Pope Francis Changes Catechism to Declare Death Penalty ‘Inadmissible’


So I guess Catholic teaching can change? I guess I can’t depend on the Catechism because it can change.

The Catechism was already in troubled waters with the last version of this teaching. It was written by and to westerners who had functioning legal systems and strong prisons. It wasn’t written for the many parts of the world that don’t have that.


It already changed. The Catechism of Pope Pius X said that we should reject Protestant Bibles with “disgust”, and if we somehow inadvertently got one then we needed to burn it or give it to a priest to destroy. Obviously we don’t need to do that now.

Catechism is a living document. It’s obviously going to be revised as our society changes. The underlying teachings stay the same.

On this death penalty thing, since the previous provision said the death penalty was only okay in very rare circumstances, I’m not seeing much of a change. I also think it’s pretty hard for the Church to present itself as pro-life for purposes of being anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia if it turns around and supports executing people.


Eh, we still have Just War Theory and The Right to Self Defense.


Oddly enough, the CCC is not an infallible document; it is merely a setting-forth of general Catholic teaching.

The way Pope Francis is doing this causes me concern. Seems like a bad idea to say the Pope can re-state Catholic teaching by amending the CCC, bypassing a lot of the work that goes into this.

For a discussion on the new paragraphs themselves, there is a discussion in the Social Justice forum.


So will you accept the revision to the catechism or do you believe it is in error and choose to not believe in church teaching?


I already believed other areas of the catechism were in error, for instance the section that mandates voting which is also obviously considering only modern, western democracies. The error is in presenting something without the proper nuance.

I don’t know what I’ll do in regards to this latest change. I’ll have to consider exactly what it says and what it means.


If this was your take on the former wording then why are you troubled by a revision?

I think the revision is a truer reflection of the gospel. The right of a person to live takes priority over retribution.

The Church is not abrogating a person’s, or a nation’s, right to defend itself, as is reaffirmed in the letter to the bishops:

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.


I’m troubled because rather than fixing the problem it has been made worse. The church is making things less clear.


What is less clear?


What a Christian is obligated to believe regarding the death penalty and whether it is an intrinsic evil. If it is not an intrinsic evil there is no guidance on how one determines when it is proper.


I believe this has to do with unjust killing at its core, and that has to be kept in mind when thinking about what constitutes a “death penalty”. The word penalty implies retribution, which means the penalty is premeditated. If such premeditation and planning is involved, then how is the killing to be interpreted as an act of defense?

I think a Christian is obligated to believe that an unjust killing is an intrinsic evil in its object. The Church here in it’s revision is attempting to develop further what unjust killing by public authorities looks like. IMO the revision is still leaving open the admissibility of a “death penalty” in a case where a nation would devolve or collapse to the point where a death penalty would be the only way for the legitimate public authority to keep people safe.


I wonder, does the Philippines have the death penalty (I believe they probably do)?. If so will they have to abolish it now?


It’s actually made it more clear. Before, the paragraph said that cases were “rare”, thereby leaving it up to people to debate whether or not this or that particular case qualified as “legitimate.” Pope Francis has taken out the guess work and is now effectively saying there are no instances today where it would be allowed.


Honestly, I find this concern more compelling than concern over what Francis has actually said about the death penalty.

I mean, ultimately, he’s the pope. So I’d be hard pressed to say that he can’t do this. But it is sort of uncharted territory. A 2nd edition of the Catechism came out a few years after the 1st and there were several changes, but that was mainly because there was now finally an authoritative Latin edition. We haven’t had any pope make any changes to the Catechism of his own initiative. This is a first.

Generally, when a pope makes changes to canon law (which does happen often enough), he will release some sort of official motu proprio . But Francis did not do that here. He just sort of said “Here’s the new paragraph” and the CDF wrote a letter of explanation to go along with it. It seems like a pretty informal way to go about it. But the Catechism is a different sort of thing than canon law.


I wonder if Pope Francis will have that scripture where Jesus says it would be better that a millstone be hung around the necks of people that harm children and cast into the sea removed from the Bible


Well I guess now we’re going to have to delve into the issue of self-defense, and the just War Doctrine. Also I think Pope Francis may want to have a word or two with Jesus where Jesus says it would be better that a millstone be hung around the neck of people who harm children and cast into the sea.


It’s sickening


Pope Francis is clearly stating that all capital punishment is unjust, no matter how heinous the crime.


How is Pope Francis competent to make this decision? How can he know there are no instances where the death penalty is just? Appeals to vague notions of human dignity don’t help.

I’d say this makes Catholic teaching in general less clear because you have a pope clearly exceeding his competence. It brings into question other settled or unsettled issues. I can’t really blame people who think someday the Catholic Church will say women can become priestesses or homosexuals can marry. They can rightly point to this current issue and say teaching can change.


I keep thinking that Duterte has something to do with the fact that Pope Francis felt the need to do this now. The last 2 popes besides Pope Francis have had the same mind as Pope Francis about the death penalty, so why now? Why not 25 years ago when the CCC was written, or why not during Pope Benedict XVI’s time?

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