2 September 2023

IS the Magisterium in crisis?

 Here is an old post; I have chopped off a section on Humanae Vitae
                                        CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to Capital Punishment, if that is the only possible effective way of defending human lives against an unjust aggressor.

Doctrine develops, evolves, is nuanced. But it must always be eodem sensu eademque sententia.

So, under S John Paul II, the Magisterium, after reiterating the traditional teaching, went on to teach us (CCC 2267 citing Evangelium vitae 56) that in our time, given the resources at the State's disposal, such occasions are rare, even very probably non-existent. 

How can anyone find fault with that prudential judgement? Most certainly not I. All power to that Great and Holy Pontiff's elbow.

Recently, however, we have been told that Capital punishment is "inadmissable, no matter how serious the crime committed", and "an offence against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person"; that "Thou shalt not kill has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty"; and that "even a criminal has the inviolable right to life". "Absolute", mark you. And "Inviolable".

I do not see how all this is eodem sensu as the Traditional teaching. I do not see how it is a development eadem sententia from CCC 2267. It is a novel theologoumenon which in fact contradicts the Tradition.

I view Capital Punishment with quite as much personal revulsion as the Holy Father does. When I read about the Death Rows and the botched executions in a handful of North American states; about the gentle delicacy with which the Chinese shoot their convicts so as not to damage organs which can be profitably 'harvested'; I feel both very angry and uncomfortably sick. But his and my revulsion is not the point.

Perhaps one should make allowances for the fact that Jorge Bergoglio spent his middle years in a barbarous land in which thousands were 'disappeared' and many more tortured under a murderous and corrupt military dictatorship (to the downfall of which my own country may have made some small contribution). 

But when every allowance is made, the Magisterium is not an arena in which the Sovereign Pontiff is entitled to attach the prestige of his office to some personal enthusiasm. 

Let me conclude by sharing with you my very own daring view about all this stuff.

I do not, I am afraid, believe that the Holy Spirit was given to Pope Francis, or to any other pope, so that by His revelation they can put out some new doctrine, but so that (with the Holy Spirit's help) they can guard and set forth the Tradition handed down through the Apostles ... what we call the Deposit of Faith.

Does this bold admission put me beyond the pale?


Anonymous said...

Dear Fr Hunwicke,

I am afraid that S. JP II's remarks were founded on a consideration of capital punishment that simply omitted a substantial part of the traditional teaching, viz. that part of the purpose of punishment is to vindicate justice to the criminal, to make the sinner fully aware of the evil of their act & hence open the possibility of real repentance. The absence of this central concept surely renders S. JP II's prudential remarks less binding - they rest on incomplete foundations. One is I believe free to disagree, not with what he stated positively about doctrine, but with the considerations arising therefrom: these define neither faith nor morals but are prudential considerations drawn from an incomplete set of principles.

Many modern Catholic & even papal discussions of justice largely fall down from a lack of that clarity found in C.S. Lewis' essay "The humanitarian theory of punishment", or Edwyn Bevan's chapter on the wrath of God in "Symbolism and Belief"... justice considered as restorative, and restorative only, becomes an incoherent concept. Unless one preserves a notion of the punishment fitting the crime, and of vindication, one might end up with a horrid totalitarianism in the form of endless prison for people who don't say the right things to show they have been reformed in their "re-education course". Or one might end up at the Last Judgement with the whole universe held to ransom by one spoilt brat who insisted on ruining everything for everyone else, and one wouldn't be able to send him to eternal perdition because that wouldn't "restore" him. We would all be sat round eternally pleading tenderly for him to "please stop it dear".

UnanimousConsent said...

No. It does not put you beyond the pale. Quite frankly, I think it incumbent upon our Holy Father to explain how a defense of the utilization of contraception can be considered a "lesser evil" when it is an intrinsically evil act.

The Magisterium up until this point has been entirely consistent. The CCC 2730 makes clear that reason may exist to regulate births through natural means. It footnotes (footnote 158) Humanae Vitae 16, which reads,

"16. Now as We noted earlier (no. 3), some people today raise the objection against this particular doctrine of the Church concerning the moral laws governing marriage, that human intelligence has both the right and responsibility to control those forces of irrational nature which come within its ambit and to direct them toward ends beneficial to man. Others ask on the same point whether it is not reasonable in so many cases to use artificial birth control if by so doing the harmony and peace of a family are better served and more suitable conditions are provided for the education of children already born. To this question We must give a clear reply. The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God.

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained. (20)

Footnote 20 in HV cites Pius XII Allocution to Midwives in 1953. In this allocution, Pius XII excludes artificial birth control for all reasons, though he allows it for 4 specific reasons: medical, psychological, eugenic, and social indications.

Get that, "eugenic" reasons is a legitimately grave reason to avoid conception through recourse to the infertile periods. That has NOT changed. All of the documents point through HV to only four legitimate reasons to utilize natural methods, "eugenic" being one of them.

What IS excluded is artificial birth control, the very thing that our Holy Father posited as a potential "lesser evil", the concept which has been set aside in Veritatis Splendor 75.

We are owed an explanation as to how inverting the published magisterium could possibly be justified.

It can't.

Paul Connors said...

Two problems with your post: first, your quote "inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed" omits the significant preceding word "Nowadays", which specifies a particular context. The Pope said at the same time: "A sign of hope is the development, in public opinion, of a growing opposition to the death penalty even as a legitimate social defense tool. Indeed, modern societies have the ability to deal with crime without removing permanently from the perpetrator a chance to redeem himself."

The Pope is carefully pointing out that some changes have been occurring because of historical developments. I.e. no change in teaching, but reactions to a change in context.

Secondly, and more importantly, when the Pope says: "The commandment 'You shall not kill' has absolute value and covers both the innocent and the guilty", he is entirely correct. It is never permitted to kill intentionally. In the case (e.g.) of self-defence, Aquinas has pointed out (Summa Th., II.II.Q64.A7) the death of an unjust attacker may permissibly occur as a side-effect of the intention to save the defender. The intention -- the moral object of the defence -- is not the death that may occur. This applies in a similar way to acts of a just war, and to the self-defence of society.

Such a view of this issue is hardly new. One might look at the catechism that came out after the Council of Trent, and see that there also is a defence of the absoluteness of the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'.

A Scottish Cat said...

Father, I have a question regarding Tradition and the death penalty.

Has the Church always taught that the death penalty should ONLY be used when there are NO OTHER means of protecting the public?

If so then Medieval, and even 19th century practice, would seem to have been at serious variance with Church teaching, even in the Papal States.

Also I just checked the Roman Catechism, and whilst it says that the eaim of capital punishment is to protect society, it does not explicitly say that it can only be used when there is no other means of protecting society.

Matthew Roth said...

No, it doesn’t. I agree.

As an American I would point out that the firing squad is less barbaric and less questionable (in terms of medical ethics) than lethal injection. That is interesting, because Pius XII said in his address to the congress of histopathology on the nervous system that the death penalty is not only morally permissible, the criminal has forfeited is right to life. He clearly holds the Thomistic view which allows for execution while taking into account both repentance and the lack of it. (I suspect Pius’s address was a reaction to the Nazi regime; he had just addressed research before addressing capital punishment.)

Barona said...

Beautifully stated, like a loyal son of the Church. God bless you, father.

B flat said...

It puts you firmly on the Rock, with Peter, the Apostles and all the Fathers of the Church who rightly discern the way of Truth. May God bless you in your teaching of the Truth for all who hope for their Salvation in the Church.

Anonymous said...

Thank you your Rev. for the insightful comment and helpful dissection of what differs between the words of JPII and this current pontiff. The latter has me in such utter confusion I am constantly having to question or seek out such blogs as yours which are quite certainly WITHIN the Pale of Truth and good sense. Whenever I read the truth it causes the knot in my stomach to unravel. God bless you.

Tamquam said...

You are not beyond the pale. As far as I can tell this all started with the "Seamless Garment" theory propounded by Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago back in the late '70's.

**Although the "Seamless Garment" theory has been in existence since social activism began, it was first applied to pro-lifers in 1976 by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin in Dallas.

The Cardinal did not provide useful details on his permutation of the theory until a 1984 St. Louis talk entitled "A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue," where he stated that, although abortion and nuclear war cannot be "collapsed into one problem," they must nevertheless "be confronted as pieces of a larger pattern."**

From: https://www.ewtn.com/library/PROLENC/ENCYC084.HTM

A novel doctrine that was much criticized by many at the time but is now, after many years of ceaseless repetition by the politically "liberal" catechists that it is now almost universally believed both here (official teaching as part of catechist training in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles) in the the US and increasingly everywhere else. Just a few years ago I saw that Cardinal Sin of the Philippines was advancing it in public statements. It has become the moral backstop for promoting the Left's agenda and the key platform for universalizing moral relativism for Catholics.

mark wauck said...

Sandro Magister gives a pretty good account of the deliberations re Congo contracepting back in 1961: Paolo VI e le suore violentate in Congo. Ciò che quel papa non disse mai If the Italian is a problem, Google translate or some other internet translator will provide the gist of it. Magister goes into the reasoning a bit and has some perceptive observations that have to do with conflicting theories of morality that have been allowed to fester openly since Vatican II.

I've been told that this issue was actually addressed under Pius XII and Ottaviani, although I haven't seen any documentation of that. However, this blog does reference that narrative (without specific documentation) in a quote from a Bishop Peter James Cullinane: Is contraception always wrong? The bishop gets some things very right that are at least unclear in the in-flight magisterial statements:

"In some of those situations, contraception is not necessarily wrong at all; e.g. when contraceptive medication is taken by people in danger of being raped. In such cases, we are not dealing with exceptions to the Church’s teaching, but with situations that fall outside the Church’s teaching on contraception. Those who think this is wrong might ask themselves: how did the Holy Office, under Cardinal Ottaviani in the time of Pope Pius XII, get it so wrong when he confirmed that it was ethical for nuns living in fear of being raped (in the Congo) to take contraceptive measures."

What Bishop Cullinane is saying is that the Church's teaching on contraception concerns marriage. If I understand him correctly, then I think he's not telling the whole story--intercourse does in fact occur outside marriage. However, I do believe he's correct re the alleged Congo situation, and he's certainly correct--and importantly so--that there is no question in this of some "exception" to established moral teaching. Rape is a violent assault that uses the male sexual organ as a weapon. It is not in any Catholic understanding of the term "intercourse."

mark wauck said...

Doesn't opposition to capital punishment IN PRINCIPLE implicitly call into question the justice of God--think: hell, eternal punishment rather than rehab as in purgatory. Perhaps that's why so many of the nouveaux theologiens favor Origen's idea that all will ultimately be saved. That said, capital punishment obviously involves serious prudential considerations. However, when I read about some of the heinous crimes that are committed ...

Nicolas Bellord said...

Surely a major objection to the death penalty is that the person to be executed may in fact be innocent of the crime. In the UK we pride ourselves on having a very advanced and fair system of justice yet we know without a shadow of doubt that certain convictions for murder have indeed been wrong. Elsewhere I suspect wrongful convictions are certainly not less common. If a conviction is subsequently found to be wrong we can at least make some attempt of putting the matter right if the death penalty has not been applied.

Charles said...

I wonder about this odd business of taking a contraceptive medication if one is afraid or in danger of being raped. It seems to me that if an act, that is by its very nature ordered to render a person sterile, is morally permissible in this case, why not go whole hog and give tubal ligations to nuns on the profession of their solemn vows? After all, by the vow, they rule out the intention to engage in a marriage act; rather, they merely intend to protect themselves from the violent unchastity of wicked men. Let's say I live in a rough neighborhood. I certainly don't want my wife to be impregnated with someone else's child due to rape. So, she should get on the pill. Sure, that will render our own marriage act sterile, but what of it? It is merely the unintended effect of the act of self-defensive pill-taking. My daughters do not intend the marriage act either. Why not put them on contraception? Why not give them tubal ligations? Something smells in Culliane's reasoning (and in that of Janet Smith, E. Christian Brugger, et al.).

In my own view, which will have certain unpalatable consequences, it is the nature of the act of taking a contraceptive pill itself that is wrong, for it damages bodily integrity - it is in not ordered to the health of the woman who takes it, except accidentally. The principle that one's bodily integrity is a human good, which we may not intend to damage, was common (and still is, in an attenuated form) to Catholic moralists throughout history. Live organ donation, and the debate over its liceity, has stretched that principle to the point where coherent application is impossible.

Anonymous said...

NYTimes article from 2010: After Condom Remarks, Vatican Confirms Shift


"Benedict’s papacy has suffered from frequent communications missteps. But this time, it appeared that the pope was sending an intentional message. Father Lombardi said he had asked Benedict if he had recognized the risk in publishing a book of interviews in a complex media landscape where his words might be “misunderstood.”

“The pope smiled,” Father Lombardi said.

Benedict’s comments on condoms seem in some ways to be a profound provocation, indicating that although he is not changing church doctrine, he is insisting that condoms can be a responsible option in preventing disease."

Ben of the Bayou said...

To Paul C.

Dear Sir:

Further to your comments about the "context" given by the qualification "Nowadays", I wonder if you haven't missed the point about the unchanging nature of doctrine. It may, in fact, be a happy occurance that society isbless keen on the death penalty today than before (though I do not posit that as a good per se since there are goods that are brought about by capital punishment nowadays overlooked, as some other commentators have deftly noted), but that it entirely immaterial. The question is, what does the Magisterium consistently teach and, furthermore, whether the current occupant of the Throne of S Peter is faithfully expounding that teaching? Full stop.



Matthew Roth said...

The Sandro Magister article is in English on the English version of the site.

Don Wachtel said...

In 1992, Catholics received the first new universal catechism in 450 years. Pope John Paul II said in the prologue, "I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith ..." In 1997 we get a revised edition which attempts to change the 2,000 year teaching on capital punishment by adding ambiguous wording in section 2267.

Fr George Rutler - National Catholic Register, March 24-31, 2002.
"As the Church's teaching on contraception cannot "develop" in a way that would declare its intrinsic evil to be good, so the right of a state to execute criminals cannot "develop" so that its intrinsic good becomes evil. For Cardinal John Henry Newman, development of doctrine involves "preservation of type." Changes in the way a doctrine is expressed and applied cannot alter its essence."

"The new edition of the Catechism revises the section on capital punishment. This was not a development of doctrine. It was, however, problematic for placing a prudential judgment in a catechetical text, more problematically so than in an encyclical like Evangelium Vitae. Paragraph 2266 of the Catechism names the primary consideration of retribution, but No. 2267 ignores it."

Avery Cardinal Dulles - “Catholic Teaching on the Death Penalty”, in Owens, Carlson & Elshtain, op. cit., p. 26. 2004.
"The reversal of a doctrine as well established as the legitimacy of capital punishment would raise serious problems regarding the credibility of the magisterium. Consistency with scripture and long-standing Catholic tradition is important for the grounding of many current teachings of the Catholic Church; for example, those regarding abortion, contraception, the permanence of marriage, and the ineligibility of women for priestly ordination. If the tradition on capital punishment had been reversed, serious questions would be raised regarding other doctrines."

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Ottaviani, The Roman, was jake with contraception to prevent conception in a country riven with rape?

Pull the other one...

Pulex said...

Charles said: "The principle that one's bodily integrity is a human good, which we may not intend to damage, was common (and still is, in an attenuated form) to Catholic moralists throughout history"

If so how the Church allowed bodily mutilation for the purpose of supplying the music market with castrato singers?

Liam Ronan said...

The Deposit of Faith seems to be yielding 0% interest these days, Father.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I regretfully deleted one comment which was very readable ... until the last sentence. I do not allow abuse of the Roman Pontiff. Reasoned, temperate criticism, yes; abuse, no.

Deacon Augustine said...

Mark Wauck, you have now added to the list Pius XII, Cardinal Ottaviani, John XXIII...even more people who have allegedly consented to this counsel. However, the common thread in all of these allegations is an argument from silence. If bishop Cullinane intends to challenge Veritatis Splendor, Humanae Vitae etc. by asserting a contrary prior Magisterium, then the onus is on him to cite credible sources. Arguments from silence prove absolutely nothing.

If the Congolese nuns were in genuine fear of being raped, then surely the sensible thing to do would have been to remove them from that situation. To encourage them to remain in situ, armed with contraceptives, knowing that they were a source of temptation for men intent on committing intrinsically evil acts, was tantamount to asking them to co-operate in the sin of another. If they were intent on remaining in situ for the sake of martyrdom, then surely any act of martyrdom would have been somewhat marred by their willingness to engage in a morally doubtful act in preparation for that martyrdom.

Anyway, all of that is quite irrelevant to the case of a married couple who are concerned about conceiving while one of them is infected with the Zika virus. All the Pope had to say was that if they were truly concerned, then they could simply abstain from sex. He could have pointed out that, unlike breathing, eating and drinking, sexual intercourse is not a compulsory activity. If they found that too difficult then he could have suggested that they have recourse to the infertile periods. But no, unfortunately he went straight for the bullseye by sanctioning "the discernment" of an intrinsically evil act. One is left wondering whether he is genuinely ignorant that there are effective, moral means to avoid pregnancy, or if there is another agenda at work?

(Pater, mea culpa!)

Paul Connors said...

The Roman Catechism (of 1566) indicates "The end of the Commandment [against homicide] is the preservation and security of human life." This end necessarily includes the perpetrator themselves. Hence it is not possible to fully carry out the commandment unless the perpetrator is only executed when it is unavoidable.

The Roman Catechism also takes careful pains to point out the absolute nature of the commandment. That catechism points out that accidental killing lacks intention of killing; that killing in a just war has the intention of serving the interests of society; that self defence has the intention of self-preservation; and that judicial execution haa the intention of protecting society. That catechism says: "These words, Thou shalt not kill, emphatically forbid homicide". Any *intention* to kill is absolutely forbidden.

TC said...

Paul C,
You misrepresented St. Thomas' position regarding killing. The case of self-defense is NOT analogous to the case of capital punishment, according to St. Thomas. In those questions "On Murder" in the Summa, he distinguishes the two cases. The sovereign does indeed will the death of the offender - he has the authority to do so. The private individual, however, can never will the death of another.

Sig Sønnesyn said...

It depends whose pale, Father. But it does place you among that illustrious line of English clerics whose loyalty to the Magisterium of the Church has been known to issue in frank criticism of those who are set to guard this Magesterium – John of Salisbury and Robert Grosseteste being two of my own particular favourites. The Church has always needed such men and women, and still does.

Paul Connors said...

On the death penalty, Aquinas concludes that if a private individual is unjustly attacked, they themselves (or anyone in the community) may put up a defense, even if that defense should end up killing the attacker.

But if the community is attacked, *only* those entrusted to the care of the community may come to its defense, not just any private individual.

Aquinas also says: "it is lawful to kill an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of the community's welfare."

I.e. so long as the *intention* ("directed to") is to benefit the welfare of the whole community (including, of course, the perpetrator), a resulting death can be accepted. But nothing here allows the intention to kill.

In which case, the application of the death penalty by society is analogous to the permissibility of death resulting from self-defence.

Liam Ronan said...

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the imputability for an individual's sin at 1735:

"Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors."

Rightly so. I should imagine the greater guilt would lie with those are responsible for fostering ignorance, fear, and duress in souls as well as with those who, through false counsel, encourage those with inordinate attachments and aberrant psychological proclivities to eschew repentance and conversion.

mark wauck said...

I can't recommend highly enough the latest article by Sandro Magister, which clearly lays out what is going on: Teacher’s Pets in the School of Francis: The Bishops of the Philippines.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Liam: I am not quite clear as to the relevance of what you say about imputability in respect of this particular post by Father Hunwicke. However it is an interesting point! Chiesa has an interesting article by a Father Juan José Pérez-Soba at:


He criticises the final Relatio of the recent Synod on the Family where imputability is raised in respect of persons who have divorced and remarried civilly without an annulment. I must say I find it difficult to believe that somebody who goes to the trouble and expense of obtaining a civil divorce and then marries in a registry office without the blessing of the Church does not know exactly what they are doing. It is difficult to arge for ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors in such circumstances other than some psychological one.

It is probably a good idea to recommend people to plead invincible ignorance at the gates of Heaven but I think they may still have a problem convincing St Peter!

mark wauck said...

Edward Pentin also lays it all out there for all to see: Affirm Doctrine, Find Exceptions, Appeal to Conscience: This pontificate's modus operandi for introducing controversial pastoral innovations.

Ben of the Bayou said...

To Paul C., dear Sir:

I note that you have a fine way to supply words not given by the Common Doctor himself, using phrases such as "of course..." However, it is not given.

In fact, the common moral teaching (if I remember correctly, Dr. Ott has a fine summary) that the offender forfeits some of the rights he would otherwise have. For which reason, for example, we may lawfully incarcerate him. So, no, he is not per se included in the beneficiaries from the correction of his attack on society, except as a secondary (but much to be desired) benefit.



Charles said...

Pulex, The better question is "on what grounds did the Church finally prohibit castrating young men for the choir?"

Paul C, It is quite clear that public authorities may directly intend the death, mutilation, or any other punishment, supposing it is justly inflicted, i.e., that it is truly ordered to the common good. To deny this is to make a hash of all moral reasoning, with the result that any physical act, no matter what its per se effects, can be done provided the intention is correct. Moreover, the choice of means falls under the intention to the end, and so both are properly said to be intended.


Liam Ronan said...

@Nicholas Bellord,

Please accept my regrets at not having been sufficiently relevant as regards Father's topic.

I was trying to be opaque in order to respect Father's sentiments about comments which pointedly criticise Francis. Having drawn in my first attempt too sharp of a point regarding people who contracept relying on certain advices dispensed from a plane, I watered it down a tad.

Ferrara said...

The "development" of the Church's constant teaching on capital punishment in order to reject what the Church has always approved involves a devious two-step: First, reduce the rationale for the death penalty to mere protection of society from violence, ignoring the retributive and expiatory aspects of the penalty as illustrated by the account of the Good Thief and affirmed shortly before the Council by Pius XII. Second, issue the manifestly false factual opinion that modern penal systems are able to protect society from any significant prospect of further violence by the offender. Nonsense of course, as shown by every murder committed within prison walls and by every murderer who manages to achieve release and then murders again.

The demand for abolition of the death penalty on grounds that it has somehow become immoral per se is simply a fraud.

Liam Ronan said...

To my mind, it often seems that there is an evident diabolical parody of Jesus' prayer for unity of believers being played-out before our eyes with frightening intensity and acceleration at present. ref. John 17:20-22

Whereas Jesus prayed to the Father that the Faithful be united in Truth: "...that they may be one, just as We are one...", it appears the unity more and more proposed for the Faithful is unity through shared relativistic error. That all might, at best, be invincibly ignorant.

Paul Connors said...

Ben of the Bayou: "So, no, he is not per se included in the beneficiaries from the correction of his attack on society, except as a secondary (but much to be desired) benefit."

I don't see what this "secondary" sense is, or how it is to be distinguished from the direct benefits on the offender because of his punishment. For example, the offender directly benefits because of the resulting deterrence effect on all in the community (including the offender).

"I note that you have a fine way to supply words not given by the Common Doctor himself"

When I quote from Aquinas I have supplied quotation marks. Else I am appealing to reason.

Charles: "It is quite clear that public authorities may directly intend the death, mutilation, or any other punishment, supposing it is justly inflicted, i.e., that it is truly ordered to the common good. To deny this is to make a hash of all moral reasoning, with the result that any physical act, no matter what its per se effects, can be done provided the intention is correct."

No, I am in fact using the principle of double effect, long in use by the Church, since at least the time of Aquinas. Double effect cannot be used to justify any physical act.

The side-effect of an action, no matter how obvious or fully expected it may be in some circumstances (e.g. the death of an unjust attacker) does not mean that it is intended. As an example, suppose some particular circumstances: someone is about to pull the trigger of a gun and kill me, and my only practical method of defence is to shoot him first in the only way available to me, which I fully anticipate will kill the attacker. Then it is completely rational to say that the intended means of defence is to prevent the attacker from pulling their trigger. Certainly, a lot more will happen to the attacker (they will be dead), but the only intended part of that was the prevention of the trigger finger from moving.

Analogously in the case of the death penalty the authorities may determine that the community needs to be properly protected by cutting off the offender from the community. This may include the death of the offender when there is no currently existing alternative method of achieving this aim. (The intended means is cutting off the offender from the community. Death might achieve more than is intended, but sometimes no alternative exists.)

Nicolas Bellord said...

mark wauck's reference to Sandro Magister and the Philippian Bishops is absolutely to the point. The situation is quite dreadful and is getting out of hand. Faithful Cardinals and Bishops must act.

John Horvat said...

This article is interesting because a new book just came out called, "Can Documents of the Magisterium of the Church Contain Errors? Can the Catholic Faithful Resist Them?" The author of the recently published work is Brazilian Catholic intellectual Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier da Silveira, a leading specialist in the matter. The link is here:

Liam Ronan said...

By the way, Nicholas, you wrote earlier:

"It is probably a good idea to recommend people to plead invincible ignorance at the gates of Heaven but I think they may still have a problem convincing St Peter!"

The term used when I was involved with the application and interpretation of tort law was "detrimental reliance". Simply put, mistakenly relying on someone with specialist knowledge to guide one in a course of action or behaviour which goes pear-shaped in the end through reliance to one's detriment on those specialists' advices.

Blame it on the reputed experts. You just reasonably followed their lead.

E. G. Lewis said...

Some people will tell you that giving a person a life sentence allows them to seek repentance. Given all the appeals, etc. people stay on death row for 10 years or more...sufficient time to resolve their religious issues. Meanwhile, can any of these advocates absolutely guarantee that such prisoners will never escape, will never attack a guard, will never be paroled by a wrong-headed governor?
As far as the botched executions...They are instances where the convict takes 15 minutes to die instead of nodding off immediately. I'm sorry , but I have no sympathy for them. Here's someone who raped, bound and tortured his victim for several days before killing her and I'm supposed to shed tears over his final fifteen minutes?
By the way, last week I read of a man who served his full 30 years for a murder and was released. Two days later he killed again. This time it was his mother who opened her home to him. There are instances of prisoners being accidently released and they kill again before they can be re-captured. Today's liberalism has blinded people (esp. bishops) to the reality that, by their actions, some people have clearly demonstrated that they are incapable of living in a civilized society.

John Nolan said...

In 1961 Ludovic Kennedy published '10 Rillington Place' which maintained the innocence of Timothy Evans, hanged in 1950. Evelyn Waugh contended that people had missed the point: 'Evans, a lapsed Catholic, was hell-bent. As a result of his conviction he was reconciled to the Church and died shriven.'

Patrick Sheridan said...

Re: Capital Punishment.

I'm sure you've read The Pilgrim's Progress, father. Do you remember what Mr Cruelty said of Faithful? "Hanging is too good for him," he said.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Liam: Thanks for warning me of the dangers of advising people to plead invincible ignorance. It is just that some people are so pig-headed that one is tempted to give such advice. I will refrain in future.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Liam: On second thoughts and having read this:


what could one advise Pope Francis? Invincible ignorance? I am not sure it will wash.

Liam Ronan said...

@Nicholas Bellord,

Aha! Watson! You have chivvied-out the missing subject and sentiment expressed in the self-expurgated final sentence from my earlier post in which I cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the matter of 'imputability' .

By the way, instructing the ignorant is a spiritual work of mercy. I shouldn't allow anyone to claim invincibility for lack of a timely correction.

God bless.

mark wauck said...

Nicolas Bellord: Thanks for inserting that link. I didn't want to burden the comments section here with too many links, but that one was on my mind. It's just ... appalling. (Att: youtube link to "Yes, Minister")

Ben of the Bayou said...

To Paul C., Dear Sir,

Intending no disrespect, I must say that this is my last comment on this issue, for weal or for woe. The Church's perennial doctrine on captial punishment is readily available to those who seek it and I need not rehearse it here (as this is not *my* weblog).

In short, I suggest that the reason you do not see the emendation of the criminal as a secondary, but much to be desired, effect is materially the same reason you misunderstand the moral reasoning that makes the death penalty acceptable in the first place. The aggrevied party is the society (a offense against the common good) and therefore for some offenses, death is the just penalty. There are secondary benefits from that, but justice is the primary and direct intention.

I warmly commend to you Dr Ott's work (Fundamentals of Catholic Doctrine) or the latest Denzinger or any other good manual for a thorough treatment of the relevant texts.

Pax et bonum,


Paul Connors said...

Ben of the Bayou: "I warmly commend to you Dr Ott's work (Fundamentals of Catholic Doctrine) or the latest Denzinger or any other good manual for a thorough treatment of the relevant texts."

Please supply the relevant Denzinger number(s).

Against claims that "the Church quite clearly used to teach such-and-such a doctrine, but nowadays it has contradicted that", then the first step is to check exactly what used to be taught. Reference can be made to encyclicals, catechisms, doctrinal volumes, whatever. (A precise Denzinger number might at least be the start of a useful search.)

Me, I see no particular difficulty in reconciling (e.g.) the Roman Catechism of 1566 with what JPII taught. Other positions might be claimed, but should be backed up by trackable references.

Pulex said...

Charles, you wrote: "The better question is "on what grounds did the Church finally prohibit castrating young men for the choir?""

Why better? Do you think this praxis was morally acceptable?

Nicolas Bellord said...

mark wauck:

There is an excellent article by Hilary White on the Pope Francis/Bonino incident. It gives the full story and is horrifying:


Charles said...

@Pulex: No, I do not think this praxis was morally acceptable. The answer to my "better question" is that castration was finally prohibited on the basis of the long known, but long ignored, principle that mutilation is wrong. Nothing prevents the hierarchy of the Church from ignoring inconvenient moral principles when their observance would get in the way of a perceived good. They are, after all, men, and men are very good at rationalizing when there is some apparent good that they want badly enough.

@Paul C: I realize that the principle of double effect, when applied to self-defense, is explained by many the way you have explained it above. My contention is that that explanation is neither in accordance with the words of St Thomas in Summa Theologiae II-II.64.7, nor with a reasoned analysis of the causality. Firing a nugget of sweet hot lead into the body of an oncoming aggressor can only be seen as an act of self defense because it stops the assailant's progress. It does this by means of killing, or at least inflicting serious harm on the assailant. The harm or death of the assailant is the means to the end of self-defense, and so falls under the intention of the end. I recommend the article, "The Trouble with Secunda Secudae 64, 7" by Steven Jensen for a detailed discussion of this (http://philpapers.org/rec/JENTTW)

Paul Connors said...

Charles: "Firing a nugget of sweet hot lead into the body of an oncoming aggressor can only be seen as an act of self defense because it stops the assailant's progress. It does this by means of killing, or at least inflicting serious harm on the assailant."

I've been well aware of Steven Jensen's argument, and it is something I flatly disagree with. You're providing a similar argument to his, but your assertion that "it does this by means of killing" is, I would strongly claim, an incorrect use of the word "means". If someone aims at killing me with a gun, the only means that is necessary is some way to prevent the trigger being pulled. It's that means that is intended.

Now surely if I defend myself with a shotgun I am going to cause much more damage than is needed (and damage that is potentially fatal). But in many circumstances I may not have any available means to defend myself other than the shotgun. In which case, it is permissible to use it. (Aquinas allows this, because it is a moderate self-defense. I.e. the only force allowable is the minimum available to succeed in self-defence. The minimum available may, in practical circumstances, sometimes be very large.)

There's a lot more that might need be said, but this marginalia is not sufficient to contain it.

Charles said...

Dear Paul,
I see that we will not agree on this issue in the course of a combox discussion. I suppose it suffices to say that we find ourselves on opposite sides of the debate between the New Natural Law theory, and its account of intention, and the traditional view. If I am correct that you follow the NNL theory, then we disagree at the level of first principles of ethics, and this will put us in deeper waters than the format allows. God bless, and may we cross friendly swords again!


Paul Connors said...

Charles: "If I am correct that you follow the NNL theory..."

No; not even close!

Lepanto said...

'Is the Magisterium in crisis?' When the Pope has averred that his every utterance is magisterial, we are indeed in deep trouble. He has also publicly claimed the virtue of humility (a warning sign if ever I saw one) but does not appear to doubt that his every pronounced view, is by definition, the truth. Have you gone beyond the pale? Someone has and it isn't you Father.

Woody said...

With respect to the prudential judgments concerning capital punishment, I can only give to you this comment, related to me by a former member of the district attorney’s (the county public prosecutor) office here in Houston, who visited the Texas prisons and was told by at least one warden that absent the Texas death penalty, the warden expected he would be killed by one or more inmates, speaking, I presume, to both the weeding out of likely murderers by execution, and the chilling effect upon the surviving others. It is, as Radio Moscow used to say, also a well-known fact that the prisons are rife with gangs of various largely ethnic groups who cultivate violence there. Without capital punishment, who knows how bad it might be?

Victor said...

@Woody: Well, we don't have capital punishment in Germany, and we have considerably less murders as well as murderers. How do you explain this - with a proneness of Texans to violent murder that is absent in Germans (at least since 1945)? It does not shed the best light on Texan/US society...
I hasten to add that I am not per se opposed to capital punishment. However, I share Saint John Paul's view that in our times, the need for it is practically absent...

Liam Ronan said...


It's reassuring to hear there are considerably less murderers in Germany these days.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Liam: What about abortionists? Not that we can only be ashamed as to what has happened in the UK. Eugenics has reared its ugly head once again and this time there is no Chesterton to oppose it.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

I do not, I am afraid, believe that the Holy Spirit was given to Pope Francis, or to any other pope, so that by His revelation they can put out some new doctrine, but so that (with the Holy Spirit's help) they can guard and set forth the Tradition handed down through the Apostles ... what we call the Deposit of Faith.

Does this bold admission put me beyond the pale?

Yes, it is so Vatican 1ish.

You have not jumped into the ecumenical pool and so your dogmas remain nubaptised by ecumenism, the universal solvent of Tradition.

There are lists, and you are on one....

armyarty said...

Having been in the police starting around 36 years ago, and having been a member of the bar for over twenty, I am mystified as to how anyone can believe that the modern state can somehow do without capital punishment.

Jails- at which I am a not infrequent visitor- are the very nurseries of vice, and have no power to correct the criminal.

If Chicken is served on Wednesday, all the prison violence and contract assaults take place between Tuesday evening, and Wednesday morning, with accounts settled at supper. Look at the man who has a full plate. He is a killer, an enforcer, an extortionist. Warehousing killers in jails is a cruel assault on the hapless convicts who must live with them.

Perhaps JP II should have left well enough alone, and refused to stray from doctrine and into policy. I has only caused a lot of mischief.

Liam Ronan said...

@ Nicolas Bellord,

You ask: "What about abortionists?" May I presume you raise this question specifically in respect of the number of 'murderers' at home and abroad apart from the matter of the liceity of the death penalty?

My answer would be predicated on how your question was intended.


Nicolas Bellord said...

I was just thinking that if one added the number of abortions - i.e. innocent humans killed in the womb - to the number of murders of born human beings, one would arrive still at a lesser figure for murderers (in the sense of killers of innocent human beings) than previously. Eugenics in Germany preceded the Nazis and was supported by many in the medical profession. As Bernanos said the Nazis rather delayed the devil's plans by going at it too fast. To-day we have abortion, next we will have euthanasia - what next? Infanticide?

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

As a former solicitor, I agree with Mr Gallagher of counsel. Prisons should ordinarily be places of remand only, not places of punishment per se except for white collar criminals. The normal way to deal with violent criminality should be an ascending scale of reasonably severe fines - which may involve the criminal having to borrow from the bank to pay, and than corporal and capital punishment. And the common law criminal proceedings must once again be inquisitorial, as it was until some point in the eighteenth century. Adversarial proceedings are really only suited to civil matters, being ideally suited to private dispute resolution.

Arthur Gallagher said...

The use of the word "inadmissible" seems to have been carefully chosen. It clearly shows that the Vatican was straying from doctrine into legal positivism. Such a thing is dishonest and foolish. It is also statist.

Anita Moore said...

I think frankly that the organized movement to abolish capital punishment (as distinct from the opinions of individual persons here and there who oppose it) is not based on some discovery that capital punishment is immoral and unjust: not in an age as immoral and unjust as ours. Rather, I think it is driven by the fact that so very many people want to be able to engage with impunity in conduct that is deserving of capital punishment.

Bill Murphy said...

Yes, some areas of moral theology are either confused or else no one has the guts to state unpleasant conclusions. Organ transplants have been carried out for 60 years and, most of the time, popular apologists have hidden behind the formula that it is OK to take organs from a dead person, or that brain death = bodily death.
. Except that, every few years, some tiresome realist pops up to point out that most organ donors are most definitely not deceased and are deliberately kept alive to ensure the optimal condition of their organs.

Bill Murphy said...

Unfortunately innocent people will die whichever policy is applied to murderers. Without a death penalty, most murderers will eventually be released from prison. Indeed, Pope Francis, at his most ludicrous, declared that a life sentence was like a death sentence. Unfortunately a minority of those released go on to kill again. After which you hope they will get a real life sentence.

Stephen said...

Certainly you are not beyond the Pale, dear Fr. H. What is needed - always, everwhere and for everyone - is consistency from the Magisterium, and if something changeable is changed, clarity to make understandable the reasons for the change. Is the Church's teachings on capital punishment changeable or unchangeable? If the first response is, "it depends on...", then it is changeable. What is the first principle on which the Church's teaching is built? The legitimacy of the authority of the state, I would submit, which was something easy to assume in the lost era of a Christian Europe. But who could now defend the Church's teachings if the state in question is Hitler's Nazi Germany, or Stalin's Soviet Union, or the Communist Party ruling China today? Who would align state-sponsored power to dispense capital punishment in those countries with the traditional teaching of the Church?

Cosmos said...

Personally, I think it's all nonsense.

There is no indication that Christians in the past thought that the death penalty was being applied because incarceration was impossible and execution was the only way to protect society.

The Bible and Tradition make abundantly clear that We are allowed to kill people in certain cases. We know that self defense is licit, meaning that inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person is being misconstrued.

Putting someone to death for say, (1) caging a woman or a child in his basement, and raping, maiming, and killing them, or (2) overseeing years of torture of Romanian student leaders, chosen for their piety and bravery, with the express intention of trying to unmake them, is simply not wrong. Those people deserve that precise punishment. If anything, it is mercifully lenient.

The fact that the Americans, Chinese, or some other crazy regime abuse the system is neither here nor there. Americans constantly allude to the fact that they expect prisoners to be raped and beaten. This is pure evil and cowardice, but it does not make incarceration immoral.

It's just a new teaching, which will fizzle out because its not true.