Capital punishment...again


How do you get this when the revised 2267 says: 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.


Works for with determination only describes what is happening. Whether it is working locally or globally doesn’t mean these alleged conditions exist worldwide. In fact if the conditions are met worldwide then these same conditions existed in many places since before Christ. That is because many places don’t have prisons as strong as in Europe and North America.


It is either that or it is a change in doctrine. No it is not a development but a change a change that has me questioning. The only way I can hold on is to believe it is not binding or true.


I’m not asking about the death penalty here, because @Don_Ruggero has absolutely demonstrated the Church’s position on that several times over, rather I am asking specifically about this statement you made.

Why does your faith require that doctrine not change? I don’t understand this. I’m a professor who studies the historical Jesus and early Christianity, and I can assure you that doctrine has always changed. It just has. The nature of Jesus himself was perhaps the most highly contested issue for the first several centuries of Christianity. The various Marian Doctrines all developed over centuries. Historically, the case for changing doctrine is as open and shut as the case that Mr. Ender is just wrong about the death penalty.

Maybe I’m just a weak minded man, but I don’t understand the need for a mythical unchanging faith. It reminds me a little of the 19th century Populists in the US. They sought to return to a mythical agrarian past because they feared losing out in a world rapidly embracing big business, industrialization, and an end to yeoman farming. Are Catholics who fear changing doctrine afraid the Church will turn into something that no longer backs their concept of a properly ordered society? Seriously, I’m asking because I want insight.


Some doctrine has a huge effect on one’s life. So, say you’ve made a lot of sacrifice in your life for doctrines. Perhaps your spouse left you over a doctrine, and it hurt your children. I think such a person would want to know that they didn’t let that happen over something that only maybe might be true, and next week could change. I think such an effect could carry over to doctrines that are less impactful. (not that the death penalty is exempt for impacting lives).

I’m not the person you wrote to, though, to be clear.


It is one thing for a doctrine to develop, but quite another for a doctrine unchanged for two millennia to be reversed. That’s a great deal more than simple “change”.

The reversal of a doctrine as well established as the legitimacy of capital punishment would raise serious problems regarding the credibility of the magisterium. Consistency with Scripture and long-standing Catholic tradition is important for the grounding of many current teachings of the Catholic Church; for example, those regarding abortion, contraception, the permanence of marriage, and the ineligibility of women for priestly ordination. If the tradition on capital punishment had been reversed, serious questions would be raised regarding other doctrines… (Edward Feser)

Beyond that is this very real problem:

If, in fact, the previous teaching had been discarded, doubt would be cast on the current teaching as well. It too would have to be seen as reversible, and in that case, as having no firm hold on people’s assent. The new doctrine, based on a recent insight, would be in competition with a magisterial teaching that has endured for two millennia—or even more, if one wishes to count the biblical testimonies. Would not some Catholics be justified in adhering to the earlier teaching on the ground that it has more solid warrant than the new? The faithful would be confronted with the dilemma of having to dissent either from past or from present magisterial teaching.


The Christian faith is a revealed religion. It is based on the revelation from Jesus Christ. That religion was taught to the apostles who handed it down. So having the same doctrine from then until now is essential. Otherwise it is just an invented religion. Otherwise it is just a philosophy following the latest fads.


I hear that a lot, but assertions are not all that convincing. Is there a specific comment I’ve made that you would like to contest?


If you truly believe that @Don_Ruggero’s definitive responses to you are “assertions,” then there is no meaningful conversation I can have with you.

The very first thing you need to do is open your mind to the possibility that you might be wrong. About everything. Hubris is a cancer that destroys intellectualism.


But by the time of the CCC’s publication in the 1990s, the death penalty was inadmissable in almost every situation. It is hardly a 180 degree reversal to the new CCC 2267…

to quote the old 2267

**[2267] Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."68


I clearly do not consider his responses dispositive, and have cited a number of serious rebuttals to his position that I think make a much more convincing argument. I am prepared to debate the point with anyone who is willing to debate it, but if I’m wrong then someone should be able to attack my arguments with more than “I’m right, you’re wrong, discussion is not allowed.”


That is beautifully said, @billsherman.

The user, Ender, is in open and public dissent from the Papal Magisterium – and is using this forum to spread dissent.

His duty is to submit to the authority of the Magisterium


No, they really do not make a more convincing argument. Sorry. To me it seems more like a morbid attachment to a brutal practice that is not needed in the modern era.




The key question here seems to be “What makes the death penalty inadmissible?” That it was a prudential judgment (in 1997) and not an intrinsic evil seems clearly demonstrated in that there were in fact cases in which its use was seen as acceptable, however rare. The church has always recognized that there could be situations where the death penalty was legitimately held to be unwise and harmful. The 1997 version was not a rupture with the past when seen in that light.

If, however, we are now to view capital punishment as morally impermissible in every case then this is a complete reversal of a doctrine taught unchanged since the beginning of the church.

You should recognize that the “old” version only dates back to 1997. Even the 1992 edition didn’t have the restriction it contained, and that pretty much every catechism (I’ve seen about six) going back to the Catechism of St. Thomas in the 1200’s accepted the moral legitimacy of capital punishment.

If we are to accept that capital punishment is now morally illegitimate (for other than prudential reasons) then it would be a reversal of that doctrine.


I absolutely do have a duty to submit to the authority of the Magisterium. I do not, however, have any obligation to assent to your understanding of the situation.


There is a difference between a development and an a change. It has been the position of the Church that government had the right to protect their citizens and that right included the death penalty. It was their decision. Now it is no longer their decision but under no circumstance is it allowable. The reasoning is unsound in my opinion. You ask why? I will tell you this is the first time that such a complete change has been made in a dogma. You can assure me but that doesn’t make it a fact or the truth. If the faith is changing it cannot come from God who is unchangeable. You cannot dispute Enders facts he is right.


Might you consider that you are wrong. It is easy to walk away from a conversation by claiming to not to be able to have a meaningful conversation because you believe that the response was definitive from someone else. I hope and pray that it is not definitive. I must also say that open mindedness is not Ender’s problem. It may be others but not him.


@Don_Ruggero the church has for centuries fought for abolition.

Pope Francis told us to read '‘I promessi sposi’ with no surprise: Fra Cristoforo was the son of a wealthy family, and joined the Capuchin Order after killing a man.

The death penalty was for centuries mostly commuted to Exhile or indentured servitude.

The abolition of slavery took precedence (in intellectual/literary production) - its magnitude in the order of millions. (A social/political process that took centuries.)

Where the church held influence the death sentence was opposed to what extent possible, a missionary from Tuscany (abolished the death-sentence in 1786) wrote:

Pope Francis changed the catechism in 2018, precisely 300 years after the apparitions of Our Lady of Laus, that began with Saint Maurice.


So which is more immoral executing a criminal or enslaving him? Shouldn’t we be just as outraged that criminals were enslaved or exiled, where they were cut off from things like Sacraments, and social welfare? Those people back then were apparently very immoral. We shouldn’t look to them as guides.

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