Death Penalty Change? On August 2, Pope Francis announced that he was changing the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s presentation on the death penalty. Prior to the change, the CCC, 2267, read:
“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, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.””
Pope Francis’s amended text reads:
“Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
“Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.
“Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
“Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
What to make of this? It seems that the Pope has changed the Church’s ancient doctrine that the state has the right, and sometimes the duty, to execute certain criminals, so that now, it seems, such execution is a sin. In fact, the letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states that the change represents an, “authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.”
Since the announcement however, many learned Catholics have pointed out several important problems. The greatest of these is that the right and duty of the state to execute criminals may not be something that any Pope or Council has the authority to change. They argue that it is based on the specific teaching of the Scriptures, including the very words spoken by God Himself, and it has been consistently taught since the earliest days of the Church, and upheld by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, including St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Alphonsus Liguori. Moreover, rejection of this teaching has been condemned by Popes for centuries, at least one Pope specifically calling such rejection “heresy.” Also, even Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who opposed the implementation of this right/duty of the state, clearly and upheld the teaching.
This unanimity of the Church normally leads us to conclude that a doctrine is unchangeable and irreformable, i.e., infallibly taught in the ordinary magisterium. But now it seems Pope Francis has attempted to change and reform it.
It is true that Catholic teaching can “develop”, but I didn’t think it could develop based on changing circumstances or “new awareness” of things. And it was my understanding that development came only in a way that is consistent with the prior teachings, not contrary to them. And finally, I was under the impression that “development” had to be well documented and explained in a logical way so as to clearly state the new presentation; but this is not the case here.
So, what does this mean? Frankly, I don’t know. Some argue that this change must represent a prudential judgment, and so no change in doctrine at all. But the CDF seems to take exactly the opposite position.
To me, this is another example of the confusion that so often seems to come from the Vatican these days. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but if there is confusion, there is confusion. And people are confused. I know I am. With all respect and deference to His Holiness.
So, I suggest we all pray for a quick clarification, both from His Holiness and learned prelates and theologians, and not jump too quickly to any conclusions, especially in dealing in charity with His Holiness and with our fellow Catholics.
Bishop McCarrick Homily. Last week this column included a condensed version of my homily from July 29 about former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Since then copies or links to the full homily have been posted to 2 well known Catholic websites, and I have received dozens of emails from Catholics around the country who found the homily very helpful in coming to terms with this issue. I am humbled by the response, and I bring this up now not to brag, but only because it seems that Our Lord may use this homily to help some others as well. So, feel free to share it—both the text and audio are on the parish website.
My Homilies on the Website. Some of you may not be aware that I post almost all my homilies and talks to the parish website. For years I refused to do this, since I feel it can easily lead a foolish priest to the sin of pride. Eventually I relented at the request of several parishioners and ex-parishioners, based on the argument that if I give them to folks who attend my Mass on Sunday I should be open to giving them to other folks as well.
In any case they’re on the website if you want them. Go to straymond.org, click on the tab that says, “Priests,” then “Father De Celles,” then, “Father De Celles’ Homilies.”
Liturgical Changes. Please remember the upcoming liturgical changes in the parish. First, effective TODAY, August 11-12, the norm at St. Raymond’s for exchanging of the sign of peace will be to turn to only two people, one on your left and right, and give a slight bow of the head or shoulders (with folded hands, if you choose). Second, effective Sunday, September 2, folks coming down the main aisle will receive Communion at the altar rail, either kneeling or standing, at all Masses. Finally, effective Sunday, September 16, on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of every month we will celebrate the 10:30 Mass using the “Ad Orientem” form.
Pictorial Directory. The new parish pictorial directory is being printed as I write this, and it should be in our hands in the next few weeks. Very sorry for the delay!
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles