For those who are lamenting the "loss" of the death penalty


I am hoping that the moderators can see that this is a thread that is meant to unify, not divide; it is really important for CAFers struggling with this topic to read this very well thought-out commentary by Msgr Charles Pope:

What I find especially poignant are these words for the Catechism:

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.

And the monsignor’s closing comment:

we should resist the vision of the culture of death, which insists that the killing of human beings is a legitimate solution to human problems.

Human dignity means human value. It is very, very natural to disvalue the life of a person who commits murder or other very heinous crimes, in fact such automatic devaluation is likely an active component of the conscience itself.

What changes over the ages is not dignity, but awareness of dignity and awareness of what takes away from dignity and essentially works against upholding of human dignity. While it is natural to subconsciously, automatically dehumanize a murderer, the dehumanization is in itself an illusion, an illusion not shared by God the Father.

Death penalty in the U.S. was never a matter of evil intent, and neither was slavery or lack of civil rights. We can let go of it, with encouragement of our Church, as the D.P. is a stain on our nation’s civility and mercy.

We are called to forgive from the heart everyone we hold anything against, even murderers.


I think the problem is (for the most part) the fact that it looks like it contradicts the past teachings of the Church.


Yes, in appearance it does, but it is well in keeping with God’s infinite love and mercy, which has remained unchanged since the incarnation.

Revelation unfolds. It is an error to look at the past and say that people were wrong or evil in intent.


But Catholic doctrine (as I understand it) is not situational. Either it has always been wrong to use the death penalty or it has not. When you modify a teaching with words like, “in today’s modern environment” you now have a relativistic teaching, not an authentic teaching.


Some teachings are contextual though. For example charging any interest at all was once seen as immoral. Now it is only excessive interest that is seen as immoral.

Theft may or may not be grave matter depending on context.


Yes, thank you for sharing this article.

Monsignor Charles Pope pretty much gets it 100% right in my book.


I think the change was tied to a change in how commerce was conducted - from a barter system to a cash system, but I’m way out of my depth on this one.

Do you have an example where stealing is not a sin?


Let’s put it in the context of slavery, though. Was it always wrong?


I think it all means that the use of the DP is justified for reasons of justice, but that in the same way we should forgive others even if they are unrepentant, we should only use the DP for defensive purposes.

I think it is similar to self-defense when attacked. We can only use force sufficient to stop the attack, and we may not use it with the intent to kill, even if that amount of force is necessary to quell the attack.

It was all right in previous times because then it was necessary for defense, but now it is not.


Have you looked into the history of doctrinal development of some other social issues, like religious liberty? I think you’ll find that the Catholic Church’s approach in its social teaching is HIGHLY situational, in the sense that it is constantly adapted to the times we are living.

I still maintain that those people who are stressed about this development from Francis need to look back into the other developments in the Church’s social teaching in the last 100 years, especially religious liberty as a supreme example how prior teaching can seem to contradict the new teaching.


I think your comments are right on, but consider this: there is a huge difference between enacting a penalty and use of lethal means for defensive purposes. The latter is not addressed at all in the Pope’s comments.


The bottom line is, Francis never said the death penalty is intrinsically evil, so there is no contradiction.

“But,” many people are saying, “how can he then say that it is ‘inadmissible’ today?”

Well, take this example (that I read from another article): Driving 200 mph is NOT “intrinsically evil.” BUT, in nearly every case I can think of, it is indeed wrong considering other circumstances, such as placing the lives of others in danger, etc.


The definition of slavery has changed over the millennia. I think that G.K. Chesterton’s wage-slave has more in common with biblical slavery than does modern slavery.


I am thinking that the comparison falls more along the lines of comparing good intent. Long ago, when invasion of neighboring tribal lands was a matter of scarcity of resource, entire competitive tribes were killed. It was actually a merciful act to save lives and keep them as slaves. This has good intent all the way through. The same can be said for the death penalty, but times have changed in both instances.

Humanity now has the resources to be merciful.


The Pope is assuming that our modern means of incarceration is sufficient for defense.

Remember that even with defense, we are only supposed to use the amount of force necessary to stop the attack. I don’t get to whip out my gun and shoot to kill if someone does not pose an imminent danger of serious harm or death.


It is untrue that Catholic teaching states that once was moral must always be moral or that what was once immoral must always be immoral.

It used to be immoral to eat meat on Fridays, it was never inherently evil.

There is a difference between “morality” and “inherent evil”.

Slavery is now immoral. It is not, nor has it ever been, inherently evil.

Lending at interest is not now immoral, it used to be, but it was never inherently evil.

The death penalty is now (according to the Pope) immoral, but it was never inherently evil.

Abortion is inherently evil

Murder is inherently evil

Killing a human can be immoral but it is not always and everywhere under every circumstance, “inherently evil”. Same with stealing. A starving mother and child/loaf of bread situation for example.


The Catechism itself says this about Torture:

2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations , mutilations , and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.91

[2298] In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.


When I lived in Germany there was no speed limit on the autobahn. I think that part of the reasoning when the autobahns were created was that cars generally weren’t fast enough (or different in performance) to make it an issue. Now with high powered sports cars (Ferraris, etc.) and not so high powered cars (Yugos, etc.) the speed of the high performance cars and the difference in performance has led the Germans to impose a limit of 130km/hr. That’s an example of how their laws developed over time. It’s different than changing the posted speed limit from 200 to 55.


I take that to be that the Church learned that torture was not a useful tool, stated the Church was wrong, and put new doctrine in place. I don’t see new learning with regard to the death penalty; we’ve always believed in that all men are created in the image and likeness of God. Also, the new doctrine does not clarify that the old doctrine was in error, like the torture example did.


I see the Death Penalty change as similar. Given that we can ensure the safety of the public without execution (as Pope Francis believes), it is not right to execute someone.

Not a sin, no, but stealing $100 from a poor person would be grave matter and stealing it from a millionaire would not be.

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