Jesus Christ: Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.

Matthew 5:37

Every now and then I see a tweet in my timeline about the death penalty.

Now I’ve always been indifferent to and have had respect for both sides on the issue.  Unlike abortion you are dealing with a person who has committed a grave crime and in places like the US has given an incredible amount of appeals before sentence is carried out, however if a state wishes to go thorough the expense of holding a person for what can be up to 80 years and people are willing to take the risk that said person will harm others (and people harm others in prison every day) that’s their call too.

As a moral issue my thought is always for the soul. For some people decades in prison can provide time to repent and consider their relationship with God while it might embitter others, contrariwise the knowledge of impending death can bring a person to make peace with God out of fear for their soul while it might have the opposite effect on others.

Anyways the when the subject has come up I’ve always turned to scripture and argued if the Death Penalty is forbidden nobody told Peter:

A man named Ananias, however, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. He retained for himself, with his wife’s knowledge, some of the purchase price, took the remainder, and put it at the feet of the apostles. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the holy Spirit and retained part of the price of the land?

While it remained unsold, did it not remain yours? And when it was sold, was it not still under your control? Why did you contrive this deed? You have lied not to human beings, but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last, and great fear came upon all who heard of it.

The young men came and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, unaware of what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me, did you sell the land for this amount?” She answered, “Yes, for that amount.”

Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen, the footsteps of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” At once, she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men entered they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Acts 5:1-11

So when someone has come to me saying the death penalty is immoral I”ve always pointed to this New Testament passage and noted one of the first thing does in the Christian community is a death sentence passed by Peter and carried out by God for telling a lie.

That’s what I was doing yesterday when a leftist started giving a speech on the subject on twitter talking about the death penalty, I had been busy all day and had no idea that he knew something I didn’t: that when I went to bed the previous evening the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I link to at this blog said this:

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
“If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
“Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]

But at the time I was answering his tweets it was changed to this:

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.

While I don’t question the authority of the Pope to change the language of the Catechism the idea of a Pope overnight announcing a change of doctrine as old as the church, while biblical:

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,  and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

is something of a shock to say the least.  The question before the floor is has he done the former or the latter?

Fr. Z took a look at the language involved:

Note well that word: “inadmissible”.  The Italian says: “inammissibile”.  The French says: “une mesure inhumaine”.  The German says: “unzulässig”.  The rest of the languages are along this line.  French is not.  We don’t know what the official text is.  However, we can be pretty sure that it won’t go farther than “inadmissible”.

It does not and will not say in Latin that the death penalty is “intrinsically evil”.

Back in October 2017, Francis talked about changing the Catechism.  At that time he said that the death penalty is “per se contrary to the Gospel” and it was “dictated by a mentality more legalistic than Christian.” Hence, the death penalty is “inadmissible.”

How do we square that with innumerable sources which affirm that the Church has always taught, from Apostles times through the Pontificate of John Paul II in Evangelium vitae, that the death penalty – though highly cautiously – admissible?

Christ Himself upholds Pilate’s authority to kill Him (John 19:11).  St. Augustine, writing to the prefect of Africa Macedonius, begged for clemency for a man condemned to death, but he upheld the rights of the state (epp. 152-155).   St. Thomas Aquinas, though his teaching is not coterminous with the Church’s, taught in the Summa Theologiae and in the Summa Contra Gentiles in support of the death penalty.  Thomas’s arguments are subtle and in no way “dictated by a mentality more legalistic than Christian.”  Neither did John Paul’s.  Numerous examples are found between Christ and modern pontificates.

The student of theology and Joe Bagofdonuts in the pew will want to know how this change to the Church’s teaching is an “authentic development of doctrine” when it seems to fly in the face of the pretty much universally accepted explanation of development of doctrine described by Bl. John Henry Newman: Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. 

Or to put it another way, Pope Francis did not say:  “Capital punishment is a sin” which would be a clear and unambiguous statement, and would also contradict a bunch of Popes who had the same authority as he does now which is why in my opinion he didn’t say it.  He uses the weasel word “inadmissible”.

Let me rephrase.  If a Pope said”Deliberately Farting in a room full of people is a ‘sin'” he would be laughed out of the Papacy, but if a Pope said “Deliberately farting in a room full of people is ‘inadmissable'” it would be understood as something not done in polite society.

I have had no time to think about this, but Fr. Z has had a day:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems to me that someone could place the new paragraph side by side with the rest of the body of the Church’s teachings on capital punishment and then make a choice to stick with the traditional teaching.

It WAS, in fact, in the Catechism.  And it was there for a reason.


I think the real question is this:  Does this mean that we have to look at the Papacy like we do the Supreme Court where instead of the eternal truths of the church taught for the salvation of souls it’s a question of getting the right person in there so they can declare with the stroke of a pen that my moral sin, be it adultery, or theft, or porn, or sodomy, or even denying God and Christ, isn’t really a sin anymore? I hope not because it will encourage those who have been working diligently to overthrow the authority of the church, or those who desire to justify their own sins and will strengthen the argument of those who believe that Francis is an anti-pope and there are more of those people out there than you think.

In other words it’s the perfect recipe for schism

Meanwhile there are plenty of people outside of the church like the fellow on twitter last night who will be using Pope Francis’ words as a cudgel to push their own agenda and to attack the teachings on life, and marriage and all the rest that they don’t like.

Francis might have been trying to emphasize the church’s current pastoral policy but what he has managed to do is create the idea that the church’s eternal teaching are fudgeible if only you get the right person in charge to fudge them. I can’t think of a think of a thing more idiotic that any Pope could do.

There is only one thing worse that the idea that Pope Francis didn’t see this coming, and that’s the idea that he did.

Meanwhile I’ll give the last word to Fr. Z

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

I sure hope that wasn’t the whole idea.

I am a faithful Catholic for one reason, because it’s true.  My prayers today will be for the Church and the Pope, if you are Catholic I would suggest the same.