Living with Heresy?

Hey Guys
I converted from the Protestant Church about 2 years ago. I love being Catholic and praise god for leading me to his church all of the time! My concerns are with the popes new directions to change the catechism recently regarding the death penalty. Some call it Heresy, some call it positive progression of church dogma and others refuse to really think anything has really changed. I’m concerned for our church, these “changes” are what led me away from Protestantism and I’m not sure how to feel about this and lead my young family appropriately.


Take a listen to Fr. Thomas Petri on EWTN.

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Don’t think for one second the Pope can be a heretic. God would not leave us with a Shepard to lead us down the wrong path.


The Pope doesn’t teach “heresy”. Only extreme traditionalists who have a problem with the Pope anyway would say such a thing.

This change isn’t “heresy” given that the definition of “heresy” would be a teaching against Church doctrine. The civil death penalty is not a matter of Church doctrine unless you want to refer to the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, in which case opposing the death penalty is in agreement with the Commandment and thus not heresy. The Church has actually been opposing the death penalty since at least the reign of Pope JPII and maybe even before, so this is not a big change in direction.

I’d further note that the only Catholics who even bother about this are US right wing conservative Catholics who support the death penalty. Since almost no countries in Europe even have the death penalty, I’m pretty sure nobody over there cares, let alone is calling it “heresy”.

If you’re hanging around with Catholics who claim that this change is “heresy”, I’d advise you to find some new friends.


I appreciate the feedback! I guess my concern and the part that worries me as a convert, is that he appears to be “changing” what the church has taught to be right for the past 2000 years. How can what the church taught as acceptable and right in certain circumstances, all of the sudden, be inadmissible?

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I appreciate your feedback as well? I just don’t know how to explain to people, Protestant family who ask, why church doctrine has all of the sudden contradicted itself as many are saying is happening due to these changes.

Social justice teachings like the death penalty aren’t considered to be unchanging 2000-year-old teaching of the Church. They evolve to suit the situation of society today.

The Pope has made clear that there may have been a need for the death penalty in the past, but society now is to the point where there are other effective ways of dealing with criminals and execution is not needed.

Wha has remained unchanged for 2000 years is the underlying principle of respect for human life and human dignity, as well as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” which means that wherever possible, the Church will be on the side of not taking a life.

It’s important to keep in mind that “church doctrine” that remains unchanged is actually a very small group of teachings and principles. It would include things like the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ 2 Commandments, the teachings on Jesus’ human and divine nature and the Trinity, the Marian dogmas of the Church. If every single church teaching remained unchanged for 2000 years, we would still be going around dressing and living like we did in Jesus’ time.


I see what your saying here. I run into a few different issues for his reasoning however. One is that, although we have several first world countries that can accommodate life prison sentences, not all countries can do this effectively, i would wager more probably cannot do this effectively than can. Second, even in our modern first world prisons, we cannot guarantee the safety of others from repeat offenses even within the prison setting. The last statistic I saw shows that almost 2% of murderers reoffend in their lifetime. This means nearly 75000 lives are taken after someone is incarcerated for murder.
Lastly, the churches teachings on the death penalty have been very clearly defended with limitations, up until this most recent change.
This is where my concern and confusion comes from. Thanks for the feedback.

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Regarding your first point, the death penalty is pretty heavily used by oppressive regimes that are also for the most part non-Catholic and even anti-Catholic. China executes thousands of people every year and some of the Middle Eastern countries execute a few hundred, compared to the US executing maybe 20 to 25 people. Many of the world’s countries, including 105 member countries of the UN, have abolished the death penalty, and another large group of counties have it on the books but never execute anyone. So the Pope is pretty much going with the flow here except for places like China, Iran and Iraq which I think all of us would agree are NOT countries that Catholics admire or want to emulate.

Regarding “guarantee the safety of others”, nothing is “guaranteed” in this life, but when we are executing only 25 people a year or fewer anyway, as has been the case for the last few years because the US death penalty jurisprudence is unworkable and biased, it’s not doing much prevention or deterrence or anything at all from a practical standpoint. In the USA, 19 US states have already abolished the death penalty, and many other states that have it on the books rarely or never execute anyone. We have something like 2900 people currently on death row and at this rate most of them are going to die a natural death before we get around to executing them. I don’t think most people who advocate in favor of the US death penalty actually know anything abou how it works or have looked into how many people actually get executed vs sit in prison for 25 years and die of a heart attack or get killed by another inmate.

As for the church’s past teachings on death penalty, every Catholic off CAF I’ve mentioned this to has said, “what’s the big deal, the Church has been anti-death penalty for years anyway, right?” I’m sure some apologists will step up to the plate and write something, so just wait for the analyses by Jimmy Akin and his ilk if you like that sort of thing. I know a lot of Protestants and converts do like to see arguments to support changes like this but to me it’s sort of a big anticlimax in view of all I just said above.


I guess you kind of nailed my main concern right there, “go with the flow.” Protestant churches everywhere are going with the flow of modern society, I have this experience first hand, and can tell you it isn’t going anywhere good. The appeal of the Catholic faith is that it is the church most similar to that of Christ’s times and it is scary to see big things change. Although the death penalty may not seem “big” to a lot of Catholics, the fact that church teachings are potentially changing or adapting to modernism is a big worry. I appreciate you hearing and responding to my concerns. We’re you raised Catholic?

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Also as far as I know or have researched, the churches stance on being anti death penalty in extreme situations is a development within the past 75 years. Prior to that I think it was mostly pro death penalty.

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Yes, I’m a cradle.

I don’t think “going with the flow” is bad when the flow seems to be flowing closer to Jesus’ commandments.
In order to argue that the Pope is wrong about the death penalty, we need to argue that it’s necessary to kill more people rather than just locking them up and giving them time to repent, and that means we would be taking a position similar to Iran, Iraq, and China rather than similar to Catholic or even many Christian nations.
This to me is a no-brainer.


We had some issues with men named Hitler and Stalin about 75 years ago, that kind of made people nervous of supporting state-sponsored executions.


There were many atrocious leaders world wide prior to Stalin and Hitler, in fact the Romans at the time of Christ were notably terrible in their executions of people, yet St. Paul, still defended the use of execution by the state in Romans 13.
I hope you can see where Im coming from when I say I am confused. I don’t mean to argue for the sake of arguing but to try to find truth. The Bible, as well as historical teachings and practices of the church point to supporting the death penalty. The Vatican even had its own executioner a famous one, Giovani Bugatti, up until the mid 1800’s, If not later.

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I can’t agree more as a german citizen.
Taking life when there is no other option is one thing. Demonstrating enthusiastically for taking life is another. With no credit to the actual discussion on death penalty, the second generally feels weird for me as a christian.


Romans 13 didn’t specifically defend the use of execution. It is about submission to civil authority generally and I see it as similar to Jesus saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and generally not starting a revolution. Some scholars see it as specifically directed at Gentiles having to live under the authority of synagogue leaders. In any event, St. Paul himself had been involved in carrying out unjust executions of Christians, and he felt remorse for it, he didn’t think it was a great thing he had done.

From a practical standpoint, in the times of Rome, executing people, en masse and often unjustly, was considered the main way to keep order as well as provide public entertainment. Obviously any good Christian would morally disapprove of the cruelty and injustice involved, especially when Christians themselves were the ones getting executed. I don’t think any of the early martyrs thought such executions were okay, even though they might have taken some comfort in being able to give their lives for their faith, join their suffering with that of Jesus, and in so doing pass to a better life.

Regardless of whether the Church showed any official discomfort with executions in Roman times or during the next 19 centuries when various civil auhorities were burning people at the stake, drawing and quartering Catholic priests and martyrs, or guillotining people in large numbers in France, Hitler and Stalin refined the art of execution to the point where each of them executed millions of people. There is no way the Church could approve of that - and once you get to the point where you are objecting to the mass murder of millions, it raises the issue that one life is just as important to God, just as loved by God, as millions of lives.

Plus it makes it pretty hard for the Church to come out strongly against abortion and euthanasia and preach respect for life and oppose the government policies that end life, while still saying “but it’s okay for the government to execute criminals”.

I’m not a philosopher or a theologian, but from a standpoint of pure common sense, you expect to see the Church standing up for human life in a big way, and that includes the human lives of people who the rest of society has thrown away - the unborn, the infirm, the elderly, and the criminal on death row. The Church position makes total sense to me as you cannot tell someone in USA that you’re “pro-life” and then in the next breath be calling for more executions. I’m frankly surprised that everybody is struggling so much with this issue, but then again I have been anti-death penalty for several decades for reasons not based in Church teaching (simply the practical reality that it is impossible to implement a death penalty in a completely unbiased, completely fair, and completely error-free way).

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Read what CCC No. 2267 said before and what it will say now.

Read what Saint John Paul II said about the death penalty.

Read the letter the head of the CDF sent the Bishops to announce this revision.

That’s the issue I keep running into, there is a huge difference between unjust executions and just death penalty sentences. Hitler, Stalin and many others committed mass murder. They were not justly judging an individual for a crime committed such as murder. This is what Paul talks about in romans and the Catholic Church has taught throughout the past 2000 years. I in no way diasagree with you that mass execution is a grave and mortal sin going against the 10 commandments. My concern is only with what the church has recognized as just and necessary death penalty sentences. I have 3 different chatechisms that I checked out and none of them say anything close to the death penalty being inadmissible. Plus like I said before, my concerns are much smaller for the specific death penalty changes and rulings compared to what seems to be a change to doctrine in the one church that is supposed to have strong and solid doctrine. I will never not be a Catholic, I love this church and will work through my problems with it as they arise, that doesn’t mean I can’t call a spade a spade which I will do here… changes like this, if it is one, lead to Protestantism.


The pope can error, he is only infallible when speaking Ex Cathedra. It is theologically possible for a pope to be in heresy. If it were to ever happen, I would think God is allowing it for some reason. Perhaps it would be a sign of the end times.

I would only be worried if a pope spoke ex cathedra on an issue directly opposing Catholic teaching. But since that has never happened, and cannot happen by the hand of God, I know and trust that the Catholic Church is True.

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