Capital punishment...again


In some of the other threads on this topic - before they were closed - the question arose as to whether the new version of 2267 was a prudential judgment, or was a new and different doctrine. The question is not merely academic but comes with significant implications since doctrines require our assent while prudential judgments…don’t.

Reading Cardinal Ladaria’s letter on the subject doesn’t really clear this up, but it does include comments that support the conclusion that it is a judgment, even though it contains this:

“1. The Holy Father…asked that the teaching on the death penalty be reformulated so as to better reflect the development of the doctrine on this point…”

“3. In this development, the teaching of the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitæ of John Paul II is of great importance.”

“7. The new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved by Pope Francis, situates itself in continuity with the preceding Magisterium while bringing forth a coherent development of Catholic doctrine.”

This certainly implies a doctrinal development, but to what extent is not made clear, especially in light of this:

“8. All of this shows that the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.”

If capital punishment is now to be seen as intrinsically evil that would not only contradict prior teachings (2000 years worth) but would completely repudiate the position held by the Fathers, Doctors, and previous popes, so if the new formulation is not in contradiction with prior teachings then what has changed?

If it is not accurate to claim capital punishment is an intrinsic evil then how is the new version of 2267 different than the earlier one? If the previous doctrine was that capital punishment was not intrinsically evil, and therefore could be justified in some circumstances, and the “developed” doctrine still does not take the step of defining it as intrinsically evil, it isn’t clear what has developed, and if it isn’t intrinsically evil then its use is subject to judgment, about which we may legitimately disagree.


That has not been stated nor do I know any theologian who advances Pope Francid did???


And heres the answer. Allowing circumstances have been more explicitly delimited.


Allowing circumstances have been reduced to zero. Calling that “explicitly delimited” is sophistry.

Also, there is the phrase that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”. It would require more sophistry to not read that phrase as saying that the death penalthy is now considered intrinsically evil. The phrase clearly offers as the reason for the change two non-circumstantial (and therefore intrinsic) things: “the inviolability and dignity of the person.”


It is in contradiction with prior teachings, of course. You can’t make a 180 on such a fundamental matter and claim that the new teaching is a “development” of earlier teaching and not in contradiction with it. Developments aren’t 180-degree turns, they continue along the same direction. Point 8 in Cardinal Ladaria’s letter is therefore an impossibility, as it asks us to disregard the very meaning of various words such as “contradiction” and “development”.

As concerns the argument that those “old teachings” had to be the way they were because “back then” it was so difficult to protect society from hardened criminals otherwise, this is nonsense: it was pretty easy. Protection of society was never the main reason for the death penalty anyway; forcing otherwise unrepentant criminals to face the inevitability of God’s Judgment was. And it worked. It is only the current Magisterium that wants us to believe that it was always about “protecting society”. But it wasn’t. And it is precisely this complete disregard for the original and true justification of capital punishment that is so lamentable.

Anyway, this thread’ll probably get shut down pretty soon.


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This is a concern of mine as well, but it appears these threads get shut down because someone complains to the moderators that the discussion has become “disrespectful”, especially to Pope Francis. So long as we can keep the discussion about the logic and rationale involved I am hopeful that we can avoid that fate.

Not necessarily. It is a direct contradiction of prior teachings only if capital punishment is now defined as an intrinsic evil, otherwise it is not really that different than positions taken all the way back to Augustine.

I agree with you that this is what is implied, but I disagree that this must necessarily be assumed. First, the church has always acknowledged the right to kill in just wars and in self defense (and capital punishment), so human life is actually not inviolable, and if life itself is not inviolable it’s not clear that “dignity” is either. JPII raised the concern that other means of punishment were: “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person”, but did not consider that this necessarily banned executions completely.

Second, despite what may be implied, I do not assume it is now doctrine that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. I don’t believe such a proclamation has been made because I don’t believe it is possible to make it.

The death penalty is not intrinsically evil. Both Scripture and long Christian tradition acknowledge the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances. The Church cannot repudiate that without repudiating her own identity. (Archbishop Chaput, 2005)


It seems you may not be trained or experienced in dealing with Magisterial or theological texts of this nature.

The Pope, like those before him, is contributing to an on going “discussion” which takes place within a context.
To simply extrapolate from the changed text without regard for the context of tradition and changed modern consitions is not a very reasonable way of resolving apparant contradictions. To ignore context is basically “proof texting”, something that first year theology students get very poor marks for in their end of year assignments.

Yes the Pope is moving the debate towards no practical exceptions …and perhaps one day future Popes may as you say doctrinally declare CP intrinsically evil.
At the moment we are not there. This is a Catechism not an Encyclical.

For a loyal Catholic you have an unusual reaction to self perceived contradiction. Instead of waiting it out and see how the ensuing debate unfolds amongst respected theologians (and the Popes ongoing response to such debate) you would rather just say the Pope has contradicted set doctrine (or at least your view of it) and is presumably heretical?


I agree that such has not been authoritatively taught as yet.
That would at least take a dedicated Encyclical I would think. A Catechism is a good method of first testing the waters and raising it for academic discussion in the direction indicated.

Personally I cannot see it ever being declared intrinsically evil as a ethical principle. The weight of history and theology that would be contradicted seems too enormous for such to ever make sense…unless a new rationale rises to the surface…but that would take 100s of years to take root I suggest.


But this is the problem the change has created: people have to respond to its meaning now, and that means deciding whether capital punishment has or has not been declared intrinsically evil. Actually we have been left with two options neither of which is very good. If “inadmissible” means intrinsically evil then 2000 years of church doctrine has been repudiated, but if it doesn’t mean that then there would seem to be no practical difference between this version of 2267 and the prior one - so why was it made and why is it so ambiguous?


Why the need for “testing the waters” and “academic discussion”? Why does God not simply make his will known to the Pope, the head of His church?


Personally I think not at this stage.
Because the Pope is an intelligent and compassionate leader it is only logical that his words at this early stage cannot be taken to mean explicit teaching that CP is IE.
There are then other reasonable and acceptable paths to take re interpreting and discussing his “inadmissable”.

It is a charitable heart that leads the mind to truth, not the other way around methinks.

but if it doesn’t mean that then there would seem to be no practical difference between this version of 2267 and the prior one.

I have already provided you a reasonable explanation.
If you cannot accept it is reasonable I suggest the blockage may not be one of intellect but intellective appettite.


We obviously have very different religio-temporal world views about how Biblical or Magisterial inspiration really works and how the Papacy leavens the Church re its teachings as they are refined over time.


CCC 94:

Growth in understanding the faith

94 Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church:

  • “through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts”; it is in particular “theological research [which] deepens knowledge of revealed truth”.

  • “from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which [believers] experience”, the sacred Scriptures “grow with the one who reads them.”

  • “from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth”.


That answers how not why.


Maybe God knows we will understand his will and live by it more faithfully if we have to work for it.

That’s just a guess. When people work toward understanding, they are more likely to “buy in” and take ownership of the ideas.



The Church has no authority to create as it were divine law which is eternal and unchanging at least in its essential principles and statutes. Christ has given the Church guided by the Holy Spirit the authority to apply and interpret the divine law according to various situations and circumstances. So, in my opinion, capital punishment cannot be considered intrinsically evil ever. An intrinsic evil is something that is evil in its object and is wrong to do at all times, in all times, and in all places. Capital punishment was prescribed by God in the Old Law given to the Israelites for various crimes and sins, i.e, mortal sins which merited death which is analogous to the second death, namely, eternal punishment. God would not prescribe capital punishment in the Old Law if it was intrinsically evil or he would be acting against his own nature as well as the natural law that he himself instituted and created. The natural law is an expression of the eternal law and it is founded on it.

In the Christian era, we all know that the Church considered capital punishment throughout all its history to be legitimate in various circumstances, i.e, it is not an intrinsic evil. We also believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church in the way of all truth and that the Church is infallible in regards to its teaching on faith and morals. Essentially, again, an intrinsic evil is an objective evil that is wrong at all times and all places. But, if capital punishment wasn’t wrong to do in the past it cannot now be considered an intrinsic evil nor can we believe that the Holy Spirit was in error both in the Old Law or throughout the history of the Church’s teaching on this. Whatever Pope Francis means by ‘inadmissible’ it is not the same word or term as ‘intrinsic evil’ which term is in official Church teaching such as in Humani Generis, Veritatas Splendor, and in the Church’s theological moral tradition as well as the meaning of this term which is understood as I’ve said as being objectively wrong or evil at or in all times and all places. The encyclical Veritatas Spendor from St John Paul II was essentially about reiterating the truth of ‘intrinsically evil’ human acts founded upon the Divine Law and the revealed word of God. Accordingly, I don’t see how the term ‘inadmissible’ could or can mean ‘intrinsic evil’.

Merry Christmas all!!


I think it is entirely possible, and consonant with the overall thrust of Christian theology and moral teaching, that the death penalty is not intrinsically evil (indeed, even just in the right circumstances) … and yet also not something that Christians or societies guided by Christian thinking should do.

Yes, God has so constituted the universe that a human being, by performing certain acts, can be deserving of death, and a rightful authority may justly carry out that sentence.

But why, in hindsight and especially for us Christians, did God so emphasize the seriousness of sin and the justice of death? It wasn’t because He was eager to carry out the sentence. Most clearly in the Incarnation, but also in many of His dealings with Israel in the Old Testament, God is always emphasizing that people deserve death or permanent estrangement from Him for their actions … and yet, not because they deserve it but because He is just that awesome, He imposes a lesser sentence or offers a way out of punishment. By the time we get to Paul’s theology of why Jesus came, we are all said to be under the just penalty of both death and eternal damnation … and yet God, the supremely just judge who could execute that sentence without falling prey to bloodlust or other unsavory motives that are a danger for humans, preferred to conquer death by suffering unjust execution Himself so that we could have a destiny we do not deserve.

Given that our entire religion is literally based on the commutation of our own death sentences, I can see why the mind of the Church would eventually move to the position that, while execution might be acceptable and even deserved in some cases, it’s not the sort of thing the Church and her people should be encouraging. I mean, most of the world, and especially the Christian-influenced world, has already abolished the civil death penalty, so it may well be only in the U.S. that we have a significant number of people who both care what the Pope has to say and are prepared to fight him on this one.


The previous edition said that “authority will limit itself”. The new one says it is “inadmissible”. So it is just a hair more adamant in tone. Like, you will limit yourself to these means, verses it is inadmissible to use other means besides these.

The Catechism isn’t just a list of facts of doctrine. It also has a tenor. List one fact before the other or cluster certain facts together can change the tenor. Given the use by Card. Ladaria of words like “sensibility”, “decisive”, and “mentality”, I think it is possibly for reason of tenor that a change was made. The tenor that something will have is affected by the society that is listening. A societal change can cause a change in tenor, even with the same wording.

If the first thing people think of if one says the death penalty is permissible is that human life has little value, then one needs to rearrange the presentation, because life is valuable, so they are getting the wrong idea.


I believe there are soft forms of “intrinsic evil”.
Take divorce or polygamy.
We cannot say they are hard forms of IE because they were tolerated in the old dispensation.
Yet in the new dispensation, where we are called and enabled to a greater maturity, these effectively are now hard IEs, at least for Christians.

CP seems to straddle the two dispensation eras and perhaps really belongs to the old dispensation…but such a subtle matter (or societal institutions even in medieval times still not mature enough) obvious to the Papacy has been tolerated until now.

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