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Let’s Be Careful in Our Charges Regarding the New Wording of the Catechism on the Death Penalty

August 3, 2018 101 Comments

As most of you know, the Pope has directed that the wording of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about capital punishment be changed. The new wording is as follows:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.

Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

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

[1] FRANCIS, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017, 5.

I have concerns that the reactions I have seen in the Catholic “blogosphere” have been too extreme. There are accusations of error, heresy, violations of Natural Law, and unauthorized changes to an unchangeable doctrine. There are calls to resist the Pope, to reject the teaching, and even to bring charges of heresy.

I think we need to be careful, slow down, and look more carefully at the wording. While I understand that there are legitimate concerns, I hope for a more respectful discussion among Catholics than I am currently seeing, at least here in the U.S.

My own reading of the new wording is more sanguine than that of my usual allies. I would like to make three points:

  1. I do not think the Pope or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has changed doctrine or teaching. The new wording addresses a change in the circumstances of our times. While acknowledging the past assessments that permitted the use of the death penalty, the new wording uses an important interpretive phrase: “Today, however, …” What this means is that given the circumstances of our times, the current stance of the Church is that the use of the death penalty is both unnecessary and unwarranted. This is not the same as saying that previous Church teaching was wrong. The emphasis is on current circumstances, in which the need for this penalty is less than demonstrable, and there is an uneven application of “penal sanctions imposed by the state.” These circumstances make the use of the death penalty inadmissible because it does not meet the standards upon which the teaching insists: that it is necessary for the common good and that it is justly and consistently applied. You may disagree with these conclusions, but the point is that the teaching has not been changed; rather, current circumstances do not accord with what is necessary for legitimate recourse to the death penalty.
  2. The circumstances of our times are such that there is a need for a pastoral strategy that speaks to the dignity of every human person. While I realize that an innocent child in the womb is not to be equated with a convicted criminal, we should be careful about affording increasingly secular states the right to end any human life that does not immediately threaten the common good or the safety of innocent people. The new wording speaks to this.
  3. Some have said that the use of the word “inadmissible” is the same as calling the death penalty intrinsically evil. This seems a reckless charge meant to inflame. Had the Pope or the CDF meant to call it such (and it is not) they would have used the words “intrinsic evil”—but that is not the case. A more benign understanding is that the use of the death penalty is inadmissible due to the current circumstances. The context for the word “inadmissible” is supplied by the prior sentences and should be used in understanding it.

I realize that there will be ongoing discussion. I only ask that we calm down a bit and try to listen to what is actually being said (even if we find it somewhat ambiguous). Perhaps we should exhibit a little more care than I have seen exhibited in some of the commentaries I have read.

My central point is that it is not necessary to read this new wording in radical contrast to what has been taught in the past. The stance of the Church for at least the last fifty years has been that the conditions that require the death penalty are rarely if ever present today. This new wording of a moral teaching about a matter rarely encountered in the average person’s lifetime does not amount to a collapse of the Church’s entire moral doctrine. The heated responses on the blogs are out of proportion to a change that, while significant, is worded in a way that permits a contextual no rather than an absolute no that overthrows previous Church teaching. I do not think it does reverse Church teaching and we should be far more careful in making such claims.

In the interest of disclosure, I will say that I have not supported the use of the death penalty for years. I do not hold that it is intrinsically evil, but I cannot see why it is necessary. I do think that we must be more serious about keeping dangerous criminals locked up. First, there should be “truth in sentencing” (i.e., twenty years means twenty years). Second, these convicts should be strictly confined in ways that respect the common good and the need for public safety.

In closing, we should resist the vision of the culture of death, which insists that the killing of human beings is a legitimate solution to human problems.

Comments (101)

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  1. Jmjt says:

    Oppose the death penalty? One name: Osama bin laden… His son is out to “avenge” his father’s name… When one of them kills your sister, as they did to the sister of guys I know from 9/11…(her remains have never been found) … Then the question of the death penalty becomes personal, not a theory or a question about punishment, it is about the moral law & teaching of justice..

    • Greg C says:

      That’s precisely why we have the moral law in the first place — to help us restrain our passions (however “understandable” those passions may be, given certain circumstances). What did Jesus tell us about justice? “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’, but I tell you…”

      Of course, what he told us was NOT that justice no longer has any place in human culture. Only that there is an appropriate time for justice and then there is an appropriate time for a higher standard that involves not acting just like the person you are punishing. (By premeditatively killing them after they’ve premeditatively killed someone else.)

      If someone attacked you and you shot them because you thought they were going to kill you and that was your only recourse, what’s that called? Self defense, right? But what if the cops arrive on the scene and start to take the assailant away in handcuffs and you shoot him then? Now it’s called murder.

      Like Msgr says, it’s really important that we take step back, a deep breath and a careful look at what’s REALLY going on.

  2. Ryan Beggy says:

    Well said!

    • Ryan Beggy says:

      For clarification, my words are in support of Monsignor Pope. Keep up the good work. My family is praying for you.

  3. jobe says:

    I am trying to work it out but I just can not see how it is not a change of the teaching. If something is moral (admissible) under certain conditions one day but inadmissible the next it would seem that now it is considered immoral.

    Also one reason given for the change is suspect…..

    “Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens”

    This is just not accurate.

    Finally I have a question about dignity. Hitler, Pol Pot the death penalty would not have been moral in those cases? How far do we take it? Can one’s dignity preclude them from eternity in hell?

    • Greg C says:

      Jobe, there are some things in life that are intrinsically evil and others that are only conditionally so. Walking around naked, for example. if you’re doing it in your own bedroom (with the blinds shut), big deal, right? But if you’re out on the street…Exact same action but different circumstances.

      In the same way, killing someone in order to defend human life is permissible if there is no other recourse. If there IS another recourse (i.e. calling the cops and having them apprehend and lock the assailant up), then we have always been morally obligated to take it.

      In Matt 19, Jesus says that Moses allowed divorce, but not because that was God’s ultimate desire or design for the human race. He only did it to stem a certain tide. If I understand correctly, there were many men who were just walking away from their wives without even bothering to say as much to them. I believe what Moses compelled then was that if they were going to be so hard hearted, at the very least, these men needed to write up a formal divorce decree for the sake of the wives who would at least then know for sure…

      For God’s original intention regarding capital punishment, take a look at the story of Cain and Abel. After committing the first ever murder in the human race, Cain is understandably worried that others are going to now kill HIM. But what does God say? “Yeah, well, sucks to be you”? No. He says, “That’s not going to happen because, if it does, I will avenge you sevenfold.”

      The Church’s past permission for the death penalty has existed only in the context of wanting to stem a certain tide. Now that that tide no longer exists…

      It isn’t the teaching that has changed, as Msgr notes, it’s only the circumstances surrounding that teaching that have. Hope this makes sense.

      Regarding Hitler, Pol Pot, etc. If we condemn someone for premeditatively taking someone else’s life, how can we turn around and premeditatively take theirs? Note, however, that not executing someone and letting them off scott free are two entirely different things. Obviously what the Church is NOT saying is that someone who takes another person’s life should just be pitied and then allowed to do as they please…

      When it comes to the issue of human dignity, I think it’s more about the executioners dignity than it is about the offender’s. Know what I mean? As far as trying to avoid the executioners being just as guilty of murder as the offenders are.

  4. Larry Butler says:

    Please read “Capital Punishment, the Case for Justice”, by Prof. J. Budziszewski, from First Things August 2004.
    CCC2267 final two paragraphs are prudential judgements that only muddy the waters on settled church teaching.

  5. Isabel says:

    If this is a teaching «about a matter rarely encountered in the average person’s lifetime,» then, why did the pope bother to change the content of the CCC? I do not think this was necesary. It only adds to the people of God’s confusion.
    Blessings.

  6. Eileen says:

    I get so sad when I see the cavernous divide in Christ’s body right now. What is happening, should terrify each one of us. But I’m not seeing terror. A natural response when people are afraid or terrified is to grab the guy next to you, huddle together, and find strength in numbers. No, this is not what I’m seeing. There’s no question the body of Christ is being attacked on multiple fronts.
    Who’s holding the front line on all sides? Are the backups in place? Has everyone gotten a meal? Have our priests gotten a couple hours rest?
    This, in my opinion, should be the Catholic perspective, the face we show the world. Oh, so many would convert and many others would come home. I realize I’m an idealist, but how wonderful it would be. Instead of defending her, we’re fighting each other.
    Mark 3:25
    and if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
    We must find a way to come together and resist the temptation to choose sides. Even EWTN, sadly, is contributing to this divide by their example, they choose a side. Such a worldwide media organization could serve to help pull us together, but they are inciting controversy instead. We have a common enemy, and he is far cleverer than Pope Francis or Cardinal Wuerl. He doesn’t care if we fight each other, impeach our Pope, or imprison all the Cardinals and Bishops. His only goal is to take our eyes off the cross long enough to gain entry to our soul. It is becoming easier and easier to take my eyes off the cross, with all that is going on in the church. My propensity for gossip and my opinionated approach to life takes my eyes off the cross. This is what terrifies me .

  7. John says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Your call for caution is well taken. The tone taken in the blogosphere is, at times, devoid of any filial piety toward the Pope. Not good! That said, just as killing a child is intrinsically evil, so to, the Bible and Magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church affirm that Capital Punishment is intrinsically licit under certain conditions. So, a total ban on Capital Punishment for all legitimate State authorities (no matter the reasons given) is not a power that the Pontiff can wield. By what authority? That is the question I might want answered to believe the new Catechism paragraph is truth. I am very skeptical.

    John

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      I think the key phrase is “under certain conditions.” I think a plainest reading of the new text is that in current circumstances the use of the death penalty is inadmissible and that this explains why the Church has sought its abolition worldwide. This has been the wide consensus and the practice of the Church for at least 50 years now: that the use of the death penalty should end. This prescinds from whether it is intrinsically evil or was ever approved, even commanded in the past for good reason.

      As for the pope’s power, he has no power to force a state to ban anything. In this matter, like all others, he, and the Church must seek to sway the moral discussion and understanding. So the moral (not juridical) stance is that recourse to a biblically lawful practice should not be had in our times.

      • Michael says:

        Msgr. Pope,

        Capital punishment and its legitimate use is certainly a moral issue, and the Church certainly has the authority to lay out principles for its moral and licit use. But how can the pope declare that the conditions are met everywhere and in all cases globally at this point in time such that its imposition by the State is now inadmissible. The pope has no competency or authority in this arena? And where are the data? What metrics were used to come to this conclusion? What was the last society or country to finally have a sufficiently advanced detention system to warrant a universal ‘inadmissibility’ of capital punishment? What were the acceptance and rejection criteria for knowing whether such a condition of advancement was met? The pope or the Church has no competence or expertise in assessing the condition of a society’s penal system because determining the condition of a penal system to adequately protect society is not an issue of faith and morals; it’s a matter of expert opinion and prudential judgment of the State.

        • Carl says:

          Excellent explanation.

          Hardened murderers murder again in prison, does this fulfill the common good?
          What about conversion and salvation? Will murderers find salvation in endless hours of cable tv? Find inspiration in their fellow inmates? I’m betting facing death has the best possibilities in the worst of the worst.
          “El Chapo” in Mexico escaped twice killing at least five people in the process. Witnesses and Jurors were murdered. Judge too. Now he’s in the US being tried under completed secracy.
          Extortion, kidnaping, and bargining for inprisoned murderers.
          Capital Punishment is a deterrent, many have made deals saving lives and finding bodies in exchange.

          To be clear I’m talking about murderers who pose a continued threat even in prison.

          Executing someone who poses a continued threat is worse than keeping them alive and risking extortion, kidnaping, murder, and unwanted bargining? Not buying it.

  8. Hector says:

    Once upon a time the death penalty was necesary, in certain cirscumstances, to ensure the safety of the people. Nowadays, it is merely used as a way for the family of victims to “have closure”, which is nothing more than revenge, or for political figures to look “tough on crime” and get a couple more years in power.
    Each person must look a their own reasons to support the death penalty and check if they are in conformance with the main teaching of our faith: do not commit murder, help one another, have compassion… in other words, Love one another.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      I think, to be fair to proponents of the death penalty, they see its use as in conformity with human dignity. Since the murder of human beings is so serious, it should command the most serious of penalties and be seen as an act of justice, not mere closure or for political gain. Such motives are not wholly absent, but your phrase “nothing more” at least implies that only negative motives are beneath support for the death penalty.

      I think that your concerns point to the very uneven application of the death penalty. Certain cases with notoriety etc. where the family is very outspoken etc. tend to pick up the death penalty. The bottom line for the Church has been, for a long time now, lets just not use the death penalty. At least the last five popes, and an almost unanimous consensus of the bishops worldwide has made this exhortation.

  9. John says:

    If the responses on the blogosphere have been out of proportion to this recent edict by Pope Francis it is due to an accumulation of his deeds thus far in his papacy: convoluted policy on who can receive communion and the one that gets me is his Marxist orientation towards free market economies. Just because Argentina’s economy tanks every ten years doesn’t mean that capitalism is evil.

    • Javier says:

      You obviously haven’t read Rerum Novarum, which was written in the 19th century by a pope that wasn’t Argentine. If you read it carefully, you will see that capitalism was indeed deemed evil; so we must familiarize ourselves better with our Doctrine before making reckless assertions.

      • Jarrad says:

        This is false Javier. RN discusses the excesses of unrestricted capitalism while condemning socialism and affirming the necessity and right of private property. Nowhere is capitalism deemed evil. We must be more precise in our reading.

  10. Theo says:

    I’m so tired of all the wordsmithing, the explaining away of confusing and contradictory statements from the Pope. You know a tree by its fruit, and this already has bad fruit in the anger and confusion of the faithful.

    So let’s just call a spade a spade. And ask, why is it right that the Pope changes the catechism by fiat on a matter of long-standing doctrine? Surely this is a matter for a church council of bishops to discuss. If he changed this, why not change other things, too, due to “changing times?” This is moral relativism and I reject it.

  11. Todd says:

    Thanks Father. One thing that came to my mind was if Saint John Paul II could “authentically” limit it based on abilities today (he did), why couldn’t Pope Francis? Do we not think the “culture of death,” is full on crazy in these dark days?? The devil is good at riling people up. Pride makes us panic, and fear makes us dumb. Easier to trick when angry or scared. “Did God really say you can’t eat of any of the trees in the Garden?” The first manure stirrer. Implication being what about next week, month, or year.

    675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.574 Catechism

    Now what would it take to shake the faith of an actual believer? “Believers,” believe everything God and His Holy Church purport for their belief. Those who don’t – have no faith at all. Saints have said as much. Faith is a gift. Faith has to do with “belief.” We can’t please God without it. So what could shake belief? A knife to the throat won’t change my beliefs. A gun to the head won’t change my beliefs. A nuclear weapon inbound won’t change what I believe. The only thing in this world that has the power to shake the faith (belief) of a believer, is perceived, or real problems inside the City of God – The Church. A crisis, a trial might shake things a bit, no?

  12. Mary says:

    “Today, however,…”

    The blogosphere is worried less about the death penalty and more about what other teaching of the Church can be changed because we are now living in more enlightened times.

  13. Matt says:

    First, I am opposed to capital punishment and always have been, insofar as it is a punishment or penalty. It is a barbaric practice, too often used in a pique of bloodthirsty vengeance, and inasmuch as people might say that “justice demands it,” the practice usurps God to whom such ultimate and transcendent justice resides. And, in fact, I do not doubt that when (if) we get to heaven, we will see walking around people who have been on death row.

    With those bona fides expressed, the change to the Catechism and the explanations given in support of the change do not hold water.

    First, the new section is by its very words NOT an objective universal teaching. It is explicitly relativistic, subjective and a statement of situational ethics. “Today . . . increasing awareness . . . new understanding . . . more effective systems of detention have been developed.”

    These are not words of universal application, but are relative and subjective. For this reason alone, the new section does not belong in a catechism of universal timeless teaching, but in a commentary offering opinion.

    Moreover, precisely because they are situational, a new situation means the statement no longer applies. The section states, “Today . . .” Well, strictly speaking that is not true. “Today” does not last forever. It is one moment in time. For the person reading it, “today” may be a few weeks ago or months ago or years ago. In the mean time, the situation in the actual today may be different. In which case the entire teaching goes right out the window. But of course, that is the result of relativism.

    (to be continued . . .)

  14. Matt says:

    Second, the subjective assertion – “more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens” – is demonstrably false. There are plenty of murders committed in prison, as well as vicious beatings, rapes, etc. Fellow prisoners and guards alike have been killed and grievously wounded by others in those detention facilities, even in supermax, 24-hour lock-down facilities. And that is just in the U.S. Many other countries are wholly without the resources to construct and operate facilities that will restrain and incapacitate prisoners.

    As an aside, those maximum security systems of detention — which necessarily mean keeping people locked up in solitary confinement 23-24 hours a day and tight shackles when let out of a cell, constantly being watched when eating, sleeping, washing, using the toilet, etc. — are grossly inhumane. They are gross violations of human dignity. People are treated like animals in small cages, sometimes for decades. Because that is what is necessary to keep them from endangering others. Is that the moral superiority that we are supposed to embrace???

    Back to the main point — the reach of some really bad guys has gone far beyond prison walls, such that they remain a danger to the lives and security of people. Mob bosses, drug kingpins, terrorist leaders – they all have been able to aid and abet by direction or otherwise death and destruction in society. A few, a very few, continue to present an unacceptable danger merely by existing in custody. That is why guys like Osama bin Laden were killed (executed) in “trying to apprehend them.” It is why guys like Saddam Hussein and the leaders of the Nazi regime were hanged.

    (to be continued further . . .)

  15. Matt says:

    Third, the assertion – “definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption” – is likewise totally false. No one who has been judicially executed has been denied the possibility of redemption. No one is suddenly and without warning executed (except in places like communist countries). In fact, in the U.S., the condemned has many years on death row — years in which to “make their peace with their Maker.” Even in those last moments, as with the thief at Jesus’ side, there is the opportunity to repent and seek God’s mercy – and to receive it.

    (to be continued and concluded . . .)

  16. Matt says:

    Further, the Catechism is NOT the definitive statement of Church teaching. It does not override an encyclical of the papal magisterium. Between the two, Evangelium Vitae is controlling. And while harshly criticizing the practice in nearly all cases, it does allow for it in limited circumstances, those circumstances when there is no other way to safeguard others. Evangelium Vitae has the better of the argument.

    Finally, this sloppy, subjective exercise in relativism is quite harmful to people’s acceptance of the authoritativeness of the Catechism, and it raises concerns for the future for further “development” in Catholic doctrine, which is just a weasel word for “change.”

    • Aaron says:

      Pope Pius XII, in 1955, said quite clearly that the conditions that would permit capital punishment were not historically conditioned, meaning that no matter how “enlightened” we are as a people, the conditions that would permit the use of the death penalty will not disappear.

      The arguments for the change, as Matt points out, have several gaping holes, and in many cases reject what the teaching of the previous 5 popes. That is the problem.

      I don’t like the death penalty, but I believe the state has responsibility to defend its people, which precludes the right to execute those who demonstrably constitute a threat. The right to do so should never be in question. Its the application of the right the body politic and its citizens need to discuss.

    • oraEtlabora says:

      In support of Matt’s second point is the joke of maximum security prisons: The Philippine maximum detention center at Muntinlupa where drug lords live in five star luxury, cavort with starlets and continue to corrode philippine society from “behind bars” built from taxes paid by overtaxed people….

  17. Erin says:

    Monsignor Pope, I love reading your words, and I always consider carefully all the wisdom you offer. However I truly cannot see this as anything other than testing the waters for greater “changes” to come, as well as an attempt at distraction from the shameful scandals bearing down upon the church. It may not be “required” to read this new wording as representing a break or reversal of past teaching on CP, but I believe it would be foolish not to read it as such, especially considering all the rest of the Pope’s words, actions, and appointments while in office. It would be foolish not to recognize this move for the not-so-subtle Trojan horse that it is – relativism masquerading as development. I can only wonder what teachings are next in line for “development”?

  18. Benedict Carter says:

    Here we go: the usual attempt to ‘interpret’ [the Pope’s]* plain meaning to force it into an orthodox box.

    It’s nonsense, Monsignor and you should be ashamed of yourself.

    “Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel ..”

    BUT THE GOSPEL SAYS THE OPPOSITE!

    This is doctrine A becoming B, its antithesis, which is impossible. Ergo, [the Pope] is wrong or the entire Church has been wrong for two thousand years.

    He can reference only himself for this “change”. (Which is his opinion). Since when has the Magisterium of the Church based itself on one man’s opinion?

    ________________

    * edited by blog administrator for language

  19. credidimus says:

    Thank you for your commentary, Monsignor Pope.

    On one point in particular, however, I must disagree. You write: “Some have said that the use of the word ‘inadmissible’ is the same as calling the death penalty intrinsically evil. This seems a reckless charge meant to inflame.”

    I do not think it fair to say that those reading it this way are making reckless charges about the text. This is less reckless than it is simply attentive to the evident intention of the Holy Father. The revised catechism text itself cites the Holy Father’s speech given on October 11 of last year, in which the pope stated that the death penalty was “per se contrary to the Gospel” and “an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity.” This text (again, directly cited by the catechism) very clearly indicates that it is the Holy Father’s view that the death penalty was always and everywhere wrong, and that past applications of the penalty were based on erroneous assumptions resulting and a “mentality more legalistic than Christian.”

    While I think it is necessary and praiseworthy to try to achieve a harmonious read on papal teaching wherever possible, I don’t think this effort should ever lead to a wresting away of the Holy Father’s clearly stated intentions. In this case, his intentions are clear: the imposition of a radically different understanding of the death penalty than the doctrine held to by his predecessors throughout the centuries.

    • John LeBlanc says:

      I agree, Credidimus. The plain reading of the revised text is that the death penalty is intrinsically immoral. Further, the October 11th address is quite telling, and damning in my opinion.

      The revised text itself clearly states that the death penalty is inadmissible precisely because it isn’t compatible with the inviolable dignity of the human person. The dignity of the human person is something that transcends particular contingent circumstances. Therefore, the new teaching is holding that the death penalty is per se wrong. I do not understand how any other reading of the text is possible. The referenced October 11th text just makes matters worse, as it clearly shows that Pope Francis thinks the death penalty is per se immoral.

      I am willing to hear counter-arguments, but that is the way I see it as of now. At the very least, the revised text and referenced October 11th speech *appear* to flatly contradict the traditional teaching of the Church. And that is a very serious problem indeed.

  20. What’s next? Ok gay marriage because of a more enlightened attitude?

  21. Leigh Miller says:

    Msgr.

    As a relatively un-theologicaly capable lay person, I wonder if you can speak to whether this “change” (in whatever it is) can be compared, or not, to other seeming changes in allowances by the church in the past; I’m thinking in particular of the allowance of usury and the prohibition of chattel slavery. I have understood that at one point the church prohibited usury and at another allowed chattel slavery, positions that – due to changes in circumstances perhaps? – were altered. Is this an erroneous comparison or would these be similar occasions?

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Your observation is fundamentally right, esp. regarding usury. At one time the Church taught against any charging of interest since the rates were, at that time exorbitant as a rule. Later, as economies developed and cash became a more common mans of exchange, the wording was altered to prohibit excessive interest. As for slavery, the church never taught that slavery was moral, but St. Paul did exhort slaves to obey their masters. This teaching became moot as the Church worked with the ancient culture to eliminate slavery. The slavery that emerged in the colonial period was of a very different moral character since it enslaved those who owed no debt, had fought no wars or committed no crimes. Hence moral dimensions of later slavery was significantly different from the slavery of the ancient world. Another doctrine, Nulla Salus extra ecclesiam has been nunanced over the years. The early Church fathers taught it quite univocally whereas in our times it is taught more equivocally. At any rate, to be fair, a treatment of these topics requires far more than can be discussed in this brief response. As usual there is always a lot more going on than a quick summary can describe.

  22. Vin says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope – I write as a faithful Catholic who loves the Church, who is familiar with its internal debates, educates his children in it, and provides a substantial amount of support to it. While I have long admired your commentary, only a tortured analysis could conclude that the new language in Section 2267 is not a change in teaching. I favor the death penalty as a deterrent, and abhor it as an actual practice.

    Regarding your Point 1: The prior teaching was that the civil authority can impose the death penalty, justly and and consistently in extreme cases, for the common good. Today, though, the Church notes that social circumstances have changed and that the application of the death penalty has not been just and consistent. The Church’s opinion is that it no longer meets the standards of the teaching. To what does “consistency” refer? Differences in application within the U.S., or differences between the U.S. and a place where law enforcement is less humane? In conveying its conclusion, the Church revoked the discretion it had long left to civil authorities to impose the death penalty. The Church chose to intervene, overnight through the Catechism, in a political issue which had been settled to the satisfaction of generations of Church leaders.

    Regarding Point 3, the Pope and his circle have made a good business out of using unclear language to separate the wording of Church teaching from actual practice. They knew that to say “intrinsically evil” would have been too direct and provocative. It is insufficient for “inadmissible” to take its meaning from the written context; the real context is in practice. Is the death penalty now inadmissible to the civil judge’s range of options for punishment? Yes. If a judge were to impose the death penalty, and if ministers were to carry it out, would that place all involved in a state of serious sin? Yes. “Inadmissible” here means forbidden in practice. What was once permitted but to be avoided is now seen as a serious sin. The teaching on capital punishment has been changed, whether we want to admit it or not.

    Nothing is out of bounds for a (nearly suicidal) Church, desperate to engage the culture only by accommodating it. How many clergy will defend the Holy Father when he declares that heterosexual marriage may not really be the only option today? Should I go to Church with my family tomorrow, or can I say that circumstances today are changing for us – going is inconvenient. Contraception? Married priests? Homosexuality? Why not? Today, we know that even Cardinals have active sex lives.

  23. Bob says:

    The catechism already said it was ALMOST inexcusable, BUT recognized not all the world is just as the developed West (which has its own problems with escapees and with release of truly deranged bloodthirsty people). Many places have no hope of detaining such folk, including against outside accomplices in the case of organized crime.

    These leaves the general populace defenseless unless the criminal is executed.

    The original catechism recognized this, while the curiously Western myopic for this Pope smacks more of his idealistic/populist politics than reason.

    And where does this leave orthodox Catholics when faced with any chance of involvement in a death penalty case where established law of centuries rules? In only a far more difficult spot, for sure.

    No, I do not believe in killing, and AM against it IF violent criminals CAN be imprisoned to protect the rest of us. EXACTLY what the first version said.

    • Matt says:

      Many places have no hope of detaining such folk

      Past experience also shows that some have escaped from secure prisons and killed others while on the run.

      • Bob says:

        Caught your drift in your first, second, third, and fourth posts, Matt.

      • Bob says:

        Quite bluntly, I think this was a PR stunt to direct press and public attention away from far more important other scandals involving loss of many many souls, rather than bodies, and scandals pointing to the very top.

        A common ploy of corporate and government CEO/board damage control.

  24. Michael says:

    The main reason given by Pope Francis for the inadmissibility of the death penalty is that it is an assault on the dignity and inviolability of the human person.

    The wilful taking of a human life in violation of the human person is called a murder, and it is a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance.

    Pope Francis is correct in terms of the law of God as it was before the Flood, but he is wrong in terms of the law as it has been since the time of Noah.

  25. Aren’t there still places on our planet where prisons aren’t secure enough to assure that a mass murderer won’t escape — and kill again? Has the pope examined all the prison systems in the world to be sure the death penalty would never be admissible anywhere? And can the Pope ensure that heinous killers will all get life sentences without parole? And that they won’t kill other prisoners or guards while serving their sentences?

    • Clare Krishan says:

      re: “Has the pope examined all the prison systems in the world…?”
      Can we acknowledge that the Catechism is for the benefit of all Roman Catholics worldwide, whereas I believe Msgr is addressing the a deficit in receptivity amongst US Roman Catholics re: CST? I welcome Mrgr’s take on this matter, as a resident legal-alien Roman Catholic. in her recourse to the ultimate sanction, Lady Liberty keeps very poor company worldwide:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_by_country

      As an examination of conscience for MAGA-motivated democratic support for “spreading American values,” circumstances indistinguishable from
      – theocratic Saudi Arabian values (death penalty for apostasy, ie becoming a Roman Catholic) or
      – communist Chinese values (death penalty for whatever behavior that offends the political elite)
      the Catechism change is well-timed, no?
      America has a higher calling: to be a beacon of rational moderation, that our fellow sojourners on the globe aspiring to reform immoderate inhumane regimes may be encouraged by what is possible where the faith may be openly practised.

      If there is no discernible fruit from adhering to CST — ie socio-economic conditions are so dysfunctional that civic powers find it necessary to incarcerate a greater proportion of citizens than our Western peers — what hope do we have of witnessing to our ‘kerigma’ vocation ( ‘Go out and make disciples’ ) authentically, absent a “do as we say, not as we do” hypocrisy?

      As I always remind my students: Is it true (conforms to Creed, doesn’t deny the faith)? Is it kind (conforms with Decalog, doesn’t contravene Natural law)? Is it necessary (conforms to God’s Will, doesn’t “contracept” grace-perfecting-nature)?
      Is an impertinent soul’s antipathy to Mother Church’s teaching on political matters comparable to an incontinent soul’s antipathy to Mother Church’s teaching on sexual matters ( Humanae Vitae ). I think so. They are both examples of the same spiritual weakness: a lack of receptivity to Divine Wisdom that impoverishes the faithful, depriving the world of a powerful Christian witness.

  26. KW says:

    Thank you for your analysis, Monsignor Pope. Whatever is going on, I think if there was any clarity to it, I (and I imagine I am not the only one) would not have literally spent hours scouring Catholic websites trying to decipher what just happened. That, to me, is one of the most confounding aspects of this situation.
    Thank you again.

  27. Janet Baker says:

    The new “teaching” says “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”. This is not mere change in practice, but in morality. For the past two thousand years in Church history, the CHurch fathers, Popes, Doctors, etc have never held the death penalty to be “an attack on the dignity of the person”. How has that now changed? It hasn’t – but the pope claimed it has. That is simply false; it’s a serious error. What was once admissible is not all of the sudden inadmissible. Pray, how is that not heresy?
    I shudder to think what else in Tradition might be subject to revision. Communion for divorced/remarried? It’s already happening in Germany and elsewhere. Normalization for sodomy? That trial balloon already floated in Amoris Laetitia.

  28. alice says:

    you should this to learn from the doctor of the Church, and from the Apostles!

    Bellarmine on capital punishment
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2018/03/bellarmine-on-capital-punishment.html

  29. Jack says:

    One needs to examine the Pope’s statements and consider the merits with respect rather than just rejecting everything he states out of spite.

    • Vin says:

      One, rather, should gather one’s facts, and refrain from imputing, without information, motives to those with whom one disagrees.

      Many before you have “considered the merits” of the Church’s long-held teaching about capital punishment, which has a scriptural foundation. Jesus himself recognized Pilate’s power, as the civil authority, to impose the death penalty. Among the many others are Ss. Robt. Bellarmine, Alphonsus Liguori, Pius XII, and, most recently, John Paul II, who set a very high bar for its application.

      A change in teaching needs better reasons than “things change” and “because I can.”

      • Theo says:

        Hear, hear!

      • Stephen says:

        The Crucifixion of Jesus was definitely a recognition of Pilate’s power, by God and Jesus, but would you say the imposed death penalty (the Crucifixion of Jesus) was motivated by the love of God or hate?

        Vin, are you shouting ” I want Barabbas” in support of the death penalty?

        • Vin says:

          Jesus recognized the civil authority’s discretion to apply the death penalty. John Paul tried to set practical limits; even he, who despised capital punishment, could not see a way to turn back a teaching that goes back to the Old Testament. As a Catholic, that was and is good enough for me. You?

          It is foolish to speculate on Pilate’s motivation. His was an exceedingly complex situation. It is reasonable to interpret his behavior as utterly human, and therefore lacking: We know that he was astonished by his discussion with Jesus. He found “no guilt in this man,” but then showed weakness in deferring to the mob. Was that intentional, Pilate knowing that the mob would choose Barabbas? Impossible to know with certainty. Ultimately the mob accepted that Jesus’s blood be “on us (the mob) and on our children,” which can be read as exculpatory for Pilate. Make your own conclusions.

        • Stephen says:

          Thank you Father ( and you too Monsignor Pope), for your mercy. It is always a liberating experience to work through the realisation that I am a sinner! Humility brings peace!

  30. Jake in Pittsburgh says:

    The opponent of the death penalty in me applauds it.

    But ‘inadmissible’ is substantively different than ‘hardly ever’. So to claim that it’s not a change in the teaching of the Church seems to be wordsmithing. I’m also a bit worried that the footnote dropped with the quote that changes the language of the teaching quoted by Francis is, well, Francis, in an address (not even an encyclical) all of 10 months old.

    The cynic in me wonders if this is battlespace preparation for doctrinal changes by fiat regarding contraception. As a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, it’s hard not to be a cynic right now.

  31. Oh, snap! Monsignor Pope, I have always, always, ALWAYS agreed with your reasoning. Until this. I am trying to calm down, as you wisely advise … and perhaps a cooler head will begin to see what you suggest is not so much a change as an adaptation to current times. But at this particular moment, I am very troubled. I disagree strongly with your implication that the death penalty is not necessary under present circumstances. Yes, it should be a rare occurrence, and the previously worded Catechism entry covered that satisfactorily. It seems that Pope Francis the Media Darling has tossed another precious gem into the Left’s treasure chest. Sigh!

  32. The government has declined funding the Catholic Church’s stewardship in childhood adoptions and the field of healthcare due to the Churches position on marriage, the family unit and abortion on demand. Catholic charities might try getting into the incarceration business. This may be one area the Church and the progressive secularist can find common ground. The Church would then have the resources to deal with the sexually abusive clergy. Twenty years would mean twenty years and life for a life.

  33. Bob says:

    I don’t think this portends any change in doctrine concerning contraception. As I understand it, the change in Catechism wording around capital punishment regards only what was non-definitive, and therefore changeable, teaching (namely, the prudential judgment concerning application of the death penalty). The past prudential judgment as articulated by Pope St. John Paul II, that circumstances necessitating the death penalty were ‘practically non-existent,’ wasn’t really much different. There is no such leeway in the Church’s teaching regarding contraception, which has been definitively taught as intrinsically evil (and which the whole of Christendom condemned until about 1930).

  34. Daniel Cornell says:

    Hi Monsignor,
    You stated the following: “The new wording addresses a change in the circumstances of our times. While acknowledging the past assessments that permitted the use of the death penalty, the new wording uses an important interpretive phrase: “Today, however, …”

    However, the revised language of this paragraph says at the end that the death penalty is inadmissible because “it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”. Earlier in the paragraph, it says we have an “increasing awareness” of the dignity of the human person (which seems to be his way of saying that the church previously didn’t have a full awareness of the dignity of the person which resulted in the previous erroneous teaching). So if the paragraph is now saying that it is inadmissible because it is an attack on the dignity of the person, how is this restricted to today and not applicable to all times? Francis previously stated it was “contrary to the gospel” which implies all times and all places. The first sentence of the new paragraph also eliminated the phrase “traditional teaching” and replaced with saying it “was long considered” acceptable. This seems like a bit of revisionist history to say the church did not formally have a definitive teaching on the death penalty in order to allow more wiggle room for development of doctrine.

    The CDF Cardinal explicitly called this a “development of doctrine”. So it seems the development resides around the fact that the church did not fully have an understanding of human dignity in the past because there are several authoritative statements which says the death penalty is not incompatible with respecting human dignity. If this is what the current development revolves around, what else could the church not have had a full understanding about in the past?

    The 1990 document Donum Veritatis, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, allows that there are cases when the ordinary magisterium does not teach infallibly. However, in section 24 it also points out:

    “But it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission.”

    Do we now have to admit that through this new development of doctrine that the church was habitually wrong on the death penalty?

    Here are only a few samples which I suspect you are aware of many of these (there are many more):

    In 405, Pope St. Innocent I said civil authorities could, after converting to Christianity, continue to inflict the death penalty. He alluded to Romans 13 as evidence that this judgment has divine authority behind it.

    In 1210, Pope Innocent III required of the Waldensian heretics, as one of the conditions of their reconciliation with the Church, that they affirm that the death penalty can “without mortal sin” be inflicted.

    The Roman Catechism states: “the just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder” (saying it does not conflict with the fifth commandment).

    In 1912, the Catechism of Christian Doctrine was issued by Pope St. Pius X. In its discussion of the scriptural commandment against murder, this catechism teaches that “it is lawful to kill… when carrying out by order of the Supreme Authority a sentence of death in punishment of a crime.” Note that the catechism thereby rejects the suggestion that capital punishment is incompatible with a consistent application of the Fifth Commandment.

    Pius XII on multiple occasions taught that capital punishment is legitimate for retributive justice (not just protecting the innocent). Pius XII also rejected the idea that this teaching was only restricted to certain times and circumstances.

    It seems that Francis is now saying that because of our “increasing awareness” of human dignity, we can now correct these erroneous teachings of the past which seems to open a doctrinal can of worms.

    I respectfully submit this for your consideration and hope to seek clarification through further study and discussion.

    • servus humilis says:

      Not only past teaching but past Church practice is now open to question and condemnation. How do you square the burning of heretics, such as Giordano Bruno and others, by the Roman Inquisition? In Bruno’s case, the matter was reviewed by the pope himself, as the sovereign of the Papal States, and the commission that condemned him included a future pope.

      Did these wise, holy men lack sufficient awareness of Bruno’s innate dignity? There can be no question but that life imprisonment was an effective option then as now.

      Tethering this major change of Church teaching to a mere change of circumstance is untenable. There’s no way that condemnation of past Church practice does not flow from this new doctrine.

    • james b says:

      However anyone chooses to characterize this revision, no one can dispute its practical objective – which is to advance political efforts to abolish the death penalty laws in those states which still retain them. It is fair to insist that anyone who opposes capital punishment should openly accept responsibility for the direct and foreseeable consequences of abolishing the death penalty. Here is exactly what would happen if all death penalty laws were repealed:

      1.THE STATE WOULD GUARANTEE CRIMINALS THE RIGHT TO KILL AS MANY INNOCENT VICTIMS AS THEY WANT, IN AS CRUEL AND SADISTIC A MANNER AS THEY CHOOSE TO EMPLOY, WITHOUT HAVING TO FACE EVEN THE THEORETICAL POSSIBILITY OF PLACING THEIR OWN LIVES AT RISK. We are a nation of laws – and once we repeal the death penalty, we can never execute (or credibly threaten to execute) anyone ever again, no matter what the circumstances.

      2.THE STATE WOULD REFUSE TO PUNISH CERTAIN ACTS OF MURDER. Once a criminal has already been sentenced to life imprisonment, there is no way to punish him further (apart from a purely symbolic second – or third or fourth – consecutive life sentence). A prison inmate serving a life term could kill a guard or fellow inmate, or direct the killing of someone outside of prison, knowing that he could not receive any additional punishment whatsoever.

      3.THE STATE WOULD ACTIVELY ENCOURAGE AND REWARD MURDER. Suppose we have a criminal who is what is commonly referred to as a “three-striker” – which is to say that he has such a lengthy record of convictions for serious felonies that he is certain to be sentenced to a life term if he is caught and convicted for committing a new crime. If the “three-striker” robbed a convenience store, he wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in killing the clerk – he would just want the money. But as he would be facing the exact same punishment (life imprisonment) whether or not he killed the only witness to the crime, he would be a fool not to do so. And if he happened to run into a police officer on the way out, he would rationally decide to kill him too; there is no extra charge, so to speak.

      4.THE STATE WOULD REJECT THE SANCTITY OF THE LIVES OF INNOCENT VICTIMS. Let’s imagine that a state passed a law which made abortion illegal, and that it imposed a fine on a doctor who was convicted of performing an abortion; but the law also provided that once the doctor had paid that fine, he could continue to perform as many abortions as he wanted without having to face any additional fines or penalties at all. No one would consider this to be a genuinely pro-life law, even though it nominally outlawed abortion and imposed a penalty for a first offense. To the contrary, it would rightly be viewed as a law which essentially sanctioned legal abortion and cheapened respect for the dignity of innocent human life. The same is true with respect to intentional acts of aggravated murder. If you set no punishment whatsoever for the intentional killing of an innocent human being – which, as discussed above, is the case with respect to criminals who are already subject to or are serving a life sentence – you are saying that the victim’s life has no value; or more precisely, that it is of infinitely less value than that of the murderer.

  35. Rex says:

    Msgr Pope, you are spot on and thank you for posting this. I used to be for capitol punishment until St. John Paul II spoke against it and explained how it was no longer needed in modern times. Pope Francis is on the exact same page. Nobody batted an eye when JP II said this but now that Francis has put it in the Catechism some folks have went ballistic. I was shocked at some of the commentary. At one time everybody was needed to work the fields just to feed everyone. Communities could not afford to jail and feed dangerous people for many decades. Today we can. Thank you for standing up for the Pope.

    • theo says:

      Actually a lot of people batted an eye when JPII said it, much spilled ink over the issue already. PF just made it even more divisive, because some people will NOT depart from tradition on this matter.

  36. davidc says:

    Clearly, Pope Francis’ words are ambiguous. One can see that simply by reading through the comments. Some people say, “this is a change in doctrine”; others say, “no, it’s just a commentary on the current appropriateness of the application of the death penalty.”

    So, he needs to be asked. This takes the form of a dubium:

    “By saying that the death penalty is ‘inadmissible’, do you mean to teach that it is intrinsically immoral?”

  37. John says:

    John Wayne Gacy = Human Dignity

    There is something wrong about this equation.

  38. Quadratus says:

    To say the constant and Traditional Church teaching on capital punishment was a “non definitive teaching” is simply not historical and incorrect. The Council of Trent was most clear and definitive in this teaching, as so many Popes were. This new “teaching” clearly says something which was morally licit is no longer so because it is inadmissible, which means forbidden, and that means it is morally wrong in this present era’s circumstances. It eclipses the plight and unique, concrete circumstances of very poor nations, or small island nations, where the infrastructural means and boundaries to ensure the protection of the community from a guilty, hardened murderer are insufficient. The tenet that civilization is now perfected in its ability to protect innocent people from a convicted mass murderer is fallacious. Further, to suggest we know more about the intrinsic dignity of human beings than we did ten years ago, as the statement from Ladaria claims, is inane. It implies the Church was naive or belligerent in its doctrinal perspective for 2,000 years and we are now enlightened. I personally do not favor capital punishment as a general form of justice, but in some cases and situations, and also in light of the gravity of offense by the criminal relative to due justice to him and due mercy to the victims and society, it is indeed a morally allowable method if warranted. I stand with all that came before: Aquinas, Council of Trent and JPII, and no Pope can change this teaching because it was a definitive teaching promulgated by Tradition since Christ walked the earth.

  39. Maggie Sullivan says:

    Hi Msgr, As always you write beautifully. But………

    As I have read in various forms many times, “If one thing can change in the Catechism then anything can change in the Catechism.”

    And of course the big prize for many….”the Church has changed on divorced and remarried receiving Holy Communion (meaning it is no longer a sin) and now on the death penalty and the church will change in the future on abortion, sodomy, contraception, and women Priests.”

    Msgr Pope slice it anyway you want to but when people believe and say these things we just look foolish if we try to convince them otherwise.

    I am a teacher in a Catholic school and when students and parents raise these questions they say Pope Francis approves of all these things. So it becomes the Pope and media against Tradition and the Pope is always the one they follow.

    • Steve Fotos says:

      Of course! That is the outcome, a New Anglican Compact, you know, Catholicism without all the hard bits! Ugh.

  40. Steve Fotos says:

    Yes, we should all remain very calm as Communion is expanded to anyone who elects to go, Capital Punishment is outlawed via the CDF and we gain who knows what excellent new developmental theology next. All in the progression of the New Catholic Faith…..you know, the very much improved one. As Pope’s are now regularly declared saints, I am sure we can replace all the old ones soon enough!

  41. Charles says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    I greatly respect you and have used your words and teachings to help understand difficulties in the past. I must ask: What about the teaching of the Catechism of Trent? What about the teaching of Pius XII?

    If you look at those two, for example, this teaching of Francis is a break with Church teaching. The new CCC wording clearly states, in a universal manner, after referencing a modern context, that the death penalty is inadmissible – for reasons that are not bound to the modern context, but are universal principles (human dignity). Thus, the new CCC wording DOES imply that it is intrinsically wrong – since human dignity has always been a truth.

    Please let me know your thoughts. Thank you.

  42. Chris says:

    This is a reasoned and cogent post Msgr. Pope. I don’t get the blow-back about this. You make a very valid point about the context of the recent change. The only things I think I can contribute on are:

    1) Are the conditions regarding the legitimate use of the death penalty really non-apparent? The rise and rise of evil gangs like MS-13, uncontrolled drug dealers, child traffickers, migrant traffickers and other genuine threats to society – that have clearly shown they will not stop and are right under the Pope’s nose in Europe – seem to me to be legitimate options for inclusion. I am wondering if the Pope has misread this.

    2) With all of the other scandals plaguing Holy Mother Church, and the disastrous conference planned in Ireland, one wonders if this issue is a soft touch, chosen to wag the dog.

  43. Lurker #59 says:

    Some would argue that charity demands that we interpret this modification to the Catechism by Pope Francis not to be something that Pope Francis intended to be doctrinal but rather only the putting forward of an opinion that Catholics were free to take or leave, for if Pope Francis did so intend, then a robust argument could be made that Pope was supplanting the Natural Law, which surely must not be the case.

    Some others would argue that charity demands that we take Pope Francis at his word — that this act is considered by Pope Francis to be a change in doctrine and thus we should support the change based on the authority of Pope Francis to change things.

    I say that we should not be considering this modification on the basis of authority but rather on the basis of correspondence to truth. Whether or not this is a legitimate exercise of authority or its usurpation, is a secondary question as to whether or not the position is true.

    It is manifest, on examination of the historical record, that Church teaching is that recourse of the State to the death penalty is an exercise and participation in Divine Justice and a part of the Natural Law. The position that the death penalty is inadmissible / not possible thus violates the law of non-contradiction and cannot be accepted.

    St. Pope John Paul II was wise and humble when he put forth his opinion that the modern State need not use the death penalty, for in saying so, he did not elevate his position above prudential opinion and did not attempt to overturn the Natural Law and the ability of the State to participate in acts of Divine Justice.

  44. Jerry says:

    Thanks for the sage advice, Msgr Pope. In your next article, it would be helpful to give some practical advice on how to suppress that nasty little human tendency that seems to keep throwing up barriers to our assent of mind and will to PF’s magisterium: logic. It would be particularly helpful if you would have any pointers on how one can allow the intellect to violate the law of non-contradiction and still keep one’s sanity. I’m still struggling with that one!

  45. Romanus says:

    Thank you for this excellent and clear-headed take. The Catholic blogosphere is showing signs of a severe case of PFDS (Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome) and I see more and more people declaring anathemas, heresy, the Apocalypse, etc. each time he says anything. A lot of the Americans seem to hold alt-right values as sacred as Catholic doctrine, so I think that’s where this particular eruption is coming from.

    Several bloggers have abandoned the Church, declared themselves sedevacantist, or are marching steadily toward it, it seems. Thank you for being a voice of reason standing against those leading to about to lead their readers out of the Church.

  46. Richard W Comerford says:

    Re: Friend of Caesar

    Caesar does not want executions. Caesar does want abortions.

    IIRC last year in the USA there were @ 20 executions. But there were @ 1-million abortions.

    And in response Our Holy Father Francis changes the Catechism to prohibit executions.

    Meanwhile Caesar continues to slaughter Christians all over the world who have escaped the womb.

    Our Holy Francis has a curious set of priorities.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  47. Israel B says:

    An aspect of this exercise that disturbs me is the premise that somehow we have “evolved” societally enough so that a death sentence is N-E-V-E-R justified.

    This arrogance and condescension toward wisdom from previous eras is exactly why the modern Church is adrift. Piece by piece, they will discard “obsolete” beliefs until all that remains is a hollow shell impersonating the Body of Christ.

    And so the repository of Faith will be squandered. The tree will be cut down, but thankfully the roots are preserved.

  48. Ranger01 says:

    Msgr Pope,
    Firstly, thank you for all you do for the holy Catholic Church.
    Secondly, I believe what the bishop of Rome has done here is a huge mistake and merely a preliminary to more grave changes to the CCC.
    The change in the CP wording is the battering ram to open the door to changes in marriage and reception of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders. Bet on it, Msgr Pope, bet on it.
    There was nothing wrong, whatsoever, with the previous wording in the CCC. The state has the authority, from God in Heaven, to execute a criminal. The circumstances to do this are, rightly, very very narrow. “Almost non-existent”.

  49. Sean says:

    The last sentence of the article is disingenuous.
    No one is claiming CP is a “legitimate solution to human problems”.
    Capitol Punishment is meant biblically and legally , as punishment for the taking of another’s life.
    CP has never been offered as a “solution to human problems” and certainly the CCC previous wording never insinuated that it was. The issue is punishment. Nothing more, nothing less.
    Problem solving is not part of this discussion.

  50. Barbara Forshee says:

    I doubt the murderer gave the victim any time to repent of any moral sins which he/she may have, and thereby placing their souls in great danger as to where they will be spending ETERNITY !! Come to think of it, when it the last time you heard the priest at a modern “new mass”(post Vatican II) speak of the state of a person’s soul; only through eulogies and other comments how ‘nice, great sense of humor, blah blah about the deceased.

  51. Michael says:

    What of the angle – seemingly the basis for the Church’s defense of the death penalty through the millennia – that Justice demands mortal punishment for mortal offenses, and that execution doesn’t violate the person’s dignity but actually affirms it and prompts conversion?

    https://www.firstthings.com/article/2001/04/catholicism-capital-punishment

  52. Debbie says:

    “‘[T]he death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”

    (one addition):
    Everybody is under the death penalty since Adam and Eve, a command given, a command broken, justice had its rule and carried out its punishment as was given, otherwise justice would have been undermined. The law and justice of the Garden, the law and justice of Heaven, the law and justice of communities can involve death, has invovled death, will invovle a second death for those who are outside the kingdom as justice has said, human dignity, angelic dignity can be put to the sword if need be. Dignity needs to obey justice or
    face justice, life over death cannot be faulted, a sword can be traumatic, brutal, and vicious, war is hell but if justice prevails a sword worth swinging for a dignity that must prevail and will prevail as the death penalty ends forever, unfornuately only for some, the others have used their
    dignity and brought eternal death to themselves, forever dying to a dignity that wants life but chooses to ignore its nobel character of justice with contrition or hardness of heart.

  53. Debbie says:

    (furthermore) The world is a slaughter house, you can’t blame some societies from trying deterrents to stop the blood from overflowing its walkways, its way of life for peace….human dignity, the least respected thing in the world otherwise we would not be so afraid for our well being with locked doors and deterrents and jails, jails, jails, life is cheap and we know it, where do you begin with human dignity when all fear is gone, a wild jungle of humanity can try any society, some societies worse then others, a fair justice system gives human dignity a hope for some control and stability, chaos would be the worst, nobody wants chaos, order is befitting
    human dignity, right order would be heaven.

    • Debbie says:

      (final thought) Also, the outside looking in do not care if a Pope is
      infallible, they look at a statement and judge by Truth, is this truth, they open their bible and discern a truth from a falsehood from scripture, from tradition as they understand it, if a statement is so forcefully backed up in a important teaching manual with the head saying so( they don’t care Catholics have to buy the falsehood in their mind because of a protection and many coming to the rescue saying, don’t
      worry, it wasn’t binding, he didn’t change Church teaching and here is how where going to wiggle around this one, credibility and damage is great if a Truth, any Truth presented by the Catholic Church is a falsehood, tell a protestant “inadmissible” is Christ truth and scripture truth, how many will leave the Church from among its own and those looking in will be scandalize because its just simply not true no matter how many jump in and say don’t worry its not the big gun of absolute LIE and Heresy, people just do not care if you play around with the Truth, again and again, credibiltiy shot every single time when a truth is a lie. This statement of “inadmissible ” is either Truth befitting the Catholic Church or its a Lie and a Lie will cause damage especially when trying to be the voice of Christ in the world, the Church will continue to look very weak and confused, every untruth proclaimed to the world with pomp and splash will be food for those who will seek to take away the flock with sound doctrine(truth), if a “Truth” is proclaim with all the headlines and is not True, think of how the Church will be undermined and pretty soon be a voice of no real consequence for a believer that wants to live the Gospel. Divorce, communion for all, no hell, who am I to judge, inadmissible death penalty, etc. etc. but the choir says don’t worry it was not an infallible statement just try to read it in this way, that way it won’t be too disturbing even maybe a little true if you can just follow my logic, over and over, we need to hear from the logic makers, common sense needs to read the Truth into it with a well it didn’t cross that red line so we can make it true if we just approach it from this angle, more and more damaged done when one plays with Truth extremely carelessly, doublespeak, it means this no it really means that, clarity of Christ/Church teaching should never be a confusing mess and the one who does so should be called on it to give clear answers to those in and out, otherwise a great disservice to the mission of the Church to be a witness of clear, sound teaching. The Church could have been a light these past 5 years instead she’s been a source of confusion. I will explain it says Fr.X no, no I will explain says Fr. Y, it means THIS, no it means THAT,.. what does it means, anything you want it to mean, because clear teaching will not be clear…..once again,… the cheerleaders line up for the next announcement, don’t worry no red lines cross, we can make this work!… Truth , Truth ,Truth, what is Truth, indeed what is Truth, is it this or is it that, is it handed down or tossed around to determine who has the Truth.

  54. Pat says:

    I could not vote for the death penalty while on a jury. I have been dismissed as a juror because of my position, However, I am deeply disturbed when “There is no justification for it means life without parole,” is not enforced. Such as the Governor of Illinois commuting sentences of those on life without parole. Situations like that thoroughly negate the idea of there being sufficient protection for the public.

  55. Msgr. Pope has been an outstanding spiritual director for me via his numerous reflections and homilies. I couldn’t ask for one better. I think it is good for people to respond so passionately and with obvious knowledge of their faith and teachings of the Church. However, I doubt all of our passion and knowledge combined comes close to equaling that of Msgr. Pope.

    In my opinion, more long-term harm than good can come from any revision to the catechism made by Pope Francis. I think this is so obvious.

    I have high esteem for Msgr. Pope and also for many of the commenters on this particular reflection. I hope to see an equal appreciation expressed for Msgr. Pope’s future reflections as I have in the disappointments expressed over his one.

  56. Paul Burnell says:

    Thank you Mgr Pope.
    Some reflections on the comments section to your excellent article.

    As a UK journalist I can think of at least 18 people who would not be alive if we had the death penalty. To give one example six men from Birmingham were wrongly jailed for an IRA pub bombing.They were freed years later after it was found they were victims of a miscarriage of justice. I would be interested to see how many rich murderers go to the chair in comparison with poor black guys who can’t afford a good lawyer.
    My former boss was part of the Palestine Police in the 1940s when the Stern Gang were the terrorists and blew up the Brits. His best friend was killed int he attack on the King David Hotel and yet he was a confirmed opponent of the death penalty after having to witness the hanging of a terrorist – when the Israelis were the terrorists.
    No doubt there were people who think Pope Innocent III should not have made Trial By Ordeal inadmissable.
    RE the comment: Pope Pius XII, in 1955, said quite clearly that the conditions that would permit capital punishment were not historically conditioned, meaning that no matter how “enlightened” we are as a people, the conditions that would permit the use of the death penalty will not disappear.
    I think a reading of St John Paul II on the death penalty in Evangelium Vitae would contradict his esteemed predecessor.
    Finally I am just an ignorant lay person with no theological background and I just wonder didnt the Lord say whatever Peter bounds on earth is bound in Heaven

  57. Gilbert says:

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for a balanced, accurate assessment.

    It is unfortunate, given the seriousness of the issue, that some commenters avoid the nuance that the topic requires and prefer mere vengeance masquerading as compassion for victims.

    The new wording reminds us that “more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

    All have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). No one should be deprived of hope, the hope of redemption.

    “First, there should be ‘truth in sentencing’ (i.e., twenty years means twenty years). Second, these convicts should be strictly confined in ways that respect the common good and the need for public safety.”

    A sentence of life in prison without parole should mean just that, and nothing less.

  58. David Silva says:

    Divine Revelation: Gen 6:9; Num 35:29-34; Jn 19:10-11; Lk 23:39–4; Rom 13:1-4

    Restorative Justice
    Retributive Justice

    Both / And

    Pax Christi

  59. Joseph D'Hippolito says:

    “I think, to be fair to proponents of the death penalty, they see its use as in conformity with human dignity. Since the murder of human beings is so serious, it should command the most serious of penalties and be seen as an act of justice, not mere closure or for political gain.”

    My support has to do with the fact that God demands the execution of murderers! (see Genesis 9:5-6). Why? Because murder is such a grievous violation of the divine image in humanity that execution through just due process is the only proportional moral punishment.

    Modern Catholic moral thinking is governed by the superficial and illogical moral equivalences resulting from the “seamless garment” theory, and by the fundamentally anthropocentric and materialist world view that Catholicism adopted after Vatican II.

    John Paul II’s arbitrary theological revisionism on capital punishment reflects both of those developments. It provides the faulty base for Francis’ faulty reasoning.

    I suggest you read the following which explains it a lot better:

    https://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/3460-killing-capital-punishment-how-pope-john-paul-set-precedent-for-pope-francis

    • Stephen says:

      Joseph, Have you considered that the Sacrifice and blood of Jesus covers God’s demand for justice for murder?

      • Joseph D'Hippolito says:

        Fr. John Hardon considered it. Here’s what he had to say:

        “Nowhere in the New Testament is capital punishment outlawed. On the contrary, the New Testament not only recognizes the right of the State to exercise authority in the name of God, but enjoins obedience to the State in applying the laws of God to its citizens.”

        Not even Sister Helen Prejean, one of the most popular opponents of capital punishment, contended that abolitionism has biblical roots, as she admitted in her book, Dead Man Walking:

        “It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) – the Mosaic Law prescribed death – should be read in its proper context.

        “This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment.”

      • Tony M says:

        Stephen, have you considered that the Sacrifice and blood of Jesus covers God’s demand for justice for theft? And rape? And torture? And perjury? And… Yet there is no argument that we should not punish other malefactors for their offences.

        St. Paul talks of how we “make up for what is lacking” in the sacrifice of Christ. Not that Christ’s sacrifice is deficient, and that it is insufficient for all the sins of the world’s sinners – it is. But St. Paul still says that. One of the things he means is that we STILL have to suffer here on this Earth; and the Church has always said that even though we have sins forgiven us, we will in Purgatory make up for the “temporal punishment due for sin” – which we can ameliorate by accepting suffering here beforehand. Thus, Christ’s Sacrifice does not get us out of talking about imposing proper and due sentences here on Earth.

        • Stephen says:

          My point was with respect to Joseph’s fixation on following God the Fathers demand to spill the blood of a murderer by the hands of men. I was not simplistically suggesting that justice not be done. All I was suggesting is that God’s demand in support of human dignity is now covered by Jesus with the hope that Joseph may consider it in prayer. To make it clear I was indicating that there is no longer a requirement to take a life for a life. Jesus takes away the sins of the world and we can only get to God the Father through Jesus. That is our Christian Faith. Some make an idol out of imposing justice and I suggest that they start looking for wisdom in the words of Pope Francis.

  60. It is significant and telling that often when this Pope makes a pronouncement, a rash of articles and interviews appear trying to explain what exactly the Pope is saying and what he means. Who is it that is confusing or confused himself? Oh, please, not the Pope!

  61. Tony M says:

    The best syllogism I can construct from the new 2267 is the following:

    1 People who commit grave crimes do not lose human dignity.
    2 It is wrong to violate human dignity.
    3 It is a violation of human dignity to use the death penalty unless it is necessary.
    4 it is unnecessary to use the death penalty unless safety requires it.
    5 Effective prison systems now make DP unnecessary for safety.
    6 Therefore, now it is a violation of human dignity to use the DP.
    7 Thus, it is now wrong to use the DP.

    Some of the most critical problems with the “syllogism” are the following:

    11 People who commit grave crimes do not lose every aspect of human dignity, but they lose some aspects of it.
    12 It is not a violation of human dignity to treat a person who has lost some aspects of their dignity differently from a person who has not.
    13 Like ANY given punishment: The DP may be necessary in general for capital crimes without being necessary in an individual case, and using it in a specific case when it is necessary in general is not a violation of human dignity.
    14 DP may be not necessary for the sake of safety of persons but necessary for other common goods, such as the primary purpose of punishment. It is NOT TRUE that it is unnecessary to use the DP unless safety requires it.
    15 There remains grave and reasonable doubt that effective prison systems now make DP unnecessary for safety.
    16 Even if one ignores the dispute over 4 and 14, the grave doubts about 5 leave this conclusion no better than a probable position, if even that. It is, in any case, a prudential judgment not within the Church’s expertise. When you have “safe enough” is a political judgment, not an ecclesiastical one.
    17 Even if one hypothetically allows 4 and 5, 7 does not necessarily follow because 3 is gravely ambiguous: there are senses in which the criminal HAS lost some aspect of his dignity, and there are senses in which the DP does not attack the dignity he retains. When a condemned man accepts his just punishment, like Dismas, as the justice it is, and repents of his evil, he can be redeemed and use his punishment for true atonement, in union with Christ’s. This is not a violation of human dignity.

  62. Russell says:

    In light of all this I do have a few questions. Firstly do we now have to accept this change from the Holy Father? Secondly given that Pope Benedict said that we could be in disagreement on the death penalty and still approach The Altar for Holy Communion, if I don’t accept this from Holy Father Francis, does that mean I can no longer receive communion?
    I thoroughly believe that the death penalty is immoral necessity, even if we have to limit its use. The death penalty should not be considered inadmissible at all. Rather it is the duty of the state to properly enforce the laws of the land, and if some laws are Grievous enough, the guilty should deserve the death penalty. Is this not a Biblical concept as well?

  63. Chris C. says:

    It is time for all bishops of the Church to reiterate vigorously their express and universal condemnation of legal abortion and make clear that given the respect for life and human dignity shown to those guilty of heinous crimes, those who are helpless and wholly innocent deserve protection all the more by virtue of that very innocence. Far too many bishops have failed to defend Church teaching on abortion and in some cases honored those who support its protection in law. That has always been totally unacceptable and is now even more so in view of the changes made to the catechism by the CDF and the Holy Father. If the guilty have innate human dignity that must be protected how much more so those who are wholly innocent.

  64. John says:

    A timely article by Dennis Prager:

    “On Death Penality, Pope Francis Rewrites The Bible” – “A Misguided Revising Of The Justness Of Capital Punishment”

    https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/270969/death-penalty-pope-francis-rewrites-bible-dennis-prager

    • RG says:

      Dennis Prager is not even a Christian (let alone Catholic), so I question how relevant his opinions on this subject are.

      • Ron Lawson says:

        The point being that if even non-christians see this as a reversal of definitive magisterial teaching and contrary to the bible itself, how are Catholics to make the evangelical case to anyone that the Church teaching doesn’t change and that is one of the best cases that can be made for the Catholic Church being who she is – the One True Church founded by Jesus Christ. – and why a person should become Catholic and save their souls for all eternity. Francis certainly has made that a LOT less clear.

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