Francis Uses Junk Theology to End the Death Penalty
…We must first examine the actual change, with close attention to the very choice of words in which condemnation of the death penalty is articulated. A close examination is required because very much may be at stake in terms of Catholic teaching, Catholic doctrinal tradition, the practice of the moral law, and the affects this change might have on the future of the pro-life movement.
Here are the three versions of the Catechism regarding the death penalty. The first 1992 edition taught:
2266: Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded 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. For analogous reasons those holding authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge.
The primary effect of punishment is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When the punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons. Finally, punishment has a medicinal value; as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.
2267: If non-lethal means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
The 1997 2nd edition, Art. 2267, reaffirmed: “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…,” but added: “assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined.” Consistent with the 1992 version it stated: “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.”
Then the following paragraph was added:
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.”68
This paragraph was added to reflect the teaching of John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae (EV) to which footnote 68 refers as the Church has progressively come to disfavor capital punishment. The moral licitness and even practice of the death penalty is upheld by the Church, while at the same time the 1997 Catechism encourages “non-lethal means” as such punishments are “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.” The premise for the growing disfavoring of the application of capital punishment is well articulated in EV, Art 9: “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.” Simply put, the Church seeks to build a culture of life that includes respect even for those who commit the worst atrocities. Even so, John Paul II’s desire to advance respect for the lives of those who commit murder may have opened the door to the present pontiff’s change to the Catechism.
The Bergoglio Text
Here is the change Pope Francis has made to the CCC, Art. 2267:
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.
Footnote 1 refers to Francis’s October 2017 address at a meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Both versions of the CCC have been scrapped and replaced with the above text. Most troubling is the complete absence of any recognition that the “traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty.” One may argue that the previous versions merely paid lip service to that tradition. However, that’s just the point! When it comes to doctrinal proclamations words are everything! At least the first two versions of the CCC did not ignore the fact that the application of the death penalty finds support in the Judeo/Christian religion as revealed by God…
The Church has never taught that the lives of those who commit heinous crimes are “inviolable” or that the death penalty is “not permitted.” This is all new. The culture of life may be advanced by the Bergoglio innovation, as well as the practice of the Gospel—but a junk theology has been foisted on the People of God in order to get us there.