Can the Church error in matters of faith and morals that aren't doctrinal?


Can the Church error in matters of faith and morals that aren’t doctrinal?

For example, the common belief on the death penalty by the Church has seemed to change over the years.

The Church used to teach the death penalty is admissible if there is no other alternative.

Pope Francis has now said the death penalty is inadmissible.


No. But the church can change its position overtime in these areas as conditions change


Yes. The church can error in matters that are not doctrinal. A basic quick glance at history proves that.


The question should likely be defined as the word dogma, as opposed to doctrine.

Can. 749 §3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.


The Church’s teaching on the death penalty can never change, given the fact that over twenty centuries, she has always sanctioned the State’s right to make use of it if necessary and proper. These centuries of consistent Tradition cannot be simply disregarded, because if the death penalty truly were inadmissible, then one would have to conclude that Our Lord left His Church in error for centuries, only to be corrected in August 2018. That is a ridiculous proposition and undermines the very credibility of the Church. Pope Francis has his opinions, of course, but his change to the Catechism cannot be construed as a change in Catholic teaching, because such a change would be impossible.


I really think it does the Church a disservice to overstate it’s infallibility. It leads to having to play gymnastics with words to justify past teachings that have changed.


It has?

As far as I can tell, St John Paul II said “there’s really limited instances in which it might be licit to make recourse to the death penalty, these days.” And, Pope Francis has said, “we really can’t justify it.”

So… it exists, and we can’t justify its use in present circumstances now. Not a change in doctrine. :wink:


But those things are really slippery. And no one really believes it. Saying a teaching hasn’t changed by changing the light in which it is understood is not being honest. If that were the case, the Catechism would never be changed. Certainly from 100 Ad- 300 AD to 1300 AD, to now it cannot be argued the teaching has not changed. Popes have dug up other Popes and “executed” them again.

Then there is this.

IF there was ONE name on that list it would be sufficient. But that is a lot of names…


No? So, when the notion of ‘heliocentrism’ first came into play, and folks thought that the sun, rather than the earth, was the center of the universe, did the subsequent “change in the light in which it was understood” – that is, that the earth revolves around the sun, but that the sun isn’t at the center of the universe – mean that this new scientific understanding was “not being honest”?

C’mon, now… :wink:

Christ’s words do not change. Our understanding of them develops. That’s not ‘dishonest’.


The point is that some teachings indeed do change and can change. Some cant. Christ is wholly God and Human, and is present in the Eucharist. This cannot change. But the Church can change in just the examples you cited. It is dishonest to say that they have NOT changed. They have.
As much as I do not support the current Pope’s beliefs in this matter, he is indeed changing them and he can.


What about Limbo?


Belief in limbo was never mandatory AFAIK


The death penalty is no longer necessary since the modern world has better alternatives.


What are the better alternatives that the Church did not have when the death penalty was necessary?


AFAIK, the Holy Father was opining. Not ex-cathedra. He also stated that life in prison was basically also a death sentence.



Well there is not much joy in having to serve a sentence in solitary confinement, which is used increasingly these days even for juveniles in the USA. It is possible to go mad under such a sentence.


This is assuming the whole world is full of first-world countries only. What about countries that have prison gangs as one of their problems? Would pope Francis’s words apply there?


Where are the gangs you are referring to?
You may want to check the nations that have had executions and still use DP.
Maybe you are thinking of nations that have already abolished it and handled issues without recurring to CP.
( Skip the rest of the article if you wish, there is a chart and a list of countries that have had executions for the past years)


Effective means of keeping the person from ever hurting anyone ever again.


For the majority of history it has had that ability. Popes and the Church have executed people.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit