On capital punishment, even the pope’s defenders are confused

There simply is no way to make an absolute condemnation of capital punishment consistent with past scriptural and papal teaching. The only way out of the mess is for Pope Francis to issue a clarification that reaffirms traditional teaching.

Pope Francis addresses participants at an encounter marking the 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the Vatican Oct. 11. The death penalty is "contrary to the Gospel," the pope said in his speech. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and all popes before Pope Francis have consistently taught that capital punishment can in some circumstances be legitimate. In some recent remarks, Pope Francis appeared to suggest that this traditional teaching ought to be overturned, and that capital punishment is always and intrinsically wrong. In a recent article in Catholic Herald, I analyzed the pope’s remarks, noting that some of them do indeed appear to propose such a reversal, though others seem to point in the opposite direction.

I also noted that if this is what the pope is proposing – and it is not certain that it is – then he would be flirting with doctrinal error, something that is possible when a pope is not speaking ex cathedra, though it is extremely rare. For the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is an irreformable or unchangeable teaching of the Church. Joseph Bessette and I assemble what we claim to be conclusive evidence to this effect in our recent book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. (A few of the salient points are briefly summarized in an earlier Catholic World Report article of ours.)

The pope’s remarks have been controversial. For example, theologian Eduardo Echeverria has noted some of the problems with them in an article at Catholic World Report, as has P. J. Smith at First Things. But the pope also has some defenders. Interestingly, however, it turns out that they do not agree on why or how the pope’s remarks are defensible.

Development of doctrine?

On Twitter, Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh responded to my Catholic Herald piece with the remark: “This betrays a hugely deficient understanding of development of doctrine. It doesn’t even quote relevant parts of pope speech on topic [sic].” Ivereigh does not explain exactly what is deficient (“hugely” or otherwise) about my understanding of the development of doctrine (though of course, he could hardly have done so in a mere tweet). I quoted a number of key magisterial texts which illustrate how the Church teaches that a genuine “development of doctrine” can never be a reversal or overturning of doctrine. How Ivereigh would reconcile these texts with an overturning of traditional teaching on capital punishment, we are not told.

However, the “relevant parts” of the pope’s speech to which Ivereigh thinks I paid insufficient attention include, I would speculate, papal remarks like:

Here we are not in any way contradicting past teaching, for the defence of the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death has been taught by the Church consistently and authoritatively.

Ivereigh’s idea, perhaps, is this: The Church has always taught the dignity of human life, and the pope’s proposal is that this dignity absolutely rules out capital punishment under any circumstances. There is no contradiction between the claim that human life has dignity and the claim that capital punishment is always wrong, so that to draw the latter conclusion from the former is a genuine development of doctrine and not a contradiction of it.

But if this is Ivereigh’s reasoning, it is fallacious. For a genuine “development of doctrine” has to take account of the entire body of the Church’s traditional teaching, not just some part of it considered in isolation. For example, in hammering out the doctrine of the Trinity, the Church considered both the truth that there is only one God and the truth that the divine Persons are distinct. The Trinitarian conception of God is precisely a reconciliation of these ideas. Hence if the Church were to deny the distinctness of the Persons in the name of respecting the teaching that there is only one God, this would not be a “development” of past teaching but a rejection of it. It would be a matter of pitting one part of the deposit of faith against another, rather than preserving the whole. Indeed, the very term “heresy” derives from the Greek word hairesis, which means the “choosing” or “taking” of one part of orthodox doctrine while rejecting other parts.

Similarly, while the Church has always affirmed the dignity of human life, she has also always taught that an offender guilty of the gravest crimes can in some cases legitimately be executed. That these truths are perfectly compatible is obvious when we remember that there is a crucial moral distinction between the innocent and the guilty. Thus did Pope Pius XII teach that a murderer has, by virtue of his crime, “deprived himself of the right to live.” Thus did even Pope St. John Paul II, who was no fan of capital punishment, explicitly reaffirm even in the 1997 revision of the Catechism he promulgated that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty” under certain conditions. Thus did even he qualify his claims about the dignity of human life in Evangelium Vitae, teaching that “the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has absolute value when it refers to the innocent person.” Such qualifications are necessary if we are to do justice to the whole of the deposit of faith.

(I am not, by the way – and contrary to what some critics of my Catholic Herald piece seem to think – suggesting that capital punishment is as central to Catholic doctrine as the Trinity is. That is not the point of the analogy. I am merely using Trinitarianism as an illustration of how a genuine development of doctrine works.)

Correction of error?

Now, another defender of Pope Francis’s remarks, theologian E. Christian Brugger, takes a very different tack. Brugger is a longstanding advocate of the view that capital punishment is always and intrinsically wrong. In a National Catholic Register story about the controversy raised by the pope’s remarks, Brugger is quoted as saying:

I do not think that a principled rejection of the death penalty can rightly be called a development, at least not if we are using Newman’s understanding of development of doctrine as an organic unfolding of an antecedent idea. It seems to me more correct to call it a correction of a past view that was false. (Emphasis added)

So, Brugger admits that to teach that capital punishment is always and intrinsically immoral does indeed amount to contradicting past teaching, not “developing” it. He just thinks that contradicting past teaching is in this case a good thing.

There are several aspects of this position that are curious, to say the very least. The first is that by characterizing the situation this way, even Brugger is implicitly accusing the pope of error. For Pope Francis says that his remarks do constitute a “harmonious development of doctrine,” that he is “not in any way contradicting past teaching,” and that his view of capital punishment “in no way represents a change in doctrine.” Now, the nature of a genuine “development of doctrine” is itself a doctrinal matter. Hence, if Brugger is correct, then the pope has committed a doctrinal error at least in his characterization of what constitutes a true development.

It is also worth noting that Brugger has in other contexts been very critical of Pope Francis for appearing to contradict traditional teaching. In particular, Brugger has argued that the pope’s statements on contraception and the Zika virus conflict with binding teaching on contraception, and that some of the statements in the pope’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia “pose serious problems for Catholic faith and practice” regarding conscience, grace, marriage and divorce, and Holy Communion.

Now, if, as Brugger suggests, we should accept what Pope Francis says about capital punishment as a “correction of a past view that was false,” then why do we not also have to accept what the pope has said about contraception, conscience, grace, marriage, Holy Communion, and development of doctrine as corrections of past views that were false? Or, if we should reject the latter papal statements on the grounds that they contradict traditional teaching, why should we not also reject the pope’s recent statements on capital punishment, on the grounds that they too reject traditional teaching?

Moreover, if the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, all previous popes, and even scripture itself in fact have (as Brugger’s view implies) been so wrong for so long about something as serious as capital punishment, why should Brugger or anyone else trust what these sources have to say about contraception, conscience, grace, marriage, and the like? How can the credibility of the Church be upheld on any doctrinal matter?

Brugger’s position is incoherent in yet another way. In the Register article, he is quoted as saying that Pope Francis’s remarks “are likely to reinforce the teaching of John Paul II.” Yet as already noted, Pope St. John Paul II explicitly affirmed that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty,” and also explicitly affirmed that the commandment against killing has “absolute value” only with respect to “the innocent person.” If Pope Francis really is saying that capital punishment is always and intrinsically wrong, then this does not “reinforce” John Paul’s teaching at all, but rather blatantly contradicts it!

(In fairness to Brugger, he has in other places tried to justify his rejection of traditional Catholic teaching on capital punishment, albeit via arguments that are as implausible as the remarks considered here. Joseph Bessette and I refute Brugger at length in By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed.)

No change?

The most vociferous defender of Pope Francis’s remarks has been the Catholic apologist and blogger Mark Shea. Unfortunately, as has become his wont in recent years, Shea completely ignores the actual arguments of his opponents and instead attacks straw men, indulges in ad hominem attacks, and drags in political controversies with which he is personally obsessed but which have nothing to do with the debate over capital punishment.

There is, however, one aspect of Shea’s position which is worthy of note. Ivereigh and Brugger agree that the pope’s remarks amount to a change in teaching, and merely disagree about whether they constitute a genuine ”development” of past teaching or instead contradict it. Shea, however, disputes this. He says:

I honestly don’t see how this is an issue of doctrinal reversal at all. In order to be a problem, the pope would need to say that the DP is intrinsically immoral. He doesn’t… There is no doctrinal reversal, merely an emphasis on mercy.

Note first that Shea admits that it would be a “problem” if the pope were teaching that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral. Indeed, though he is himself very strongly opposed to applying capital punishment in practice, Shea has in the past acknowledged that “the Church cannot reverse its teaching on the death penalty and say that what is not intrinsically immoral is intrinsically immoral.” If Shea wants to be consistent, he ought to rebuke not only the pope’s critics, but also fellow defenders of the pope like Brugger, for suggesting that there is a break with past teaching here.

However, as far as I know, of all those who have commented on this controversy (critics and defenders of Pope Francis alike) Shea is the only one who denies even the appearance of a reversal of doctrine. There is a good reason for that, namely that some of the things the pope says clearly do seem to suggest a reversal. For example, the pope says that capital punishment “is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel.” For something to be in itself contrary to the Gospel is for it to be intrinsically contrary to it, by its very nature contrary to it, contrary to it always and under all circumstances rather than merely in cases where it is not strictly necessary. I discuss in my Catholic Herald article other remarks from the pope’s speech that seem to imply a reversal of past teaching, and By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed discusses past statements by Pope Francis that seem to have a similar implication.

Now, maybe Shea would say that in such remarks, the pope is merely speaking loosely and rhetorically and does not intend to contradict the traditional teaching that capital punishment is not intrinsically wrong. Perhaps that is the case, and indeed I suggested in my Catholic Herald article that that may be all that is going on. But if so, then Shea can hardly object to the request that the pope clarify his remarks and reaffirm traditional teaching.

Furthermore, if the pope ends up deciding instead more explicitly to contradict past teaching and unambiguously to assert that capital punishment is always and intrinsically immoral, then Shea, to be consistent, will have to acknowledge that in that case the pope would be guilty of a doctrinal error. Is Shea willing now to pledge that he will indeed acknowledge this if the pope decides to go in that direction?

An Orwellian Magisterium?

It is remarkable how reluctant some commentators on this controversy are to acknowledge even the possibility that the pope might in his recent remarks have made a mistake that needs correction. For the Church, after all, acknowledges that popes are capable even of doctrinal errors when not speaking ex cathedra. For example, Donum Veritatis, a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope St. John Paul II, states that:

The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule. It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions…

If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian’s part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented. He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments.

In commenting on this document at the time, the Prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Ratzinger, also explicitly acknowledged that such criticism could be aired publicly, stating that “we have not excluded all kinds of publication” of said objections.1

There have in Church history been cases in which theologians loyal to the Magisterium have indeed raised such criticisms and requested, and received, clarification and correction of deficient magisterial statements. For example, when the medieval Pope John XXII taught doctrinal error regarding the Beatific Vision, he was strongly and publicly criticized by the theologians of the day, and even accused of heresy. The result was that he recanted this error.

In some comments on Prof. Echeverria’s article, theologian Robert Fastiggi recommends “religious submission of will and intellect” to Pope Francis’s recent remarks, despite their appearance of conflict with past teaching and despite the fact that the Church herself has acknowledged in Donum Veritatis that the duty of such “religious submission” is presumptive rather than absolute. (Nor, strictly speaking, are the pope’s critics actually refusing religious submission to the pope’s teaching in the first place. Rather, they are asking for clarification of that teaching in light of past teaching to which they also owe religious submission.)

Regarding the apparent conflict between Pope Francis’s remarks and scriptural affirmation of the legitimacy of capital punishment, Fastiggi comments:

The Old Testament passages that support capital punishment, however, must be studied carefully to determine whether they are permanent teachings or examples of the judicial law, which is subject to change (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas I-II qq. 99–100, 103–105)…

Even the much cited Gen 9:6 is a two-edged sword with regard to the death penalty. If taken literally it would mean that those who execute the guilty also need to be executed…

The meaning of particular Scripture texts is, of course, subject to interpretation…

Ultimately, though, it’s up to the Magisterium to interpret these texts of Scripture.

Fastiggi’s comments are seriously problematic in several ways. First, the “judicial laws” that Aquinas was commenting on had to do with the Mosaic Law. But there are scriptural affirmations of the legitimacy of capital punishment that both precede the Mosaic Law (Genesis 9:6) and that came after the Mosaic Law was no longer in force (for example, Romans 13: 4). So, even if the merely “judicial laws” issued through Moses are no longer in force, that does not suffice to show that there is not abiding scriptural warrant for capital punishment.

Second, whether the “judicial laws” are still in force is in any case irrelevant to the specific question at hand. For the pope has not merely said that capital punishment should no longer be applied in practice today. He has at least appeared to assert that capital punishment is always and intrinsically wrong. Now, if that is the case, then it would follow logically that the “judicial laws” of the Old Testament were commanding the Israelites to do something that was intrinsically wrong, wrong even at the time. But that cannot be reconciled with the Church’s teaching that scripture cannot teach moral error.

Third, Fastiggi’s attempt to muddy the waters vis-à-vis Genesis 9:6 is simply a non-starter. His bizarre suggestion does violence to the natural reading of the text, has no basis in the history of Catholic interpretation of the passage, and appears to have no motivation other than the desire to manufacture a difficulty so as to facilitate a reversal of teaching on capital punishment. (Even Brugger admits that Genesis 9:6 poses a problem for any Catholic who wants to claim that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral. See the discussion of the passage in By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed.)

Fourth, while Fastiggi is correct that it is up to the Magisterium to interpret scripture, the point is precisely that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and all previous popes have uniformly interpreted scripture as affirming the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment. If Pope Francis were suddenly to declare that they had all gotten scripture wrong for 2000 years, this would entirely undermine rather than reinforce the Magisterium’s claim to be a reliable interpreter of scripture.

Moreover, if Fastiggi is suggesting that any papal reinterpretation of the relevant scriptural passages would have to be correct simply by virtue of being a papal interpretation, then he would be guilty of what logicians call a “No True Scotsman Fallacy,” which is the fallacy of arbitrarily reinterpreting counterevidence to one’s position so as to avoid refutation. The fallacy is illustrated by Angus’s reply to Kirsty in the following dialogue:

Angus: No Scotsman would drink bourbon!

Kirsty: But Alastair is a Scotsman, and he drinks bourbon.

Angus: Er, well, then he must not be a true Scotsman!

In the case at hand, Fastiggi seems to be committing himself to a view like the one conveyed in the following parallel dialogue:

Fastiggi: A pope could never misinterpret scripture!

Critic: But what if a pope were to contradict the way previous popes have always interpreted scripture vis-à-vis capital punishment?

Fastiggi: Er, well, then that would not be a true misinterpretation!

The problem with such a view is that it makes of magisterial interpretation of scripture something completely arbitrary, indeed even Orwellian. Just as the Party in 1984 arbitrarily revises history (“We are at war with Eastasia; we have always been at war with Eastasia”), so too, on what seems to be Fastiggi’s view, would the Magisterium be able arbitrarily to revise the meaning of scripture (“Scripture does not condone capital punishment; scripture has never really condoned capital punishment”). This would make a laughingstock of Catholic claims to be faithful to scripture. It would give aid and comfort to Protestant and atheist objections to the effect that the Catholic Church has no sincere regard for scripture and simply makes up doctrines out of whole cloth.

As logicians like to point out, anything follows from a contradiction. It is no surprise, then, that the pope’s defenders have ended up saying such radically different and inconsistent things. For there simply is no way to make an absolute condemnation of capital punishment consistent with past scriptural and papal teaching. The only way out of the mess is for the pope to issue a clarification that reaffirms traditional teaching.

That is what Catholic theologians loyal to the Magisterium should be imploring the Holy Father to do. Loyalty to the pope is not a matter of “spin doctoring” or damage control. It is a matter of humbly and respectfully assisting him in fulfilling the end for which the papal office exists – the preservation, whole and undefiled, of the deposit of faith.


1 Quoted in Anthony J. Figueiredo, The Magisterium-Theology Relationship (Rome: Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 2001), at p. 370.

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About Dr. Edward Feser 37 Articles
Edward Feser is the author of several books on philosophy and morality, including All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory (Ignatius Press, August 2022), and Five Proofs of the Existence of God and is co-author of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, both also published by Ignatius Press.


  1. It sounds like Pope Francis and those around him hold the view that development of doctrine is simply a slow changing of the position of the church, gradually changing from X to Not X. Just as you can imagine a continuum of black on the left half of your TV scrren, gradually changing to grey and then white by the time it reaches the right side of the screen. The doctrine can become its opposite, and reject what came before in its entirety. That seems to be the way they view development of doctrine. Completely wrong, obviously wrong, but since when has that stopped them. Next thing they will tell us is that Francis is the Fourth person of the Holy Trinity. Or Quadrapality, or something.

  2. I fear Dr. Feser indirectly gives St. JPII and then Card. Ratzinger too much credit. They allowed for rare use of execution in the catechism ( Catholic Brazil, Mexico and Central America need frequent use vis a vs UN data showing them the worst murderous region on earth ) but both men sought worldwide abolition in verbal addresses which if achieved would make the catechism’s rare use of execution impossible. In St. Louis in 1999, JPII asserted that the death penalty was “cruel and unnecessary”…despite his catechism implying less histrionics. His assertion there was as bizarre as Francs once saying the 5th commandment forbade the death penalty.
    No Catholic in high position has faced the verdict of the research done by SCOTUS over a four year period which led them in 1976 to resume the dp in the US….execution stops murders they found…not passion murders but criminal murders which are more thought about first prior to action.
    No Pope has broached the key question…does the dp lessen the number of murder victims.
    The two previous Popes evaded that question by redefinng deterrence in ccc 2267 to mean…deterring the aggressor you caught and him only. Read it. The entire world outside the catechism knows that deterrence is about demotivating the potential murderers that you
    HAVE NOT CAUGHT. Read 2267… it makes incarceration the deterrent not of bad guys out in the districts of Quatemala….but of the one or two you actually caught in the act. Read it. We are a joke to the death penalty Chinese ( UN data) who have 11,000 murders a year while half Catholic,non death penalty Brazil with one seventh of China’s population has 50,000 murders a year. China’s murder rate would reduce Brazil murder victim numbers from 50,000 to 1000 and three Popes in a row have not noticed at all. Going forward…even if Pope Francis left ccc 2267 in place…we by this new view of St.JPII of deterrence as about the guy you caught only…are getting victims killed in the tens of thousands yearly just from Brazil across and up to Mexico…virtually all non death penalty. We are unwittingly thus affirming the chaos in Honduras and El Salvador and then blaming the US for being suspicious of the people coming from there…two of the highest murder rate countries on earth. We are failing to protect life. Google the UN murder rates worldwide. Two distinct things reduce murder victim numbers….widespread middle class incomes ( Europe, Canada, Maine et al, Australia)….or the death penalty if poverty is widespread ( Asia…the safest area on earth from criminal murder and largely death penalty ).

    • Not helpful to compare China murder rates, where there is a homogenous culture that prizes cooperation and submission in all things, to a very weird broken culture Brazil. Too much difference for their to be any comparison. And in fact, jP II authorized the OFFICIAL position of the church which is reflected in the Catechism. His SPEECHES are not exercises of the magisterium, but simply are his personal reflections on things. When he goes to the riches country on earth, the US, of course he is going ot recommend that the death penalty be done away with, becausee that was his personal view on the thing But Benedict made clear in his letter to the American bishops that it was a prudential matter. So don’t confuse the Pope’s personal informal talks with official church teaching.

      • Chinese….submission in all things? My wife is Chinese…my Chinese stepson is head of finance for Amgen in Taiwan. Shout out to the Zhou family in red China…and the Yangs and Changs in Taipei.
        China has the death penalty for an excess of issues precisely because their worst internal rebellion killed 20 million people in the 19th century..the Taipei Rebellion. The Boxer rebellion followed that by c.50 years. Drug problem like Brazil?….rampant in China thanks to the West and the opium wars…which broken culture the severity of the Communists stopped except Mao killed another 17 million people by having farmers stop farming and make things in their barn instead. China has the death penalty because it knows its non submissive people like the man who stood down the tank in Tiananmen Square….like the non submissive students killed in that square. But thanks for protecting your narrative of favorite insightful Popes prior to Francis. They had insight…but none in the death penalty area wherein they had no idea that the two largest Catholic populations had sky high murder rates and no death penalty for decades.

          • My wife is Chinese and there is saying that accurately reflects many situations of what they regard as rebellion, “the road is long and the emperor is far away.” The man in Tienamin Square was a visible rebel but there are thousands every day who rebel in small ways, though hopefully not so much as to draw unwanted attention.

    • It is one thing to say the death penalty should be avoided, it is another to say that it is (and always has been) unacceptable. And, it is silly to say that it was acceptable in the past, but no longer so (because what? there were no prisons before 1970?)

    • the 20th century saw gas chambers for mass execution…I think the Pope is leveraging against the “authority” of the State to justify its power to execute. Critics are not looking at that…a power see-saw struggle between the Pope and (qua) THE STATE. This may also be the result of, or deployment against, ongoing China discussions which are attempting to define the role of the Pope vis-a-vis China absolutist government. DON’T SELL THE POPE SHORT…never do that.

  3. Exactly!

    Finally, the column that explains the very obvious.

    There is no way for this pope and his supporters to reconcile the almost twenty centuries of the Church not having the truth on capital punishment and, now, through pretzel-logic, saying it definitely does.

    What does the Church say to the countless “victims” of the death penalty in all that time past? Where was the promise of the Holy Spirit in guarding the Deposit of Faith against the Gates of Hell? Where was the voice of the Church back then in attempting to save them from a practice that could never be justified? That the Church was silent because it didn’t have the full “development” of the morality of capital punishment? But now it does, modern times and all, and what do you know…the Gospels all along have prohibited capital punishment as it really is intrinsically wrong?

    Faith and morals. Either the Church has always had the truth or it is not the Church founded by Christ.

    Parsing and using rhetorical sleight of hand in argument cannot reconcile an obvious “yes” however limited to a “no” that is absolute.

  4. I hope that Pope Francis skips the Catechism and attempts to teach on the matter as ex cathedra statement. For, the Catechism, though a significant teaching document, is not an ex cathedra format, and hence people can (and will) dispute the relative authority of a new phrasing that he might insert. “Yes, it’s definitive – the Pope said it.” Or “No, it’s not definitive, he didn’t invoke the forms of a dogmatic ‘definition’.”

    The Pope could cut through all that with an ex cathedra formal, dogmatic pronouncement. I suspect, though, that he would be unable* to do it, because what he is hoping to convey really is not comformable with prior teaching, and the prior teaching is irreformable. (*By “unable” I mean that even if he started to work on such a statement, he would never actually issue it, because the Holy Spirit would prevent it.)

  5. This is today’s ultramontanism: people will tie themselves in knots to rationalize error and anything Francis says, no matter how obviously it contradicts infallible teaching. You give Mark Shea too much credit. I wouldn’t take anything he says these days seriously, as he seems to have become or finally revealed himself as a progressive political hack than any catholic apologist. I am suspicious this has little to do with the death penalty, however, but the claim of development is a test for future use with contraception, women’s ordination, giving communion to non-catholics.

  6. “Moreover, if the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, all previous popes, and even scripture itself in fact have (as Brugger’s view implies) been so wrong for so long about something as serious as capital punishment, why should Brugger or anyone else trust what these sources have to say about contraception, conscience, grace, marriage, and the like? How can the credibility of the Church be upheld on any doctrinal matter?”

    This has been my question all along. I thank Dr. Feser for asking it here, and asking it so clearly.

    And the truth is that there is no compelling affirmative answer to it.

  7. “Angus: No Scotsman would drink bourbon! Kirsty: But Alastair is a Scotsman, and he drinks bourbon. Angus: Er, well, then he must not be a true Scotsman!

    In the case at hand, Fastiggi seems to be committing himself to a view like the one conveyed in the following parallel dialogue:

    Fastiggi: A pope could never misinterpret scripture! Critic: But what if a pope were to contradict the way previous popes have always interpreted scripture vis-à-vis capital punishment? Fastiggi: Er, well, then that would not be a true misinterpretation!”

    I think the second scenario misconstrues the first. Rather, it should be:

    Fastiggi: A pope could never misinterpret scripture!

    Critic: But what if a pope were to contradict the way previous popes have always interpreted scripture vis-à-vis capital punishment?

    Fastiggi: Er, well, then that ‘pope’ would not be a true pope!”

    • Fastiggi: A Pope would never deny an element of The Deposit of Faith.

      Critic: But what if a Pope were to deny an element of The Deposit of Faith?

      Fastiggi: Well than that pope would err in regards to Faith and morals exposing himself to be anti Pope and anti Filioque.

      “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion”, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost. (Filioque)

  8. And thus we see that the clay feet of Christianity are so rapidly crumbling that they can barely be put back together again ~ except through verbal gymnastics.

    • John 3:36…” he who is unbelieving toward the son, the wrath of God rests upon him.”
      Dave…you’re moving toward endless pain. I’ll give you a pathway out. 2 Kings 4… a woman sends to Eliseus that her only boy is dying. Eliseus sends his servant Gehazi to lay Eliseus’ staff on the boy….but nothing happens. The boy lays dead. So Eliseus comes himself and descends on the boy, matching his hands, eyes and mouth to the boy’s hands eyes, mouth. The boy now dead grows warm in body. Eliseus walks about the house and descends on the boy again but now there is no mention of eyes, hands, mouth. The boy sits up and coughs seven times.
      Karl Rahner, a theologian, noted that prophets need not know what they are revealing. A Jew wrote 2 Kings 4 hundreds of years before Christ lived but did not know he was revealing the Trinity which Jews do not believe in…then and now. Augustine noted the meaning too quickly in my view. I’ll take more time. Eliseus is a symbol of God who first sends the Sinai law ( his staff) to be laid on mankind dead in sin ( the boy). It does nothing…Galatians ” had there been a law that giveth life, salvation would be from the law”…Hebrews, ” the law brought nothing to perfection”. So Eliseus – God seeing that the law brought no man to life in God…Eliseus came himself to descend on the boy….God came Himself to descend on mankind. He first came in Christ…thus the eyes, mouth, hands matching ours. Second…He came in the Holy Spirit at Pentecost…thus no mention of hands, eyes, mouth…and we cough seven times…the number of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
      But look closer for the pain of the Incarnate God…Christ. For a grown man to simultaneously match his eyes and mouth to that of a boy….he must squinch, grimace as though in pain to make the distance between his mouth and eyes smaller like the distance between a boy’s eyes and mouth. A book called Lamentations somewhere says…” all you that pass by along the way, have you ever seen sorrow like mine?” Aquinas commented on it….Christ because He was God and man in one…did not suffer normally but exponentially.
      Hs scourging was like a million scourgings…His crucifixion like a million crucifixions…for you and I…Dave. After that suffering, if you do not believe by death time in Him who thus suffered for you after leaving Heaven for you….then having turned your back on Him who is everlasting and had invited you into that everlastingness kind of love, then you will remain everlasting after death but in “the storm of darkness”. Scripture mentions those who are “ever learning but never attaining a knowledge of the truth”… don’t be that troll….on or off the net. When God chooses your death time, it’s a wrap. You don’t have forever. Stop playing at this. No one on the net thinks you’re Jean Paul Sartre….or scarey like him. And he may well be in hell right now or not….no one knows his last minute….and scripture says…” it is easy in an instant for the Lord to make a poor man rich.”. It’s not talking about the Lotto….or money. Time is running out on the clock each day. As Martin Heidegger said…each of us is “hurled toward death”. God gives each of us an exact amount of time. You have good genetics? You could also have an aneurism that took my friend at 25 during a sinful life…let’s hope God did so that my friend would be saved that night of all nights….because he had done something expiatory that day.

  9. It’s very easy to reconcile the Pope’s ŕemarks about the death penalty with previous teaching: if you’re a neo-modentist that is! Time to revisit Humani generic and ask oureselves why the subject of its censure became the prevailing orthodoxy.

  10. Brugger attempts to defend the Pope’s absolutism at the Public Discourse site. He contends that this was never defined by Ex Cathedra. Further claims are that the Ordinary Magisterium somehow doesn’t apply here either.

    Somehow we are to believe that Pope Francis can now state that capital punishment is intrinsically evil.

    No “doctrine” prior – but there is now – and as for the Church that was asleep for nineteen centuries relative to this….well, it has the answer now!

  11. With all due respect to Dr. Feser, most of his comments betray a failure to grasp fully the points I made in reply to Eduardo Echeverria’s Oct. 15 article on Pope Francis and capital punishment. As I wrote: “Regarding prior teaching on capital punishment, much depends on whether it is definitive or subject to change and development. Not everyone agrees with Feser, Bessette, and Cardinal Dulles that the liceity of the death penalty is settled doctrine. Some believe that the historic recognition of the penalty’s legitimacy is more like a sententia communis rather than a definitive teaching.”

    This is just a simple statement of fact. Not everyone agrees with Feser and Bessette that the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment “is a requirement of Catholic orthodoxy” (By Man Shall His Blood be Shed, p. 122). In their book, Feser and Bessette bring forth many examples manifesting a widespread consensus (sententia communis) in favor of capital punishment’s legitimacy in the Catholic tradition. These examples are noteworthy, but they do not, in my opinion, demonstrate a definitive, infallible judgment on the part of the Magisterium in favor of the legitimacy of the death penalty. I explain this in more depth in my article, “Capital Punishment, the Magisterium, and Religious Assent,” Josephinum Journal of Theology Vol. 12, No. 2 (Summer/ Fall, 2005), 192-213.

    Feser’s suggestion that Pope Francis is “flirting with doctrinal error,” therefore, depends entirely on his claim that the legitimacy of capital punishment “is a requirement of Catholic orthodoxy.” In my comments posted in response to Prof. Echeverria’s article, I was merely pointing out that this claim of Feser is precisely the issue in dispute. Unless Feser wishes to fall into the fallacy of begging the question (petitio principii) he should not present his claim as a non-arguable conclusion. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith warned about such an attitude in Donum Veritatis, 27: “Even if the doctrine of the faith is not in question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions. Respect for the truth as well as for the People of God requires this discretion (cf. Rom 14:1-15; 1 Cor 8; 10: 23-33). For the same reasons, the theologian will refrain from giving untimely public expression to them.”

    I don’t dispute Prof. Feser’s right to argue his position and to make his position known to others. I think, though, it’s a bit rash for him to suggest that Pope Francis is “flirting with doctrinal error” because of a particular assessment of the historical evidence in support of the death penalty legitimacy that Feser believes is “conclusive.” At the very least, Feser should admit that his assessment of the evidence is not conclusive in the eyes of all but merely a position that he and others find persuasive.

    Prof. Feser maintains that my comments about Scripture and the death penalty are “problematical.” Once again he fails to understand my position. I simply stated that the Old Testament passages that support capital punishment must be studied carefully to determine whether they are permanent teachings or examples of the judicial law, which is subject to change (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas I-II qq. 99–100, 103–105). Is Prof. Feser opposed to a careful study of these Scriptures? My point is that what Feser considers “conclusive evidence” is not seen as such by other scholars (See, for example, David McClamrock’s Sept. 27 review of the Feser-Bessette volume in Today’s Catholic from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, IN : https://todayscatholic.org/bloodshed-really-necessary/). As for Feser’s repeated appeals to Genesis 9:6 and Roman 13:4 in favor of the death penalty, he does not present any magisterial affirmations of his interpretation of these passages that qualify as definitive and infallible judgments. Moreover, Genesis 9:6 is a problematical passage to cite in favor of the State’s right to execute criminals because there was no State at that time in the biblical narrative. There was simply Noah and his family.

    Feser ignores Pope Benedict XVI’s citation of Gen 9:6 against the killing of those who kill. He also ignores my citation of Pius XII who reminds us that “there are but few [Scriptural] texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church; nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous” (Divino Afflante Spiritu, n. 47). These two citations, however, argue against Feser’s position on the conclusive scriptural evidence in favor of capital punishment’s legitimacy. Perhaps this is why he ignores them.

    Feser’s appeal to the “No Scotsman Fallacy” is completely irrelevant because I never stated categorically that popes could never misinterpret Scripture. Feser himself admits that non-definitive papal statements are subject to error; so, to be consistent, he should do the same with all the non-definitive papal statements he cites as “conclusive evidence” for the legitimacy of the death penalty.

    The issue is not so much whether prior popes were in error in their scriptural citations. The issue is whether their scriptural appeals qualify as definitive and infallible judgments of the papal Magisterium. There are many examples of popes interpreting scriptural passages in a certain way that the Magisterium did not consider definitive. Bl. Pius IX, for example, in his 1854 bull, Ineffabilis Deus, proclaiming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854), relies upon the Vulgate rendering of Gen 3:15 to speak of the Blessed Virgin Mary as she who crushes the head of the serpent with “her immaculate foot.” St. Pius X likewise understands the offspring of Gen 3:15 as Mary who crushes the head of the serpent with her virginal foot (see his 1904 encyclical, Ad diem illum, 33). This consistent magisterial interpretation of Mary as the offspring who crushes the head of the serpent relies on the intensive feminine pronoun, ipsa (she) found in the Vulgate. St. John Paul II, however, approved the revised Nova Vulgata in 1979, which changed the ispa to the neuter ipsum (it) to correspond to the neuter antecedent, semen (seed). Approved Catholic translations of Gen 3:15 today have the masculine pronoun, “he” as corresponding to the antecedent, “offspring” rather than “she.” Does this mean that Bl. Pius IX and St. Pius X were in error when they understood the offspring who crushes the head of the serpent as the Blessed Mother? No, this simply means that the subsequent Magisterium did not feel bound by these previous understandings of Gen 3:15. Moreover, it is true that Mary crushes the head of the serpent by her Immaculate Conception and her conception of the Redeemer. This truth, however, does not depend upon Bl. Pius IX and St. Pius X’s reading of the offspring in Gen 3:15 as the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    Another example of a biblical text understood in a certain way by a pope is Gen 2: 21–23. Pope Leo XIII, in his 1880 encyclical, Arcanum, writes: “We record what is to known to all, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep” (n. 5). Pope Leo XIII here refers to something “known to all,” namely that Eve was formed from the side of the sleeping Adam. Does this mean that Catholics must believe in the literal formation of Eve from the side of the sleeping Adam? Some might argue that this is the case, but St. John Paul II did not feel bound by this interpretation of Leo XIII. In his 1988 apostolic letter, Mulieris dignitatem, the Polish Pontiff states: “The second description of the creation of man (cf. Gen 2:18-25) makes use of different language to express the truth about the creation of man, and especially of woman. In a sense the language is less precise, and, one might say, more descriptive and metaphorical, closer to the language of the myths known at the time.”(n. 6).

    I don’t dispute Prof. Feser’s right to ask for clarification regarding Pope Francis’ Oct. 11, 2017 statements about the death penalty. In fact, I commend him for seeking this clarification as long as he does so “in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties” (CDF, Donum Veritatis, 30). Feser, though, claims that submission to non-definitive teachings of the Magisterium is “presumptive rather than absolute.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, however, teaches that “the willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule [regula]” (CDF, Donum Veritatis, n. 24).
    It’s questionable, however, whether Feser has manifested such a submission even to the teachings of St. John Paul II on the death penalty. He and Prof. Bessette take note of John Paul II’s belief that the death penalty “ought very rarely if ever be resorted to,” but they describe this teaching as “a mistake, and a serious one” (p. 197). They justify their disagreement with St. John Paul II on the grounds that the Pope was only offering a “prudential judgment,” and Catholics are not bound to follow such prudential judgments. In my comments on Prof. Echeverria’s article I questioned whether Popes like St. Nicholas I (d. 867) and St. John Paul II (d. 2005) opposed executing criminals on merely prudential grounds. Feser doesn’t address this issue, but I think it’s becoming even more important during the pontificate of Francis. The claim that Pope Francis is only offering prudential arguments against the death penalty is not persuasive. In his March 20, 2015 letter against the death penalty, Francis argues that capital punishment “is contrary to the meaning of humanitas and divine mercy.” He also states that the death penalty “implies the denial of the love of enemies preached in the Gospel.” In his Oct. 11, 2017 address, Pope Francis emphasizes capital punishment’s opposition to the dignity and sacredness of all human life. These are not prudential arguments, but arguments derived from Catholic principles based on the Gospel.

    I understand and appreciate Prof. Feser’s desire to respect Catholic tradition, but the teachings of Pope Francis on the death penalty—because they are teachings of the Roman Pontiff—also constitute Catholic tradition. Prof. Feser is concerned that the recent statements of Pope Francis on the death penalty might “undermine rather than reinforce the Magisterium’s claim to be a reliable interpreter of scripture.” This concern, however, is based on Prof. Feser’s belief that his understanding of Scripture points to a definite and irreformable tradition on the death penalty. Many people, including Pope Francis, do not seem bound by Prof. Feser’s understanding of Scripture. What Prof. Feser doesn’t seem to realize is that his claim that Pope Francis is “flirting with doctrinal error” also can serve to undermine people’s confidence in the papal Magisterium. My main point is that it’s not clear that Pope Francis is contradicting any definitive, infallible teaching on the death penalty. Prof. Feser, however, seem to believe that the current Holy Father might be challenging “an irreformable or unchangeable teaching of the Church.” So we have two opinions: that of Prof. Feser and that of Pope Francis. Who is right? Because Prof. Feser believes he is right and Pope Francis is (seemingly) wrong, he is seeking clarification. This is Feser’s right and privilege. The clarification, though, can only come from the Magisterium, which does its work in communion with the Successor of Peter who happens to be Pope Francis. This means that the odds are stacked against Feser in his quarrel with the Roman Pontiff. In light of this, I feel more confident and peaceful supporting the views of Pope Francis than those of Dr. Feser on the death penalty. I’m sure Prof. Feser will wish to challenge me on my choice in favor of Francis’ view over his. But should a Catholic ever be challenged for agreeing with the Pope? I suppose Feser will argue that such a Catholic should be challenged when the Pope is in error. This, though, begs the question whether Pope Francis is in error. So we’re back to square one about how to resolve claims that Pope Francis is in error on the death penalty. What should be clear by now is that the Roman Pontiff has a certain advantage in resolving such disputes over private scholars who challenge him. So unless and until Pope Francis concedes that Dr. Feser was right and he (Francis) was wrong, I’ll stick with the Roman Pontiff and trust in the Holy Spirit.

    • ” I’ll stick with the Roman Pontiff and trust in the Holy Spirit.”


      How do you square your statement with this from Pius XII? Was this not in accord with the Holy Spirit?

      “In the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.”

      Or this from the Catechism of the Council of Trent?

      “Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thou shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.”

      • You seem to miss my point. The statements you quote don’t qualify as definitive, infallible statements. Popes are only bound by the deposit of faith and prior infallible judgments about what is contained in the deposit of faith. I am simply questioning whether Feser et al. have demonstrated an infallible doctrinal tradition on the legitimacy of the death penalty. I also think the claim of a 2,000 year old tradition is overblown. Some of the early Fathers were clearly opposed to Christian involvement with capital punishment. They did not challenge the right of the State to execute because they were under the imperial rule of Rome.

        • You seem to miss my point regarding your final comment. If you stick with the Pope and the Holy Spirit, how do you square the comment of Pius XII as Pope particularly as it directly contradicts Francis. How is the Holy Spirit active in this contradiction, even if non-infallible (by Pius and by extension Francis?) It seems rather flippant otherwise.

          But beyond this, the paucity of Church Fathers who were opposed to capital punishment seems outweighed by later doctrinal development as evidenced by my second quote. How do you square such later development which found capital punishment licit with the recent pronouncement of Francis as “…contrary to the Gospel.”? How does the Spirit move back and forth?

          • I agree that what Pope Francis now teaches about the death penallty is not the same as what the Roman Catechism taught or what was expressed by Pius XII in an offhand comment in an address that wasn’t even on the death penalty. My point (and that of Pope Francis) is that the Holy Spirit can lead the Church to deeper insights on the content and application of the faith at certain points in history. Mary’s Immaculate Conception, after all, is a truth revealed by God. It was not, however, until 1854 that Mary’s Immaculate Conception was proclaimed a dogma. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit was not active in Doctors of the Church such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Thomas Aquinas who denied Mary’s preservation from original sin. With regard to capital punishment, I doubt Pope Francis is going to issue an ex cathedra definition against it. He is, though, using his ordinary papal Magisterium to teach that the intentional killing of a criminal who no longer poses a threat is against the Gospel. In doing so, he is not “flirting with doctrinal error” as Feser claims. Rather, he is deepening our awareness that even the life of a convicted criminal remains sacred and inviolable in the eyes of God. If I thought this teaching was contradicting an infallible dogma of the faith, I would join Feser in seeking clarification. I do not, however, believe that Pope Francis is opposing any teaching that has been infallibly set forth by the Magisterium.

          • In response to your comments below. At this late hour I will just start with this:

            “…or what was expressed by Pius XII in an offhand comment in an address that wasn’t even on the death penalty.”

            Pius XII was speaking from prepared statements about scientific research and its limits particularly in regard to respecting the dignity of the person. Given that this was only a few years after the horrors of Nazi war crimes it is hardly an offhand comment but a reasoned argument in accord with the Magisterium of the Church. The fact that you make such an error is fatal to your objection.


          • “He is, though, using his ordinary papal Magisterium to teach that the intentional killing of a criminal who no longer poses a threat is against the Gospel.”

            This seems at odds with this which seems to rule out the killing of a criminal even if he remains a threat:

            “Francis argues that capital punishment ‘is contrary to the meaning of humanitas and divine mercy.’ He also states that the death penalty ‘implies the denial of the love of enemies preached in the Gospel.’”

            Nothing new in the former however which you now seem to endorse in contrast to you second statement quoted above. For you most recent position was in the revised Catechism of the Church under JP II.

            The problem with this fact is that the death penalty is not considered an intrinsic evil in the Catechism. Using the traditional understanding of the moral act as consisting of the object, intention and circumstances, the Catechism only ruled that current circumstances do not justify the death penalty. The moral object of protecting of society through the death of the convict is not intrinsically evil and consistent with the teaching of the Church. Of course Fesser and Bessette in their book lay waste to that prudential judgment.

            But the granting of that point (namely, that the death penalty in its object is not intrinsically evil) you render superfluous your extensive argument about the interpretation of Scripture and past judgments of the Church, theologians etc. as not being infallible. Because you endorse their continuous teaching that the death penalty is not in its object objectively evil, your criticism, particularly of their contradicting the clearly prudential judgment of JP II in the matter, rings quite hollow.


        • Mr. Fastiggi,

          As you perhaps should know, simply because a teaching has never been formulated in an explicit, definitive ex cathedra/infallible statement does not mean it is not so. It is also thus incorrect to say that Popes are only bound by such statements. Arguably most infallible teachings, in fact, have never been formulated in such a way. By the fact something is said to be directly of divine revelation and noted by the Magisterium to be such, it can ipso facto qualify as infallible. As such this is somewhat of a straw man argument and this is the type of claim folks use to justify heterodoxy, e.g., the teaching on contraception was not given in such a way therefore it is not definitive; and we know that type of argumentation is false.

          • Dear Chris,

            I am well aware that some doctrines of the Church are definitive and infallible by virtue of the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Vatican I, Dei Filius, Denz.-H, 3011 and Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 25; Denz.-H, 4149). I just am not convinced that the legitimacy of the death penalty is such a teaching. I think a far better argument can be made for the infallibility of Catholic teaching against contraception than in favor of the death penalty. Each issue is different.

            God bless,

            Robert Fastiggi

        • Did the early Fathers who opposed executing murderers…predate Romans 13:4 becoming canonically Scripture in 382 AD. Did each have access to Romans at all?

    • Robert Fastiggi,
      You didn’t read Genesis 10:8 in which God begins the first government with Nimrod who the text says was the “first ruler”. Thus you wrote, ” Moreover, Genesis 9:6 is a problematical passage to cite in favor of the State’s right to execute criminals because there was no State at that time in the biblical narrative. There was simply Noah and his family.”
      Had you and St. John Paul read a tiny bit further, you both would have seen that God gave Gen.9:6 just as His Providence was about to begin governments…however rudimentary. That Pope saw Gen.9:5-6 and quoted it in EV sect.39 only after removing the death penalty from the center of the couplet. That death penalty threw shade on his extensive comments about how God protected Cain from execution by vigilantes really…prior to Nimrod. A CDF Cardinal must have noted the Saint’s omission as I did and that Cardinal wrote ccc 2260 which gives Catholics the entire Gen.9:5-6 rather than the edited version St. JPII gave them out of self interest.

      • You’re entitled to your opinion, but I find it presumptuous of you to say that St. John Paul II was only quoting part of Gen 9:5-6 in EV, 39 out of “self-interest.” It seems more accurate to say the Pontiff was quoting the portion of the text he thought was relevant to his point about the sacredness of human life. As for Nimrod’s appearance in Gen 10:8, it’s unclear from the biblical text how many years there were between the ending of the Flood and Nimrod. Noah, after all, is said to have lived 950 years in Gen 9:29. So, my point still stands, there was no State in existence at the time of Gen 9:5-6.

        • Robert Fastiggi,
          If there was no state soon after Gen.9:5-6 in Gen.10:8, then God was endorsing the vigilantism He had previously protected Cain from. Gen.9:5-6 is giving the right to execute murderers to someone…a government (10:8) in my version…private persons in your version. So are you on record then saying that God protected Cain from private persons revenge but then latter endorsed private persons revenge in Gen.9:5-6 to be carried out by Noah and his non governmental descendants?
          My version has God protecting Cain from private revenge and instituting execution for murder by governments only in Gn.9:5-6….which version has God adamant in both periods against private revenge. Your version has Him against private revenge in Cain’s case but for private revenge later in Gen.9:5-6.

          • Ultimately, I think Gen 9:5-6 is a general warning about shedding human blood rather than an endorsement of the death penalty (though I understand that some have interpreted it as such). Gen 9:5-6 reflects of type of proverbial wisdom. Jesus employs such sayings in the Gospels. For example, He says: “let the dead bury their dead” in Mt 8:22, and in Mt 26: 52, He says: “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

    • The Pproved translation was in full conformity to modernist trends in scholarship that were condemned in principio in Pascendi Dominici Gregis. Further, they are legitimate sedevacantist example of V2 being overtly Modernist. It is in full line with the entire argument that the Mens Ecclesiae Deocentis is under a diabolical disorientation, and thus no Magesterium at all. Certainly not one upon which the Catholic conscious is bound. It had even abandoned the very right to bind, as if it can celebrate and publish commemorative postal stamps in honor of avoid enemies as Martin Luther, is certainly cannot bind those who live by the grace and example of the historic saints, Doctors and Magisterium

  12. St Thomas Aquinas said Capital Punishment was akin to amputating a diseased limb to protect the body. This part of the debate is settled. His Holiness Pope Francis is within his right to say, as some of his predecessors, like Pope St. Leo I, Pope St. Nicholas, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have, that it is not always prudent to amputate a limb, that if a limb can be cured it does not need to be amputated, and that amputating a limb that could otherwise be saved does harm to the body. But to say that amputating a limb is always and inherently wrong, no matter how rotten or diseased the limb is or how much threat it poses to the body, is something which not even the Pope has the authority to make as it goes against two thousand years of Church teaching.

  13. The bishop of Rome also opposes life sentences for capital offenses. As I’m sure many bishops do.
    There is no pleasing them. All the sinners saints, as the song goes.
    And if you disagree and support a measured use of capital punishment, well then, the usual derogatory words will be used against you because your view could only be held by the likes of a village idiot.
    God bless JPII, God bless holy Benedict.

  14. Quoting Orwell, “There are some things so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.” This, sadly, applies to our Pontiff’s latest intentional gaffe concerning the death penalty. Dr. Feser and many others have done an excellent job of explaining the obvious, not an easy thing to do. I wonder, too, how does the Pope’s new-found finding of “intrinsic evil” reflect on our law enforcement personnel who sometimes must mete out a death penalty, made even worse by lack of due process? Are they all committing unspeakable crimes, equivalent to the killing of the utterly innocent unborn? That they are “off the hook” simply because of a nearby threat seems rather an easy escape for so (now) great a crime.

  15. Thank God for Robert Fastiggi! I am genuinely refreshed by his calm, patient, respectful, methodical, non-hyperbolic approach to this dialogue. Thank you professor, please keep it up.

    • “Oh what a tangled web…”, but I know you know, a Catholic conscience must first and foremost, be in communion with Christ, for it Is Through Christ, With Christ, and In Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost (Filioque), that Holy Mother Church exists.
      “St. Michael, The Archangel, defend us in battle…”

  16. IF capital punishment were to be considered intrinsically evil (as opposed to the stance JP II maintained) then that means that now a Catholic involved in a capital punishment case would have to recuse himself. This was a non-issue prior to Pope Francis. So if I am an prosecuting attorney, law clerk, judge, work in a correctional facility where executions are held, or am in a combat situation where a firing squad is required,… whatever, I now have an issue of conscience to wrestle with that would not be an issue except for Pipe Francis’ words. Is this really ‘pastoral’?
    I don’t think so. This is an unnecessary adding of burdens to the faithful. I could be fired from my job. Many folks die without the opportunity to repent. Seems wrong to have to bear unnecessary moral burden for what might be a hardened criminal’s heart.
    JP-II said it best.

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