On The "Noninfallibilists" and How They Diminish Virtues of Docility and Obedience

OK I admit it, I am likely making up a word. But, by the term “noninfallibilist” am I referring to those who, in the discourse of matters of faith and morals, are dismissive of any teaching by the bishops and Pope that is not infallibly defined. Now as you may have guessed, those of this school, not only wish to exhibit a lot of freedom in what they have to believe, but also will define downward what qualifies as infallible.

Back when I was in seminary, thinkers of this sort were predominantly, if not exclusively on the theologically liberal end of the spectrum, and generally they used as their starting point their dispute with Humanae Vitae. Of course they insisted that it was not infallibly taught and, hence, they were free to dissent. They also appealed to the “spirit of Vatican II” which they claimed among many other things, had liberated us from from child-like obedience to the magisterium. The only problem was that the actual letter of the documents of Vatican II were not quite as “liberating” as the so-called “spirit” was.

For example, Vatican II in Lumen Gentium spoke of the Infallibility of the ordinary magisterium when it said:

Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine in- fallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among them- selves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held [definitive tendendam]. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith. (LG, 41)

Further, it also said,

Religious submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authoritative Magisterium (authentico magisterio) of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra; indeed, that his supreme Magisterium be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, according to his manifest mind and intention.” (Lumen Gentium 25.2)

Oh Yeah? As you may remember, if you’re a bit older, or may suspect even if younger, the dissenting theologians of the late 60s and 70s parsed every word of these paragraphs, not to richly understand them, but to be done with them. And, as you may have guessed, they could find almost no instance in which the criteria set forth for the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium or submission to the non-infallible teachings of a pope, actually or ever applied. Reams and reams of papers were published trying to minimize or neutralize the notion that we should open to being taught in faith and morals by the ordinary magisterium,  and that if something wasn’t infallibly declared by the Pope (a rare exercise of the extraordinary Papal Magisterium), we were simply free to go our way, confident that the the ordinary magisterium or the the local bishop was no wiser that we in just about anything, including faith and morals.

Docility (teachableness) and obedience were on vacation.

Further, those were the times in which the great indoor sport of most prominent theologians was to show how nothing really applied, and how what seemed to have been quite plainly stated, did not mean what it actually said. Scripture was diced and sliced. Apparently Jesus never really said or did most of what Scripture sets forth. And plainly stated biblical morality didn’t really mean what it apparently and rather plainly stated. And, as we have seen, the actual texts of the Second Vatican Council had to yield to the spirit in which they were “obviously” intended. Actually quoting the texts was “indelicate,” “reactionary” and indicated “rigidity.” Ah, such were those heady days.

But today, I am concerned that such an attitude is not the sole mindset of dissenters on the theological left. The attitude is becoming increasingly widespread among most of the faithful, whether theologically liberal or conservative. Further, the attitude is less theologically considered and more just an unquestioned, even unconscious assumption, to wit: if something is not infallibly taught, I am free to wholly disregard what the bishops and even the Pope is saying. Of course what is meant by “infallibly taught” is a concept only vaguely understood by many, and very narrowly defined and interpreted by others. At some point, infallibility, a valid theological distinction, can become a sort of legalism.

Imagine a child explaining to his parent why he is ignoring them: “You didn’t threaten me with significant punishment, so I just ignored you.” But frankly a parent shouldn’t have to threaten a child, a child should be willing to be taught even without official threats and pronouncements. And yet many Catholics exhibit just this sort of attitude when it comes to the Church, our Mother: an unwillingness to be taught unless very stern and strict pronouncements are forthcoming or very specific formulae are iterated (As one theologian opined: mater si, magistra no! – Mother yes, teacher, no!).

Pervasive – As I have said this attitude was once the domain, largely, of the theological left. But now many on the theological right, irritated by a few decades of Bishops who, according to them, have strayed politically left, or have not towed the line tightly enough on liturgy, pro-life, etc., are also adopting an attitude, that they can wholly ignore the Bishops, who have a teaching office, unless we are dealing with something “infallibly” taught.

Last week on the blog I posted the issue of Capital Punishment, and while granting that the death penalty was not intrinsically evil, wondered if it wasn’t time to allow our shepherds (the Pope and the world’s bishops) to lead and teach us in the matter that, given our struggle with the culture of death, we ought to stand against the use of the death penalty in all but the rarest cases. The answer I got back from most readers was an emphatic “no.” And many reasoned that, since the matter was not definitely taught they had no obligation whatsoever to consider or stand with the Pope and the Bishops on this.

Many of the same Catholics are shocked and angered at the decision of some bishops and liturgists to simply ignore or withstand the Pope’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, encouraging more widespread use of the Traditional Latin Mass. But such are the times in which we live, where the climate of camps and the rigid refusal to be taught or be open to even non-infallible issues is common throughout the Church.

Some will argue that the Bishops have strayed beyond faith and morals when they issue letters on immigration, the economy, healthcare and the like. Possibly, but in all these areas there ARE important moral issues, biblical teachings, and Catholic social teachings that OUGHT to be brought to the discussion. Bishops do have duties to keep Catholic and Biblical teaching part of the discussion. And Catholics especially, ought to be more open to being taught, even when the matters are non-infallible and even if the view is at odds with their own political, economic and scientific views.

Consider the following quote from the Catechism:

Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (Catechism 892)

Now, some will want to endlessly parse the words, and so strictly define everything, that the statement above almost never applies.

But pastorally what # 892 says to me is that I should be willing to be taught by my Bishop and that what he, and especially the bishops as a whole teach together, ought to be a very important part of my thinking. What the Republicans or Democrats or talking heads think may be an influence, but how much more so my Bishop, in matters local, and all the Bishops and the Pope, in matters more universal.

Why should a newspaper editor, or political party influence me more than the the bishops of the Church? At bare minimum I should seriously consider what is taught by the bishops, and, even if I come to a technically different conclusion on some policy matter, I will at least take seriously the Catholic and Biblical principles they enunciate, and seek to include them in the policy considerations of the temporal order.

Having quoted this Catechism paragraph to one of the interlocutors in the Capital Punishment combox they (in effect) sniffed and said, that # 892 is not an infallible teaching and “I am free to disregard it.” I will not even argue the question of infallibility here, but the point stands that we ought to be more willing to be taught.

To conclude we might reflect on two virtues that are critical to having faith: docility and obedience.

The word docility is scorned in the modern world and caricatured as causing one to be a pushover, easily brainwashed etc. But docile in Latin means to be “teachable.” Hence, to be docile means to be teachable, to be open to the wisdom and knowledge of others. Like it or not, our Bishops do have a teaching office and, like it or not, they are the bishops God has permitted and intended for us. We ought not simply dismiss what we do not like, but remain open and teachable. Docility, though often maligned, is the door to deeper knowledge and faith and it better disposes us for wisdom.

Obedience too is maligned by the modern age. But here too there are Latin roots that disclose the deeper meaning: ob + audire means “to give a hearing to,” “to listen with open ears.” Hence obedience too implies that we are willing to listen, to be taught, and to strive to understand what someone in authority is teaching and setting forth as a course of action. Like it or not, our Bishops have authority and, unless they are setting forth evil or error, we ought to give careful consideration to what they teach and the vision they set forth.

I wonder if the “noninfallibilists” of our time will have anything to do with these notions. But my question remains, are we really free simply to ignore the bishops, and the Pope except when they clearly teach infallibly? Are we not in fact defining faith and Church-life downward by this attitude? What of docility and obedience in more ordinary matters? Is it really an all or nothing scenario, or are we on more of a continuum here where the default setting ought to be a listening ear and a teachable spirit?

I am sure many of you will have responses and distinctions to make. Remember I am starting a conversation not issuing an edict (as if I could). But I only ask this, that you might be careful not to so distinguish docility and obedience that they cease to exist as real categories. I know there are distinctions to be made and scenarios to consider which I have not set forth here, but there is also a general norm to be followed of docility and obedience, of religious assent of mind and heart. So have at it, and remember: caritas, caritas!

Photo Credit: Zazzle Catalogue

This video is a lot of fun. I have often thought of the aging of dissent in the Church, and still see a lot of hope in many younger Catholics. But given the reflection here, I am not so sure that dissent has had a few grandchildren. Anyway, the video is a hoot.

169 Replies to “On The "Noninfallibilists" and How They Diminish Virtues of Docility and Obedience”

  1. Thank you so much again, Monsignor. I was only thinking about this very topic today. You have given me great clarification, thank you. I particularly love your comment “Why should a newspaper editor, or political party influence me more than the the bishops of the Church?” So true. I am not infrequently irritated by comments that suggest being of a certain political persuasion is what being a Catholic is all about. We are Catholic first, political direction second, surely. Politics belongs ultimately to the world, whereas our priority should be fixed on God. Our guides in the world are our bishops and Pope (and pastors like you!).

  2. Sin will exist until the consummation of the world. Dissent surely, given the final trial of the Church.

  3. May I also add that this includes the Second Vatican Council. Neither “liberals” nor “traditionalists” should pick or choose what they should or should not believe regarding these documents, neither dismiss them completely (and thereby even go as far as to question the validity of the entire Council, surely a heretical assumption?) nor impose dangerously erroneous interpretations on them in the name of a false spirit…

  4. Wonderful and thought-provoking article. I agree with you in almost every respect and would say that when I encounter a difficult teaching outside of infallibilty I try to imagine who might would hold the upper hand in holiness and wisdom. The answer is without fail the Holy Father or the bishop – certainly not me. I know all too well that I stand in need of teaching every day of my life.

    In the interest of charity, however, for those who may have a differing opinion on this, I must point out that I can see where some local bishops may have forfeited (in some people’s minds) the moral authority necessary for the faithful to always be ready to submit to their teaching. Given the actions of some bishops during the recent scandals in our Church (reassigning those priests they knew to have abused children, etc.), I understand if some of the faithful might question their judgements. I personally try not to judge ( I leave that to Our Lord who knows every secret of our heart) but it can be hard to look past this sometimes.

    My family, for instance, has recently encountered a local administrative rule (not even a moral teaching) which, though trivial to some, has caused us pain. I have struggled myself and tried to encourage my children to trust in a filial obedience to our local bishops but with each new revelation it is hard not to say “If Bishop X could allow this to go on, why are we listening to anything he has to say?”

    I pray for our newly installed archbishop and hope he will restore confidence here among the faithful. I only meant to point out that some of the faithful may have had their faith shaken in those to whom, in other circumstances, they might have been glad to give docility and obedience.

    Just a few very humble thoughts.

    1. Granted, docility and obedience are not always easy, especially due to the fact that we are asked to observe it towards imperfect men. Further, docility and obedience are not absolute virtues, there are times when one must speak the truth to those in power as well, in a spirit of Charity. What I am doing here is to pull in the other direction a bit and confront a cultural attitude (not expressed by you) that authority and obedience almost never apply.

  5. Msgr.,thank you for the timely post. I grew up in those post-V-II turbulence. Never heard a single homily on the evils of contraception. Surprisingly even in the midst of our battle to persuade congress dump the proposed Reproductive-Health Bill in the Philippines, nay a word of contraception comes out from the pulpit and yet the Bishop’s conference has been totally against this bill that seeks to institutionalize contraceptive use. I ponder if it the reason is for pastoral, skewed political correctness or just plain cowardice to stand up for the truth for fear of loss of church donations.

  6. I’m probably one of those “non-infalliblists” to whom you refer. We had quite an exchange about the Church’s revisionist stance on capital punishment. I’ve noticed that you forgot to mention one thing, Monsignior: I John 4:1. It talks about “testing the spirits” because many “false prophets have gone out into the world.” Some of those “false prophets,” I believe are in the Church (as they may be in other churches, as well). Just because somebody wears episcopal garb does *not* mean that believers should just acquiesce to his judgments — especially on prudential issues — merely because of his position. *All* Christians are encouraged to “test the spirits.” Otherwise, Christianity becomes no different than Scientology, or Islam.

    Furthermore, your view that Catholics should be “obedient children” because the Church is their “Mother” is condescending and insulting. The God Who created us did so in His image (Apparently, the Church wants to create its “children” in *its* image). God, most certainly, is not a child. As St. Paul said, “when I am an adult, I put aside childish things.” He created us to experience the freedom that His Son purchased for us on the cross and to be lived under His guidance through the Holy Spirit, not to be enslaved to theological bureaucrats whose main area of expertise is intellectual vanity. God calls *all* Christians to obey God — and to speak truth to power when those who claim authority in His name misuse that authority for their own temporal purposes.

    1. Yes, spoken like a true theological liberal of the 1970s. You’re certainly a “poster child” for what I describe. Basically, in your “church” it all comes down to what Joseph says?

      1. “Furthermore, your view that Catholics should be ‘obedient children’ because the Church is their “Mother” is condescending and insulting”

        Personally, I don’t find it either. I wonder whether Timothy or Titus felt the same as you when Paul referred to them has his spiritual sons? “Hey Paul, I’m my own man! Stop treating me like a kid! I’ll come to my own conclusions about things thank you very much!”.

        In my experience the trouble with this kind of thinking is that there is soon very little room left for humility. Soon all notions of authority come under question. Such a person’s worldview quickly becomes extremely individualistic and they eventually become unteachable. They become their own Pope.

        All this sounds rather like a certain German monk from the 16th Century…

        1. Restless Pilgrim, St. Paul meant that as a sign of affection, not of dominance. Msgr. Pope, whether he wishes to realize it or not, is appealing to authoritarianism as a recourse for Catholics who disagree with the current teaching on capital punishment. As such, he and those who think like him — let alone the two Popes involved — are the ones who need the lessons in humility.

          As far as that certain German monk from the 16th century goes, he wasn’t wrong about everything (ecclesiastical corruption, indulgences).

        2. He who would be first will be last, while he who humbles himself will be exhaulted.

          Yes, there is no shame in being a “child.” St. Therese (of the Child Jesus) understood this all too well.

          Baby Jesus — that God who most certainly is not a child — understands this as well. Even He is an obedient child to the Father.

      2. Monsignior, why would a “true theological liberal of the 1970s” oppose the Church’s revisionist policy on capital punishment, which borders on outright abolition, when most “theological liberals of the 1970s” support it because they oppose capital punishment??

        Your reaction could well be considered an excellent example of psychological projection. You criticize me by saying “in your ‘church’ it all comes down to what Joseph says?” Yet that rhetorical question hides the fact that the Church is doing the exact same thing when it comes to capital punishment. Previous statements by Popes and even Doctors of the Church don’t matter. Heck, Scripture itself doesn’t matter…as you so “skillfully” demonstrated by deliberately ignoring Genesis 9:5-6 in your original post on the Archdiocese of Washington’s Web site. The only thing that matters is what John Paul II and Benedict XVI think. God help Catholics who actually evaluate their statements by previous Church teaching!

        To buttress these “solid” arguments, you resort not to logic, reason or revelation but to personal attacks. You say that those who raise serious questions and present serious evidence for their positions are “more Catholic than the Pope,” for example.

        Who taught you how to defend a thesis, Mark Shea?

        1. You’re running your own Church Joe. I don’t know how many more times I need to tell you that there has been no doctrinal change, only a change in the application of the teaching, a change which is a matter of prudential judgment the Bishops are thoroughly entitled to make. You are not a Bishop, except in your own little church founded by Joe. I prefer the one founded by Jesus and the Bishops appointed by him. I kinda like the Pope he has appointed more than you as well. On this Feast of St Ignatius, you might bone up on his lengthy teaching of the need to keep union with the bishop. Here’s a little zinger for you:

          Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil. (Smyrn 9)

          1. So much for your (shallow) reservoir of intelletual ammunition. I find it highly enlightening that, as the ultimate recourse, you’re telling me I’m going to Hell because I refuse to believe the Magisterium’s spin on this issue…and “spin” is the accurate word, in this case.

            If this is merely a “change in the application of the teaching,” then why did John Paul II, and why does Benedict XVI, fight for abolition…which doesn’t line up with any legitimate interpretation of Scripture and Tradition? Actions speak louder than words, Monsignior.

            If abolition isn’t the Church’s goal, then how could Archbishop Renato Martino get away with this statement he made to the UN in November, 1999:

            “Abolition of the death penalty … is only one step towards creating a deeper respect for human life. If millions of budding lives are eliminated at their very roots, and if the family of nations can take for granted such crimes without a disturbed conscience, the argument for the abolition of capital punishment will become less credible. Will the international community be prepared to condemn such a culture of death and advocate a culture of life?”

            It appears that, in Martino’s mind, fighting abortion is a tactic in the greater battle against capital punishment. If so, then those sections of the CCC and Evangelium Vitae concerning capital punishment are nothing but intellectual Trojan Horses, written deliberately to allow any interpretaton but the one that Genesis 9:5-6 demands.

            I suggest you read a little story, Monsignior. Written by a Danish dude, Hans Christian Anderson. It’s called “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Quite a propos< for this discussion, don’t you think?

          2. BTW, Monsignior, if you’re saying that, as Popes, John Paul and Benedict can pursue any prudential path they want, then they are effectively disobeying their own catechism on this issue! If you defend that, then you’re saying that the Church essentially is a government of men, not of God or His revelation, let alone Canon Law or any serious considerations of Scripture and Tradition.

            Who’s really running their own church outside of God’s will, Monsignior?

            BTW, how’s that Canon 215 workin’ out for you and your archbishop, hmm?

          3. Joseph Hippolito,

            Perhaps you should read what Jesus had to say about the law of retaliation? Even before our Blessed Lord spoke on it, an eye for an eye was known only to be a limit… not the mandate you make it. If it was as you say, then St Paul should rightfully have been executed by God rather than chosen. But God being Justice, knows that there is no temporal law of proportional retaliation… only limits on retaliation. Proportionalism in morality is just as much a failure as relativism because it rejects objective truths. Jesus perfected the law of retaliation by saying turn the other cheek. I think I will stick with our sheppards instead of your divisive arguments which are harmful to the unity of the Church. There is no excess danger in what they are asking of us. You however, betray an ignorance steeped in protestant/SSPV anti-clericalism which makes you act like your own magesterium.

          4. First, Alan, the idea of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” was designed to encourage the idea of proportional justice meted out by uncorrupted due process, not vigilantism. If you want to know what vigilantism looked like in Scripture, read Genesis 34. Or, for that matter, look up Genesis 4:24. Lamech makes that statement about himself, as opposed to God making it for him, as He did in Cain’s case.

            Proportionalism is not “as much of a failure as relativism” because God Himself demands proportionalism. If you don’t believe that, then study Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy.

            Jesus was talking about the distortion of proportionalism, which was meant to stay in the judicial arena. Jesus was talking about the way it was extended to interpersonal relationships.

            Finally, you are the first critic to equate me with both Protestant and SSPX sympathies, which are mutually exclusive. Congratulations on your exquisite perception, if not sense of irony! 😛

          5. I agree, Joe sounds like a protestant convert who is carrying baggage he should have dropped long ago,

            “Whenever anyone came my way, who had been a follower of my seniors, I would ask for the accounts of our seniors: What did Andrew or Peter say? Or Phillip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew, or any of the Lord’s disciples? I also asked: What did Aristion and John the Presbyter, disciples of the Lord say. For, as I see it, it is not so much from books as from the living and permanent voice that I must draw profit.”
            Papias, Sayings of the Lord (115-140 AD).

          6. Alan, that criticism should be levelled at Msgr. Pope … and, for that matter, John Paul and Benedict. They are the ones who have strayed from the Apostles’ true intentions. One doesn’t have to be a “Protestant” or a “sedevacantist” to understand that.

          7. Pope Jos. D Hippolito – founder and Patriarch of the Hippolitan Self Referential church of the Modern Age.

            As for me, I prefer the Church founded by Jesus, and the Pope appointed by Him. pope Joe is a no go. Long live Pope Benedict XVI

            Try to avoid being more Catholic than the Pope.

        2. That’s where I saw old Joe dH before, on Shea’s site. Msgr., while I’m sure Christian charity requires you to show old Joe some respect, you’ll never move this man. He just loves to show how brilliant he is, in his own opinion, and will argue ’til the cows come home. If pinned down, he will change the subject.

          Joe, didn’t Shea finally bar you as just too disruptive? So now we have a new pasture?

          Msgr., I respectfully suggest that the time comes when you have to stop feeding the trolls.

          1. Yes, well I came to largely the same conclusion, and somewhere, midway through the discussion stopped posting most of this comments. Though I have allowed a few comments through recently, many more I have had to simply side-line for the reasons you state. I like vigorous discussion, but in the end you have to conclude that some people will not to be negotiated with and will continue to raise the temperature of their discourse so that we go beyond conversation to strident monologue.

  7. Msgr. Pope, please understand: You name is Pope, but you are not THE Pope; nor are you my bishop; nor are you my pastor. As a result, your paraphrases and suggestions are not owed the same respect as even the non-infallible statements of the Holy Father.

    You really seem in your previous post to want us to universally ban the death penalty IN SPITE of the formal teaching of the Magisterium that it is not in all cases wrong. In fact, the Magisterium — to which we owe religious submission of the will and intellect — does not say that the penalty of death should be removed from the books. I might just as well suggest that you are not being docile to the TEACHINGS, to the ACTUAL WORDS, but rather to what you perceive as the “spirit”, which the last 40 years has shown to be a dangerous jump.

    I do not question that many bishops, probably even the Pope himself, would feel better if the issue of capital punishment could be gotten rid of with the stroke of a pen. The fact is, though, that in the very statements that DO require submission of the will, they are careful not to require this — for good reasons, in fact. It is NOT dissidence to refuse to obey a command that HAS NOT BEEN GIVEN.

    1. Get hold of your self Howard. I make it very clear in the article that I am not THE Pope. But as for you, you’ve got your nose in a book too much, it is clear that the Catechism and the last two popes and all the world’s bishops stand opposed to the use of the death penalty in all but the must extreme cases. They are not going against the magisterium in this regard because they are not calling the DP intrinsically evil. They are making a strategic and prudential judgment about the application of the penalty not its rightness or wrongness. Further, you are doing exactly what I predicted in the article, parsing words and trying to show how things don’t ever seem to apply in your case. But where is the wholehearted acceptance of the Bishop’s teaching office, or of his charism to lead. A bishop and the Pope should not have to command you Howard. There is nothing wholehearted in your response, just parse parse parse….make sure you don’t strain gnats and then swallow camels.

      1. If I parse words, it is because words are important; something to be remembered in a religion that worships the Word Incarnate.

        What the Pope and Catholic Tradition call for is that the APPLICATION of the death penalty be rare; they likewise call on wars to be rare. They do not call for the death penalty to be illegal, any more than they call for the abolition of standing armies.

  8. I love your stuff, Monsignor, but I have questions…deep questions.

    1) Lumen gentium and the Catechism reference the ordinary magesterium also in referrence with Sacred Tradition, to whit, a bishop, in union with the successor of Peter that teaches something definitively in conjuction with what has always been taught (Sacred Tradition) is speaking infallibly. What about Cardinal Avery Dulles’ statement that John Paul II’s statements on Capital Punishment are not entirely in line with the Church’s traditional teachings on the death penalty? I am torn here, because the late Holy Father made a good point (that capital punishment isn’t always necessary in contemporary society), but Card. Dulles’ point is also valid: the Church has, in the past, taught things concerning the Death Penalty different that the current vein of episcopal teachings. I know doctrine can develop, but the attitude coming from some Catholics (Mark Shea comes to mind) is that you CANNOT be a REAL Catholic if you support the death penalty, when aspects of this teaching are contrary to the tradition of the Church.

    2) Nostrae aetate is an issue of contention, because I’d really, really, really like to look at non-Christian religions in the manner taught by the Council, but when a religion’s ordinances call for the execution of apostates, or the honor-killings of women who displease men, or the murder of innocent men, women, and children (not the Ban, as you discussed here months ago) as a means of defeating the infidel, I seriously have a hard time. I get that all religions need to be respected insofar as they all have a grain of truth about them, but to hold a religion in esteem because they seem to worship the same God we do (which, sometimes, I feel is debatable), while they teach things that are so contrary to the nature of God, sort of blows my mind.

    Again, I want to be taught, but when I see what look to be contradictions, I don’t know what to believe. Dr. Germaine Grisez, when explaining to the Holy Father why the Pontifical Commission on the Family supported changing the Church’s teaching on birth control, stated that many Council Fathers believed that the Church should listen to the what the World had to say, rather that instruct the world. How much of what the Church has done or taught these past 40 years is a direct result of such an attitude? I don’t know.

    1. What change on Birth Control? A pontifical commission is only engaged to study a matter. there is nothing authoritative in their findings unless the Holy Father ratifies it. If the commission to which you refer is the one from the mid sixties, there was a majority and minority report. Paul VI took the minority report position which was his prerogative and in keeping with the teaching of the Church.

  9. …did I understand correctly, the death penalty is not intrinsically evil….??? (Time to brush up on my nine commandments. er… what about the one regarding the neighbour’s wife, ….any chance that one .. well…. you know…)

    1. The DP is not intrinsically evil, this has been the constant teaching of the Church. The fifth commandment is not a universal ban on killing, as in the Hebrew it reads “thou shall not murder,” and as such the commandment is referring to the killing of innocent people only. Current episcopal judgements of the death penalty are based on our modern ability to safely detain people instead of killing them, as th DP should only be used to protect society.

      1. Correct. I might only add for Jose’s concern that while the Commandment not to kill is firm, there are exceptions for self-defense if there is no other recourse. Some argue for the death penalty as a case of self defense, though the consensus among the Pope and Bishops is that this almost never applies any more. But this is why the phrase “intrinsic evil,” does not apply, since there are, theoretically, exceptional cases.

      2. Sigh. The Hebrew does not say “murder.”

        Murder is a specific term of art of Anglo-American law, which did not come around until thousands of years after the Ten Commandments.

        Do you suppose that God meant that murder — the intentional killing of a human being with malice aforethought — is wrong, but manslaughter or reckless homicide is permissible? Of course, that would be absurd.

        1. Bender,

          Does not the Septuagint say murder? And I say that this is a much more authoritative text than the extant hebrew because it was based on 72 rabbis translation of the best hebrew scripture available ~200 years bc. The oldest current hebrew text is the aleppo codex which is roughly ony 1000 years old.

          1. Alan — words mean things. And legal words mean things especially to lawyers. The word “murder” is an English word. It is a legal word. Neither the English language nor English law nor the English legal word “murder” existed at the time of the Ten Commandments.

            But, is “murder” an accurate translation of the Greek Septuagint and/or of the original Hebrew? That hardly seems possible since the definition of the word “murder” (the intentional killing of a human being with malice aforethought) was also not developed until the common law era of English law.

            Now, it is true that the word “murder” is derived from the French, which is derived from the Latin “morte,” meaning death. And if one insists on the argument that the Commandment uses the word “murder,” then he must then concede that, given the origin from “morte,” that it is used in the sense of “to cause death,” i.e. “to kill.” That is, the Commandment says “thou shall not kill.” Murder –> morte –> death –> kill.

            The Commandment is not concerned with legalisms, much less the legalism of the legal term “murder.” It is concerned with killing human beings with the purpose and intention of killing them. Now, moral actions, like criminal law, have an action component and a mental component. Homicide is not concerned only with the act of causing death, the mental state, i.e. the intent, of the person is taken into consideration as well. If the intention and purpose of the person is not to make an aggressor dead, but death is accidental or the intent is instead to keep someone alive, that is, if the intent is to protect and preserve life, then although the act might kill, there is not the intention of killing, and so it is not violative of the Commandment, e.g. self-defense, just war, and execution.

            Either way, the word is not “murder,” which did not then exist and, even if one has translated it as “murder,” it must be construed as “to kill,” rather than the modern-day legalistic meaning of the word, otherwise it would permit manslaughter, reckless homicide, etc., which it does not.

  10. I agree with most of what you say, I guess. Surely when the bishops speak in unison one assents, but when an individual bishop speaks, I am not so sure. If I had been in Weakland’s Archdiocese I would not have assented to his teaching. In likelihood, for me as a new Catholic, just being there would have been a near occasion of sin.

    Individual bishops have NO claim to infallibility. When it comes to liturgy some of them have been so lax that any legitimate reform is scoffed at in parishes (I know this from personal experience). Some have been so lacking in courage with regard to the pro-abort politicians that they have actually become to grave scandal. Some have been so deeply buried in the Democratic Party’s pocket that one simply cannot listen to them without saying, “yes, but isn’t another side to this story.” And that is not mentioning the behavior of some bishops in the “scandal.”

    Lastly, disagreeing with the bishops when they are speaking to political issues is simply not only not the same as dissenting when they discuss matters of faith and moral, it can be and often is entirely different. Specifically–when the magisterium condemns the death penalty today, they are in disagreement with bishops of the past, and they may be in disagreement with bishops of the future. Few people mention this, you certainly don’t. This is not true of marriage, abortion, contraception, etc. We are truly comparing apples and oranges. I say this as someone who would like to see the death penalty much less utilized.

    When people go on and on and on and on about the death penalty, do they ever stop and put it in context. We are talking about an average of around 60 deaths per year in the entire nation. Bad? OK. Bad, But the emotional and political capital that is expended on the issue would fit a circumstance in which thousands were dying, not tens. In abortion it is millions, not thousands, not hundreds, and not tens.

    So the disagreement of some of us who might be called “on the right” is of an entirely different dimension than the stubborn unyielding dissent on the aging left. You make them sound the same.

    1. Well of course my point is that, as the Catechism says, beyond infallibility we still have some obligations to docility and practical obedience. While not absolute, these virtues are worth cultivating even outside of infallibility.

  11. Charles,

    Read Jose above. He actually thinks “do not kill” meant back then (and thus means now) that capital punishment is intrinsically evil! Do Catholics not read the commandments in the biblical context in which they were given? Do they not know that Israel’s practice of the death penalty was not just condoned, not just tolerated, but demanded by God in the very same book that contains the 10 commandments? Something cannot be intrinsically evil today which was required by God back then. That is not what intrinsically evil means.

    The death penalty dealt to the Nazi perpetrators after the Nuernberg trials was not only just, but, regarding the whole world, merciful. Imagine how those men would have used the 50’s and 60’s to spin their yarn and infect others with their evil. Intrinsically evil? No.

  12. To those like me who have labored under a bishop who appoints lay ‘pastoral administrators’ over priests, who encourages the movement of wymyn priests, who has homosexual ‘liturgical dancers’ prancing up and down the aisles at the chrism mass, your words are a hard, hard teaching, Msgr. Pope.

    Add to that the sexual abuse scandal within the Church that continues to this day (http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=43261), and it seems you are adding a ‘burden hard to be borne’ at this moment.

    The laity have suffered and suffered at the hands of their shepherds. It is only to be expected that they are somewhat ‘scattered’. I am not sure the best answer at this point is to admonish us to be docile and obedient. Forgiving, perhaps.

    1. Docility and obedience are not easy in the circumstances you describe. They are however worth cultivating and allowing to grow. Not sure if you’re a mother, but if you are, you are not a perfect mother, yet still it is important for your children to cultivate docility and obedience, even though you are not perfect.

      1. As a very imperfect mother, I understand your analogy.

        Must I then assume that you would expect my children to be readily docile and obedient if I, as their mother, were to teach them things contrary to the Magisterium and Apostolic Tradition, or were to ask them to participate in sinful acts?

        Perhaps a distinction needs to be made. I read somewhere, “Obedience to disobedience is not obedience.”

        1. I have been making the distinction your require in saying on numerous occasions that docility and obedience are not absolute virtues, there are exceptions, but they are important and good virtues to cultivate as a general rule.

  13. God is truth. Msgr. Pope’s article gives no consideration to whether a non-infallible teaching is true or not. Such teachings admit a limited possibility of error, and therefore a limited possibility of dissent — but always based on a discernment of truth based on Tradition, Scripture, and other teachings of the Magisterium. We should not believe a teaching unless it is true.

    We are obligated by our love and worship of God who is truth to consider whether a non-infallible teaching is true or not, and to believe or not based on truth. Blind obedience is idolatry. Non-infallible teachings require a different type and degree of assent because they can possibly contain falsehoods. And we are never obligated to adhere to any falsehood.

    The death penalty is not intrinsically evil because it is not murder (the direct killing of an innocent person). Pope John Paul II’s assertion that society can sufficiently defend itself without the death penalty is a judgment of the prudential order, not a magisterial teaching. The Magisterium has always taught that the death penalty can be moral, depending on intention and circumstances.

    1. No one is talking about blind obedience. The catechism is clear however:

      Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (Catechism 892)

      Hence there is a place for docility and obedience, not as absolute virtues (as in your all or nothing scenario) but virtues to cultivate

  14. I’ve often wanted to have a bumper sticker made that I could use when parking next to the “Question Authority” bumper sticker. It would say “Says Who?” or “Who’s Gonna Make Me?”

  15. Interesting article. As a protestant (Baptist on the ‘conservative’ end of the spectrum) currently going through RCIA and, Deo Volente, joining the Catholic fold at Easter, docility and obedience to the Magesterium are key attractions to the Roman Church for me. It is a recognition and surrender of my will to that of the Church. I have for many years been in leadership positions in church, and studied protestant theology, and have increasingly become aware that part of the problem of the ‘modern’ church is the tendency to put “I” before everything – I think, I believe, I know, I have read the Bible – and then to use that as a basis for how “I” behave. And of course as anyone who has read the 4 steps to God will know, putting I first = the reason why we need Jesus. Truth is not always sexy, it is never comfortable, and it is never a slave to fashion. The church that marries the spirit of the age is a widow in the next.

    Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

    Lawlessness? Those who don’t follow the law – as handed down by him who was presented with the keys to the Kingdom. “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven”. Pretty heavy evidence that whatever we THINK, it is what God has DECIDED that matters.

  16. I agree entirely. I was aware on some level of dissent on my side of the aisle, but it didn’t hit me front-and-center until the Troy Davis execution recently. Many of my conservative Catholic friends had little concern, and some of them were absolutely explicit about the matter: They reject Evangelium Vitae. Period. That is unbelievably brazen. To be sure, my liberal friends argue that there are points of Papal teaching on unions that I finesse a little closely, but to outright and explicitly reject a Papal teaching? That used to be (and, when convenient, still is) the stuff of conservative mockery of cafeteria so-called catholics, and rightly so.

    The Magisterium means at least this: the positions taught by the Magisterium are the default for Catholics. It is our obligation to learn the teaching of the Church—that is, the teaching of the Pope and the bishops, which doesn’t mean just of the American bishops, to be sure, but which includes them—and prayerfully consider it. In some cases, we may be free to reject that teaching if we can articulate good reasons for departure; in some cases, we are bound to the teaching even if we are certain that it is wrong; and there are some cases in between. But we are never free to simply ignore the Magisterium, or to reject its teaching on a given subject, on the trivial grounds that we don’t like it or simply disagree with it. More is demanded of us.

  17. @Ricardo We heard a homily (in part) about contraception this weekend. Yes, at an OF Mass.

  18. This discussion has left me quite sad. Yes I do believe that the death penalty is intrinsically evil because killing, in any form, is wrong. Throughout history people have “adapted” God’s will to suit their interests, political and otherwise. Has any army ever gone to war without asking God for help? Has he helped both sides? The killing carried out by the Nazis was evil, the death sentences meted out to the Nazis were evil, killing Jews and Muslims (and Byzantines) in the crusades was evil, killing Christians in north Africa was, and is, evil etc. Each of those evils was qualitatively, and especially quantitatively, bigger or smaller, but at its core was exactly the same evil.

    And if one day I, for personal reasons, no matter how serious and intense, kill, or abort, in any way, I will commit evil. Then it’s up to me to have that special conversation with God one day, and no doubt He will decide best.
    Tom in Ohio speaks of the Biblical context; well, I’m just a bad Catholic trying to be a good Christian. I’m afraid I’ve not the knowledge to discuss theology with anyone. But consider this context – the Old Testament consists of Jewish cosmology, Jewish mythology, and lots of general good advice (e.g. proverbs, Sirach, etc) Then we have good theology in the stuff the prophets said. The bits where God gets off on killing and destroying and flooding, and murdering first-borns – pure mythology! The Patriarchs never existed; the Jews never were in Egypt. Not much doubt about that.
    No God who is universally good would ever be so evil, insecure, or just downright nasty. That’s not God, it’s mythology used to justify the consolidation of the Jewish nation. It’s useful only to help us understand the development of monotheism as a reality.
    God made no covenant with the Jews; God is available to all who reach him through faith. There are no special rules or favours or “what is OK for you is not for him because you are chosen and he is not” The Ten Commandments were not written on a non-existent tablet and handed to a person who never existed as such. The Commandments are basic elements of human decency, because by assuming basic decency you become prepared to move towards God. Basic decency which Christ confirmed, the same way He rejected silly rules.
    I lived in South Africa for many years, during Apartheid. The Afrikaner people celebrated a great battle a small bunch of white settlers fought against the Zulus; they celebrated each year a “covenant” their leader Piet Retief made with God that if they won the day, they would forever keep that day as a day of remembrance. I guess God must have listened to them, because they had a small canon and guns, while the heathen Zulu just had spears…. and sure enough that day remained a public holiday until majority rule came along, and the covenant went out the window.
    Jesus is the one who tells us clearly what God is about. And I don’t see Him having doubts on this matter. (of the death penalty)

      1. LOL Hi Brian. I had to look that up. Seems like another good idea the Church threw out 😉
        But i’m not a pure Marcionite – I don´t think the God of the Old Testament was an evil demiurge , i dont think he exists at all. The (description of the) God of The New Testament is in my humble opinion a lot closer to what He most certainly will be found to be.
        (back to the Wikipedia to read up about those marcionite blokes 😉

        1. Jose, there’s a reason why Marcionism was declared a heresy. It effectively declares the Old Testament not to be divinely inspired. When St. Paul addressed St. Timothy (2 Timothy 3: 16-17) about all Scripture being divinely inspired, he was referring specifically to the OT because the NT had yet to be fully written, let alone compiled and canonized. When the Bereans “searched the Scriptures” (Acts 17:11) to find out if Paul was telling the truth, they searched the OT!

          God is not schitzophrenic, Jose. God holds all of His attributes — mercy, love, grace, justice, righteousness, holiness — in perfect balance. None of them contradict each other. God also hates evil (Proverbs 8:13, Psalm 97:10, for starters). That’s why God commanded Noah that his descendants should execute murderers (Genesis 9:5-6) because murder is the ultimate desecration of the divine image in humanity.

          1. God made no covenant with the Jews

            Really? Where did you get that idea?

            I strongly suggest you study the OT. God did make a covenant with Abraham and with his descendants through Isaac. Christ Himself not only was a decendant of Abraham but also was a Jew!

          2. What you are saying is correct but needs the added distinction that the Church reads the Old in light of the New. Hence, the NT has abrogated or fulfilled some of the OT (e.g. Temple, dietary laws etc), some things have been continued (e.g.. much of the Moral Law), other things have been intensified or added. This sort of distinction is important.

          3. OK, Monsignior, where was Genesis 9:5-6 abrogated? That is basically what you are arguing.

          4. I am not, I have nowhere said that. Now Joe, Listen to me one more time: The death penalty HAS NOT BEEN ABROGATED by the Church and the teaching has not Changed. ONLY THE APPLICATION of the teaching has prudentially determined has changed as set by the bishops and the Popes as seldom if ever applying today. Now you need to stop Joe. You’re really on an errand here, methinks thou dost protest too much, the death penalty is not worthy of such support as you give it. It’s not that big or necessary a thing for you to die on it’s hill. Chill.

          5. If this is merely a “change in the application of the teaching,” then why did John Paul II, and why does Benedict XVI, fight for abolition…which doesn’t line up with any legitimate interpretation of Scripture and Tradition? Actions speak louder than words, Monsignior.

            If abolition isn’t the Church’s goal, then how could Archbishop Renato Martino get away with this statement he made to the UN in November, 1999:

            “Abolition of the death penalty … is only one step towards creating a deeper respect for human life. If millions of budding lives are eliminated at their very roots, and if the family of nations can take for granted such crimes without a disturbed conscience, the argument for the abolition of capital punishment will become less credible. Will the international community be prepared to condemn such a culture of death and advocate a culture of life?”

            It appears that, in Martino’s mind, fighting abortion is a tactic in the greater battle against capital punishment. If so, then those sections of the CCC and Evangelium Vitae concerning capital punishment are nothing but intellectual Trojan Horses, written deliberately to allow any interpretaton but the one that Genesis 9:5-6 demands.

          6. Besides, Monsignior, in the final analysis, this isn’t about capital punishment per se. It’s about integrity and honesty, especially in magisterial teaching.

          7. Judge Joseph Hippolito presiding….

            You seem to pride yourself on logical refutation, yet I see very little evidence of it that can be differentiated from the SSPV sedevacatists who think themselves the magesterium. You present your fears of abolition as if they are the fears of the Church yet you have not the competence to express such an opinion.

            Genesis 9:5-6 demands payment of blood for murder. Not a mandate of temporal retribution via the death penalty. After all, where did Cain fall under this supposed law of retaliation? It is straw. Christ by his bloody sacrifice gave another way of satisfying this. Your cold and austere interpretation as some sort of eureka moment is really laughable.

        2. The Catholic Encyclopedia at Newadvent.org has an extensive article on the Marcionites.

    1. Well, look Jose, some necessary distinctions should be made in your observations. While I agree with you as a practical matter that the Death penalty should be rare if ever, we have to acknowledge that Scripture, (and not just the Old Testament) does permit the use of the death penalty. For a New Testament reference see: Rom 13:3-4. Hence the New Testament has not abrogated the Old Testament teachings, though I think Jesus’ overall teachings must make us far more sober about using the death penalty.

      1. Well I should know better than to argue with a priest, but I think it isn’t much of a stretch to deny that the bit in Rom 13:3-4 about bearing swords in no way has to mean the application of lethal force. Weapons are the mark of authorities, does’t mean you have to kill people. Furthermore, the CEB has softened the wording considerably to say “weapons to enforce the law” (ok, i admit it sounds soppy and politically correct…). Futrthermore, the beginning of Rom 13 is open to some pretty awfull interpretations if you follow that logic, which would just about justify every absolutist monarch of yesteryear and every tyrant of today. One must obviously read what the Bible says, but CAREFULLY ponder what it MEANS, and, of course, remember that St Paul, no matter how saintly and Pauly, was not Christ. God Bless.

        1. Jose, the fact that St. Paul was not Christ does not mitigate the fact that God inspired St. Paul to write what he did. You cannot separate Christ from Paul, as a lot of contemporary scholars try to do. Nor can you separate Christ from the Mosaic Law, since He had to obey it completely in order to become the perfect sacrifice that God required for sin. It was that sacrifice, along with His resurrection, that frees those who believe and embrace that sacrifice as their own.

  19. Jesus was docile. He held back Peter’s sword and forgave His killers while they mocked Him as he died. Then before leaving He told us “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you;” So how does all our killing and punishing fit those instructions and examples, which even the most hardheaded egotist ought to concede are infallible words of God. However, since hairsplitters can say those words were given via transcription and translation, not via direct personal apparition from Jesus to each of us while making eye contact so we can verify it is really Him speaking, we can just go ahead killing as long as some random supposed religious authority figure invokes God and says it’s OK. Wake up people…just because it’s not what we want to hear doesn’t make it permissible to ignore. God is not a liar. If we choose not to believe Him we should not pretend to be Christians. We have to serve somebody – who will it be? Two choices.

  20. Msgr, thank you for this post. Individual bishops can be wrong — it was because of the heresy of the teachings of some bishops that Arianism and other errant beliefs crept into the Church. Bishops were questioning the divinity and humanity of Jesus! Why? Because the bishops were having a hard time explaining it, so they decided to stop teaching it — or to invite the possibility that Jesus was not ‘eternally begotten’ and ‘consubstantial.’ People in authority dislike not having all the ‘infallible’ answers.

    At the same time, remember ‘back then’ that there was no ‘official Catechism’ either — so the ‘catholic/universality’ of the teaching was based upon who had taught the bishop (and priest). And the Church’s teaching on the Death Penalty changed while the most recent Catechism was being translated and printed. Which is why the current one in print is a 2nd edition.

    Sometimes bishops and priests (like all of us) have a tendency to get stuck in ruts — whether traditional or modern — (even the modern way of doing things can get old in forty years!) which brings spiritual stagnation to themselves and to the faithful they serve.

      1. “The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” St. Athanasius
        Council of Nicea

        1. Of course that doesn’t mean that docility and obedience are still not virtues to be cultivated. Tom T. really ought to answer to someone other than Tom T and Tom T’s notions of doctrine, dogma and Tradition.

  21. The moral equivalency Msgr. is attempting to draw here is simply unfair. Left-wing Catholics who dispute the Church’s position on abortion are challenging a teaching of the Church that goes back to the first century. Modern science confirms that the Church’s position has always been correct.

    Catholics who oppose the new position on the death penalty (a late addition to the Catechism not contained in the draft) are the ones who are actually defending Church Tradition. There is no basis in Church Tradition for simply ignoring the punitive element of the death penalty and judging its morality based solely on the protection of society.

    Blessed JP II is a giant in Church history, but that did not entitle him to unilaterally discard centuries of Church Tradition to adopt the fashionable view in Secular Modern Europe on the death penalty. If he wanted to reject that Tradition, he should have expressly confronted it.

    And please spare us the nonsense about the new position on the death penalty being an element of the Culture of Life. As I indicated in my post last week, European countries that were at the forefront of abolishing the death penalty are today at the forefront of the murder of imperfect infants and euthanasia.

    1. As to your last point I will not spare you. The message of the Culture of Death is that the solution to problems is the death or non-existence of human beings. You need to grasp how unconvincing your version of the pro-life witness is to the fence sitters on the abortion issue. Frankly to those of us who try and witness to life your sort of position is like a stick in the eye. Not sure why the death penalty is so important to you but frankly, I’d have a hard time envisioning anyone standing before the judgment seat of Christ and having the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you upheld my ancient teaching that serious criminals should die!” Frankly the death penalty isn’t worth taking a pro-active stand on and I find puzzling your adamant defense of it.

      As for setting aside for Church Tradition, I am not setting it aside any more than the Catechism is. The standing allowance of this form of punishment under specific circumstances is retained. It is the application of the teaching, not the teaching itself that is being specified by the Pope, Bishops and Catechism and all of them speak in unison that your “heads must roll” position ought to be severely curtailed. I will trust the Pope and Bishops to apply this unchanged teaching over you any day Brian. They are anointed and appointed for the task.

      1. I’d have a hard time envisioning anyone standing before the judgment seat of Christ and having the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you upheld my ancient teaching that serious criminals should die!”

        Again, Monsignior, when did Jesus or the early church ever demand that Genesis 9:5-6 be abrogated?

        As for setting aside for Church Tradition, I am not setting it aside any more than the Catechism is.

        Well, the CCC is setting it aside a great deal on this issue, as well as Scritpure. So if you’re not setting it aside any more than the CCC is, then you’re still doing so by quite a huge margin. Are you sure you want to be in that camp?

        1. Judge Joseph Hippolito presiding….

          You seem to pride yourself on logical refutation, yet I see very little evidence of it that can be differentiated from the SSPV sedevacatists who think themselves the magesterium. You present your fears of abolition as if they are the fears of the Church yet you have not the competence to express such an opinion.

          Genesis 9:5-6 demands payment of blood for murder. Not a mandate of temporal retribution via the death penalty. After all, where did Cain fall under this supposed law of retaliation? It is straw. Christ by his bloody sacrifice gave another way of satisfying this. Your cold and austere interpretation as some sort of eureka moment is really laughable.

  22. While bishops might “be wrong” as has been pointed out above, we (the laity) are NOT the judges of when this is so. We have an obligation of obedience to our bishops. The only case when this obedience is not required is if a bishop were to command us to commit a direct sin, e.g. we would be free to disobey a bishop who commanded us to commit murder. Anything less than a command to commit a direct sin, and we are under obligation to obey.

    That is a hard concept for many in 21st century America, but this has been the teaching of the Catholic Church from the earliest days (read the letters of St Ignatius of Antioch who said “Se that ye all follow the bishop, even as Christ followed the Father” and “be obedient to your bishop, contradict him in nothing.” who died around 100 ad).

    To those that commented above about when and how bishops (and even the Holy Father!) are “entitled” to do this or that, I ask – from where do you derive the authority to decide?

    Again, the ONLY time we have a right to disobedience is if/when a bishop is commanding a Direct Sin. Opposing the death penalty is not a direct sin and thus we MUST obey, even if we disagree. To do any less, is to not be Catholic, but to (by definition) be Protestant for we are then placing ourselves in the position of judging the Bishops and protesting their teaching.

    1. Today of course is the Feast of St Ignatius of Antioch and I was mindful of that as I read your comment. Ignatius was surely a strong advocate of keeping unity with the bishop. Thanks for reminding me of him.


      See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God (Letter to the Smyrnaeans).

      Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God. (Ltr to Eph 4)

      Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, Matthew 24:25 as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that you all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do you hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth. (eph 6)

      I therefore did what belonged to me, as a man devoted to unity. For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop. I trust [as to you] in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall free you from every bond. And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. (Phil 8 )

      See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (Smyr 8 )

      Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil. (Smyrn 9)

      And many other places

    2. Nathan, I see your point but I think there is a legitimate question to be posed. I agree with you that Ignatius (himself a bishop) was a strong proponent of obedience to the Bishop–so much so that by his language in all of his letters he equates the Bishop to God Himself. Hence, you are creating an exception (“we have a right to disobedience is if/when a bishop is commanding a Direct Sin”) that Ignatius himself does not even allow if we are to “follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father”. This kind of strong teaching becomes potentially problematic when there is divergence (and even discord) among the bishops. About 15 years ago Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz commented on his decision to excommunicate members of several groups within his diocese even though these people were not technically excommunicated outside his diocese. He said:
      “I would say that a bishop is a legislator for his own diocese, and
      therefore his legislation applies only to that diocese. I would not pretend to legislate for
      any place outside of Lincoln; nor do I have any desire to. Catholics should follow the
      legislation that applies to their own diocese.”
      God is one, but bishops are many. Is our obedience dependent on our zip code? What if we move? If we must change our allegiances based on geography and not the content of the teaching, how deeply can our beliefs be held?

  23. Monsignor, when you think back on the sixties and seventies, do you ever wonder, as I do, have you survived all of what went on during those decades with any sanity intact?

    And if I never see another guitar again, it will be too soon.

    Lastly, speaking of dissenters, I read yesterday that Anita Caspary died at the venerable age of 95. I wonder if she heard “Well done, good and faithful servant”? Prayers for the repose of her soul.

      1. Monsignor, she was the former Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister that destroyed the religious community. She had a showdown with Cardinal McIntyre, and she walked out of the community with 300 of the nuns.

        I guess I’m showing my age.

  24. Well Msgr. Pope, I love you. Your always opening up these spicy and controversial conversations. In Caritas
    and sadly allow me to say it is too late, it will take time, the barn doors have been open for 40 years and closing them now wont help much. To start with all this began with the discussions about the Consiliar Documents of Vat.II when the were being dicussed. I read the writings of a Dominican theologian who was close enough to the council to report what went on between the liberal and traditional factions and in fact goes on today more hotly debated than before as reported in http://www.chies.espressonline.it May 5th 2011. An article describes the back and forth of eminant theologians and historians and it opens with; ” The Church is Infallible, But Not Vatican II.” “And
    it made mistakes, maintains traditionalist historian Roberto de Mattei. The distpute continues for and against the popes who guided the council and put its innovations into practice.” As you stated many of the discussions center on Dignatatis Humanae. On obedience by the faithful, allow me to point out that on Moto Propio and Summorum Pontificum which you mentioned, even after Universae Ecclesia; many bishops have still ignored all that and with the only explanation I have seen, “we are not going backwards.” Now I am sure we`ve all been reminded that, when you are a parent, if you don`t set the example, your children wont bother to do as you teach them. In light of that thought allow me to point out that even a recent example of blatant and outright disobedience by the USCCB has recently made the news in that two dioceses have reduced the number of times that Holy Communion will be offered in both forms to three a year to be in compliance with instructions from the Holy Father via Congregatio Culto Divino Et Disciplina Sacramentorum issued, are you ready for this: In Rome 12 Oct. 2006. Thats right, 5 years ago and many dioceses still ignore it. Now while the USCCB had requested an extension of this experiment in 2005 and while it was denied there were other problems that came from misinterpretations to Vat II with regard to the use of “Extraordinary” ministers which was clarified in this same document and the response from Bishop Donald Trautman, Chairman of the Committee on the Litrugy (Vol. XLII) on Oct 2006 was this, on the decision of the Holy Father; to recall the conciliar mandate on the more frequent reception of Holy Communion under both kinds as a fuller sign of the Eucharisitc Banquet while urging that the Holy Father`s decision be followed, he expressed his hope that each diocesan bishop will continue to make full use of the authority granted him by the Missale Romanum, editio typical tertia, to make full use the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds. Now in my humble view this is exactly the kind of example I am talking about. I sincerely admire your zeal and effort to round up the horses and get them back in the barn however, it sure would help to have a little help by example from above in the form of leadership. I personally do my best to assent to obedience and compliance to Chruch laws, but which way, which ones, when there are mixed messages? This, I believe, many Catholics, liberal and conservative alike must ask themselves. The sad part to all this is, as I have read the Vat II Post Conciliar Documents, not that they are confusing or for that matter, anything in the techings of the Magisterium, it`s the interpretations that come down to us. In other words, I`m listening with open ears, but I am hearing different things. Pax

    1. I do not think I argued that the Bishops run a perfect shop and this why we should show greater docility. But I am not sure we can or should wait till they get everything right to grow in greater docility and obedience as I have set it forth and the Catechism describes. My father was not a perfect man, but he still taught me and I learned the value of obedience from an imperfect Father.

      Communion under both kinds is not really that big a deal. But I am content to let my own Archbishop continue his own discussion with Rome on the matter and will carry on with standard protocol until I hear otherwise. Most American Bishops consider the discussion with Rome on this matter to still be open. Other things, e.g. the new translations of both the Mass and scriptures used at Mass are closed and being fully implemented. I am generally willing to give my Bishop the benefit of the doubt since he has actual face to face discussions with the Pope and Roman officials.

      1. Msgr. Pope, I agree. None of us are perfect and the Church is run by imperfect people however I flat out disagree with your statement about Communion under both forms. For one thing it is exactly that kind of attitude that we find with priests and bishops regarding Church law. I have a copy of the document from Cardinal Arinze Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments dated Oct 12 2006 and sent to the Bishop William Skylstad Pres, of the USCCB, wherein it states “It dose not seem feasible
        for the Congragation to grant the requested indult from this directive in the general law of the Latin Church.”
        This is the response from the Holy Father on the matter. This is not a well, maybe, or leave it up to the bishops.
        Dance around it all you want, but from the Holy Father, it is a done deal. The letter can be obtained by the way on Fr. Z`s blog where the discussion came up. The letter I read dose not give the USCCB the authority to, well
        maybe we will discontinue the practice in say, five years, or maybe sometime down the line, or maybe we will leave it all up to the pastors. The letter also points out that according to the Council of Trent Christ is fully present under each of the species. I am sorry Msgr. but I don`t see a direct disobedience to a directive and flat out refusal by the Pope to extend the experiment which ended in 2005 as “no big deal .” So if Christ is fully present under both species and the bishops are directed to offer Holy Communion under only one form with the other being restricted to three times a year on special solemn occasions, and the bishops refuse, thats not a big deal ? There are many, many other examples of refusal to follow directives from Rome, you yourself pointed out
        Moto Propio. This is not a question of imperfection in my humble view, this is out and out disrepect for the authority of the Pope with a liberal interpretation to fit the agenda. Pax.

  25. Oh Boy!

    Msgr Pope, I always read you and usually agree with you. In this case, I agree with you at almost every point.
    Obedience to the authentic teachings of the Church is an issue with which I have been struggling for years. If one is Catholic, such obedience is mandatory. The issue of course is what is authentic.

    I agree with your post on what consitutes authenticity.

    The death penalty issue is not complicated. It is still allowed, it is not “murder” as one comment above says. However, it should only be used when there is no other way to protect the community. That becomes a prudential judgment for the proper authorities. A blanket prohibition, as some would demand, would take that judgment from the proper social sphere.

    Abortion, contraception, heterosexual marriage are absolutely non-negotiables and no educated Catholic can reject those positions in good faith.

    Where I get nervous is with the immigration issue. I know that very little is written on illegal immigration in authentic documents. What is written is rather written with the wisdom we expect from our Church. E.G: persons have an absolute right to emigrate from their home country; countries have a right to control their borders; when retention is not feasible, the illegal immigrant should be helped to go to another country which is able to receive them or even sent home; countries are required to accept illegal immigrant “to the extent they are able. In other words, they are not required to destroy themselves anf/or their culture for illegal immigrants, although the receiving countries’ duties increase with the increased need, (not want) of the immigrant. The best and most long lasting solution to the phenomenon of illegal immigration as the need for foreign workers decreases is to fix the social and economic structures of the sending countries. This according to both JPII and B16 on their respective plane trips to America.

    The most of the official authentic teachings on immigration is regarding the duties of the CHURCH to those who go to a foreign land.

    The problem is that the Bishop’s public policy statements downplay or totally ignore the whole of what the Church says above. Rather, they emphasize as the Public sector’s duties a mixd up version which the Bishops cherry pick from the more balanced writings of the USCCB’s official statements. The same can be said of the Church bureaucrats. So Catholics are not getting the whole picture.

    Now this is the same institution which gave us the peace pastoral, “Always our Children” the mushy stuff on duties of Catholics regarding voting, the mush about Humanae Vitae and conscience, the wimpy pro-life advocacy and the more wimpy health care advocacy, which totally ignored the Principle of Subsidiarity.

    The end result, is confusion among the faithful.. I think that could be remedied by the Bishops staying out of public policy advocacy, teaching faithfully the WHOLE of the authentic teachings of the Church and letting the lay people do the advocacy.

    I could go on and on, especially about the illegal immigration issue which I see as effecting such injustice on both the sending and receiving countries. However, i will await comments.

    By the way Msgr. I do not believe it was a theologian who said Mater yes ——. It was William F. Buckley, who was hardly a theologian?

    1. Ah, my memory from the 70s is hazy! As for the immigration issue, I think there are legitimate policy debates about how best to handle the matter but what IS important is for Catholics to realize that both Scripture and Catholic Social teaching have important things to say and teach about welcoming the stranger, the foreigner, the alien. These teachings, especially the Scriptural ones are very strongly worded by God. That said, I don’t know many if any bishops who are advocating that there should be no consequences for breaking the Law. Some do argue, as I would agree, that some of our immigration laws are bewildering and in need of adjustment. But that of course would have to go through the legislative process.

  26. Msgr Pope

    I am not sure if I am a non infallibilist or not but I think you are looking at this issue very incorrectly.
    Consider the following
    The left dissents on things like this, abortion is ok, sex outside of marriage is ok ( gay or straight) woman priests are ok, individual acts can not be mortal sins, The Eucharist is merely a symbol.. and so forth. If you beleive these things well then you are dissenting, This is to my way of thinking if done willfully a sin. In terms of policy you have a political party that openly advocates sin ( abortion , gay marriage, ESC research…etc They advocate these things as legal rights, if you do not uphold them you are penalized in some way.

    No one on the right does this. Consider economic principals Principals are fine. it is fine to say things like “We are for “solidarity” with the poor. The problem is that in reality, currently this says very little. The principal is uniformly agreed on. Is there some political party that runs on a platform of harming the poor? There is indeed a party that runs on harming the unborn ( the Democrats) this is in fact their specific platform. So dissent from the left is pretty clear. The real issue on the right is not “dissent”. It is that a specific economic policy admits of multiple differnent answers. Some achieve the goal and some do not. It is like a doctor who has a moral obligation to help a patient. That is true and a priest can tell him so, but the priest would be crazy to recommend drug X or surgery Y. The acutal effects of the treatment matter, not just the intent. A morally upright but incompent doctor is of little use to us. Similarly The actual effects of an economic policy matters. So a given policy that is advertised as “helping the poor” might have the actual effect of making the problem worse. Your blog is probably not the place to demonstrate this, but an overwhelming factual argument can be made that in fact the policies the liberal staff at the USCCB tends to favor are in fact mostly harmful to the poor.

    Lets just mention one such fact. Prior to the Great Society programs of the mid- 1960s the percentage of families in poverty was in steep decline, this decline leveled off after the Great Society programs, such that the poverty rate has remained around 13-15% since. It appears, that at best the programs do not work, or at worst some or all of them caused changes that worsened the situation by obliterating the decline in poverty rates that was underway. it is not dissent to say.. .yes USCCB or Bishop X, we should have solidarity with the poor but in fact the policies that you normally associate with helping the poor merely grind them further into poverty by creating a “class of able body beggars” ( a warning used by St Alphonsus Ligouri in his manual of moral theology) In fact recall that the US Bishops publicly opposed welfare reform under President Clinton and the Republican Congress in the 1990s. Virtually everyone on both sides of the political divide feels welfare reform was a huge success and helped get people off the welfare roles and moved them to gainful employement. So in the 1990s, when the Bishops joined the most left wing Democrates in fighting agaisnt welfare reform they were manifestly arguing for the inferior, more harmful policy. Had you taken you advice and listened to them you would have more welfare dependent people today. Is this “solidarity with the poor” ? Is this what you advocate? It is not enough to say we should have “solidarity with the poor” and then advocate policies that harm them, or vote for people who demagogue the issue. It is no good to say “I want to help patients” and then poison them… I do not think opposing the programs because they do harm is “dissent”. It is rather morally obtuse to not evaluate what the policy actually accomplishes before pushing it. It is identical to the doctor claiming to want to help patients ( he has solidarity with them) and then advocates a drug that has been shown to be toxic.

    Because of this difference It is not fair to simply compare “dissent” from the right with dissent on the left. This is a distortion . True dissent on the right would be to dispute a principal in order to advance a policy goal conservatives favor. For example. to argue that in the war on terror its ok to directly kill non combatants and so forth, This would be an objection to a principal, it is dissent and in fact is a sin. What you consider dissent on the right is an arguement about the specific effects and therefore value of proposed policies. This is not only not a sin, if you are highly knowledgeable in a given area of policy it might very well be a moral obligation ! This is true of every issue you can think of . Everyone wants “justice for immigrants” ( Is there someone who wants injustice for them?) But is there no difference in principal between someone who is a legal immigrant and someone who enters the country illegally? Can there be any limit at all in the number of people who enter the country? ) Surely there are valid competing interests for policy makers to weigh. Unlimited immigration could cause problems as could too restrictive a policy. The real issue is the complex problem of what to do about a large influx of illegal immigrants, some of whom are simply desperate to find work, and some of whom have engaged in criminal activity in the United States. I don’t know the solution, but I do no know that it is not fair to imply that if you want a reasonable solution that includes an element of border control you are in dissent. The Bishops historically have not recognized this and in fact advocating pushing the congress to approve a complex piece of legislation ( the dream act) that have pros and cons. How many Bishosp have read the act and how many are just following the lead of their liberal staff? Never mind don’t answer.

    What you percieve as “dissent” on the death penalty is even worse. This is not dissent at all unless you consider an effort at upholding the past teaching of the Church with “dissent” It makes no sense at all to argue that our society today is so different than the society of Pius XII that we are mandated to change our teaching on the death penalty. That what Pius XII thought was not sinful has now become so in most cases. it might be reasonable to argue well we think it our current situation the Death penalty is an unwise policy. But this is not what most are doing. What you call “dissent” is rather psuh back against what appears to be an attempt to reverse a previous teaching. At one time the Church obviously taught that the Death penalty was morally acceptable. In fact an honest review of the historical record shows no effort to “limit” it . It is now clear that some want to try to reverse the prior teaching. What is being adovcated is in essence making the teaching that we be opposed to Capitol punishment, a moral obligation. That is close to what you are trying to do. I am actually opposed to it as well, but I am also be opposed to make agreeing with us a moral obligation. That is to say, It is wrong to call the pro-Death penatly position “dissent”. That is wrong to say literallly it is a sin to advocate for the death penalty. ( That is what dissent is right? Dissent is sinful. Are you really saying that someone who agrees with Pope Pius XII that the death penalty is acceptable is committing a sin?) How can this be? Why is Pius XII’s statement less valid then John Paul II ? What is so different about about the society in 1952 versus today that makes it obvious that we no longer “need” the death penalty? The per capital homicide rate is actually almost 20% greater, so if anything the data suggests the reverse ( we have less capitol punishment and more murder. ) What penalty are we using today that we did not have available to us in 1950?

    Trying to create a new moral obligation is problematic on other grounds as well. If the Church can reverse course like this, why can it not reverse course on everything? How does one do this without doing violence to the idea that the ordinary magisterium is infallible. If new moral obligations can emerge that basically contradict prior teaching than it is a small leap to say, well.. “Ok the Church was wrong on the death penalty in 1950, and in 1600 and so on, It now has it right, maybe it is wrong on contraception as well….. It is only a matter of time before it gets it right”. “I will await the statement from some future Pope, say “Benedict the 17th” who will ultimately see the light and make it official” This is in effect what dissent on the left is, They are loyal to the future Pope Joan who will undue the seventh commandment. There is nothing similar on the right. By equating dissent from the left with “dissent” on the right, you are in fact facillitating this ahistorical line of thought.. It almost say that the truth of the teaching is based on the fact that it is new, its post Vatican II. This is wrong. It has been wide spread, and it has been a catastrophe.

    To simply say “lets obey our Bishops” can not be correct either. At least not in America in the year 2012. This can lead to disaster . We know that a given Bishops conference can go off the rails ( Most of the Bishops in Henry the VIII’s England sided with Henry the VIII.. The Austrian Bishops are engaged in open dissent, The Candian bishops issued the Winnepeg statement rejecting Humane Vitae, and so it goes. Would your advice be ok in the Canada of 1968? )

    At the end of the day what you are doing is simply taking the statements of the USCCB and making them your morally binding policy perscriptions, and calling everything else “dissent”. As I point out above the actual moral obligations may sometimes be the opposite and entail opposition to the Bishops favored policies. If I firmly believe the policies proposed by those who talk mostly about the free market and less about welfare transfer payments, lift the poor out of poverty better than say raising the minimum wage, or increasing welfare payments than it seems like “solidarity with the poor” requires rejecting the transfer payments and buliding the free market. Recall again that the Bishops got it badly wrong about welfare reform in the 1990s. Real “solidarity” with the poor entailed opposing the Bishops. at least to the extent that you mean trying to help the poor. Its that simple.

    There is a clear and easy to define difference in play. There are matters of faith and morals that have been taught since the beginning and which the Bishops by virtue of their office teach infallibly when teaching in unity with the Pope. Abortion is an unspeakable crime, adultery is a sin, Jesus was God the Son, The Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus, One has a moral duty to help the poor, correct the sinner, visit the sick. These are true regardless of whether the Bishops are smart or not so smart, whether they are virtuous or not. When they teach these things they are protected by God from serious error. We all know this. To disagree is dissent and if willful is a sin. On the other hand there are specific policy perscriptions and administrative ,policy decisions that are matters of prudential judgement. On these the Bishops do not teach infallibly, In fact lately the have often just been wrong. I would hope you know this as well. It should be obvious from recent events they are not necessarily protected from error by the Holy Spirit. It is a bad idea to suggest otherwise and it defies what is painfully obvious. There appears that there is some pressure to circle the wagons and show loyalty to the Bishops. “Obedience” is big these days, unless you are a member of the Leadership council of Womans Religious or a pro-abortion politician. Then its cool no matter what you do. . it is simply untrue that there is dissent on the right. What is comming from the right is an effort to rectify the damage that people on the left have done for the last 50 years. And frankly some of these people have been Bishops. This is not dissent. Its merely resistance to further running the ship into the ground.

  27. Msgr Pope, I’ve always enjoyed your blogged and appreciate all that you’ve shared. You give as much “food” to digest in regards to matters of faith and the Church. I for one truly appreciate all you are “serving” so that some of us may stay “hungry” for more to be nourished and enriched with the “food” you provide and the quenching of our “thirst and hunger” by the Holy Spirit.

    Much thanks and blessings!

  28. “You need to grasp how unconvincing your version of the pro-life witness is to the fence sitters on the abortion issue.”

    Frankly, if someone is unable to distinguish between an innocent, unborn child, and a cold-blooded mass murderer, I don’t hold out much hope for convincing them of anything.

    And you keep evading my point regarding the Culture of Life and Europe. Abortion became legal in European countries AFTER the death penalty was prohibited. Today, a mass murderer in Holland is safer than a child born with a birth defect. Switzerland has euthanasia tourism. You simply have no evidence to support your claim that there is any connection between prohibiting the death penalty and promoting a Culture of Life.

    Even in the US, your theory would lead us to believe that the dark and bloody ground of Texas, where the majorities of executions take place, should have an abortion rate through the roof. Actually, it is in the middle of the pack.

    “As for setting aside for Church Tradition, I am not setting it aside any more than the Catechism is.”

    Well yes, that was my point. Perhaps you could take a stab at explaining why the centuries old concept that the death penalty could be imposed to punish the criminal and to adress the offense against the sanctity of human life should be rejected, since the Catechism fails to do so?

    “It is the application of the teaching, not the teaching itself that is being specified by the Pope, Bishops and Catechism and all of them speak in unison that your “heads must roll” position ought to be severely curtailed.”

    I see you are taking a page from the playbook of another bearded Catholic blogger. It is really beneath you. I am not a “Death Penalty Maximalist”; I would restrict its use to cases of mass murder or especially heinous murders. That position is more consistent with Church Tradition than the “modern” view that focuses solely on the quality of a country’s prison system. Why wasn’t that element ever used before? Certainly if you chained someone to a wall in a dungeon in 13th Century France or Italy, he was not going anywhere. I guess no one living at that time was bright enough to figure out that the criminal was no longer a threat to society and his life should be spared?

    1. Go on, keep living in your little academic tower and just despise everyone who doesn’t get your fine little distinctions, or even if they do, suspect there’s something a less than noble in saying “hang em high” and then claiming the mantle of pro-life. Perhaps the best we say for you is that your anti-abortion.

      1. Monsignior, I’m not going to sit here and allow you to demean Brian’s character. You truly are a despicable little man. If your ultimate recourse to logical refutation is to insult people, then your position really doesn’t have any substance or merit to it, does it?

        Jesus never behaved that way toward people. You are an alter Christus who behaves like an alter diabolocus. Is your intellectual vanity so exhorbitant that you would sacrifice your own dignity to it?

        You would have been better off as a Scientologist, Pope. That’s more your intellectual and emotional speed. They’re cowards just like you.

        1. I’m not so sure of your view about Jesus. He wasn’t one to hold back some pretty severe criticism, especially for people he considered prideful and unmerciful:

          Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You strain out gnats and swallow camels! And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

          These are just some of the verses from Matt 23 there is even more. I am not so sure Jesus “never” behaved that way. But as for me I will never claim the sinless mantle of Christ, but that fact does not make you or your position righteous. You may call me what you please but it does not make you righteous.

          1. Some scoundrels wrap themselves in the flag, others in religiousity and a false sense of “obedience.”

            Christ was talking to people just like you, people who impose burdens under the guise of “docility” and make God’s Word void by their own “traditions” (aka, intellectual vanity).

            I don’t need to have the “sinless mantle of Christ” to know a bully when I see one. That’s what you are, Pope: An intellectual bully who has so little courage in his own “convictions” that, when push comes to shove, he only has personal attacks to “defend” his “position.”

            Did St. John Chrysostom have the “sinless mantle of Christ” when he said, “The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops”? Did St. Peter Damian have the “sinless mantle of Christ” when he wrote “Liber Gomorrianus,” which challenged Pope Leo IX to do something about the sexual sin in the clergy? Did SS Catherine of Siena and Francis of Assisi, or Erasmus, have the “sinless mantle of Christ when they challenged clerical corruption and ignorance?

            This business about having the “sinless mantle of Christ” to confront the clergy is nothing but an attempt to put a guilt-trip on people who have the courage to speak truth to those who are blind to it. It’s an old Catholic trick. Well, I ain’t buyin’ it. Sell guilt somewhere else.

            You know, if you really cared about docility, you’d encourage your own archbishop to obey Canon 215, which he publicly said he would not enforce. But the fact that you apparently don’t tells me that you believe one set of rules exists for the faithful and another for the clergy, especially the higher clergy. You also believe that you can try to impose obedience by rhetorical intimidation, instead of substantial argument. Both of those reflect the inherent sense of entitlement and institutional arrogance that permeate the clergy.

          2. Joseph, I could be wrong however, I believe it was St. Athanasius that said “the floor of hell is paved with the
            skull of bishops,” addressing the Council of Nicea with regard to heresies that were held in his day in 325.
            Please a little respect for the Monsignor. Attacking someone because of his views is wrong however, two
            wrongs don`t make a right. Pax.

      2. Fine little distinctions? To what are you referring?

        And the only despising I have seen on this issue is coming from people whom I normally have a great deal of respect for, who insist that anyone who does not fall in line with their view on this issue is a dissenter.

        Finally, you don’t see a great danger in allowing a Pope and the Bishops to simply sweep away centuries of tradition in an encyclical statement that then gets incorporated into the Catechism? Can you guarantee we are always going to have Popes like JPII and B16?

        1. No I don’t see a great danger because that is not what they are doing.

          As for your final concern, even bad popes have not taught error. Your seem to forget the charism of the Pope

        2. If the death penalty is part of tradition, then it is only part of tradition with a little ‘t’. It is not part of the deposit of faith. So trying to say tradition is being swept under the carpet is misleading.

          1. Fair enough. Though it is a great indoor sport of theologians to decide what is T or t Some matters are more clear than others. But I’m with you that its probably a small t. That said, my argument in this post has been that, as the Catechism says, we ought to cultivate docility and obedience even in non-infallible teachings of the Pope and Bishops, not as an absolute set of virtues (for there can be exceptions and distinctions) but as a general rule to be sure. But again, thanks for your insight here and elsewhere below

          2. So centuries of Church teaching on, literally, a life and death issue, are no big deal? You have no problem with a specific Pope, along with a specific group of bishops, simply discarding a major element of that teaching, without even explaining why that element is no longer relevant?

            What else falls into this “the Church taught about it for centuries, but it is no big deal” category?

            Also, does this new teaching on the death penalty get a “T” or a “t”?

          3. I wonder if there is a distinction to be made about the Church reluctantly permitting a regrettable thing (killing someone who has committed more serious crimes) and positively teaching it as both commanded, and virtuous?

            And again Brian, for about the 15th time, this is not a “new teaching” it is an application of the Church’s teaching in current circumstances.

          4. Completely discarding the punishment aspect of the death penalty is a new teaching. As I pointed out yesterday, if you chained someone in a dungeon in the 13th Century, they would no longer be a threat to society, yet the death penalty kept being used. I wonder why a smart guy like Aquinas couldn’t figure that out?

          5. The Catechism speaks of the death “penalty” refers to the “traditional teaching” and speaks of the “guilty party” The punitive dimension is perhaps less emphasized and balanced with the protective element, but it is not excluded either. I think you are going to have to meet a higher standard of proof to declare that the current teaching is “new” For the record here is what the catechism says

            Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2267)

          6. “The punitive dimension is perhaps less emphasized and balanced with the protective element, but it is not excluded either.”

            Msgr., the punitive dimension is excluded. The sole criteria for evaluating whether the death penalty can be imposed is the protection of society:

            “the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means,”

            That means, if you can lock this guy up for the rest of his life in a maximum security prison, you can’t put him to death, even if he raped and murdered 100 little girls. That is not the Church’s traditional teaching on the death penalty.

  29. Many, many years ago, when I was a school girl, I remember the good sisters warning us against developing “I” trouble. How correct they were. “I” trouble is rampant, and destructive and it is preventing us from seeing where we fit into God’s plan. After 40 years, it is important to slam the barn door shut while there is still one horse in the barn, or sheep in the fold and then go searching for the runaways. God bless you, Monsignor. May he prosper you in your endeavors.

  30. I suspect that around here, there is less disagreement (of whatever degree) with Bishop Loverde and Archbishops O’Brien, Broglio, and Wuerl, than there is with the USCCB, especially with the STAFF of the USCCB.

    Experience has shown that too many times the Conference has strayed away from teaching into politics. Better that the Conference should eliminate 80-90 percent of the staff positions on public policy so that what comes out of there is genuinely from a real bishop and not some partisan lay staff member.

    1. Yes, something of a necessary and helpful distinction here Bender. The USCCB does not have the charism of a bishop or even of all the bishops together. It is an administrative function, not a pastoral one per se. I do find however that the letters issued by the Bishops themselves do help to communicate something of the collective mind of the bishops, presuming most of them vote to issue it.

      1. Re: the letters issued by the Bishops themselves

        Unfortunately, some of those pastoral letters and statements from the bishops are at least partially ghost-written by USCCB staff members. (I have had friends who were on the staff and who wrote drafts of statements) How many are ghost-written? a few? most? all? I don’t know, but not all are directly from the minds of the bishops themselves.

        And even those that have zero staff fingerprints on them all too often have the drawbacks of being written by committee, i.e. too many cooks have spoiled the soup, resulting in compromises in language and in content, and uneven teaching.

        Better that there be fewer statements, period. It is not at all necessary to have bi-annual and annual national meetings and statements issued merely for the sake of issuing statements.

        But of those statements that are made, better that there be more teaching on general principles of moral truth, taking into consideration all sides of a given matter and having universal application, and fewer policy statements on specific courses of action by one party to an issue and limited to specific countries.

        For example, since it has been raised above, the Church’s teachings on immigration — they are universal, they apply everywhere and to everyone, but too often statements single out the obligations of the United States to welcome migrants. However, what is the obligation of the nation of Mexico, for example, to welcome immigrants from Central America? Does Italy (or the nation-state of Vatican City) have a moral obligation to welcome with open arms swarms of Muslims from the Middle East? What are the moral obligations that the migrant himself has, both to the destination country and to the people back home? Is it moral for a migrant to essentially abandon the people in his home country, or does he have a moral obligation to stay and help make things better there?

        All too often in these group pastoral statements we get only a partial consideration of the entire problem, as well as seeming to side with particular political sides, rather than respecting the prudential judgments of those involved. And if you cannot give the same teaching to some guy in Peru in 1834, rather than the United States in 2011, since it is not universal, since it has all the appearance of a policy preference, rather than moral truth, perhaps it should not be given at all.

        1. Well said. I think many people here are saying the same thing in different words. Pax

  31. The CDF has explicitly affirmed that a liberty of conscience exists for Catholics on the question of the death penalty.

    The *prudential* application of the death penalty has been discerned as much different in present circumstances than in past circumstances by the last few Popes, but this is a *prudential* question, and a Catholic can, in completely good conscience, differ on specific concrete instances.

    It is inappropriate in the extreme to suggest that Catholic liberty of conscience on this matter is somehow to be equated with the firm rejection of the Pope’s explicit, formal, and binding direction in “Summorum Pontificum”.

    Terrible post.

    1. I’d lilke to see yiour source on the CDF’s affirmation. What would be the point of the pope teaching something in an encyclical if the CDF then goes ahead and says it’s purely optional? Stranger indeed if the pope approved it – since otherwise it would really have no binding authority coming from the CDF.

      At any rate, I believe you are referring to a private letter of Card. Ratzinger when he was head of the CDF, which obviously would not have the same authority as an official statement by the CDF, let alone an encyclical.

      1. http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm

        This is an authentic act of the magisterium, in the form of directives issued by the head of the CDF in the exercise of the office.

        The point of the document is precisely to refute your thesis:

        “What would be the point of the pope teaching something in an encyclical if the CDF then goes ahead and says it’s purely optional?”

        It is not purely optional, it is instead specifically prudential, and hence not a matter of binding the conscience of Catholics to any new doctrine.

        Catholics can *legitimately* differ on the prudential application of the death penalty in specific concrete circumstances, just as they *cannot* disagree on the prudential application of abortion or euthanasia under *any* circumstances.

        This is because the death penalty is not intrinsically evil, and indeed is a moral requirement under certain circumstances.

        Abortion and euthanasia *are* intrinsically evil, under all circumstances.

  32. I remember not too long ago being amused by the truthful use of the phrase ‘like herding cats’. Extolling the virtues of docility and obedience regarding our Bishops and Magisterium seems to be the catnip I was searching for. In light of the rampant invalid self episcopal ordination that runs rampant in comments on the Catholic blogosphere and in our Church, this article and many of it’s comments are truly a comfort and joy!

  33. I actually know people on both the “left” and “right” who take issue with obedience to the Church (I’ll admit here that those on the “left” tend to oppose teachings that are infallible more often). I talked to someone a while ago who seemed to argue that opposition to free market economics is intrinsically wrong. I do see people who seem to downplay the Church’s stance on economic issues in favor of some modified Ayn Rand-style philosophy. This can go to a point of denying infallible moral teachings. There’s also those traditionalists who claim that using NFP is a mortal sin.

    Personally, I don’t find myself in complete agreement with everything the Magisterium teaches on the death penalty, but it’s not a hill to die on. I am also disturbed by the “hang ’em high” attitude and the sense that the death penalty is an act of personal revenge for a victims family (and these issues go into the infallible teaching zone).

    1. Part of the problem here (and elsewhere) is that different people use words and terms in different ways, with the result of other positions being occasionally mischaracterized or, in the worst cases, set up as a strawman.

      For example, “free market” economics and Church teaching.

      Where, pray tell, does the Church advocate unfree economics? It does not. It would not. It could not. Man is made for freedom, and the Church teaches, infallibly, freedom for man.

      Man is made for freedom, including freedom in the marketplace. But it would be a huge error to say that Ayn Rand, etc., is a “free market” philosophy. It would be error to call a lawless market, an anything goes market, a free market.

      Freedom in the market, like freedom everywhere, is dependent upon truth (the truth will set you free) and contingent upon that truth which is moral truth. Freedom is not the ability to do what you want, as Pope John Paul noted, it is the ability to do what you ought to do, that is, to do good and avoid evil. A free market is free for all in truth.

      A “free market” economic philosophy is, by proper and strict definition, an economics of morality, an economics of caritas in veritate, in the recent words of Pope Benedict.

      But most opposition to the free market distorts and mischaracterizes this true and proper conception and what ends up being opposed is a counterfeit “free” market that is anything but free.

  34. I think St John Gualbert is with our sheppards….

    St. John Gualbert (985 or 995 – 12 July 1073), also known as Giovanni Gualberto or John Gualberto, was an Italian Roman Catholic saint, the founder of the Vallumbrosan Order. One Good Friday he was entering Florence accompanied by armed followers, when in a narrow lane he came upon a man who had killed his brother. He was about to kill the man in revenge, when the other fell upon his knees and begged for mercy in the name of Christ. John forgave him. He went to the Benedictine Church at San Miniato to pray, and Christ on the crucifix bowed His head to him in recognition of his generosity.

  35. Hi Father, I don’t know if you’ll have time to respond to this since I am way down here on the list of comments, but I hope you do.

    1. The idea of religious submission of the intellect to non-fallible teachings. Where did this idea come from. If it is not a dogma, then why should we even accept it. Certainly, V2 was not a doctrinal council that tried to establish any new teachings, so where did this idea come from?

    2. How can we “force” our intellect to agree or assent to something if we don’t think it is correct. I think the concept of religious submission to non-fallible teaching just confuddles things. SHouldn’t we only have to assent to dogmas since those truths are the only ones that are guaranteed to be true by the Holy Spirit? If there is no guarantee of truth, why should anyone be obliged to offer any kind of assent?

    1. Well dogma is a technical term that refers to the teachings which are most certainly proclaimed by the Church to be essential to the deposit of faith. Doctrine refers to a wider body of teachings that includes dogma but also teachings not formally proclaimed at a Council, yet widely taught and accepted as certainly true. There are other teachings, and disciplines required to be adhered to that are not dogma per se but are disciplines to which we are expected to submit. For example the liturgical discipline ought to be followed though it is not dogma and priest is expected to obey the rubrics. As for why we ought to submit to them, we do this for the sake of discipline and good order. I am not sure where V2 “got it” probably Ignatius of Antioch, but that it is proposed to us in the catechism bespeaks the idea that assent, docility and obedience are essential virtues to cultivate for the sake of community, good order and the capacity of the Bishop to exercise his teaching office.

      I would not use the word force here. What we are talking about are virtues that open the door for you to be taught: docility (to be teachable) and obedience (to give a hearing, to listen with openness) are required for there to be teaching. Virtue is a good habit residing in the will, force does not pertain to the intellect. But the virtues residing in the will dispose the mind to open and teachable by recognized authority.

    2. Sam, are you the kind of guy who, when confronted with a legal problem, tells his lawyer that he is going to decide for himself what the law is, rather than trust in and assent to what the lawyer says? When you go to the doctor and he tells you about some health problem, do you tell the doctor, “hey, you’re not infallible here, I’ll do what I want”?

      If not as a religious duty, maybe as a matter of prudence and simple humility, admitting to yourself that, no, you do not know everything, that maybe these guys who have studied and prayed and spent practically their entire adult lives thinking about these things and applying them in very real life situations, maybe they know what they are talking about more than you?

      Sorry to be so blunt about it. But why is it that when it comes to matters of faith, so many people think that they are experts?

        1. “If not as a religious duty, maybe as a matter of prudence and simple humility, admitting to yourself that, no, you do not know everything, that maybe these guys who have studied and prayed and spent practically their entire adult lives thinking about these things and applying them in very real life situations, maybe they know what they are talking about more than you?”

          What about the generations of guys who studied and prayed and spent practically their entire adult lives thinking about these things and applying them in very real life situations? Some of the “applying in very real life” actually took place when the Church had direct control over whether someone would be put to death.

          Maybe a little humility is called for on the part of those who would disregard generations of thought and replace it with the thinking of a much smaller group, in a limited point in time, who decided modern secular thought on a subject was greater than the Tradition of the Church.

  36. My argument with publications of the USCCB and some regional bishops’ conferences is that in some instances relating to caring for the environment, the conferences take (what I deem to be) absolutist positions: “You shall not cut any trees in this green belt!” to the point where people who used to find employment in the lumber industry now beg in downtown cities. Then the Catholic papers bemoan the unemployment rates, w/o recognizing their own culpability in this regard.
    Are the bishops uniquely gifted in defining the proper balance between care for the natural environment and the need of adults for employment in industries that use natural resources?

    1. Isn’t this really made up? What document said You shall not cut any trees….? There are Catholic environmental positions, based largely on the universal destination of goods. However, it’s really in its infancy. I rather doubt the chain of events you describe here is real but would be open to exact quotes

  37. I can accept the points you are making. The disagreement is in the political arena where voters can’t use line item veto nor can they sit on the side and abstain and expect a good outcome. These are particularly dangerous times for the Church and the faithful as history prepares to repeat itself, not in Constantinople, Russia, Germany, Italy, China or Vietnam. It’s right here on the streets, courts, schools and media venues of the U,S. Refusing to take active participation in the process of our elective process without consulting the bishop and the catechism is like waiting for the police to arrive when someone is threatening to harm you. Just like the Church, it’s not a perfect system but it’s the best in the world and if people in this country as well as other likeminded, hadn’t stepped up to the plate and given their lives and efforts to it, I seriously doubt there would be a pope today. Like the story goes about the priest in battle is claimed to have said, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”

  38. I think what is partly at issue is that we tend to think of ourselves as American Catholics rather than a member of the universal church. When you view the whole body of Christ in light of the teachings, you gain a new perspective. Consider how Iran applies the death penalty compared to the U.S. and it’s understandable why the Pope and Bishops have taken their stance.

  39. “You will be hated by all because of My name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Luke 21:17-19

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for your perseverance. You have endured much for your witness to the Truth.

  40. Msgr. Pope, I find your stand on the death penalty to be out of touch with reality. God’s word demands the death of anyone who unjustly takes the life of another human being. When the dp is not carried out, contempt for life grows like a weed in a community. In Peoria, Il, where I live, we have had an epidemic of murder in the South side of town. The people who live there, (mostly black), have no respect for life or any real courage to stop the murders. Oh, they’ll wail, moan, and cry about how terrible it is, but they expect others to clean up after them. One of the reasons why the murders continue is the fact that we don’t have the death penalty in Illinois, thanks to Ex-Gov Ryan, who was convicted on corruption charges. If we had the death penalty, and it was used without fail on anyone convicted of murder, it would cause the murder rate to drop rapidly. Instead, we have Catholic laymen, like
    Mark Shea, priests like you, bishops like Chaput, and sadly, even Popes like John Paul II who plead for the lives of unrepentant murderers, and pay no attention to the cries of the victims and their loved ones! All this is is liberalism and modernism, which you condemn in your words, but endorse in your actions.

    1. The notion of the death penalty “used without fail” is also a little out of touch with reality given our legal system with its multiple appeals and every case on its own merits. I am not sure how we could get to your scenario given both politics, but even more the legal system.

      As for priests like me, and the company I keep, Archbishop Chaput, Pope JPII (Benedict 16), and Mark Shea, I should prefer their company to Stephen D who says, The people who live there, (mostly black), have no respect for life or any real courage to stop the murders. Oh, they’ll wail, moan, and cry about how terrible it is, but they expect others to clean up after them.

      As for being called “liberal” I have to smile, I rarely get called that and some people I know would surely be surprised to hear me called that, just as they would be surprised to hear Pope JPII and Archbishop Chaput labeled as such. But truth be told, we who follow Christ should not really be able to fit into any one category perfectly since Jesus is bigger than our silly distinctions. Jesus was hated by the Pharisees AND the Herodians, two camps radically opposed to each other but agreed on hating Jesus. Jesus died outside the city gate condemned by Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians and the Romans. Even the Zealots didn’t like him. I pray that I am worthy to go outside the city gates and die with him, despised perhaps by you, but hopefully in the good company of the recent popes, Archbishop Chaput, Mark Shea and other folks “out of touch” with reality as you describe it.

      1. “Mark Shea, priests like you, bishops like Chaput, and sadly, even Popes like John Paul II who plead for the lives of unrepentant murderers, and pay no attention to the cries of the victims and their loved ones!”

        How is the killing of the murderers going to help the families of the victims?

  41. It appears to me that what the ultimate failing stems from is a lack of coherence on the part of the American bishops. We’re absolutely pro-life! But don’t excommunicate pro-abortion Catholics… Fine and dandy to say that someone who is pro-abortion shouldn’t take communion…but, come now, how many people receive the Blessed Sacrament every Sunday when they shouldn’t? Anyone want to take bets on a percentage? 10%? 30%? 50%? I freely admit to being a bad Catholic…and because of this, I haven’t taken communion for years because I have an issue which prevents me from doing so (working on it…and hopefully soon I’ll be back in full communion). I, a bad Catholic, understand what the Sacrament is…and how it should be approached…and I wonder why my Bishops don’t seem to have as much concern for it as I do. Have a bishop stand in front of the Church door blocking the path of a Nancy Pelosi, and then we’ll be getting back to some coherence.

    If the Bishops want the people to listen, then they’d better get hot on a rigid practical application of Catholic teaching. I listen because I know I should (and when JPII first pronounced strongly against capital punishment, I considered the matter and switched to being opposed to the death penalty)…but most people will only listen when it is made absolutely clear…unmistakable. THIS IS WHAT CATHOLICISM REQUIRES!!! Make it like that, and sure some percentage will drop away (maybe even a large percentage), but more will be thrilled that we have a Church fearlessly proclaiming Catholic truth, come what may. But until the Bishops do this, no sense complaining that people ignore them…easy to ignore someone who is whispering apparently conflicting views.

  42. Msgr., can you post on humanae vitae and why we should follow the Church’s teaching here even though it is not infallible? Thank you!

    1. Depends on what you mean by “infallible”? The substance of the teaching has been the consistent teaching of the Church from Apostolic times until the present day, as presented by countless popes and bishops for 2000 years.

      Besides, to say that a given teaching is or is not “infallible” is to misunderstand the term. People can be fallible or infallible, but a teaching cannot be. Pope Paul was fallible on some things, infallible on others, but his teachings were neither. A teaching is either true or not true. So, the question is not “is Humanae Vitae an infallible teaching?” The question is — “is it true or not?” Does Humanae Vitae teach truth?

      Pope Benedict spoke to this question on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae
      Forty years after its publication this teaching not only expresses its unchanged truth but also reveals the farsightedness with which the problem is confronted. . . . The Magisterium of the Church cannot be exonerated from reflecting in an ever new and deeper way on the fundamental principles that concern marriage and procreation. What was true yesterday is true also today. The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change; on the contrary, precisely in the light of the new scientific discoveries, its teaching becomes more timely and elicits reflection on the intrinsic value it possesses. The key word to enter coherently into its content remains “love.” . . .

      It was not by chance that Jesus, in speaking of human love, alluded to what God created at the beginning of the Creation (cf. Mt 19: 4-6). His teaching refers to a free act with which the Creator not only meant to express the riches of his love which is open, giving itself to all, but he also wanted to impress upon it a paradigm in accordance with which humanity’s action must be declined. In the fruitfulness of conjugal love, the man and the woman share in the Father’s creative act and make it clear that at the origin of their spousal life they pronounce a genuine “yes” which is truly lived in reciprocity, remaining ever open to life.

      This word of the Lord, with its profound truth, endures unchanged and cannot be abolished by the different theories that have succeeded one another in the course of the years, and at times even been contradictory.

      What was true yesterday is true also today. The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change.

      That sounds pretty definitive to me. It is not mere opinion. It is not an open question. It is not a matter open for debate or later alteration. It is a matter of truth.

  43. Msgr Pope

    I once took care of a woman who was stabbed 20 odd times, and raped by an assailant in front of her 6 year old daughter. When I saw her she was clinging to life on a mechanical ventilator. My question is this: Would the district attorney in Prince Georges County Maryland where this occurred be committing a sin if he tried the case and asked the jury for the death penalty for the assailant ? Would the jurors be sinning if they convicted the assailant, and assuming no mitigating factors ( the assilant is ex boyfriend and is not judged to be insane. ) sentenced him to death? Would a judge who heard an appeal of the death penalty and allowed it to proceed be sinning? If the answer is “no” I am not sure what the debate is about. If its not immoral it seems its really just a policy preference issue. A Catholic in good conscience really could use their best judgment in this situation, and on this issue in general.

    If the answer is yes its a sin. Then its inescapable, you are arguing that the teaching has clearly changed. It is not simply that the “application” of the teaching has changed. To try and say merely the application has changed is a subtrifuge that is contrary to the historical record. As recently as 1952 the Death penalty was justified . Pius XII in 1952 said this in a public address re the Death penalty : “Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.” In fact even if we argued that in some fashion society does not “need” the death penalty to protect itself, it was justified as a proper way to mete out justice.

    The Cathechism of the council of Trent said the following :
    “The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thy shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.” What change in the criminal justice system is there that mandates the change, moreover it seems irrelevant because the Death penalty was thought not just to “protect society” but could be used to mete out justice. Why would mandatory oppostion to the Death penalty not a change in what a previous Catechism taught. Finally if a moral teaching can just change ( as times change etc..) On what basis can we not argue that some current difficult teaching can not be changed Take your pick of which one

    I am not just cheery picking texts, There is actually a pretty clear history that supports the fact that The Catholic Church taught the death penalty was moral and just even if used primarily as “punshment” Someone interested can read one argument along these lines in Justice Antonin Scalia’s essay re this topic in First Things May 2002. see http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/gods-justice-and-ours-32. What I think is dishonest is to pretend the history did not exist. To have a concern about this is not to “live in some ivory tower”.

    I know its your blog, but with all do respect I think this is a legitimate question and deserves a fair answer. I do not think you have given one.

    You are free as a citzen to argue that the death penalty is currently unwise policy ( I think I would join you in making this case). You are also free to make the case, that out of respect for their office, when the Bishops have a policy preference we listen to what they have to say and give it a fair hearing ( I will concede this out of respect for the office, but, mea culpa, lately its tough given the unthinking and doctrinare agreement with each and every policy preference of the left wing of the Democratic party taken by the USCCB, including a special Catholic approach to “climate change” and enviormental “justice” on their website! ( Do we all agree that the evidence even affirms climate change, Have the Bishops not considered that some of the data was fabricated. Can the bishops even assess the data on this issue? Are the Bishops also experts is enviornmental science! This is the very definition of unthinking party line far left liberalism on display ) The only thing the USCCB disagrees with the far left on, because they must, is abortion and gay marriage! And that disagreement is apparently made most reluctantly, given the fact that they fund ( via the CCHD) their opponents on abortion/gay marriage. I suppose one might assume this is because the pro-abortion and pro-gay rights groups who benefit from the USCCB largesse are their allies on everything else. ( Or maybe, please God….. its just a sign the staff is run amok and its merely incompent management.) BTW I am rather suprised that you are not outraged by the CCHD collection going to the likes of ACORN. It is a disgrace. Nonetheless I will try to give the Bishops a hearing when they dabble in public policy. Beyond that, It seems hard to argue that some one is not free to ultimately disagree on capitol punishment , with you, and the USCCB and even Pope John Paul II without committing a sin. That is without “dissenting”. At least not dissent in the same way the Winnepeg Statement of the Canadian Bishops on Humane Vitae was “dissent” . So Scalia upholding a death sentence would be fundamentally different thing than Anthony Kennedy upholding abortion on demand. Do you disagree? That is the real question.

    1. You’re response seems to make it pretty clear that your main template for seeing this and other issues is secular politics. Why not just think as a Catholic? Why does it matter what party agrees with us or disagrees with us on a certain matter? or that the USCCB sides with one party or another a certain percentage? Jesus is not an R or D, neither is the Church. We are Catholic and our thinking should emerge from a prayerful and careful reading of the New Testament and Sacred Tradition and the application of these to life. I only vaguely remember the CCHD matter you mention but recall that there were changes made. As to the Scalia Kennedy thing, I agree they are fundamentally different. Abortion is surely a settled doctrinal matter, is intrinsically evil, and involves the death of the innocent. CP does not of this. Finally you seem to think I am you must agree with the Bishops and Popes on this matter, which I do not say. This is an article about docility and obedience as general virtues. I have made it clear that they are not absolute virtues and do admit of exceptions. What the article explores is the growing attitude that unless something is infallibly defined I am free to cast it overboard. TO which I answer, no more is required. One ought to allow the Bishop to teach and one ought to strive ti understand the reasons. But today, too many in the church broadly and categorically dismiss the bishops as a bunch of libs and engage in wholly inappropriate remarks and ridicule. I am not theological or political liberal but it grieves me to see this acidy attitude settling in on the theologically conservative side of the aisle where it did not used to be. Capital punishment is only one issue. It is the lack of a teachable spirit, the open rebelliousness and dismissal of the Church hierarchy as a group that increasingly disturbs me. The hierarchy are not just some dudes with an opinion, they are anointed by God to teach, govern and sanctify us. Increasingly I see no acknowledgment of this. Hence the quote form the Catechism remains vitally important:

      Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (Catechism 892)

      1. Thank you for the response. 1) “The adhere with religious assent” applies in my mind to a teaching like say… contraception which has not been declared “infallibly” but is pretty clearly part of the ordinary magisterium. It probably applies to the teaching on religious freedom given in Vatican II. I am not sure it applies to the stuff on “enviormental justice” which I am pretty sure is not part of the “ordinary magisterium”, unless they mean we should all have a concern about the enviorment in a general sort of way. And I am 100% sure it can not apply to Capitol Punishment or we would have the absurdity of the faithful needing to adhere to a teaching in the 1940s, and now needing to adhere to the opposite.

        Which brings us to why there is some bitterness on the right. It is probably unfair to you to put you in the position of hearing the Bishops being criticized, as one is your immediate boss, especially over their politics. Mea Culpa, on the other hand you brought it up with this “hanging curve ball” of a call for docility, Hard not to take a cut at that. I wish it was not all about politics but look at what is going on… In a normal world we would agree on the basic principles of the natural law ( or at least that there is such a thing as natural law). In that world outside of issues of war and peace, politics, R and D would be about mostly about technique. What economic policy “works best” for example. In a world wth complex issues a Catholic could probably find agreement on some issues with either party. I would imagine individual Bishops would have their individual policy preferences. We do not have a normal world since there are a number of issues in play than involve political support of intrinsic evils, (abortion, and the like) In fact its pretty clear that there is pressure on Caholic institutions to either cease to be Catholic, by co-operating in the evil ( as with the mandate to pay for contraception and abortifacients from the Obama administration) or to cease to function, as some Catholic adoption agencies have had to do in order to avoid coperating by placing kids in “gay marriage” homes. In this situation there is a grave obligation to fight the evil ( I am sure you agree). It seems to me that the ordinary magisterium would teach this

        So Catholics have a grave obligation to oppose abortion ( its an “unspeakable crime” recall). From my personal point of view I would just as soon be able to live my life and ignore all this, and just build my 401K to a secure retuirement… butI I imagine this would be some sort of sin of ommission. So off I go to fight the evils of the day as best I can. I have testified in the state legislature to oppose ESC research, given talks to health care professions to convince them to see it our way on the life issues.. and so forth. Others who are much better people than me do a lot more… The knock of the Bishops is this…. When I try to convince my fellow Catholics that look here…. You may want the marginal tax rate to be 45% and I may want 25%…. but all of that does not matter since one political Party favors unlimited abortion for any reason at any stage of Pregnancy, abortion is legalized murder and that simply should disqualify them from getting your vote,, The fact is the party that feels that way is the Democrats….. My liberal Catholic friend says… That’s ridiculous! The Bishops say…. and then siting any number of issues on which the Bishops take liberal political stances ,…” these other important issues justify my vote for the Pro-abortion guy”. IT is obviously one reason why Obama in spite of saying the first thing he would do in office was sign the “Freedom of Choice” act, got 54% of the Catholic vote. So from my perspective The Bishops are not helping those of us on the right ” establish the culture of life. , In fact by conflating issues that are matters of intrinsic evil with prudential judgements they are giving cover, maybe inadvertently, to those who support intrinsic evils. This action got the lefty elected and now the Bishops are in the insane position of trying to fight him on the pro-abortion health care reform, his recinding conscience protections for health care workers, his unwilligingness to defend the “Defense of Marriage act” . Do the Bishosp believe their own rhetoric? Can they be serious. This was very predictable! I suppose like most of the right I am even more inflammed because I think the Bishops are overwhelmingly wrong on their policy preferences on the prudential judgements issues. For the sake of these losing left wing positions they dilute their pro-life witness. It would not be as bad if they said… Look if you are pro-abortion, then A Catholic can not vote for you period… We otherwise prefer a pro-lifer who has how to help the poor uppermost in their mind when making economic policy,… Then I might think about docile and obedient. But sadly this is not what they are doing. Rather they are collecting money and sending some of that money via the CCHD to the most left wing political organizations in the country, which in turn have taken pro-abortion stances and worked to elect the politicians who are fighting us ! Memo to USCCB you are making my job as a concerned layperson a lot harder, can you stop please. I am not sure if this is insanity or malfeasence, but it is hardly commends a strategy of docility and obedience. Hence the anger on the right.

        You originally said be docile because the Bishops had a political strategy for witnessing to the culture of life, that included oppsition to Capitol punishment. I think frankly the oppostion to Capitol punishment is just one more liberal policy preference. If it was part of some coherent pro-life strategy I might feel differently, but where is the strategy?Given the track record above, no one who has actually done anything to effect pro-life policy ever will think the Bishops have a grand strategy. We are usually grateful when they do not obstruct us! If I am docile in this case, we will lose. We have been losing for a very long time. 25 years ago it was rare to see nutrition and hydration witheld from neurologically disabled hospital patients and it has been my experience that it is now routine to see Catholic familes suggest it! 25 years ago We were not arguing over goverment funding designed to creat human embryos in a lab so we could kill them and play with some interesting cells they produce and so forth… ( imagine if some actual therapy for say diabetes was developed using Embryonic stem cells. No more possibilities for a Catholic to become a physician or a nurse, as a routine therapy would be immoral. No more Catholic hospitals….. ) Any more docility for this invisible “stragegy” is a disaster!

        If you couple this with the day to day neglect of things which seem to be parts of the ordinary magisterium and one would thing are the responsibility of the Bishops, but that are getting ignored and your going to have some irritation. (I send my kids to Catholic schools and am very often in the position of clarifying or disputing some heresy or near heresy or other… is it really the same morally if you are an atheist or a Catholic? Is it really that a mortal sin is about your “fundamental option” and the moral choices of a teenage boy are about how “loving” their choices are in keeping with that fundamental option, keeping in mind they should follow their conscience? (I have boys, but I would not want anyone’s daughter to date a 17 year old who was given to that line of moral reasoning! ) Ok I am the primary educator of my Kids, but would it be to much to ask that I do not also have to police the Catholic Schools and the DRE for confirmation class? Maybe the Bishop can take some time out from looking into climate change and deal with some of this. Throw this in with the utter malfeasence in some cases. My diocese is bankrupt because of the abuse crisis, We have some Bishops under indictment by the legal system, and some who perhaps should be ( remember that former Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee payed his former gay lover 450,000 in hush money using diocesean funds) and well… I think acid comments on a blog are a mild response. St. John Chrysostom is quoted as saying that “the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops”, ( not very docile that…) I am suprised you would be surprised at the anger! It would seem inevitable!

        Again thanks for the response. Regards

    2. RE: the death penalty.

      “The purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life”

      Really, nothing has changed. What has developed is an understanding that a social conditions change, how to protect and foster may require a change in the law.

      Over zealous prosecuters, poor defendants and the burden of excessive appeals in our country can dictate that the way to protect and foster is not to impose the death penalty unless there is no other way to protect and foster. The innocence project has proved that our system convicts wrongly. THAT fosters disrespect for life and our country. This issues requires much thought.

      When it come to other issues, especially immigration, I have read reams on it. And I agree with those on this blog who say that the staff and the Bishops in their public policy advocacy are NOT following the whole teaching of the Church, but rather the leftists (and I might add, the greedy employers and the pandering politicians) to the detriment of the whole. I have yet to hear one public policy statement from the Bishops or the USCCB that articulates JPII and B16 about the need to change the social and economic problems of the sending countries.

      If anyone can show me that anywhere, I would be so happy to see it.

      1. “Really, nothing has changed. What has developed is an understanding that a social conditions change, how to protect and foster may require a change in the law.”

        You can’t leave out the next sentence Ann Marie:

        “This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.”

        There has been a huge change. Punishing those who have destroyed innocent lives counts for nothing anymore.

        1. Exactly, Brian! Here’s is what Leon Podles said about the nature of forgiveness and repentence; Podles is a Catholic who wrote about theh clerical sex-abuse crisis in his book, “Sacrilege.” His comments concern the crisis w/Bishop Finn of Kansas City but it’s certainly applicable to the discussion regarding capital punishment for murderers:

          The Catholic Church (and other forms of Christianity) also suffers from a widespread misunderstanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift, first of all; it cannot be demanded. To be forgiven the sinner must truly repent, and part of repentance is accepting the just punishment for one’s sins (in Bishop Finn’s case, time in jail) and a desire to, as far as possible, remedy the evil that one’s sin has caused.

          The fact that this needs to be re-stated shows how bad catechesis is, these days.

          1. ” Punishing those who have destroyed innocent lives counts for nothing anymore.”

            This is false. It is the nature of the punishment that is being called into question in most cases, not the necessity of punishment itself.

            “The Catholic Church (and other forms of Christianity) also suffers from a widespread misunderstanding of forgiveness. . . ”

            Whether or not someone is forgiven is beyond our control, but this doesn’t mean that we should refuse to offer forgiveness unless a person is repentant. Otherwise they are caught in a catch-22 – they cannot repent because no one has offered to forgive them, but no one has offered it because they have not repented.

            God doesn’t wait for us to be repentant but died for us “while we were still sinnners.”

          2. “This is false.”

            No, within the context of determining whether the death penalty should be used, it is absolutely true.

  44. Please look at the links. This is the type of rhetoric that just drives knowledgeable people nuts.

    I live on the Border. My family and I go South and family and others go North. I know the scene pretty well. If one goes across the border one MUST have auto insurance, one must have an entry card which they must carry with them at all times and they must surrender it upon leaving Mexico and you had better not have overstayed. Not to comply may and probably will result in time in a Mexican jail and at the very least immediate expulsion.

    On the other hand, I see people cross North all the time. Most do not have insurance. In fact, on the border Americans have to pay an increaded premium to take care of the many uninsured motorists from Mexico in case of accidents for which they never take responsibility. Many do not have anything but a crossing card with which they do not comply. For years, I have seen my family’s property destroyed by illegal crossers, the fence cut in the border towns with an almost constant stream of illegal entrants only interrputed by a signal by a lookout that the Border Patrol or cops are coming.

    To say anything like this smacks of partisanship, not Church teaching. Please note, I am NOT defending Cain’s remarks. I would never deny illegal people their human right to be treated with dignity, but I am criticizing the unjust approach of Church members.

    “Bishop Ascencio is a member of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People.

    “If the intention is that the undocumented not be allowed to enter the United States, then they should preach by example and not allow Americans to come to Mexico without the proper documentation,” he added.

    Mexican lawmakers should understand “that it is just as much a crime for them to enter the United States illegally as it is for (migrants) to enter our nation illegally,” Bishop Ascencio added.”


  45. Such a lot of rage and anger and vengence here.

    Of course, anger in and of itself can be a form of deadly violence, a violation of the Fifth Commandment. And, as noted, the punishment for such violation is death.

    In fact, if we want to get technical about it, the punishment “demanded by God” for other sins calls for death too. Sins like eating a piece of fruit.

    Make no mistake about it. EVERYONE OF US HERE HAS COMMITTED SINS MERITING DEATH. We ALL deserve the death penalty for our sins. None of us is pure, none of us are immaculate. For our sins, we deserve capital punishment.

    But, when we point the finger of accusation at ourselves, we suddenly learn how to properly interpret those Old Testament passages about incurring death for ANY mortal sin — what God means is eternal death, not physical wordly death, so no need to toss around any rocks. Well, the same applies with respect to violations of the Fifth Commandment, notwithstanding the angry, yet gleeful blood-lust exhibited here to “KILL, KILL” the murderer, not because he still presents a danger, but merely for the sake of killing him and imposing OUR justice upon him, even though God, in His perfect justice, may very well pardon him.

    1. This is an interesting interpretation, but is only relevant if we were discussing the Church of Bender. We are talking about the Catholic Church, and your doctrine was certainly not the one taught by the Church prior to the most recent Catechism.

      1. This is basic stuff Brian. It is Catholicism 101. It is called “mortal” sin for a reason. And the first one committed, which ushered in death for us all, was merely for the man and the woman to eat the Fruit of the Tree.

        If you believe that, in your life after having that Original Sin washed away in Baptism, you are perfectly pure and have never committed a mortal sin, I would suggest that you are sorely mistaken. If you have committed a mortal sin, I suggest you seek sacramental absolution or else “you will surely die.”

        1. Yes, it is a basic concept, going back to the inception of the Church. Yet, for century after century, the Church taught both the concept of Original Sin and that certain offenses could properly be punished with death in order to: (1) punish the offender; and (2) protect society.

          As I indicated above, you are free to have your personal interpretation, and you may not like what the Church had to say on this issue until 1992, but don’t try to claim your position is Catholicism 101, because it clearly is not.

  46. Msgr.: Bravo and well said, and thank you for defending the popes on the death penalty!

    Does there not need to be a follow-up post, however, about respecting the role of the laity and legitimate secularity? These are themes Pope Benedict XVI never travels without insisting upon both to bishops and to civic leaders when he meets with them. They must be well understood in order for Christians and non-Christians alike to understand the role of the faithful in engaging and purifying public life and these themes have made it into each of his three encyclicals, yet I see little evidence of anyone grabbing hold of them.

    It never fails to astonish me, given that Vatican II is considered the council on the laity, how clericalist we all still are. If a political issue comes up, we cry, “Why don’t the bishops DO something!?!” when in most cases it’s not really the bishops’ job, but the layman’s job. And it’s not uncommon to hear homilies and pronouncements that amount to the priest instructing the carpenter on the right way to use a plane and lathe….that is, beyond teaching doctrine and morals, and down into the nitty gritty of imposing precise solutions and telling people how to do their jobs.

    Persons in the field with the training, understanding, experience and expertise ought to be nourished with the sacraments and sound teaching and then allowed to run with that to make a difference in their spheres of influence and thus bear Christ into what Benedict calls “the dark places of the world” — by which he means the political and social order, where Christians have largely fallen silent. This is not only the laity’s right, it’s our responsibility — our vocation.

    Laity come to the Church for sanctification through the sacraments, sound teaching, and yes, sometimes some discipline, but then they’re the ones with the responsibility to build the civilization of justice and love. It seems to me we’ve more or less reversed the roles. Now the laity think participation means sitting on the pastoral council and endlessly instructing bishops how to “bishop,” and many clergy preach on social and political matters in ways that not only occasionally reveal gross personal ignorance on the topic at hand but also inhibit lay people’s creative engagement with the world because we’re told what to do instead of being taught the principles which apply and encouraged to go figure out how to apply them in our time.

    1. Yes, your points are well stated. The renewal of the temporal order belongs essentially to the laity. One of the unknown documents of VC II is Decretum de apostolatu laicorum (Decree on the apostolate of the laity). Further, there are legitimate questions to ask on who among the laity are advising the Bishops on temporal matters, legislative affairs, the economy, the sciences etc. For we want to be certain that the Bishops are receiving sound advice from all aspects of the laity in their various areas of expertise. This will be a good follow up and I will get on I pray next week.

  47. I’d be impressed if the bishops actually bothered to sit and teach something. My generation has been devastated from the nigh total absence of teaching in our lifetimes. Even today, as a catechist to teenagers, that teaching we are supposed to receive is very sparse and selective.

    The bishops have also shown us a very bad example in docility and obedience by their own actions. Many flout Canon Law and instructions from the Holy See about liturgy, formation in the seminary, annulments, et cetera. When diocese care far, far more about ‘safe environment’ training than the catechetical formation of the catechists, it is easy to became jaded with our current teachers, the bishops.

    I obey. I do, but it gets on my last nerve that they feel they don’t have to, and practically nothing is done to correct it. And frankly, good Monseigneur, it wears me out.

  48. Msgr. Charles Pope,
    Catholicism tends to flee history and talk isolated theology. As soon as one re-enters history books, Lumen Gentium 25 looks like a simplistic mistake with its “religious submission of mind and will”. If you or I gave religious submission of mind and will to the non infallible Exsurge Domine in 1520, our docility to Pope Leo X would have led us to support the burning of heretics in our diocese….. the direct opposite of docility to these last two Popes on the death penalty. Portuguese in 1456 who were docile to Pope Nicholas V were able to enslave new natives who resisted the gospel and take their property per Romanus Pontifex,1455, mid 4th large paragraph…..slavery which is now called an “intrinsic evil” by Splendor of the Truth sect. 80. Docility to the non infallible is sworn to by Catholic college profs in theology….ergo their recent letter against capital punishment was an exercise was something they were bound to even if they were disinclined in their heart of hearts. Go to wiki and notice that some of the most dangerous murder rate countries on earth are Catholic countries without the death penalty:

    El Salvador #1 worst murder rate.   79% Catholic      no dp 
    Honduras #2. worst          ”          ”               97%.Catholic   no dp
    Venezuela.# 4 worst            ”         ”             96%.          ”        no dp
    Colombia. #7.worst               ”       ”             90%.      ”             no dp
    Brazil. #19.worst                                        73%.             ”        no dp
    Dominican Republic #20.worst                 95%.         ”            no dp

    Want to bet the last two Popes did virtually no research on such data?

    1. As Msgr. Pope has said ad nauseum, the DP has not been declared intrinisically evil. If it can be shown that the people of El Salvador are in grave danger on account of the lack of the death penalty, there would be case for their having it John Paul’s teaching.

      1. Sam
        I think it’s safe to say that Catholics in the two worst murder rate countries in the world are not being protected by life sentences. Were you to send your daughter on a foreign country vacation, she is safer in Japan which has the death penalty than she would be in any Catholic country in the world according to wiki’s list.
        Japan…98% Shinto…is the third safest country against adult murder. We are at the other end and we seek to teach Japan.
        As Joseph D’Hippolito has shown: there are two teaching tracks….one in the catechism which allows allegedly rare executions….and track two (outside the catechism) where abolition is worked for and wherein John Paul called the dp “cruel”/ USCCB put that description in their document/ and “cruel” means it should never be
        done and thus contradicts the catechism. Now mind you John Paul called “cruel” something that Cardinal Avery Dulles said God ordered over 36 times in the Bible.

  49. Thank you for having the bravery to interact with the public. I was for the death penalty as a youngster but put away
    childish things in my 30’s thinking about the possible innocence of the perpetrator and the finality of the sentence. Also seldom have murderers escaped from prison. Also there is always the concept of “there but for the grace of God go I”. I agree 100% with your comment of docility and obedience even as sometimes my inner being fights the obedience in this age of “I’ll do it my way”.

    Your article on civility in the combox is one example where Christianity should be displayed and many times the ugly face of the concupiscense(sp) is abounding.

    I have learned so much that is not taught in the pulpit and fear probably has a lot to do with it. Priests have a much
    tougher job today than in the 50’s.
    Thank you, Margi

    1. Margi
      You put away a childish thing that Christ said was “the commandment of God” and “the word of God” in the passage wherein Christ denounced the circumvention inter alia of the death penalty for reviling parents through the misuse of “corban”:

      Mar 7:10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’;
      Mar 7:11 but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)–
      Mar 7:12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother,
      Mar 7:13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do.”)

      Margi….see that phrase…”let him surely die”….it refers to the stoning prior to Christ bringing grace of offspring who spoke badly of their parents. Christ is including it as “the word of God”. After grace…after Christ, all such death penalties cease but Christ gave them in the first place in the Trinity in the Pentateuch to the Jews. What remains after Christ is Romans 13:4…the death penalties by states for crimes not sins (the Jews were to execute fir both sins and crimes). Prior to grace men needed great threats just to be good….after grace, they do not and partly too because after Christ, the devil’s power was reduced so that now there are few possession
      cases. Romans 13:4 allows the sword to the state as the vindicator of God’s wrath…..which everyone is ignoring in this discussion in the documents involved.

      1. Bill,
        Romans 13:4 may allow the sword to the state (by your interpretation), but your enthusiasm at times seems to be encouraging the use of it…I think the rest of the Bible, taken in context, provides a broader picture.
        There’s a letter of a law and there’s a spirit. The tradition of the Church in moral matters has often been mere legalism–an attempt to forbid or justify a act itself based on some unshakeable normative source (e.g. Natural Law, or in your example, Romans 13:4). While this legalistic way of thinking still seems the standard method in sexual ethics, the Church has appealed to more “person-based” methods in many social ethics matters. This would seem to be what’s going on with this capital punishment discussion–the Church, through the Pope and bishops, are suggesting that even though the letter of the law may allow it, we ought to dig deeper than the mere letter to the spirit of the law which tries upholds the dignity of human life. It certainly can be confusing when certain (especially sexual) acts are said to be “intrinsically” evil without regard to context or intent based on this legalistic approach, and other acts are morally determinable by investigating context and intent. Applying a person-centered method to sexual ethics might result in the moral acceptance of contraception, and applying this legalistic method to capital punishment makes it hard to eliminate it as an attractive (moral) option. Such is the challenge in Catholic moral theology…

        1. Daniel, if Bill is “enthusiastic,” it’s because he (like I) prefer to support the victims of evil rather than such perpetrators as Timothy McVeigh (for whom JPII requested clemency from Pres. Bush) and Saddam Hussein (whose execution the Vatican condemned, despite the fact that Saddam’s sentence resulted from due process). The facts that the Vatican condemned Saddam’s execution and that a Pope petitioned for clemency show that the Vatican has a broken moral compass on this issue.
          Besides, when you call Bill “enthusiastic,” you are engaging in a red herring that’s also a veiled personal attack, which is the exact same tactic both Mark Shea and Msgr. Pope use in addressing legitimate objections…as did Absp. Chaput when he equated Justice Scalia to Frances Kissling, the founder of the pro-abortion Catholics For A Free Choice.
          Finally, the St. Paul who wrote Romans 13:4 is the same one who wrote that all Scripture is divinely inspired. That includes the OT, which St. Paul used as his primary written reference for his letters, especially since the NT was not yet completed, let alone codified.

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