A Scriptural Death Penalty Case

Oh, ok, you’re Catholic. Good to know. Let me re-address this - do you think the quoted Church teachings are “contrary to the Gospel”?

Let’s stay on topic. I’ve asked you now multiple times to back up your claim. Please do not deflect.

Do you have a citation to support your claim, i.e., a magisterial document that contradicts Pope Francis’ statement that the death penalty is contrary to the gospel?

JPII said: “…cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent’.”
I have absolutely no issue with that statement, but even if I did, I would be in good standing as a Catholic, as Pope Benedict affirmed that this was an area where Catholics were free to disagree.

With all due respect, if I am “hung up on this”, it is with good reason - I am trying to live as a faithful Catholic and I see here a contradiction which I am trying to understand and reconcile whilst respecting my conscience and logic. I am, I assure you, not here for pedantic arguments - I want to figure this out for myself so that my conscience is clear and I truly understand the Church’s teaching. And this is an issue about which many Catholics are confused.

“Per se contrary to the Gospel” makes no reference to “in the here and now”.

I’m not deflecting, I’m responding to what you said. Do you believe that those teachings are “contrary to the Gospel?”

Yes. I do. I have 2000 years of Church teaching and tradition, however there is one problem - you seem to think that the Church can teach something that is “contrary to the Gospel”. So why would I provide you with any citations which you will simply reply to with “it’s contrary to the Gospel”?

How can the Church teach something that is contrary to the Gospel?

Then by all means (for the umpteenth time), cite the document! That’s all you need to back up:

Here’s our problem - you keep ignoring things I say and repeating the same things, even though I’m responding to your comments. So we can’t have a discussion.

? No, I do not ignore what you post.

Is this not what you wrote?

I simply ask that you support what you claim. Our problem is that you either cannot or will not. I suspect the former to be the case.

You keep ignoring my question about whether you think the things you mentioned in your earlier comment are “contrary to the Gospel”.

This comment:

I am waiting for an answer to that before I give you any quotes or Church teaching about the death penalty, because if you believe the Church can teach something that is “contrary to the Gospel”, there is absolutely no point in my doing so. I am not evading or ignoring.

Yes, because it’s off the OP’s topic: “A spiritual death penalty case”. And it’s merely a deflection in that sense.

Look, friend, the simple reason you cannot support your claim is because it’s not true. The Magisterium has never taught, against Pope Francis’ statement, that the gospels are not contrary to the death penalty. You refuse to admit your error and I don’t wish to take up anymore of CAF’s available memory to try to get you to admit it.

You think I won’t answer because I can’t, I’m telling you I’ll answer when you respond to my question, which you keep evading. So, this can go on eternally, maybe best we just leave it there. :slight_smile:

Yes, that’s right. Last chance – prove me wrong.

Last chance to let me know that you don’t think purgatory, communion of saints, indulgences, Mary’s assumption, the equivalence of Scripture and Tradition, etc. are “contrary to the Gospel”.


I think there’s an important distinction to be made here. Pope John Paul II taught that there was a prudential judgment to be made in each instance of this issue. So, Ratzinger was pointing out that, if a person’s conclusion in a particular case was at odds with the pope’s, then that was ok. (After all, that’s what a “prudential judgment” is all about!) JPII’s analysis allows for the possibility of a conclusion in favor of capital punishment, and Ratzinger affirms the possibility of such a conclusion.

Ratzinger further pointed out that, in cases in which it’s not a matter of prudential judgment, there is not the freedom to formulate one’s own doctrine in opposition with the Church’s.

In the present development, however, Pope Francis is strengthening the position of the Church, taking it away from the realm of ‘prudential judgment’ which allows capital punishment and toward a prudential judgment which never permits that decision.

So, although I think Ratzinger’s comments hold in the context in which they were intended (i.e., JPII’s statement), they are not applicable in the present context, if only because Francis is placing greater constraints on the prudential judgment itself.

Right. I’m not asserting otherwise. (I just think that the contradiction doesn’t exist in the way you’re framing it up.)

Agreed. Yet, all the commentary I’ve read seems to assert one of two things:

  • Francis just attempted invalidly to nullify Church doctrine. (This critique tends to come in the context of assertions that Francis is a heretic and/or not a valid pope. IMHO, the former assertions seem to proceed from the latter, rather than the other way around.)
  • Francis is not attempting to contradict existing doctrine, but is developing it (in a way consonant with a Catholic approach). (These commentators, BTW, are ones that I think are correct in their analysis.)

This article makes that precise point: this isn’t a change in doctrine, as such, but is merely a change in how to exercise prudential judgment.

If it’s a question of prudential judgment, then its application speaks to the way we discern in the “here and now.”

If Francis is saying anything about the past, it’s merely that the prudential judgments – and not the doctrine which they attempt to discern – should be re-examined in light of a wider appreciation for the dignity of human life.

Nor do I.

The Pope writes that the death penalty is contrary to the gospel. A statement which, I think, is defensible. As the OP and the Pope argue, the message of the gospels is one of good news, of mercy, forgiveness and the radical possibility of mankind’s redemption. The rationales offered that permit the state to execute a human being – just punishment, vengeance, restoration of order, etc – do not follow from any of these gospel messages.

Statements which are contrary cannot both be true. We know the gospel messages are true.

Where was this stated, and in in which cases does he mean? As in, for example, where the use of the death penalty would be disproportionate to the crime, etc.? Of course in such cases it wouldn’t be a matter of prudential judgement.

A “prudential judgement which never permits that decision” would actually be fine with me. And the majority of what Pope Francis has done in this area fits that category. I might disagree with it, which I can in good conscience do, but I would respect it as the prudential judgement of our Holy Father. However, the question, once again is - What does “the death penalty is per se contrary to the Gospel” mean"? You answered that already, and I asked you how you square that with 2000 years of Church teaching, to which you replied “doctrine develops”. But doctrine doesn’t change. And that would be a change - yesterday the death penalty was not in and of itself contrary to the Gospel but supported by it, today, the opposite. “Development of doctrine” means that we come to understand a doctrine more deeply and clearly - not that we progress and develop from outdated ideas and become enlightened, rendering old teachings replaceable.

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Btw, I put that phrase into Google translate from Italian and 3 other languages from that Vatican document and the phrase “per se” translates as “in itself”. ’ Per se ’ is a Latin term which literally means , “by itself”, “in itself” or “of itself”.

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In the memo you’ve referenced. Ratzinger points out that this approach isn’t valid, for instance, in cases of abortion or euthanasia, but is acceptable in other cases:

I can’t recall where I’ve ever read the claim that capital punishment is supported by the Gospel message. That it’s permissible in the context of self-defense? Sure. That there are instances in the Mosaic Law that permitted it? Sure. But not that the Gospels teach it. Rather, we are told to “turn the other cheek” and that love includes “giving up one’s life” (not taking another’s life).

That’s not what’s happening here, I don’t think. Rather, what we’re seeing is two well-attested doctrines – “thou shalt not kill” and “self-defense” – and the ‘development’ we’re seeing is in terms of how these two interact. Whereas in the past, there was priority given to ‘justice’ (and therefore, to self-defense), we’re now seeing a greater weight being given to ‘mercy’ (and therefore, to ‘thou shalt not kill’).

So, we’re not changing doctrine, as such. What we’re doing is working out how to approach the prudential application of the confluence of these two doctrines.

A few thoughts:

  • you can’t trust Google translate in all things
  • Google Translate isn’t attempting to give you the term of art “intrinsic evil”
  • Google Translate isn’t even giving you “intrinsic” as the translation!
  • The Google Translate rendering of the Latin “per se” is “essentially”.
  • Why are you looking up a Latin phrase in Italian and three other languages?

Yes, “per se” is literally “by self”. That doesn’t mean that it implies “intrinsic evil”, as you’ve claimed.

No, it is no more possible for there to be a prudential judgment which precludes disagreement than for there to be square circles. A prudential judgment by its very definition allows for legitimate differences of opinion.

Francis is not attempting to contradict existing doctrine…

What, then, is the existing doctrine? Is it not that capital punishment is morally legitimate? If that is so then in what way can it be contrary to the Gospel?

You also said the teaching on the ascension of Mary was “contrary to the Gospel”. Perhaps you should explain what that phrase means to you.

We know the gospel messages are true.

We are, however, very unsure about how the Gospel is being interpreted. My problem with the claim that the death penalty is contrary to the Gospel is that it would mean Scripture is contrary to the Gospel (any number of references), Paul was contrary to the Gospel (several references), and the book of Revelations is also contrary (“If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed.” - Rev 13:10). How are we to make sense of a claim that the Bible contradicts itself?

The church never justified capital punishment on the basis of self defense.

…we are told to “turn the other cheek”

If this is so then what justifies applying any punishment? Are we to turn our cheeks only part way?

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Not at all. I am, however, insisting that capital punishment must be either intrinsically evil, or not. You accept that it is not which means that the judgment of when it is appropriate (a) belongs to the State, and (b) that, as a judgment, it may or may not be correct and does not oblige our assent.

Things that are not “intrinsically evil” may be licit only in rare cases. Take the so-called “just war doctrine” as an example. Wars are not “intrinsically evil”, but there are certainly a range of considerations which come into play in order for a war to rise to the level of moral liceity.

I think this is a good analogy. The problem is in applying the criteria, which in the case of a just war are essentially unchanged since they were developed, as opposed to those for capital punishment, which have changed three times in 25 years, and seemed based on nothing more than the personal opinions of various popes, which are not even consistent among themselves.

It is within the realm of theoretically possibility…

Is this what “inadmissible” means then: within the realm of the theoretically possible? If it is theoretically possible how is it contrary to the Gospel?

Neither. I’m asserting a third position. The Church was not in error in the past, nor is it in error now.

If the church taught before that capital punishment was morally licit, and was not in error, and teaches now that it is not morally licit, and is not in error now either, then the only way this can be so is if morality changes.

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