Pope Francis’ new comments on the death penalty are incoherent and dangerous

Pope Francis says that his innovative teaching “does not imply any contradiction” of the Church’s tradition but, one has to say reluctantly, it indeed does.

Pope Francis meets with a delegation from the International Commission Against the Death Penalty in the papal library of the apostolic palace Dec. 17. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Debate has always been an invigorating and constructive way of defining and refining views, assuming that the debaters have minds of probity and reason. This is increasingly absent in our culture, where subjectivism rules, and where there is only one debater, and his opponent is a straw man of his own construction.

Yet when one reads the “spontaneous remarks” of Pope Francis on various subjects of the day, the quality of reasoning and information of facts is so fugitive, that frustration yields to sheer embarrassment. There is, for example, the Holy Father’s remarks to youth in Turin on a hot June day in 2015: even a Reuters press release said that his smorgasbord of concerns, from bankers to the weapons industry to Nazi concentration camps, was “rambling.” While constrained by respect for the Petrine office, and aware of the strains that imposes, it is distressing to look for a train of thought and find only a train wreck.

That has to be the impression after reading the Pope’s remarks to a Delegation of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty. Pope Francis reiterated his absolutist opposition to the death penalty which, by a singular gesture, he has also ordered be inscribed in the Catechism. Having in the past ruled out life sentences, calling them a form of “hidden death penalty”, he now insists that “the Magisterium of the Church understands that life imprisonment, which removes the possibility of moral and existential redemption, for the benefit of the condemned and for the community, is a form of the death penalty in disguise.” This extreme position must confound many opponents of the death penalty who have cited the possibility of life sentences as an adequate and counter-balancing punishment.

This certainly went far beyond the second edition of the 1992 Catechism, which affirmed the integrity of capital punishment in Scripture and Tradition but added that the cases in which the execution of the offender as an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” By adding to a catechetical text a prudential opinion, John Paul II did something unprecedented and the whirlwind now being reaped in a pontificate less theologically acute, could justify concluding that the insertion of a prudential apostrophe was imprudent.

Pope Francis uses the term ”inadmissible” to describe the death penalty, although it has no theological substance, and by avoiding words such as “immoral” or “wrong”, inflicts on discourse an ambiguity similar to parts of Amoris Laetitia. The obvious meaning is that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, but to say so outright would be too blatant. He also calls all life “inviolable,” a term which applies only to innocent life and has no moral warrant otherwise. Then there is the ancillary and unmentioned consideration of the role of punishment and hell in all this, conjuring a suspicion of universalism, which is the denial of eternal alienation from God.

In 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger explained: “There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia” and should a Catholic support the death penalty “he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.” Pope Francis has discarded that, just as he has set aside the entire magisterial tradition of the Church on the kinds of penalties—medicinal and retributive—and their functions. This is no surprise, since an attaché of the Holy See Press Office, Father Thomas Rosica, has said in a statement ultramontane to the point of heresy: “Our Church has indeed entered a new phase: with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture.”

Exceptional delineations of authentic teaching on penalties were explained by Pius XII in his discourse to the First National Conference of Italian Lawyers in 1949 and the Sixth Internal Congress of Penal Law in 1953. A definitive new study is the book By Man Shall His Blood be Shed by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette. Professor Feser has logically asked why we should have reverence for a father who has no reverence for the fathers, and warns that by divorcing his teaching from the constant tradition, Pope Francis is cutting off the very branch on which he sits.

Pope Francis justifies himself by invoking a “”progress” in society, but this is a humanistic—even Pelagian—confidence that has no warrant in reality. It also lets loose a cataract of contradictions. For instance, one of the Pope’s men, Archbishop Marcelo Sorondo, praised Communist China for coming “closer to Catholic social teaching” than the United States, although there were 23 executions in the United States last year compared with 1,551 in China, more than all other nations combined.

Pope Francis says that his innovative teaching “does not imply any contradiction” of the Church’s tradition but, one has to say reluctantly, it indeed does. The shift cannot be called a legitimate development of doctrine because it neglects all the classical criteria for authentic development, most especially what John Henry Newman named “preservation of type.” And as capital punishment pertains to natural law, once it is rejected as intrinsically wrong, the same could happen to any aspect of natural law, not least the anthropology of Humanae Vitae or the moral doctrine of Veritatis Splendor. Abidingly conscious of the claims and burdens of the Church’s highest office, that holy seat and high duty is diminished by neglect of its obligations to the perennial teachings of the fathers; and the faithful are at risk when they are offered confusion and superficiality in place of systematic thought. In short, the Vatican has become a theological Chernobyl. We are in dangerous territory.

• Related Reading: “Capital Punishment and the Catechism: A CWR Symposium” (August 18, 2018)

(Editor’s note: The third paragraph of this essay was corrected and revised on December 22, 2018. The opinions expressed in this essay are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the CWR editors or of any Ignatius Press staff.)

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About Fr. George William Rutler 4 Articles
Father George William Rutler, a parish priest in Manhattan, is a popular preacher and writer known internationally for his many TV programs on EWTN. He is the author of nineteen books, and he holds degrees from Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, the Angelicum in Rome, and Oxford.


    • PF is woefully uneducated and it shows.
      He was elected by the Lavendar Mafia and surrounds himself with the same.
      We are in chastisement.
      The ascension of Materialism has moved the Almighty to give us the Church we deserve.
      These rotten fruits came from a rotten tree.
      The lack of vocations has a terrible price.

      • The Catholic Church is all the saints in heaven, the militant on earth and the suffering souls in purgatory who have not abandoned us. One Saint Francis upheld the Church.
        Pope Francis speaks for himself as if the laity, the saints and the suffering souls do not exist and for him, the laity, the saints and the suffering souls in purgatory do not exist.

    • Could not have said THAT better!

      The current occupant of the Chair of Peter has his stooges and sycophants everywhere.

      But, trusting in the words of our Blessed Lord, the Church shall NEVER end nor be destroyed, much to the chagrin of Jorge Bergoglio. I have one word for him: “relinquo!” or in the Vatican’s vernacular: “dimettersi!”


    • Or perhaps the chancery in New York will sit up and take notice. Yes, we are in dangerous territory as the good Father Rutler points out. Are we in the territory predicted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 675? I am beginning to think we are more and more.

      • Capital punishment is morally repugnant. It is practiced in some of the most barbaric countries in the world. It had its day like slavery, and the belief that the world was flat. It’s time to see it for what it is.
        Remember the seamless garment, you can’t have your cake and eat it; life is sacred at every stage of development, from conception to natural death.

        • Better for a man (or woman) to lose their life than to lose their soul. Never to be used as revenge, but if it is sufficient for the crime, then let it be so.

    • Great article by Fr. Rutler except the weak “the term ‘inadmissible’ has ‘no theological substance'” as even the liberal pro-Pope Francis Fastiggi pointed out was weak by quoting Pope Pius XI and CCC 2296.

      Apparently Fastiggi doesn’t realize:

      “[Doctor of the Church St Robert] Bellarmine judged it ‘heretical’ to maintain that Christians cannot in theory apply capital punishment.”
      (First Things, “Pope Francis and Capital Punishment,” by Edward Feser, August 3,2018)

    • I think the Holy Spirit has taken notice, and speaks truth through Fr. Rutler. May more of our priests and bishops be attentive to the voice of the Spirit of God and courageously speak truth.

    • That’s why Protestant converts (like Fr. Rutler from Anglicanism) will be few and far between under this pontificate. The confidence with which Catholic converts once pointed to Rome as the bulwark of truth is rather ludicrous under Pope Francis. The CCC now teaches a heresy — that the death penalty is a violation of human dignity — directly contrary to Scripture and the unanimous witness of Church fathers, doctors of the Church, popes, councils, saints, etc.

      • When PF makes a non Catholic comment, I go to St Thomas Aquinas. It is his opinion that I go by. I will put a saint’s direction than I will a mere man.

  1. When Fr. Rosica stated, “Our Church has indeed entered a new phase: with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture,” it’s as if he were speaking the truth in spite of himself.

    As when Caiaphas, prompted by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed from the chair of the high priest that it was fitting for one man to die in the place of the nation. He thought he was furthering the plot against Jesus, when he was actually explaining what was really happening.

    I suspect Fr. Rosica is fulfilling the same role — just as inadvertently.

  2. Pope Francis’ new comments on the death penalty are incoherent and dangerous and are entirely symptomatic of the core of the Bergoglian confection. Wait and see what else is up his sleeve. His “China policy” bespeaks boldly an ecclesial machine without the boundary of reason, and it reflects the erroneous absurdities at work in the deepest issues of faith and morals.
    The fact that this situation is not being voraciously called to task by the worldwide episcopate is as scandalous as the offenses perpetrated now on a weekly basis.
    Where are our bishops?

    • I really don’t know where our bishops are any longer, but I know this Catholic rejects outright all the heresy being suggested by Francis. We are under no obligation to follow the heretical notions he seems to spout constantly. In fact, we have a duty to resist the nonsense wholeheartedly.

  3. Wow. When Rutler, someone from the old guard reliably respectful to Rome — to the point of reticence — resorts to language like this, you know things are broken.

  4. Father Rutler rightly highlights the deleterious effect of using words such as “inadmissible” in place of “wrong” or “immoral.”

    So why does he himself say “dangerous” and “incoherent” in place of “heretical”?

    • Yes! Why not say it? What are we waiting for? For artificial contraception to be approved? Communion for the divorced and remarried? Bergoglio caters every modern proclivity so well that he will continue unchecked by most of the Catholic world, until there is no recognizable Catholic world left.

      The time for good Bishops to stop him is now. This problem will only get worse. But, who will be the one to stop him? Quis?

      • The one willing to fall on the granade for the sake of the platoon. His reward in Heaven will be great.
        I honesty have no names to offer.

  5. Inadmissible is rightly called ambiguous by Fr Rutler. And a “dangerous” lack of definition, or definitively held premise [sententia definitive tenenda] in accord with the Doctrinal Commentary to Ad Tuendam Fidem composed by then Prefect for the CDF Cardinal Ratzinger. Inadmissible has the nuance of admissibility under certain conditions, although it is understood by the general public including hierarchy as universally prohibitive. In doing so Fr Rutler isolates the continued deceptive practice of changing doctrine by force of suggestion, suggestion most often misunderstood as authentically magisterial. Nowhere has this Pontiff abrogated standing doctrine and very likely including the oblique, non definitive permission for communion for D&R in two letters exchanged between Pontiff and Maltese Bishops included in the AAS. Our Lord will not permit corruption of the Petrine Office. Although the Occupant is another matter. The upside is we are not obliged to follow this ‘teaching’ on the death penalty nor all other revised doctrine as alluded by the author. Rather we are obliged to repudiate it. Foremost and beyond doctrinal protocol because such ‘teaching’ is contrary to the Gospels. And in instances [like the death penalty] contrary to natural law as a reflection of the eternal law. Truth that is sacred and inviolable. More appear to be aware of this. The challenge is how can a schism be avoided? Certainly clear outspoken witness to Apostolic Tradition is one measure.

    • In addition, the Pope attacks the very idea of the Catechism. Liberals hated the catechism, because it allowed laymen to find out what the church taught on things, and did not have to rely on the distorted interpretation that their liberal pastor gave them.

      The Pope is deceptive when he inserts his weird interpretation into the Catechism, because as Ratzinger said, this is a prudential judgment. All he has done by inserting his prudential judgment into the catechism is to PRETEND that his prudential judgment has the force of church teaching behind it

      So now we will be in confusion about whether the teaching in the catechism is authoritative or not. Mission accomplished, Bergoglio.

    • Thank you, Father, for your clarity. As to the question “How can schism be avoided?” I’m not sure that it CAN be avoided. When some rejected Jesus’ teaching that His “flesh is real food and His blood is real drink”, calling it a “hard saying” Jesus asked the disciples “Will you also leave?” He didn’t say: “Please don’t leave.” All I know is that we must continue to pray and hold on tightly to Jesus.

  6. Cardinal Burke, 4th Degree Knights of Columbus, promotion of McCarrick, Wuerl, Cupich, attacks on Arroyo – I think this is all revenge against the US for supporting Mother Angelica so long ago against Cardinal Mahoney.

  7. Father Rutler criticizes the positions of both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis on the death penalty. Some of his assertions, though, are open to question.
    Fr. Rutler states that: “By adding to a catechetical text a prudential opinion, John Paul II did something unprecedented and the whirlwind now being reaped in a pontificate less theologically acute could justify concluding that the insertion of a prudential apostrophe was imprudent.” The teaching on capital punishment in the 1997 edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], however, was not merely a “prudential opinion.” The recognition that non-lethal means of punishment are “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person” (CCC, 2267) expresses a principle that informs moral judgments. To reduce it to a “prudential opinion” is misleading. Prudence is the virtue that “applies moral principles to particular cases without error” according to the CCC, 1806. The 1997 CCC invokes a principle that leads to the judgment that “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’”

    Apart from the fact that the 1997 CCC teaching on the death penalty cannot be reduced to a “prudential opinion,” Fr. Rutler also is mistaken in suggesting that prudential opinions are not found in previous catechisms. The 1566 Catechism of the Council of Trent (the Roman Catechism) also contains judgments that appear more prudential than doctrinal. The expectation that married couples abstain from marital relations some days before receiving Holy Communion seems more prudential than doctrinal. The same is true for the exhortation to children not to contract marriage against the express wishes of their parents. This might be a good prudential course of action to follow, but I don’t believe it can claim to be a matter of Catholic doctrine, especially with regard to adult children.

    Fr. Rutler also states that the term “inadmissible” has “no theological substance,” I don’t believe this is true. Pope Pius XI, in a famous discourse of September 6, 1938 said that “it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism. It is inadmissible (inammissibile).” I don’t think this was a statement devoid of theological substance. The same is true of the CCC 2296, when it teaches: “It is furthermore morally inadmissible (nequit moraliter admitti) directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.”

    Much more can be said about Pope Francis and the death penalty, but this is enough for now. Father Rutler is a good writer, a good man, and a good priest. Since he does not hesitate to be rather severe in his criticisms of the present Roman Pontiff, I am sure he does not mind a few friendly criticisms directed towards him.

    • “The recognition that non-lethal means of punishment are ‘more in conformity to the dignity of the human person’ (CCC, 2267) expresses a principle that informs moral judgments.”

      It is a judgment that is not a revealed precept handed on in Sacred Tradition, and so must be a mere assertion or the conclusion of a theological demonstration. So what is the theological demonstration that yields it as a conclusion?

      [The 1997 CCC invokes a principle that leads to the judgment that “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’”]

      Logically this also is is not a mere judgment but must be the conclusion of an argument. So is that argument sound? The argument is grounded upon the claim that capital punishment is necessary only (or maybe mostly) for the protection of civil society from the criminal. This claim is not a revealed truth of Sacred Tradition. So, what is the weight of its theological support?

    • Prof. Fastiggi and Pope Francis are confused about punishment because they are confused about Mercy in two ways, its instrumentality and its origin. The instruments of Divine Mercy are passed along to us through the Church and not the State. The Church gives us the Mass and the other sacraments, and this is the primary vehicle of Divine Mercy. Fastiggi and Francis are further confused about the origins of mercy. The origin of divine mercy is found in divine justice. The Crucifixion of Christ was used by God as a REPARATION for sin. The crucifixion of Christ testifies to the reality that there is no Divine Mercy without Divine Justice. God the Father demands Justice, and Justice is about reparation, and reparation was for the sins against His majesty. Only God’s Son could deliver a worthy reparation; only He could repay the debt, and in so doing, He could be merciful to us. The state in its penal system and courts is not a minister of sacraments but is an administrator of justice. The criminal who sins against the innocent within the state, owes a debt in this world, and sometimes only surrendering his life is sufficient reparation. The pope’s job is to see that the criminal has access to the sacraments, no matter what the sentence, and not to tell the state that the criminal has no debts to the state or to his victims.

      • On that very note, I quote here from the classic tome from Romano Amerio’s “Iota Unum”, in his treatment on the death penalty:
        “If one considers the parallel with one’s right to freedom, it becomes obvious that an innocent man’s right to life is indeed inviolable, whereas a guilty person has diminished his rights by the actions of his depraved will: the right to freedom is innate,inviolable and imprescriptible, but penal codes nonetheless recognize the legitimacy of depriving people of their liberty, even for life, as a punishment for crime, and all nations in fact adopt this practice. There is in fact no unconditional right to any of the goods of earthly life; the only truly inviolable right is the right to seek one’s ultimate goal, that is truth, virtue and happiness, and the means necessary to acquire these. This right remains untouched even by the death penalty.”

    • Mr. Fastiggi:

      Your post is misleading. The Holy Father John Paul II was wrong to insert his prudential opinion into the catechism. I am sure the double-minded editor Cardinal Schonborn was pleased to see the CCC put to such use.

      Pope Francis (it causes grief to say it) is a lawless man. He does not hold and teach the Catholic faith. He is an agent and defender of the 2013 Church of McCarrick, announced by the very same man at Villanova in October 2013. Francis collaborates with sex abusers and coverup Cardinals around the world, to whom – as they have bragged – he owes his election.

      He must be opposed and prayed for.

      • 2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, THE TRADITIONAL TEACHING OF THE CHURCH DOES NOT EXCLUDE RECOURSE TO THE DEATH PENALTY …

        … – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.

    • It’s interesting you take on more minor points and don’t address the main one- the contradiction with the entire previous magisterium and the faulty notion of “development” we see here, which you seem to consistently avoid. Fr. Rutler’s premise is that Francis is indeed claiming that the death penalty is intrinsically evil and contrary to the gospel. Even if the teaching has not been definitive and infallible- which is highly debatable- you still have the conclusion that the ordinary magisterium of the Church was in error all this time and taught that an intrinsic evil was permissible and even commanded it in certain circumstances. This is deeply disturbing and untenable. If Francis is indeed claiming what is imputed to him, there seems no way out of the inherent consequences. You cannot go from saying A is intrinsically licit and permissible according to the gospel to A is intrinsically evil and never permissible according to the gospel. It doesn’t pass the basic tests the Church has used for legitimate development, such those of Newman. And if the prior magisterium was so consistently mistaken, then Francis could easily be mistaken. And if one then- by necessity really- resorts to positivism, because the latest pope wills so, you run into a problem of why the will of prior popes should not also be taken to be absolute, thus not permitting of future change. I would add a problem here is this positivism and those whose aim is upholding Francis’ will no matter what he says and does, rather than asking if it is true, part of revelation, etc. We see the same faulty approach in regard to communion for adulterers and non-Catholics.

      • In my opinion, applying the traditional doctrine on doctrine infallibly proposed by the ordinary magisterium as it is stated by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, there is a very strong argument for the infallibility of the traditional doctrine. As for the term “inadmissible” and whether it is used to state that the death penalty is intrinsically evil, what is the purpose of Francis’s whole intervention in this matter? If he doesn’t hold that inadmissible means intrinsically evil, then why did he say anything? Did he do so for the simple purpose of causing confusion? Hardly.

    • From the pre-Bergoglio Catechism of the Catholic Church:

      2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, THE TRADITIONAL TEACHING OF THE CHURCH DOES NOT EXCLUDE RECOURSE TO THE DEATH PENALTY

      – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.
      (emphasis mine)

      The Catechism makes clear that, in principle, there can be a legitimate state-imposed death penalty. Whether or not execution of a criminal is “an absolute necessity” will change with the times as various situations develop in the future. But in principle there is such a thing as a legitimate death penalty and it is heresy to deny that.

    • Not being a professor of Systematic Theology myself, I cannot speak to the value of prudential judgments as applied to recent catechisms. However, it does seem that your comparison with the catechism of Trent is without merit since to place an “expectation” on the faithful or to “exhort” them indicates that a prudential judgment is in fact being put forth. However, when I say that some act is “inadmissible” I am making a definitive judgment which disallows prudence in the decision process (i.e. I am making the decision for all the faithful). So in an article which starts out speaking of “straw men” we have an example here in your comment: for the prudential judgment is not in the “the recognition that non-lethal means of punishment are “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person”. It is rather in the statement “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent”. This is a judgment not citing the natural law, but a judgment about a particular and present cultural and societal situation which can and may change (a prudential judgment). It is setting up inadmissibility in a more secure age when in the future prudence would make the act admissible if the situation becomes less secure.

    • All of these are fair points in my mind except that the statement “non-lethal means of punishment are more in conformity with the dignity of the human person” is not a prudential judgement. I think this is in one sense true, but does not rise to the level of an overarching principle. Giving someone what they are justly due (no more and no less) is in conformity with the dignity of the human person. If non-lethal means can be used to fulfill the demands of justice then I agree that would be a more prudent choice to lethal means, but the determination as to whether the death penalty is necessary to meet the demands of justice in a given circumstance is a prudential judgement.

    • A defense of truth. Casuistry leads from principle to necessary conclusion, whereas prudence defined by Aquinas solely requires deliberation of the conditions of the act (ST 1a2ae 13, 6 Ad 2). The 1997 CCC does not “invoke a principle that leads to the judgment that ‘the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity.’” If that were true, to invoke a principle that leads to a judgment then no judgment of particular cases can be made for or against the death penalty, only a universal prohibition. For example what universal principle distinguishes for or against a man’s execution? That was not what John Paul II stated. CCC 1806 in quoting Aquinas actually says “Prudence guides the virtues by setting rule and measure”. It’s clear that the conditions of particular cases must necessarily be assessed [deliberated] before the correct principle is applied [Synderesis] in order to make a judgment. Your argument of procession from principle to conclusion, which you apparently must impute to Pope Francis is therefore not a prudential judgment. It is an oxymoron prohibition of previous Magisterial doctrine on the premise “It is immoral, since all life is inviolable”. Furthermore Fr Rutler is correct in noting “The ancillary and unmentioned consideration of the role of punishment and hell in all this, conjuring a suspicion of universalism, which is the denial of eternal alienation from God” (Fr Rutler).

      • @ Fastiggi: This response was intended for Dr Fastiggi not Fr Rutler. Unfortunately it got lost in the shuffle of a slew of responses to the same Fastiggi comment. At any rate to clarify the point I make Dr Fastiggi mistakes casuistry with prudence. Similarly the Pontiff’s declaration of death penalty “inadmissibility” is casuistic not prudential judgment. As said prudence first deliberate the conditions of the act Casuistry proceeds from universal principle to necessary conclusion. John Paul II’s ‘prudential judgement’ is theologically appropriate even if we disagree as does Fr Rutler. The reason is John Paul II allows for exceptions however rare, whereas Pope Francis in declaring death penalty immoral allows for no exceptions, despite “inadmissible’ being ambiguous since it implies admissibility. It’s clear however that Francis intends to refuse any exceptions by declaring previous Pontiffs in the wrong. That position is based on a value judgment [all death penalties are immoral], technically an oxymoron equating death penalty with injustice. It certainly is not an exercise in the virtue of prudence.

  8. John Paul wrote: “…the cases in which the execution of the offender as an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

    John Paul also wrote:UNIVERSI DOMINICI GREGIS:

    76. Should the election take place in a way other than that prescribed in the present Constitution, or should the conditions laid down here not be observed, the election is for this very reason null and void, without any need for a declaration on the matter; consequently, it confers no right on the one elected.

    81. The Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons. If this were in fact done, even under oath, I decree that such a commitment shall be null and void and that no one shall be bound to observe it; and I hereby impose the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae upon those who violate this prohibition. It is not my intention however to forbid, during the period in which the See is vacant, the exchange of views concerning the election.

    82. I likewise forbid the Cardinals before the election to enter into any stipulations, committing themselves of common accord to a certain course of action should one of them be elevated to the Pontificate. These promises too, should any in fact be made, even under oath, I also declare null and void.

  9. Schism will be avoided by the simple expedient of every bishop’s remaining in “communion” with Bergoglio, no matter what he does or says. This is what they have done so far. Why change course?

    • Yes, it is silently agreed that heresy & misleading souls into Hell are all lesser evils than schism, which, by the way, has already entered the stage, whether you like it or not It is disheartening to see how Catholics who really wants to remain loyal to Church Teachings and the Papacy are combating each other in a particularly ferocious manner.

    • Yes indeed It seems heresies & loss of souls to Hell are all lesser evils than Schism which should be avoided at any and all cost.Could that explain the silence of the episcopate? Why are they afraid? Why are they not afraid of Hell & eternal damnation?

  10. ‘Perhaps aware that public response might be problematic, he did not mention his opposition even to life sentences, having called them a form of “hidden death penalty”.’

    This is uncharacteristic of Fr Rutler, since it means he didn’t read the Pope’s whole speech before penning a response. Pope Francis certainly did bring up life sentences, and he went even further than before, explicitly calling them contrary to the Magisterium.

    “In the same way, the Magisterium of the Church understands that the perpetual penalties, which deny the possibility of moral and existential redemption of the condemned and of the community, are a form of death penalty in disguise. … No one, then, can be deprived of his life or of his hope of redemption and reconciliation with the community.”


  11. The “progress” in society related to a greater appreciation for “human dignity” includes not only the efforts of Bergolio’s favored globalists to reduce the world’s population to 1 billion but also the welcomed potential extinction (the punishment of a Mother Earth that “never forgets”) of all human beings, all of humanity “destroying the planet” by some eco-demonic-heretics and yes understood, justified as punishment by Bergolio himself . Yet the death penalty?

    Bergoglio’s now attenuated, somewhat concealed opposition to even the death penalty contradicts the rationale of “other means available” to protect society as part of an argument against the death penalty.

    God bless, Dr. Ed Feser…St. Thomas, pray for us. And thank you, Aristotle who emerges as an odd spiritual director and “boring” therapist these days.

    But really what gets tossed in the rubbish heap? Justice. Reason. And ultimately Faith.

    It would be better if this were indeed simply “a train wreck” but this is an express train to “incoherence” and that particular irrational, unlimited, undefined sensibility which is the provenance of the Evil One, hell.

    Thank you Fr. Rutler. A rosary and more prayers your way. A raised glass during this crisis …not champagne or wine but a 3:1 martini.

    To all those who contribute on this forum, my love and prayers in Christ to you.

  12. Time has long since passed when many have placed any attention to the “teaching” of this pope. While we respect the Perrine ministry and office, this man has lost his authority with us.

  13. Never in 1000 years would we have imagined this could happen. All the criticisms of the Protestants ring in our ears. All that about “papalotry”, and we poo-poohed them. We have an apostate with much zeal, and there is not a thing we can do about him. There is no remedy, because it’s not just him.
    It grows impossible to avoid the question, why does God continue to sleep.
    God bless Fr. Rutler. One of the astounding aspects is watching “faithful” men fade away into silence or end up wishing they would. We have a handful of faithful men. Thank God for them.

    • God does not sleep as long as there is but one voice in the Church to declare that Pope Francis would be excommunicated as a heretic if he were any other Catholic.

    • Many believe that Heavens only purpose of this pope was the unveiling of the deeply hidden homosexual Lavender Mafia within the church. They grew bold under Francis. They have been revealed. Their purpose is the corruption of our seminaries and to unravel the Sacraments from their founding in the Bible by Jesus with the Eucharist and Marriage (think of the image of the Holy Family) their particular target.

  14. I don’t know theology. I’m your basic Catholic, maybe a little more informed. One thing I always thought true. Catholic teaching doesn’t change. Whatever happens, it would have to align with prior teaching. Otherwise, the church would never be One, Holy, and Apostolic. By the year 1000 it would have been a collection of varied opinions. We would never have continuity if Catholic thought changed radically. We seem more like slaves than Catholics. A man comes in, and turns everything on it’s head, and we can do nothing. He has one job, to defend the Catholic faith and pass it on intact. He has refused to do his one job. He is inflicting on the Church death by a thousand cuts. How much longer must we tolerate him?

    • Not necessarily.

      But did the participants in that enclave heed the Holy Spirit’s promptings?

      As with any of us, they had the option of cooperating with the Spirit or rejecting Him and placing their trust in their own judgments and alliances.

      More and more, with his jumbled thinking and novel teachings, this pope has been doing things that force many to conclude that something serious is amiss.

    • No…the Holy Spirit was simply ignored…deliberately by some like Mahony and Danneels etc…in ignorance by others thinking Pope F was a sound and faithful Bishop.

  15. @Evangeline

    I might point out that while you may not have theological training, you can recognize the perennial teaching of the Church and that it is unchanging.

    Dr. Fastiggi has plenty of training, but uses it to argue that doctrines can develop into their own contradictions.

    I am curious to ask, though, Dr Fastiggi, do you accept Pope Francis’ assertion that life sentences are also contrary to the Magisterium? He has said similar things in the past, but in this speech quite clearly asserts it is contrary to the teaching of the Church.

    So my questions would be:

    1) Do you accept that life imprisonment is contrary to the teaching of the Church? (If not, why not?)

    2) If (1), has it always been wrong, or did it suddenly become wrong? (And for that matter, did it become wrong in 2014, when Pope Francis first spoke about it, or only now in 2018 when he quoted himself from 2014?)

    • Unfortunately, you don’t quote Pope Francis accurately about perpetual penalties. This is what he said:

      “In the same way, the Magisterium of the Church understands that the perpetual penalties, which deny the possibility of moral and existential redemption of the condemned and of the community, are a form of death penalty in disguise (cf. Address to a Delegation of the International Association Penal Law, October 23, 2014). God is a Father Who always awaits the return of the son who, knowing that he has made a mistake, asks for forgiveness and starts a new life. No one, then, can be deprived of his life or of his hope of redemption and reconciliation with the community.”

      The Holy Father does not say “the Magisterium of the Church teaches” but “the Magisterium of the Church understands” that perpetual penalties are a form of the death penalty in disguise. Pope Francis wishes to emphasize the reformative purpose of punishment, which is in perfect accord with Ezekiel 18: 23: “‘Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked?’ says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns away from evil that he may live?”

      In the penitential books of the early Middle Ages, seven years of penance was the norm for the murder of a layman with added penances possible for the murder of a monk or a cleric (McNeill, John T. and Helena M. Gamer, eds. Medieval Handbooks of Penance [New York: Octagon Books, 1963] p. 187).

      According to the logic of Prof. Feser, the penance for murder should have been turning oneself over to the secular authorities for execution in order to fulfill the blood requirement of Gen 9:6. Apparently, the authors of these medieval penitential books did not understand Gen 9:6 the way Feser does. It seems they also agreed with Pope Francis that it’s possible for murderers to be reformed.

      • @DrFastiggi,

        I didn’t misquote Pope Francis, as I simply alluded to what he said. When I quoted him in an earlier comment, I used his precise words.

        Secondly, your point hinges on making a distinction between what the Teaching Office of the Church (ie, the Magisterium) “understands” and what it “teaches”. How can this be read but as you saying that the Magisterium “understands” things it doesn’t teach?

        But what exactly is a Teaching Office doing when it “understands” something but does not teach it? What exactly are those things, and how would I come to know them? And if the Church herself tells me, how is that distinct from her teaching me? And, for that matter, where on this list of things which the Magisterium “understands” but doesn’t teach, precisely, is that life imprisonment is a death penalty in disguise?

        When Pope Francis invokes this particular Magisterial “understanding” as the basis for his conclusion that, “No one, then…”, what is that latter statement of his? Was the Pope simply “understanding” out loud? Or was he attempting to teach something?

        This is why I supported @Evangeline, your arguments are sophistry.

        Prof. Feser doesn’t really enter into my argument, so I’ll let him provide an answer on his own views.

        • ThomasL: I don’t believe my arguments are sophistry. Pope Francis’s hope for the reform and reconciliation of sinners has a biblical foundation. It also is reflected in the penitential life of the Church. The word “understand” has a wider range of meanings than “teach.” For example, the Church understands that various psychological factors can diminish the responsibility of the one commiting suicide (CCC 2282). The Church, though, doesn’t teach that those who commit suicide are always free from responsibility. As Catholics, I believe we have a responsibility to try to “understand” what the Roman Pontiff means when he says something. This attempt to understand is not the same as teaching. I’m just looking at the meaning of words. This is not sophistry at all.

          • @DrFastiggi

            Neither life imprisonment nor capital punishment are inconsistent with repentance, ie, reform and reconciliation with God and His Church.

            If “reform and reconciliation” with secular society is meant, it is entirely consistent with Biblical and Church history that some crimes might warrant and receive separation from the society by death, exile, imprisonment, or lifelong penance (eg, as a hermit or in a monastery). Provided the crime was sufficiently grave, it is not accurate at all to say that Magisterium “understands” all such penalties are “inadmissible” in principle or has ever (previously) taught that they were.

            The two spheres of reconciliation are not identical. If they were, the very moment a man goes to Confession and is reconciled to God he should also immediately be freed from prison and released back into society.

            As regards “understand” and “teach”. I acknowledge there can be a distinction in meaning (I understand things I have never taught someone else, for example).

            However, you seem to be sidestepping what Pope Francis’s condemnation of life imprisonment by saying it is merely something which the Magisterium “understands” but not something the Magisterium teaches. While you are also saying we must offer religious submission to his condemnation of the death penalty, because that is a “teaching” of the Magisterium and not a mere “understanding.”

            Now, if the Magisterium “understands” that life imprisonment is a “death penalty in disguise” and “teaches” that the death penalty is wrong, how is life imprisonment not also wrong and how is the Church, who “understands” it to be wrong not also teaching that it is wrong?

            Or are you relating “understanding” to “teach” as “potency” to “act”. An “understanding” is a *potential* teaching, which the Magisterium could teach at any moment but refrains from doing so?

            Ignoring how novel a concept of the Magisterium, Deposit of Faith, etc. that is for the moment, it still makes one wonder exactly what is happening when the Pope sets about teaching the faithful what the Magisterium “understands”.

            Do use my previous distinction of understanding things I have not taught anyone yet, if I then *taught someone that thing* I would not longer be something I had not taught. The conceptual distinction remains, but no longer applies to that thing.

            The exact meaning of “teaching” here is a little different, of course, as with the Magisterium we mean something more like doctrine or tenet, but if we maintain that single meaning, the distinction you are trying to make will not hold, as it cannot be that the Teaching Office of the Church has tenets or doctrines that it refuses to teach without making the Church into a kind of mystery cult.

      • Non-believers are not sons of God, so the Pope’s appeal to Scripture is flawed from the get go. And the point of disputes is whether Tradition is being uprooted here. Medieval scholastic textbooks are hardly authoritative. Catechisms are supposed to be. Unless we are like Mormons, awaiting the next revelation and revising doctrine as we go.

      • I agree with ThomasL that this supposed distinction between “understands” and “teaches” (in this context) seems sophistic.

        With all due respect to Dr. Fastiggi, his remarks also seem like a bit of a cheap shot and misrepresentation of Dr. Feser’s position. My understanding is that Dr. Feser’s adheres to the traditional Catholic view that reform/correction of the criminal is one among several of the legitimate purposes of punishment (the others being deterrence and retribution). Dr. Fastiggi attacks a straw man when he suggests that the only basis Dr. Feser relies on is an inflexible retributive one and that he totally eschews any place for reform. The last line of Dr. Fastiggi’s criticism of Feser in particular is really unworthy of him–this is a gross mischaracterization.

        Dr. Feser’s words from a 2013 essay, “That retribution is fundamental doesn’t entail that those with the authority to do so must always exact retribution on an offender. It does, however, mean that retribution may be exacted, all things being equal (though of course things are not always equal)…”

        I respect Dr. Fastiggi and his accomplishments. Honestly, I’d like to be convinced by him. But to succeed, the critique must be fair and convincing. So far, I’ve seen neither.

        • Gaucherius: I don’t believe I was attacking a straw man. Professors Beser and Bessette cite Gen 9:6 a total of 18 times in their book, and they use it as the title for their volume. They insist that this biblical passage is intended as “a divine sanction of the penalty of death” (p. 100) even though they don’t cite a single pope using the passage to support capital punishment. The logic of their understanding is that God demands blood for those who shed blood. God, however, also chooses to protect the lives of muderers as He does with Cain (Gen 4:15), Moses, and David.

          I am happy that Prof. Feser recognizes that retribution need not always be enacted. I also completely agree with him that retribution MAY be enacted. The Church, though, now teaches that retribution should not be enacted by the use of the death penalty. This teaching comes from the Roman Pontiff with the support of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the Final Report of the 2015 Synod of Bishops for the Family, which states that the Church “firmly rejects the death penalty” (Relatio Finalis 2015, n. 64 and affirmed by Pope Francis in Amoris laetitia, 83). Prof. Feser does not agree with this teaching because he thinks it contradicts an infallible teaching of the Church. There are scholars, though, who have studied the same Scriptures and historical documents that Feser cites and do not believe there ever was a DEFINITIVE magisterial teaching on the lictiness of the death penalty.

          But even if Feser is correct that the death penalty may be licit in theory, that does not prevent the Church from teaching that it is inadmissible in practice. According to Scripture, it is licit for a man married only once to be ordained a bishop (1 Tim 3:2). In the early Church there is evidence of married men being ordained bishops (though it seems they were also required to practice continence with their wives or send their wives to live in monasteries). The Church, however, for centuries has considered it inadmissible to ordain married men to the episcopacy. The decision NOT to admit married men to the episcopacy is based on very good reasons even though Scripture seems to accept its liceity. In a similar way, the decision not to allow recourse to the death penalty is based on very good reasons derived from the Gospel and progress in the penal system.

          My main problem with Feser and his followers is their lack of religious submission of will and intellect to a teaching of the ordinary papal magisterium. This submission is required by Lumen Gentium, 25 and canon 752 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. If Catholics have trouble with the present teaching of the Church on the death penalty, they have the right to make known their difficulties to the proper magisterial authorities. This indeed is what Feser and some others did in an appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church requesting that the Cardinals ask Pope Francis to withdraw his revision of CCC, 2267. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in its 1990 Instruction, Donum Veritatis, recognizes the right of Catholic scholars to make known their difficulties with various magisterial documents (n. 30). The same instruction, however, also says that “the theologian will not present his own opinions or divurgent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions” (n. 27). This, though, is exactly what Feser and his followers seem to be doing. If the Magisterium had not spoken on the issue of the death penalty, then we can have a good debate about it. The Magisterium, however, HAS spoken on the subject, and Catholics are obliged to adhere to this teaching with religious assent (see CCC, 892). I try to follow what Pius XII teaches in his 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis: “But if the supreme pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians” (Denz.-H, 3885). Pope Francis, as the supreme pontiff, has passed judgment on the death penalty, and he teaches that it is “inadmissible.” As a Catholic, I believe I should follow the teaching of the Roman Pontiff and not private scholars such as Prof. Feser, however sincere and well-intended they may be.

          • Ahh. Here we have the real issue that comes out in the end: papal positivism, belief that the pope’s will, his mere declaration is what makes something true, authentic, magisterial. This is a big problem under this pontificate, an idolatry of Francis and his will, and having as one’s ultimate object its defense. You ultimately go away from whether something is in accord with the deposit of faith, revelation, and that’s why it should be believed, to essentially ‘because Francis said so.’ When someone has to appeal to naked authority and demand acceptance based on sheer will power, not because it is coherent, you know one is on shaky ground. That is one reason why Rutler describes this pontificate as he does. Rather, one must also verify independently of the authority’s declaration the truth of the content. You are ultimately arguing that the will of the latest pope is absolute, a rather un-Catholic position and contradictory too- this same logic should apply to any prior pope’s teaching, making it absolute and incapable of change. What if the next pope says the death penalty is still intrinsically licit? Does it now supersede Francis’ and merely because he is the next in line? You see how absurd it becomes.

            Feser’s (& Rutler’s) beef is ultimately not with the practice, but the licitness in principle, yet you set it up to be the former. It is not Feser’s or anyone else’s mere opinion that this contradicts prior teaching: open the current catechism and a logical syllogism makes it clear (if Francis is indeed saying it is intrinsically evil.) It matters not too much whether this was ever definitively held. You always avoid addressing the implications: that at the least the ordinary magisterium of the Church was consistently in error over centuries and taught that an intrinsic evil was permissible. And again, if Francis is only teaching this through the ordinary magisterium, he may easily be wrong, just as all prior popes allegedly were. This leads to another disturbing & erroneous consequence: that any teaching not definitively proposed, declared infallible ex cathedra, can potentially be overturned.

            We also have Francis’ own witness here, as Rutler points out: it is deliberate that instead of coming directly out and saying it is intrinsically evil he uses ambiguous and doubtful language. This is even more noteworthy given the timing- being the next instance he speaks of the matter since the prior statement on the CCC, but he gives no clarification of exactly what he is saying. He knows that if he came out directly to say it is intrinsically evil, this would spell trouble. We’ve seen this game before with A. Laetitia. This also means we don’t know what the teaching is, or at least there is legitimate doubt, and thus cannot give assent to it. Or, can you tell us exactly what inadmissible means? And if you can, that is only your opinion as a private theologian, and there has been no clarification from the authority what it means. This brings us back to the valid points of Rutler’s piece: Pope Francis’ new comments on the death penalty are incoherent and dangerous and we have a theological Chernobyl at large under this pontificate.

          • “My main problem with Feser and his followers is their lack of religious submission of will and intellect to a teaching of the ordinary papal magisterium.”

            And my main issue with this is its historicism. It requires pitting Pope against Pope and Council against Council in a way that temporizes the Faith to the present occupant or the latest Council.

            It should be dubbed the Scicluna argument:

            “Whoever wishes to discover what Jesus wants from him, he must ask the Pope, this Pope, not the one who came before him, or the one who came before that. This present Pope.”

            Schonborn is in the same camp, standing the Magisterium on its head: “[W]e must read the previous statements of the magisterium about the family in the light of the contribution made by AL.”

            The idea that the Faith of Our Fathers is retroactively changed: reinvented, reread, and reimagined based on whatever has been most recently said, is, of course, patently false.

            ” ○ Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.

            May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding.”

      • Scalfari has reported 2-3 times that Pope Francis said no one goes to hell. It is interesting that this reported denial of the eternal punishment of hell by Pope Francis comports with this view that the death penalty is immoral. The Vatican has never denied that Pope Francis made these statements to Scalfari, and I have no reason to doubt that he did make the statements attributed to him. Pope Francis lost me completely and irrevocably with his failure to deny Scalfari’s report and issue a statement of correction.

      • @ Dr Fastiggi. What must be considered Dr Fastiggi are the three paragraphs taken in context: “10. The third proposition of the professio fidei states: “Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the college of bishops enunciates when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act. To this paragraph belong all those teachings on faith and morals presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Such teachings …require religious submission of will and intellect…. A proposition contrary to these doctrines can be qualified as erroneous or, in the case of teachings of the prudential order, as rash or dangerous and therefore ‘tuto doceri non potest.’ [Cf. Canons 752, 1371; Eastern Churches Canons 599, 436 §2]” (Doctrinal Commentary to Ad Tuendam Fidem). The contention of many including Fr Rutler, is that death penalty belongs to natural law and consistently held in Church Tradition. Prudential argument contrary to such standing doctrines declaring them “Inadmissible” can be considered error. There is much leeway then for one to ignore this particular magisterial declaration. For example it can be argued that death penalty belongs to a standing doctrine that is not sententia definitive tenenda and that the Pontiff’s tenet “Inadmissible” is a contrary prudential argument that can be in error.

        • Dear Father Morello,

          Thank you for your comments. I think more than a prudential judgment is involved with Pope Francis’s revision of CCC, 2267 as well as with John Paul II’s teaching on the death penalty. This would take a long time to explain. Those who have difficulty with recent teachings of the Catholic Church on the death penalty should follow the CDF’s 1990 instruction, Donum Veritatis, especially n. 24, which says: “The willigness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule.”

          Oremus pro invicem.

          • It’s the rule if clericalism is going to continue…such that three Popes don’t even have mention Rom.13:4 on the topic nor have to mention that a part Catholic non death penalty area from Brazil to Mexico is the most murderous on earth by UN figures easily found at wiki and after Vatican II’s Dei Verbum stated that the magisterium is not above the word but serves it…and passes on what was handed to them.

  16. A very good piece with the usual keen observation and language of From Rutler. One question: Would Father contend that JB is under the special protection of the Holy Ghost as becoming of this Office?

  17. Incoherent and dangerous basically sums up Francis’s entire theological outlook. Please God, let this train wreck of a pontificate come to an end.

  18. First, apologies for leaving out “g” in Bergoglio twice in my previous post in the first paragraph (but not in the second). Also I mistakenly referred to his “attenuated opposition to even the death penalty” rather than “life sentences.”

    Why offer (a number of disproportionate?) examples which disregard that the consideration of the death penalty is specifically first a question of justice in response to a wrong done by another, a significant wrong.

    This disregard (making it more about “prudence”) then avoids saying directly, “You see we don’t think about justice these days really the same way but more about human dignity…yes, first, for the perpetrators. Including the human dignity of victims? Sort of. Not as much.”

    This better explains the hierarchy’s handling of sexual and financial misdeeds because well, nothing quite gets the job done like the Principle of Human Dignity vs Justice (which involves punishment)…a principle which in a pinch can be used to justify euthanasia etc.

    I would not only challenge the tern “inadmissible” but “human dignity” as propagated by the secular State and the extent to which this secular (“new and improved”) understanding has now been made a part of our own Catechism without real concern for Scripture and Tradition yes Natural Law/Reason..ask for clarification.

    “In the same way, the Magisterium of the Church understands that the perpetual penalties, which deny the possibility of moral and existential redemption of the condemned and of the community, are a form of death penalty in disguise. … No one, then, can be deprived of his life or of his hope of redemption and reconciliation with the community.”

    Are the above words those of a man who believes in Grace, repentance, a Divine Savior, Jesus Christ, the soteriological value of the Cross and Resurrection, the Sacraments?

    No, it seems the “perpetual” in Bergoglio’s mind is really the provenance of the State and yes…this life, not The City of God.

    Viva Cristo Rey?

    Viva Peron! Viva Marx! Viva St. Gallen, Switzerland! And lest we forget…Viva Beijing (where they get social justice right)!

    • Yes! China has created at least 10 huge interment camps whose only purpose is to force the re education of thousands away from any belief in God. They have interred whole villages of Muslims and have set their sights on the Christian population. It is an abomination of free will and Maoism/atheism unleashed.

  19. Pope Francis is a lawless man. And he clearly prefers the close company of lawless and malicious men…like Cardinal Maradiaga.

    Since Pope Francis rejects scripture and tradition (as “Rev.” Rosica stated), and natural law, and reason (i.e. rejects Veritatis Splendor) in discontinuity with the Holy Fathers before him, he is rightfully opposed and openly confronted, until he repents…or vacates his office.

  20. I used to think that God would send down a lighting bolt to kill a Pope before he would ever directly teach heresy or contradict Church teaching on Faith and Morals.
    Oh well!
    Uncharted territory now.
    But I still hope for the lightning bolt, better late than never!

  21. Matthew 18:6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

    Is this not advocating for death by drowning for an offense deemed most serious?

    • There’s a difference between “it would have been better for him to be thrown into the sea” than “You ought to tie a stone around his neck and throw him into the sea [for x].”

      I suppose for people with bloodlust, the difference is slight. Unless you think Jesus advocated abortion for Judas when he said “it would have been better had he had never been born.”

  22. “.. the Vatican has become a theological Chernobyl.”
    The mess of Chernobyl will take decades to clean itself up. This papacy will lead some into an eternity that they can never clean up.

  23. Does Fr. Rutler actually miss the biggest picture of all when he writes: “The obvious meaning [of ‘inadmissible’] is that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, but to say so outright would be too blatant”?

    Might it be that the wraparound meaning is that NOTHING is always “intrinsically evil”? Rather, the moral universe is flat once more, and all things sometimes can be either admissible or inadmissible.

    Is the oblique message (the paradigm shift) that while moral theology itself can still be retained, it can also set aside from time to time as selected concrete cases might seem to require?

    Continuity of doctrine is retained, but also shelved as needed. Contradictory “truths” are both true! To be too rigid is to deny the transcendence of God. The double benefit, here, is an accommodation with al-Ghazali (as well as with China)…)

  24. For practical reasons I am against the death penalty. I am uncomfortable with giving a very imperfect state the power to render irreversible sentences in the form of death. We know innocent people go to jail, so its entirely reasonable to assume innocent people can be sentenced to death as well. That’s something I don’t want to risk, especially when other options for public safety and punishment are available. In some ways capital punishment is the ultimate expression of “Big Government”.


    Francis’ reasoning is infantile and inadequate. God, the Bible, Holy Tradition, Ecumenical Councils, Doctors of the Church and all of Francis’ predecessors have all declared capital punishment licit under particular circumstances. Francis’ dismissal of this long standing teaching is glib. Essentially, he said that the reason they approved of capital punishment is because they weren’t merciful. In other words they were “meanies”. Surely he can do better. Francis’ argument is laughable and fails to engage the Tradition that precedes him. Does Francis really think all of predecessors lacked “mercy” (including Benedict who’s literally living living in his backyard)? Does he think God lacked mercy?

    There is room for debate on the prudential application of capital law in the modern era. I think JP 2 did that well, but Francis’ comments are intellectually weak. Moreover, he runs the risk of saying that God Himself ordered people to commit an intrinsically evil act that violates the dignity of the human person. This of course is against the nature of God, and calls into question the authority of Scripture and Tradition. Ironically, it also calls into question Francis’ authority as it too derives from Scripture and Tradition. If his predecessors’ teachings can be so easily dismissed then so can Francis’.

    Francis confuses mercy with sentimentality. His version of mercy lacks justice. I just wish he would have mercy on my intellect.

    • I have to object to this.

      I have no problem opposing the erroneous statements or bad actions of the Pope, but he is the Pope, much as the King is the King. St Thomas More was beheaded by Henry, but he was until the end “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” Likewise St Thomas of Canterbury, and so on, all the way back to David and Saul. One strains to imagine David calling Saul a blockhead…

      So, yes to opposition to all that is wrong, but no to insults.

  25. Or perhaps the chancery in New York will sit up and take notice. Yes, we are in dangerous territory as the good Father Rutler points out. Are we in the territory predicted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 675? I am beginning to think we are more and more.

  26. The only way to solve the Bergoglio problem is for the College of Cardinals to admit their error in electing him and insisting that he step down – as happened with Honorius.

  27. The only way to solve the Bergoglio problem is for the College of Cardinals to admit their error in electing im and ask him to step down – as with Honorius.

    • The College of Cardinals would never do this, because they no doubt believe he is doing a great job. THAT is why we are in serious trouble. It is not simply a question of a feckless pope. It is a thoroughly heterodox group of Cardinals now running the Church.

  28. Who would have thought so many people would spring up and sing theological praises of the death penalty. Anything to vent about Pope Francis I guess. It reminds me when everyone in the comment section was confused when he said that homosexual behavior was not permitted in seminaries. Twisting themselves to find ways to take the opposite opinion… That’s the life of a hypertensive contrarian.

    • I don’t think anyone is singing the praises of capital punishment. I’m personally nervous about the seeming contention that doctrine can develop to such a point as to state the complete opposite of what it previously stated. How can you possibly take comfort in a theology that shifts so easily?

      • Tradition is not always fixed – see the Council of Jerusalem. The same arguments made by the Church against euthanasia easily fit into arguments against the death penalty. You have to debate over which Tradition-al value is more fundamental: the sanctity of life or the state’s moral standing to use the death penalty in the 21st century. The state, as we already know, has little value for the sanctity of life. Strange that people would stand up to its defense to reduce the value of life in other ways.

        • How could the Church not know the ‘Inadmissibility’ of capital punishment for centuries but now has seen the light?

          This is not about tradition.

  29. Wait……did Bergoglio say “inadmissible”? As in “never”?? Wow…surely some mistake! That sounds very……um………rigid”, right? Very dogmatic…..too focused on doctrine, if you know what I’m saying. See my problem with this, is that it does not allow for “discernment”, does it? And discernment is extremely important as we’ve been told repeatedly.

    No, one must be “pastoral”. One who truly has the “smell of the sheep” would not be so “rigid”. The Church needs to take into account the “concrete situations” of murderers. Doctrine should not be made into an “idol”, right?

  30. It is morbidly fascinating the frequency with which Pope Francis flits from the impossibly abstract, to the intellectually vacuous, and back. From the perspective of rigorous Catholic theology, he frankly makes crap up. “…a theological Chernobyl,” indeed.

  31. Thank you, Father, for your clarity. As to the question “How can schism be avoided?” I’m not sure that it CAN be avoided. When some rejected Jesus’ teaching that His “flesh is real food and His blood is real drink”, calling it a “hard saying” Jesus asked the disciples “Will you also leave?” He didn’t say: “Please don’t leave.” All I know is that we must continue to pray and hold on tightly to Jesus.

  32. When someone has committed the act of premeditated murder, it is an assault on human dignity to fail to put the offender to death. Capital punishment is not only licit, it is required. It has nothing to do with deterrence or retribution. It is punishment. It is justice. And the protection of society demands justice in all cases. A man who fails to comprehend this has highly suspect judgement himself.

  33. Contrary to what some believe, the Church has dogmatically taught the legitimacy of the death penalty so it is in the best interest for Catholics to ignore this latest heresy of the man who calls himself the bishop of Rome.

    The dogmatic Council of Trent decreed: “[Well founded is] the right
    and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of
    penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in
    cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.” In the Catechism of that
    Council, this doctrine is enlarged upon: “Again, this prohibition [of
    killing] does not apply to the civil magistrate, to whom is entrusted
    the power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which he
    punishes the guilty and protects the innocent. The use of the civil sword,
    when wielded by the hand of justice, far from involving the crime of murder,
    is an act of paramount obedience to this commandment, which prohibits
    murder. The end of the commandment is the preservation and sanctity of
    human life, and to the attainment of this end, the punishments inflicted by
    the civil magistrate, who is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally
    tend, giving security to life by repressing outrage and violence.”

    It should be noted that to vindicate the moral order means not the
    taking of vengeance upon the criminal, but imposing upon the criminal
    some act or loss or suffering as a form of compensation to right the
    balance of justice. Of such “vindictive” punishment, Pope Pius XII
    stated: “It would be incorrect to reject completely, and as a matter of
    principle the function of vindictive punishment. While man is on earth,
    such punishment both can and should help toward his eternal salvation,
    provided he himself raises no obstacles to its salutary efficacy”
    (Discourse of December 5, 1954, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, XLVI, p. 67).

    Given these purposes, an execution may take place if the following
    conditions are met: (a) the guilt of the prisoner is certain; (b) the
    crime is of major gravity; (c) the penalty is to be inflicted, after due
    process, by state authority, not by private individuals or by lynching,
    and (d) the prisoner is given the opportunity to make his peace with

    Given these criteria, Catholics may differ in their prudential
    judgments as to whether a particular society needs to employ capital
    punishment for its own protection. To say that it is wrong per se or
    never justified is contrary to the traditional teaching of the Church.
    A Catholic may not add his prudential judgments to the list of Church
    doctrines and enjoin them as obligatory. However, the state may always
    choose to commute the deserved penalty.

    It should be noted that heinous criminals are not innocent persons
    (like unborn children), but are objectively guilty in natural law of
    grave crimes against the common weal. As Pope Pius XII explained it:
    “Even in the question of the execution of a man condemned to death, the
    state does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. It then falls
    to the public authority to deprive the condemned man of the good of life
    in expiation of his fault after he, by his crime, has already deprived
    himself of his right to life.”

    Our Lord Himself confirms this power of capital punishment in the
    interview with Pilate before His crucifixion:

    Pilate therefore saith to him: Speakest thou not to me? Knowest
    thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and I have power to
    release thee? Jesus answered: Thou shouldst not have any power
    against me, UNLESS IT WERE GIVEN THEE FROM ABOVE…. (John 19:10-

    He also seems to speak of the appropriateness of capital punishment
    in another passage: “But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones
    that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone be hanged about
    his neck and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew

    The principle is also represented in the words of St. Dismas, the
    Good Thief on the cross beside Christ, who was being crucified for robbery
    (the Rheims and Confraternity versions translate the Greek “kakourgon” in
    Luke 23:39 as “robbers,” but it is really more general than that;
    “malefactors” would be the literal translation or, more generally,
    “criminals”). He says to his fellow criminal on the other side of Christ:

    Dost not even thou fear God, seeing that thou art under the same
    DEEDS DESERVED, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
    (Luke 23:40-41).

    It must not be forgotten that the death penalty, like any criminal
    penalty, serves as a form of expiation. That is why prisons are called
    penitentiaries. As Saint Thomas observes in the Summa Theologica: “Even
    death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment
    for those crimes in the next life, or at least part of that punishment,
    according to the quantities of guilt, resignation, and contrition; but a
    natural death does not.” Further, in the case of capital punishment, the
    expiatory penalty reflects the sin of one whose grave crime has caused him
    to lose the right to life.

  34. Focusing on one of the statements he made in this address, one can see how he really hates Christianity and if you recall so many of his other statements, it is without doubt a fact that he is not Catholic and is working to destroy the true Catholic faith:
    “This is why the new drafting of the Catechism implies that we also assume our responsibility for the past and that we recognize that the acceptance of this type of punishment has been a consequence of a mentality of the more legalist and Christian era…”

    Here, like his predecessor, JPII, he is apologizing for the Truth of the Catholic faith since to him, it is nothing more than a mentality, a legalistic, rigid, fundamental mentality that has no value or place in our modern barbaric, atheistic, demon following world.

    • You are correct. You have precisely identified what motivates the mind of Pope Francis. The man has scarcely any thought that is even remotely Catholic or Christian. He is a humanist and a materialist. He wants to the the “pope” of the United Nations. The Roman Catholic Church – her thought, her culture, her liturgy – all is an embarrassment to Bergoglio.

  35. This, in the responses to the words of our Pope, is what happens when laity and clerics stop listening to the Holy Spirit and try to reference the “letter of the law” as they perceive it. In layman’s terms, stop with the armchair quarterback attitude. Though you may be educated in the history and traditions of the Church, you seem to forget that your perception does not trump the Petrine office. If you recall that we as the Catholic Church believe that the Holy Spirit guides us in the selection of the Pope. From what I’ve read above, that seems to carry through until someone disagrees. How 21st century. Though educated, the good Father should have kept his mouth shut or left his pen down before criticizing the Pope. As in my ordination I’m sure that he too took an oath of obedience and should remember that by maybe spending more of his time in prayer and support rather than defamation. The rest should be ashamed of the responses which belittle and criticize the Pope. The Petrine office only requires that you be a baptized man. I guess the final point would be that we, the Catholic Church, were founded by God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and our God does not allow unworthy men to lead His Church. If you don’t buy that, I hear the Protestants are taking applications.

    • Your comments merely confirm Protestant stereotypes of Catholic papaloters. You are closer to Protestantism than any of the critics of Pope Francis.

    • Father Wyant: I agree with you that the tenor of many comments here are needlessly inflammatory, uncharitable and insulting. But that doesn’t mean Fr. Rutler or the more serious commenters are wrong.

      You say “our God does not allow unworthy men to lead His Church.” Even a passing familiarity with ecclesiastical history will show you that this claim is patently false. God will preserve the Church–that is of the Faith–but there is no divine promise that scoundrels and incompetents won’t ever be allowed to hold the reins and cause great scandal and damage. It has happened more than once, as a matter of indisputable historical fact. The 10th century is a particularly sad and dark time for the papacy. Many faithful did not live to see the ship set aright, but it did (and always will) happen eventually. That is God’s promise.

      Likewise with the implication that no one can ever “criticize the pope.” I agree that insulting and disrespectful language have no place. But St. Paul and St. Catherine of Siena (to name 2 prominent examples) might be surprised to hear that a Holy Father can NEVER be criticized in any fashion. It is unfortunately sometimes necessary, as their examples show, but it should always be prayerful, constructive, and rooted in the unbroken traditions of the Faith. And the appropriate respect for the gravity of the office must always be maintained. Incidentally, it is such respect for the office that in part has prompted many such as Fr. Rutler to speak up.

      God bless and Merry Christmas.

  36. Pope Francis indisputably rejects immutable truth. He has said this numerous times in numerous ways. Implicitly this is a rejection of understanding truth as the reflection of the mind of God, which is inherently atheistic. The biggest problem with Francis is that he is not very bright.

  37. Holy Spirti guides the election of popes? Wrong. That is not the teaching of the Church, as reiterated by Cardina Ratzinger. No unworthy man would be elected pope? Wrong- The Church acknowledges freely – cf. Catholic Encyclopaedia, that t least twelve popes were villains,adulterers, sodomites, and rapists.

    Father Rutler in debate culd eat you for breakfast. But he is too much of a gentleman, and too merciful, to do that. It would be like a giant stepping on a midget.

    – And as for respect for the Petrine office, Pope Francis has insulted virtually all of is predecessors by saying that they neglected mercy in the interest of justice. His profanity and vulgarity (a whole book of his insults has been published) are unprecedented. – Finally, you have not answered one of the points that Fr Rutler made (start with China and Newman’s theory of development) and only engage in ad hominem screeds.

  38. I see that you cannot refute one of Father Rutler’s points. So you succumb to ad hominem rhetoric. Can you answer, for instance, what Fr Rutler says abut China, or Newman’s theory of development of doctrine? ow much of Newman have you read if yu have read anything at all?

    You say that the Holy Spirit guides papal elections. Wrong. Cite the source of your claim. The Church has never taught that – as Cardinal Ratzinger famously reiterated. You also say that only worthy men have held the papal office – this is contradicted by t least twelve popes who were murders, adulterers, and sodomites (as the Church admits as well as the Catholic Encyclopedia.) Are you actually a clergyman with such poor training? Where did you study? And as for reverence for the Petrine office, the worst disrespect for that primacy has been that of Pope Francis himself who has insulted all his predecessors (“placing justice before mercy”) and who has lowered the dignity of the Petrine office by his vulgarisms and insults (there is an entire book as a compendium of the insults that Pope Francishas hurled.) This is unprecedented.

    • There have indeed been popes who were sinners. This, though, does not mean they were not chosen by the Holy Spirit (at least in His permissive will). After all, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, chose the 12 apostles foreknowing that one would deny Him and another betray Him. We also need to consider Saul, David, and Solomon, who were sinners but also the anointed kings of Israel. What Cardinal Ratzinger said in a 1997 interview on German television represents his personal opinion as a private theologian. It is not magisterial. Vatican II, in Presbyterorum Ordinis, 15 says that priests “must preserve and strengthen a necessary oneness with their brothers in their ministry, especially with those WHOM GOD HAS SELECTED AS VISIBLE RULERS IN THE CHURCH.” Among those divinely selected rulers in the Church we must certainly include the Roman Pontiff. Many good insights and sources on this issue can be found in this article by Francisco Figueroa:https://ronconte.wordpress.com/2018/12/06/does-god-choose-the-pope/

      More significant than Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1997 remarks on German television are his words spoken to the Cardinals in his farewell address of Feb. 28, 2013. In this address he says: “And among you, in the College of Cardinals, there is also the future pope to whom today I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience.” This promise echoes the special reverence and obedience owed by all clerics to the Supreme Pontiff according to canon 273 of the 1983 CIC.

      It is not “papal positivism” to manifest religious submission of will and intellect to what Pope Francis teaches on the death penalty. It is simply being a faithful Catholic. I am well aware that previous popes allowed capital punishment in the past. We can understand why they held this position in light of the conditions of their times and the state of moral and doctrinal development in which they lived. There never was, however, a definitive, irreformable teaching of the Magisterium on the death penalty. I know scholars such as Professors Feser and Bessette think otherwise, but their opinion has been challenged by scholars of equal if not superior credentials such as Professors E. Christian Brugger and John Finnis. Sometimes the Magisterium allows scholars to debate issues freely. Other times, the Magisterium will intervene to offer a judgment on the matter in question. What Pope Francis and the revised CCC 2267 now teach about the death penalty is an authentic magisterial judgment to which Father Rutler, Dr. Feser, and Dr. Bessette owe “religious submission of will and intellect.” The present teaching of the Magisterium on capital punishment, of course, is not infallible or irreformable. If a future pope decides to revise this teaching, I will accept the revision with religious assent. This does not mean that I cannot think for myself. It simply means that I understand and accept the authority of the ordinary papal Magisterium. I am sorry that so many CWR commentators have trouble accepting what the Church now teaches about capital punishment. I will pray for them. Perhaps they will come to understand that the Holy Spirit does not want Catholics today supporting the intentional killing of fellow human beings for crimes committed in the past. After all, the God commands us not to kill (Ex 20:13, Deut 5: 17), and the Incarnate Word of God repudiated the Old Testament teaching of retaliation demanding “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Ex 21:23; Mt 5: 38).

      • Prof Fastiggi:
        While one might appreciate your pious desire to go to such lengths to justify the animadversions and ambiguities of Pope Francis – as you also did with Amoris Laetitia (in spite of the fact that the Pope said the eisegesis of the Argentinian bishops, which contradicted your interpretation, was exactly what he meant) – there has to be a limit to how many times you can twist yourself without become a pretzel.

        1)Can you explain how a complete reversal change in doctrine can be justified by the passage of just one generation? Pope Pius XII cited the Church’s teaching on the validity of capital punishment, as an example of a doctrine that cannot change regardless of historical and social changes.

        2)Do you expect that the faithful must also submit religiously to the Pope’s insistence that it is “not Christian” to oppose his views on climate change and open borders?

        3) Is there any difference between the Pope’s ultramontane abuse of “development of doctrine” and the possibility that he would invoke the same syllogisms to justify a change in teaching on contraception?

        If there were a Rex Mottram Prize, I’d nominate you as the first recipient.

      • “not chosen by the Holy Spirit (at least in His permissive will)”

        That’s just an equivocation of what “choose” means. Does God choose sin by acting as First Cause when we sin?

        What can be attributed to the Holy Spirit is better be described as “tolerate” and is not the same as Christ’s actual choosing of Judas.

        For non-Latins, it is indeed “papal positivism” to require that all Catholics “manifest religious submission of will and intellect” to a supposed “ordinary papal magisterium” with respect to the Church Universal. And thus we see the problems of even Vatican I with respect to the office of the pope which will probably have to be addressed if there is ever to be full reconciliation of the Orthodox. At the moment it would seem that Latins have a pope who, by Divine Providence, is showing 2nd millenium Latin theological opinions regarding the papacy to be erroneous.

        As for an “authentic magisterial judgment,” as I wrote above, what is given is a mere assertion, a conclusion of some “theological” argument — “theological” because it is based on premises not to be found in Sacred Tradition. It is no affirmation of a precept of God, either Divinely Revealed or known as a part of the Natural Law, but rather is a contradiction of a precept of God, or is close to being one.

        When Latins cannot tell the difference between a conclusion of a “theological” argument and a reiteration of Sacred Tradition, the patriarchate of Rome is in trouble.

      • “After all, the God commands us not to kill (Ex 20:13, Deut 5: 17), and the Incarnate Word of God repudiated the Old Testament teaching of retaliation demanding “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Ex 21:23; Mt 5: 38).”

        Wrong – the commandment isdoesdistinguishes between killing and murder (check out Cardinal Avery Dulles – and Cardinal Ratzinger on that.) OtherwiOtherwise there could be no kiling in self-defense or just wars (unfortunately another of Pope Francis’s heresies is his repudiation of just war theory.) – And the “lex talionis”is not about revenge – it is about letting the punishment fit the crime, and not being excessive. – Vindictive, or retributive, punishment has consistently been maintained by the Doctors of the Church.

        • Dear Timothy,

          Seminary professors are required to take a profession of faith that ends with this paragraph:

          “Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”

          Would you want to entrust your son to a seminary that allows professors to disregard this aspect of the profession?

          Al Edison: I’m not sure what document of Pius XII you have in mind. Someone else, though, told me that Pius XII taught that the teaching on the death penalty cannot change in his Dec. 5, 1954 Address to the Italian Association of Catholic Jurists. I checked this address in the AAS 47 (1955), and Pius XII does not even refer in it to the death penalty. What he says cannot change is the essential foundation itself of penal power and its immanent finality” [AAS 47 (1955), 81-82].

          You raise the question whether the fifth commandment prohibits murder but not all killing. This is an important question. The Hebrew verb “to kill” (rtsh), used in Ex 20:13 and Deut 5:17, however, not only applies to murder but also to unintentional killing in some cases (e.g.Deut 4:42; 19:3, 4, 6; Numbers 35:6; and Joshua 20:3).

          Ultimately, it’s up to the Magisterium to interpret the meaning of Scripture (Dei Verbum, 12). The Catechism of the Catholic Church helps us understand what the fifth commandment forbids. It states that the “fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing” (CCC 2268) and “the intentional destruction of human life” (CCC 2307). Such direct and intentional killing would seem to be present in the execution of crimnals but not in legitimate acts defending persons and societies. Such acts of legitimate self-defense can involve unintentional killing according to the principle of double-effect (CCC 2263). Pope Francis has affirmed the principle of legitimate self-defense that might involve unintentional killing on several occasions including his recent Dec. 17, 2018 address touching on the death penalty.

          I find it strange that so many CWR commentators wish to attack Catholics like me who are simply trying to be faithful to what the Magisterium now teaches on the death penalty. Some of the commentators seem to believe that you’re only a good Catholic if you oppose Pope Francis.

          Let’s pray for each other, for Pope Francis, and have a merry Christmas.

          • This is getting tedoius, and this will bemy last, but here gores:

            The central issue is not the death penalty itself, but the declaration of Pope Francis that it is “contrary to the Gospel.” This has to mean that it is intrinsically evil And nothing can be contrary to the Gosepl that was not contrary yesterday and from the start.Thu if Pope Francis is correct, all the popes, saints and doctors of the Church cooperated in evil, whether intentionally or not.

            Consider Saint Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church:
            “Among the chief heretical beliefs of the Anabaptists and Antitrinitarians of our time there is one that says that it is not lawful for Christians to hold magistracy and that among Christians there must not be power of capital punishment, etc., in any government, tribunal, or court. ” Add to the mix Pope Franci’s condemnation of life sentences (which neither John Paul II nor Benedict condemned, and in fact they seem to have suggested it was the antidote to the death penalty.

            It is the subtlest kind of sophistry to say that Pius XII was not explicitly referring to the deathwhen he addresses the nature of immutable doctrine. Consult also his clear defense of the death penalty in an address t the clergy of Rome March 13,1943. At t Remember as well that during the Nuremberg Trial,s Pope Pius urged executions without delay. Whatpunishment would Pope Francis have recommended? . And Pius X quotes the First Vatican Coucil: “the sense, too of the sacred dogmas is that which our Holy Mother the Church has once declared, nor is this sense ever to be abandoned on plea or pretext of a more profound comprehension of the truth.” Cardonal Dulleshas wrttien with reference to divorce, abortion, homosexual relations and the ordination of women, tat “If the Church feels herself bound by Scrripture and tradition in theseother areas, it seems inconsistent toCatholcs to proclaim a ‘moral revolution’ on the issue of capita punishment.” Do you agree with Father Rosica, whose assertion was never refuted by the pope , that Pope Francis’s teaching transcends Scripture and Tradition.”

            You also say that Pope Francis would permit killing in self defense in war, but he has at least twice said that ust War theory might be the next in his cross hairs. – I fear that he wmay also soon “re-visit” Huamane Vitae citing his idiosyncratic theory of doctrinal development.

          • “faithful to what the Magisterium now teaches…” Good grief! How is it possible to be a Catholic, let alone a theology professor, without recognizing the problem with this statement?

            “I agree with Pope Francis that it is contrary to the Gospel to kill someone without necessity.” Need I point out that it is “unnecessary” to kill an enemy in combat? In fact, all resistance is “unnecessary.” One could simply surrender to evil. And that is exactly where Pope Francis is leading the Church and Christians around the world. Just ask the Chinese Catholics.

          • “Catholics like me who are simply trying to be faithful to what the Magisterium now teaches on the death penalty. ”

            Can you really not grasp the simple concept that what concerns us is the very fact that *now* the Pope is contradicting what has always been held as the truth? You can’t possibly be that dim.

  39. Dear Edward,

    Thank you for your insights. I also intend this to be my last word on the death penalty in this partical thread.

    I agree with Pope Francis that it is contrary to the Gospel to kill someone without necessity. In his March 20, 2015 letter, the Holy Father made it clear that he was referring to someone being executed for past crimes who had been rendered harmless. Along these lines, St. John Paul II, in a 1999 address in St. Louis, also referred to the death penalty as “cruel and unnecessary” when society has adequate means to defend public safety. John Paul II likewise included torture in his list of intrinsically evil actions in his 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor. He did this even though earlier popes such as Innocent I, Gregory IX, and Innocent IV justified judicial torture.

    St. Robert Bellarmine is a great Doctor of the Church, but his opinion on a subject is not necessarily conclusive. Bellarmine also did not believe that the Immaculate Conception was sufficiently grounded in Scripture and Tradition to be defined de fide. Blessed Pius IX obviously thought otherwise.

    I know Pius XII accepted the liceity of the death penalty, but that does mean he ever said this was immutable doctrine. In the particular discourse to the Italian jurists found in the AAS 47 (1955), he does not even mention the death penalty. This was the discourse in which he allegedly claimed that the liceity of the death penalty was something not determined by the conditions of time and culture (see AAS 47 [1955], 81-82).

    You say that Pius XII urged executions without delay in the Nuremburg trials. What is your evidence for this? The Harvard historian, Kevin Madigan, and others have in fact criticized Pius XII for allegedly seeking pardons for Nazi war criminals.

    Here is how the Catholic expert on Pius XII, William Doino, Jr., responded to this accusation in his article, “Kevin Madigan’s Offenses Against History” (FIRST THINGS Feb. 20, 2012):

    “Following Cymet, Madigan also rails against Pius XII for allegedly seeking ‘pardons’
    for condemned Nazi war criminals ‘as if he wanted them to go free’ when, in reality, what the pope did was ask they be spared the death penalty (while remaining locked-down in prison), just as he appealed for the Rosenbergs, when they, too, faced execution. Pius believed in tempering justice with mercy, even for the worst criminals, be they Nazis or Communists, knowing God would have the final say, for eternity. That is not a universally accepted view, but it is certainly a Christian one.”

  40. Leslie: I did not intend to carry on the discussion, but you seem to have real difficulty with my position (and that of Pope Francis). You claim “that the Pope is contradicting what has always been held as the truth.” I don’t think this is true if you take into account the early centuries of the Church.

    From the research that has been done, it’s clear that many early Church Fathers did not believe Christians should support or carry out capital punishment. Tertullian insisted that “the Creator “puts His interdict on every sort of man-killing by that one summary precept, ‘Thou shalt not kill’” (De Spectaculis, 2). St. Cyprian noted that Christians “do not in turn assail their assailants, for it is not lawful for the innocent to kill even the guilty” (Epistle 60 to Cornelius). Lactantius wrote that “there is no exception to this command of God. Killing a human being, whom God willed to be inviolable, is always wrong [occidere hominem sit semper nefas] (Divine Institutions, lib. VI cap. 20).

    Early Christian legislation likewise shows opposition to capital punishment. The ApostolicTradition/ Consitutions (ca. 215), attributed to St. Hippolytus, stipulate that “a military man in authority must not execute men; if he is ordered he must not carry it out” (16, 9; Botte ed.). The Council of Elvira (ca. 300–303) in its canon 56 required a Christian magistrate “to keep away from the Church” during the year of his service as a joint magistrate (duumvir). This was because he might have to carry out capital sentences as joint magistrate.

    The Synod of Rome for the Gauls was held around 386 A.D. under Pope St. Siricius (r. 384–399). Some believe this synod was held under Pope St. Damasus I (r. 366–384) in 382, but more recent research shows that it was held under Pope Siricius around 386. In Chapter V, 13, [PL 13, 1190], the Synod states that: “Those who exercised secular authority are not to be admitted to the ministry of the altar” (Eos qui jus saeculi exercuerunt ad altaris ministerium admittendos non esse). The Synod goes on to say that “it is manifest that those who, having obtained secular power, have exercised secular authority cannot be immune from sin (a peccato esse non posse). Indeed during the time in which the sword is put to use (gladius exseritur), or an unjust sentence is conferred, or tortures administered for necessary reasons … they have returned to those things which they renounced according to the prescribed discipline handed down…. but after doing penance for a certain determined time because of all these things, they may be found worthy to take part in matters of the altar” [PL 13, 1190].

    Some scholars such as Francesco Compagnoni, O.P. and James J. Megivern, have understood “gladius exseritur” as referring to the handing down of death sentences. Translated literally, gladius exseritur means “the sword is exerted, exercised, or thrust out.” Although this is not a literal reference to the death penalty, it would certainly include it. If making use of the sword is a sin that requires penance before being allowed to minister at the altar, then certainly making use of the sword to execute someone is a sin that requires penance.

    It is true that Pope Innocent I in his Letter to the Bishop of Toulouse (A.D. 405) not only supported the right to carry out the death penalty but also torture (PL 20, 499). It’s important, though, to note that, after being asked whether it’s permissible for people after baptism to administer torture (tormenta) or a capital sentence (capitalem … sententiam), Innocent I says: “About these matters we read nothing definitive from the forefathers” (De his nihil legimus a majoribus definitum; PL 20, 499). This one simple sentence shows that there was NOT a definitive magisterial tradition upholding the legitimacy of the death penalty in the early Patristic Age.

    Innocent I’s allowance for the use of torture and the death penalty was hardly definitive. In his letter to the Bulgarians of 866 A.D. Pope Nicholas I says that “neither divine nor human law” allows such torture (Denz.-H, 648) Pope St. Nicholas also tells the Bulgarians: “….without hesitation and in every possible circumstance, save the life of the body and soul of each individual. You should save from death not only the innocent but also criminals, because Christ has saved you from the death of the soul” (Epistula 97, cap. 25). Since the lives of criminals on death row can be saved, executing them would be as inadmissible for Pope St. Nicholas I (r. 858–867) as for Pope Francis.

    Much more can be said, but I hope these historical examples show why I believe it is incorrect to say that Pope Francis is going against what the Church has always taught. This is simply not true.

    Others, though, claim the real problem is that Pope Francis seems to suggest that the death penalty is intrinsically wrong even though it was clearly permitted in the past. I understand why some people think this way, but the new formulation in the revised CCC 2267 teaches that the death penalty is inadmissible; it does not say it is intrinsically wrong. I think the CDF and Pope Francis decided to avoid the language of intrinsic evil. The conclusion, though, that “the death penalty is inadmissible” follows from the principle of “the inviolability and dignity of the person” This principle was refined by St. John Paul II to include even murderers who retain their personal dignity as guaranteed by God (Evangelium Vitae, 1995, n. 9). The life of a criminal on death row retains “the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Some claim that inviolability applies only to the innocent and not to criminals. St. John Paul II, citing Gen 4:15 and St. Ambrose disagrees. A convicted criminal who has been rendered harmless (non nocens) still retains “the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Therefore, executing him would be inadmissible. Of course, if the criminal were to break free and threaten others with a deadly weapon, he would no longer be innocent (non nocens). The use of deadly force against him could be justified as a means of self-defense. It would not be a case of the death penalty.

    I am sorry to go on for so long, but I wanted to show you that I’m not as “dim” as you think. Let’s pray for each other.

    • Mr. Fastiggi: Tertullian had quite a few loopy notions, so quoting him isn’t exactly a great argument, you know.

      St. Cyprian’s 60th letter isn’t to Cornelius. It’s the 56th you quote, and it has nothing to do with the state power to execute criminals; it’s mentioning individuals.

      You quote Lactantius. “The strengths and the weakness of Lactantius are nowhere better shown than in his work. The beauty of the style, the choice and aptness of the terminology, cannot hide the author’s lack of grasp of Christian principles and his almost utter ignorance of Scripture.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)

      “This was because he might have to carry out capital sentences as joint magistrate.”

      Sez who? Certainly Canon 56 of the synod of Elvira doesn’t.

      “The ApostolicTradition/ Consitutions (ca. 215), attributed to St. Hippolytus”
      The Apostolic Tradition is not the same as the Apostolic Constitutions, but I do find this quote in the latter: ” “You shall not kill;” that is, you shall not destroy a man like yourself: for you dissolve what was well made. Not as if all killing were wicked, but only that of the innocent: but the killing which is just is reserved to the magistrates alone.” Book VII, section 1, paragraph II: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/07157.htm

      “Some scholars such as Francesco Compagnoni, O.P. and James J. Megivern, have understood “gladius exseritur” as referring to the handing down of death sentences.”

      Which means that some scholars to not understand “gladius exseritur” as referring to the handing down of death sentences. Which makes this not particularly relevant to your argument.

      Regarding the letter of Pope Nicholas to the Bulgarians, the translation I found says: “In the same way, after you have been called by the election of God and illuminated by his light, you should no longer desire deaths but should without hesitation recall everyone to the life of the body as well as the soul, when any opportunity is found. [cf. Rom. 7:6] And just as Christ led you back from the eternal death in which you were gripped, to eternal life, so you yourself should attempt to save not only the innocent, but also the guilty from the end of death, according to the saying of the most wise Solomon: Save those, who are led to death; and do not cease freeing those who are brought to their destruction. [Prov. 24:11]”

      “when opportunity is found.” “Attempt to save.” That’s hardly an adamant condemnation.

      However, leaving that aside: Show me where there was any sort of protest, argument, outrage, *anything*, when the Church made statements that showed that capital punishment was not forbidden. When did they say, “Why, no, Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, you can’t say that civil rulers are allowed to execute criminals, because the Church has always held otherwise.” Where were those who were outraged when there were executions in the Papal States? Where is there any indication that this was any sort of change?

      “I understand why some people think this way, but the new formulation in the revised CCC 2267 teaches that the death penalty is inadmissible; it does not say it is intrinsically wrong. I think the CDF and Pope Francis decided to avoid the language of intrinsic evil.”
      I think that it is shameful and uncharitable to do something as confusing to the faithful as this is.
      “A convicted criminal who has been rendered harmless (non nocens) still retains “the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Therefore, executing him would be inadmissible. Of course, if the criminal were to break free and threaten others with a deadly weapon, he would no longer be innocent (non nocens). The use of deadly force against him could be justified as a means of self-defense. It would not be a case of the death penalty.”
      You are staggeringly naive if you think that a criminal in prison has necessarily been rendered harmless.

      “I am sorry to go on for so long, but I wanted to show you that I’m not as “dim” as you think..”

      Actually, I said that you couldn’t possibly be so dim that you didn’t understand what was concerning us. I am willing to accept that in fact you are, if you say so.

      • Leslie: I am quite capable of responding to all the points you raise, but I’m not sure it would do any good. You don’t seem to grasp the notion of a definitive teaching of the Church, viz., a teaching that is per se irreformable.

        You made this statement:

        “Can you really not grasp the simple concept that what concerns us is the very fact that *now* the Pope is contradicting what has always been held as the truth? You can’t possibly be that dim.”

        If, though, the Church had always taught that the death penalty was licit or permissible, why would Innocent I in 405, when asked about allowing Christians in civil service to carry out torture or capital sentences say: “About these matters we read nothing definitive from the forefathers” (De his nihil legimus a majoribus definitum; PL 20, 499)? As I said before, this one simple sentence shows that there was NOT a definitive magisterial tradition upholding the legitimacy of the death penalty in the early Patristic Age. Your statement that the Church has “always held” one position on the death penalty as true is refuted by Pope Innocent I.

        There are magisterial teachings of the past that are subject to revision and others that are not. With regard to prior teachings on capital punishment, I agree with
        Fr. Anselm Günthör OSB (1911-2015) who said the statements of the ecclesial Magisterium on the death penalty “are occasional assertions and do not represent a fully definitive position; we must not undervalue them, but nor should we consider them to be unchangeable and perenially valid Magisterial statements.” Chiamata e risposta. Una nuova teologia morale. III: Morale speciale: Vol. III (Alta: Edizioni Paoline 1979) pp. 557-558.”

        Who, though, is going to decide which teachings are subject to revision and which are not? I don’t believe it’s you, me, or Fr. Rutler. It’s up to the Magisterium to decide these matters. In 1990 , the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger reminded us that “Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the Apostles teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and in a particular way, to the Roman Pontiff, when exercising their ordinary Magisterium” (Donum Veritatis, n. 17). This is what I follow.

  41. Folks…it is not just Robert Fastiggi but any Catholic writer who is against the death penalty is going to bring up Catholic authors who wrote PRIOR to the Romans epistle becoming officially canonical scripture in 393/397 AD. As with Robert, they will bring up Tertullian who lived prior to the canon from 160 to 220. St. Cyprian who lived prior to the canon from 210 to 258…Lactantius who lived prior to the canon from 240 to 329….and the Apostolic Constitution was in 215 prior to the canon.
    Raymond Brown notes the casual nature of things prior to 397 in that Hebrews, Rev.,Jas, II and III John, Jude, II Pet. “ were cited from the 2nd to the 4th centuries and accepted as Scripture in some churches but not in all.” So a Catholic diocese might accept Romans and might not ( if it had a copy at all ) but after 397, all those named anti execution people …had they been given extra long lives…would have to look at Romans 13:4 as from God…” 3
    For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil.b Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it,
    for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.”

    That same word for sword is used in the beginning of Acts 12 thusly…2
    “He had James, the brother of John,* killed by the sword,”

    Keep it in mind. Anti execution saints prior to 397 did not have to hold that verse of Romans as inspired by God. That is partly why such saints decrease in number as time goes on.

  42. Instead of dangerous and contradictory I would say revelatory and in keeping with the church’s position on abortion. Mercy mercy mercy taught Jesus

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