Capital punishment...again


Is it your understanding that Pope Francis has said that capital punishment is now intrinsically evil?



Cardinal Dulles explains:

Retribution by the State has its limits because the State, unlike God, enjoys neither omniscience nor omnipotence. According to Christian faith, God “will render to every man according to his works” at the final judgment (Romans 2:6; cf. Matthew 16:27). Retribution by the State can only be a symbolic anticipation of God’s perfect justice.

How can he say that if retribution is the primary purpose of human justice? Hence we can understand that retribution is the primary purpose of punishment in the divine economy, but human justice is immediately directed towards the common good.



You should be able to read the text yourself.

Let us be clear:

There is nothing that can be contested in this matter.

Recourse to previous statements of past eras is purposeless, whether it is catechisms now superseded or Popes of past centuries.

A person who is Catholic is under the authority of the Vicar of Christ.

The Catholic either assents to the Magisterium or is in dissent.

It seems to me that the real question is not about what Pope Francis has decreed…that is codified in the revision of the Catechism. It is Church teaching. It is doctrine.

The real question is if the Diocese of San Diego, or even the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, needs to weigh in on the responsibility of Catholic social media websites regarding what is – again let us be clear – expression of public dissent from the Magisterium.



That would be the problem. What competency does the Pope have to judge all situations in the world? And even if the judgement was accurate there is no guarantee it would be just a moment later.

If that is the basis of the argument then it isn’t true.

You aren’t suggesting that capital punishment is carried out for the sake of killing are you?

People ask a simple question about whether the Pope is now saying that capital punishment is intrinsically evil and the answer is ‘go read for yourself’. That seems like a common response to many modern teachings. But it isn’t an answer.



It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. (Evangelium Vitae)

The Church with a wealth of expertise and a charism to teach regarding morality along with the authority of the Holy Spirit, has said that it is rare that prisoners cannot be contained today.



The Director of Apologetics for Catholic Answers is very clear on the assent that must be given to this teaching.

Am I Bound to Believe This Revision as Catholic Teaching?

Yes. However, with qualification. Inasmuch as it is a doctrinal development, the answer is yes. But because this is not an infallible teaching, which is clear by the nature of its promulgation, i.e., it has been placed in the Catechism rather than given with the necessary and authoritative language of a pope that would make it infallible, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Lumen Gentium 25, in the documents of Vatican II, calls for “religious submission of mind and will” on the part of the faithful to this teaching.



Cardinal Dulles reflects that in today’s culture, man is more animal and less godly.

" In this modern perspective, the death penalty expresses not the divine judgment on objective evil but rather the collective anger of the group. The retributive goal of punishment is misconstrued as a self-assertive act of vengeance."

That is an immoral use of execution.



I can say it because that’s what the church says.

2266 The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.

The third justifying purpose for punishment is retribution or the restoration of the order of justice which has been violated by the action of the criminal (USCCB)

The USCCB simply listed three objectives of punishment without ordering them, but this comment makes clear that retribution is the redress of the disorder caused by the offense…which is the primary objective of punishent.

Your use of “the common good” is ambiguous. I agree that justice is directed toward the common good. Where we disagree is over what constitutes that good. It is not mere physical protection.



Like you, I have read it. It is ambiguous. How can we know what we are to believe if we don’t know what has been said? It’s a simple question: does the change to 2267 mean that capital punishment is now to be understood as intrinsically evil? Yes or no.

According to you we are in dissent. According to Cardinal Dulles we are not, at least not until you make the case it is now doctrine that capital punishment is intrinsically evil.



I am sure you are aware of it…but for those who come to the forum who are sincere in wanting to know the Church’s teaching – which opposes the death penalty and, to quote the revised Catechism of the Catholic Church, “works with determination for its abolition worldwide” – one can find a number of excellent references on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, gathered under the banner headline

The Church’s Anti-Death Penalty Position

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It’s not the nature of the CCC to stipulate for individual situations in the world. That being said, there shouldn’t be any doubt that Pope Francis is familiar with the varying degrees of competent and legitimate governances in the world.

As to your concern about varying governances, the letter to the bishops states:

Certainly, it remains the duty of public authorities to defend the life of citizens, as has always been taught by the Magisterium and is confirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in numbers 2265 and 2266.

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party



I get what St John Paul II says here apparently in regard to society outside of prison at least in the more developed countries. But it is not necessarily true even in these countries concerning the society inside the prison and the safety of the inmates or the guards themselves which often fails such as in various criminal activities and assaults. I suppose the assaulters in prison can be locked up in some ‘hard’ form of solitary confinement which, however, unfortunately and sadly would be after the fact or assault again which got them to prison in the first place.

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I don’t play this game.

I refer you to the Director of Apologetics of Catholic Answers, whom I quoted above.

This teaching must be given obsequium.

If you are in disagreement with the very clear answer of Catholic Answers own Director of Apologetics, you should take the matter up with @cawebmaster and @camoderator.

Church teaching is quite clear. The death penalty is today “inadmissible” and it is "unacceptable."

The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is crystal clear in what he wrote, which the Pope approved and ordered published. This is doctrine.



That it is not clear is demonstrated by your refusal to answer my question: is the death penalty now declared to be intrinsically evil? Everything follows from the answer to that question, and your reluctance to say it is suggests you realize that claim is a bridge too far.



Evangelium Vitae from which the Catechism draws here, goes on to further explain “redressing the disorder caused by the offense”.

The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offence”.46 Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.

This refers to redress of the social order. In that context it is an expression of the limited retribution Cardinal Dulles describes, that by redressing the temporal disorder, it is then symbolic of the divine redress of Gods final judgement.

From the Compendiium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

164. The principle of the common good, to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people . According to its primary and broadly accepted sense, the common good indicates “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily”.[346]



“Claim”? “A bridge too far”?

You are reported to the moderator for lack of submission and deference to the Vicar of Christ.

He has not made a “claim” nor has he gone “a bridge too far.” He has quite well and authoritatively articulated the Church’s teaching concerning the death penalty.

You are also reported for what you have said to me. I am a theologian…and I assure you that I am 100% in agreement with what Pope Francis has said and what he has done.



Prison violence and murders happen even in jurisdictions using the death penalty. In countries that have abolished the death penalty, there is no evidence that prison murders have increased. On the flip side, abolition of the death penalty has allowed for rehabilitation of some and more importantly justice for exonerees who have been vindicated by progress in science.



Who has claimed that? I suspect at most it will eventually be labelled extrinsically evil in todays culture.



OK, hypothetically let’s say we agree that this was simply the Pope’s prudential judgment, and let’s agree that, generally speaking, we are bound only by doctrinal teachings not prudential judgments. Is it certain that the Pope can’t bind the faithful to his prudential judgment as a disciplinary measure? As in, he is binding the faithful to resist capital punishment, as the Church’s official stance on the issue, in the present era?



The Church’s teaching that the death penalty is inadmissible and unacceptable is a doctrinal teaching, @TWF.

That is precisely why obsequium must be given to it – it is doctrine.

That is precisely what Cardinal Ladaria has said.

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