elshtain, op. cit., p. 26. Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning

    Maybe Pope Francis will next eliminate this section of the catechism.
    Catechism #2260
    The covenant between God and mankind is interwoven with reminders of God’s gift of human life and man’s murderous violence: For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning:
    Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. Gen 9:5-6. The Old Testament always considered blood a sacred sign of life. Cf. Lev. 17:14. This teaching remains necessary for all time.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  20. John 19:10
    10 So Pilate said to him, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?”
    11 Jesus answered [him], “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
    We would be in bad shape if Jesus had waited till the present day to effect our salvation through His blood, at least if Pope Francis had his way.

    Romans 13:1
    1 Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God.
    2 Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.
    3 For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil.b Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it,
    4 for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.

  21. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    All snark aside, there is a reason I brought 3 Protestant families into the Church and numerous lay men before 2013.

    And I have brought 0 in since 2013 and have 0 motivation so to do anymore.

    It’s hard enough in here, as a trying lay man. Dont need company down in the hole. Apparently adultery is okay as long as we really like it. Apparently heresy and apostasy are okay as long as we sorta mean it cheerfully because Latin Mass radicals pray the Rosary sometimes during the Mass… Clearly the Pope thinks it’s only for “theologians to catch up and figure out” definitions for us to be co-equal with heretics and pagans and share in Holy Communion with them. Why would I burden potential converts with NFP, and inconstant ordinary Magisteriums, the demands of Natural Law, and the social awkwardness of defining and discriminating between worldly options? Why would any sane humanitarian person promote Catholicism IF everything else is, apparently, okay too?

    Who am I to judge?

    Cri di coeur. :(

  22. Geoffrey says:

    I will not be purchasing any “new” editions of the Catechism.

  23. Semper Gumby says:

    Unfortunately, not for the first time regarding both Pope Francis and the USCCB: No, take a closer look.

  24. TonyO says:

    As much as I deplore Francis’s new language, let’s be a little more clear on what is happening here. The US bishops did not vote on language to the CCC. At least according to the Crux article, here,

    the vote was on changing the language to “a revised passage to the U.S. Catechism for Adults”. This “US Catechism for Adults” is a different document than the CCC. Sure, it is closely aligned with it. Sure, the bishops should not have used even MORE ambiguous language in the new 2267 passage of the CCC to make the US Catechism for Adults still less clear. Of course.

    I would like to know if anyone out there knows: who has the publishing rights to the CCC in America, and how do they decide on what happens to its text for revisions? Is it the USCCB? Is it a single bishop, or the Vatican’s nuncio to the US, or something else? If possible, we should seek to get this authority to simply decline to change the CCC to match Francis’s new language for 2267. If no other course of action works, we could at least use this: “WE WON’T BUY IT if you change 2267:. To help that along: there are seemingly a possible 8 bishops in the US, and MANY parish priests, who could be easily convinced to refuse to buy any new edition with Francis’s language., and could lean very hard indeed on their people to follow suit. There might be more bishops than that, I don’t know. Given that the libs in the US Church don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about what the Church has taught (and teaches) and is contained in the CCC, I am guessing that not very many of them actually buy the book. So if sales have come mainly from people who are on the right side of the line, and many of them say “we will stop buying it if you change it”, maybe someone with a little fiscal sense could re-think whether changing it is going to work.

  25. MB says:

    More than I trial balloon, this is a breach of the outer wall. They take an issue, like the death penalty, that is difficult, and that most people would not be strongly opposed to changing, and they use it to crack the wall. Once the integrity of the wall is damaged, they can use ‘development of doctrine’ to pull the whole edifice down.

    St. Thomas Aquinas – “The fact that the evil ones, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement.

    They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so obstinate that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from malice, it is possible to make a quite probable judgment that they would never come away from evil.” (Summa contra gentiles, Book III, chapter 146)

    Therefore it was considered charity. The death penalty was meant not only to protect humanity from the malicious intent of the criminal, but it was meant to force the malefactor to examine his own life and call him to repentance by giving him the grace of knowing his time of death. It was also meant to prevent him from falling further into hell by his continued misdeeds should he refuse to repent.

    But, the idea of thinking about this issue from a supernatural viewpoint is totally gone from our minds. This is a full-scale assault on the whole body of teachings of the Church. And our shepherds – at least 194 of them, are either completely ignorant, or are actively working to destroy the Faith.

  26. samwise says:

    @Donald Wachtel: very much appreciate that reference from Avery Dulles! I met him in high school and learned his Filioque arguments, etc but I never came across that quote before about death penalty

  27. They want us to believe that the Church has changed its teaching.

    All this discussion about what this change MEANS in regard to infallibility, heresy, the teaching magisterium, etc shines a light right onto the dark scheme that this apparent condemnation of the death penalty represents.
    The purpose of this change is to create confusion enough to make it LOOK like the Church has changed Its teaching.

    The Church has not changed Its teaching because It cannot, being founded by Jesus Christ.

    Look around and see all the chatter about Pope Francis’ behavior [he’s a heretic! he’s a Commie! he’s lost his faith! – but never an unfaithful statement made under the ‘infallible’ area] and we see plenty of reason to think that the Church has changed. No, the Church hasn’t changed anymore than the popularization of the Novus Ordo abrogated the Tridentine Mass. That old Mass still exists, has always been ‘legal’, that Mass still teaches its truths in the fullness of the Faith.

    Consider the Passion and how completely disfigured and unrecognizable Jesus was made by the raging hate of Hell. His followers recognized Him through the eyes of their Faith. This is our Church that also must undergo that Passion – she will be made unrecognizable. Most will believe that She has changed or was never telling the truth, was always a fraud. Open the eyes of your Faith, this is not an exercise of intellect but a terrible trial of FAITH.

    And just like that, once the power of Hell seems to have extinguished the Church, that is the moment Hell will recognize its own defeat, as the Church will be resurrected more glorious than before. Defeat by Christ’s unwavering obedience to death. The death penalty. Such irony?

  28. Semper Gumby says:

    ““…we will stop buying it [the Catechism] if you change it”, maybe someone with a little fiscal sense could re-think whether changing it is going to work.”

    That’s fair, but “fiscal sense” does not appear to be a factor for those interested in changing CCC 2267.

  29. says:

    Me too. This Pope is sowing confusion and division. Scripture says that God is not the author of confusion. I have also read he doesn’t have the authority to change the constant teaching of the church.

  30. says:

    That is exactly the first thing that came to mind when I read it, what if there were a catastrophic occurence and societal breakdown, and capital punishment was necessary to restore order? Would it be inadmissible then? And when was a person’s dignity ever in question?

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