4 August 2018


I can't see much point in making substantive comments on the "changes made to the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) on the death penalty" until the new text is published. All I can so far find on the Internet are some vernacular versions. .

This, in itself, I object to. The world has been given the impression that the Catholic Church has changed its teaching when nobody has the wherewithal to judge whether or not this is true. I can only call this sort of behaviour in  matters of faith and morals disgracefully frivolous. Can it be that PF wants to make an immediate impression on world opinion without giving theological professionals the prior opportunity to weaken by their analyses that impact?

More importantly: the English version says that the death penalty is "inadmissible". I have not the faintest idea what this curious term means theologically or canonically. If the actual text, when published, turns out to contain the phrase "intrinsece malum" then, frankly, we do have quite a problem on our hands. But Cardinal Ladaria is no fool. I shall be very surprised if those words are used. I'd put money on this!

Personally, like PF, I view the death penalty with considerable personal abhorrence ... anywhere, for any reason, at any time. I applaud attempts to discourage its use. I am less certain that the pages of a theological compendium such as the CCC are the right place to wage such a (very worthy) political campaign.

Furthermore, this move appears to take no account of  'advances' in Moral theology since and consequent upon Amoris laetitia. That document appeared to leave it to local hierarchies to make decisions for their own countries. But in the case of Deathgate, it appears that PF's wishes are of peremptory universal application. Perhaps the genial Graf von Schoenborn, or the sinister and brooding Fr Rosica, could explain to us, carefully and precisely, what the difference is. At the same time, it would be good to have an answer to the following: Adultery, while (yes?) generally wrong, may apparently, according to Amoris Laetitia, be Fair Enough in some circumstances. But PF's initiative concerning the death penalty apparently admits no exceptions. Why? And if it does tacitly admit exceptions, are we not left in the same poition as we were in with the earlier formula S John Paul had put into the CCC?

Then there is the problem of the Marx which did not bark during the night. Two or three years ago, with regard to Communion for divorcees, Cardinal Marx asserted the autonomy of the 'German Church' with the fearless and ringing words "We are not subsidiaries of Rome". I have not yet seen a similarly brave assertion that, also in this matter of the death penalty, Germany is Not a Subsidiary of Rome.


May I also be personal?

The CCC was made the doctrinal standard of the Ordinariates. I know I will be reminded that any Catholic, in an Ordinariate or anywhere else, is bound to what the Magisterium will authentically teach as well as to what it has taught and is teaching. I agree, absolutely. But, nevertheless, such an arbitrary change in a documentary henotikon, in which X has metamorphosed into not-X in a very few years, and without (as far as we know) a detailed collegial consultation with the whole College of Bishops (such as Pius XII conducted before defining the Assumption), leaves a very nasty taste in my mouth. It is because I have been driven to the unhappy conclusion that the present pontificate is manipulative and dishonest, that I wonder if this change in the CCC may be preparing the way for some of Senor Bergoglio's other private opinions and personal convictions to be given spurious Magisterial colouring.

Such apprehensions are, regrettably, difficult not to entertain at a time when the ultrapapalist perversion of the Petrine Ministry which Cardinal Ratzinger once so vigorously refuted, and which was condemned in advance by the lapidary phraseology in Pastor aeternus of Vatican I (and see Denziger paras 3114-3117), appears to be the currently dominant ideology within the Domus Sanctae Marthae.


John F H H said...

Fr.Z has parsed the Latin translation, here:

Sue Sims said...

You win your hypothetical bet, Father. As you've probably seen, the Latin reads 'non posse admitti', which is a slight relief. But it's still a rather terrifying precedent.

John Nolan said...

Perhaps PF will insert into the Catechism his opinion that the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina.

Jean-Luc said...

Here is the Latin text of the new article 2267 of the CCC :

De poena mortis

2267. Quod auctoritas legitima, processu ordinario peracto, recurrere posset ad poenam mortis, diu habitum est utpote responsum nonnullorum delictorum gravitati aptum instrumentumque idoneum, quamvis extremum, ad bonum commune tuendum.

His autem temporibus magis magisque agnoscitur dignitatem personae nullius amitti posse, nec quidem illius qui scelera fecit gravissima. Novus insuper sanctionis poenalis sensus, quoad Statum attinet, magis in dies percipitur. Denique rationes efficientioris custodiae excogitatae sunt quae in tuto collocent debitam civium defensionem, verum nullo modo imminuant reorum potestatem sui ipsius redimendi.

Quapropter Ecclesia, sub Evangelii luce, docet “poenam capitalem non posse admitti quippe quae repugnet inviolabili personae humanae dignitati” atque Ipsa devovet se eidemque per omnem orbem abolendae.

Mark said...

"I wonder if this change in the CCC may be preparing the way for some of Senor Bergoglio's other private opinions and personal convictions to be given spurious Magisterial colouring."

This also is my main concern about his matter. I find that danger of more weight than the issue of capital punishment.

Thomas said...

I notice the text says that Ecclesia, sub Evangelii luce, docet, then puts the following sentence with the key phrase "non posse admitti" (is that good Latin?)in quotes with a citation. But the corresponding note cites only an October 2017 sermon of Pope Francis to the Pontifical Council for Promoting A New Evangelisation and its subsequent publication in Osservatore Romano. So the sole authority claimed for the inclusion of this 'teaching' in the Catechism is a single very recent in-house homily of the current pontiff. Is that all it takes for something to become "the teaching of the Church"? Surely not!

I agree that it is not so much this particular moral question that is at stake here, but the methodology it represents slithering its way into the Church's Magisterium, which has the potential to be used to attempt other changes merely on the informal say-so of a single pope. Hopefully his misapprehension about the true limits and purpose of papal authority will give plenty of room for undoing things later. But at what price in the meantime, and to what lasting confusion over among many about the nature of the Church and her doctrine (or "policy" as secular commentators (understandably now) refer to it).

Arthur Gallagher said...

This controversy exemplifies the moral decay of both Europe and South America, and could probably be applied to the American Left.

To be so obsessed with the lives of the guilty, or so scrupulous over the possibility that you might make a mistake, as if ye were gods, that you abandon the demands of Justice is a sure sign that your society is nearing its end.

With euthanasia, abortion and genetic tampering everywhere, Christians should be piling up the faggots for the general destruction of the guilty.

Yet you wring your hands, as millions of babies, and surely millions of elderly people are dispatched annually.

The world needs more hangings and corporal punishments, not less.

prince Matecki said...

Dear Father Hunwicke,
may I take issue with your last paragraph on H.E. Cardinal Marx and the german bishops?
Actually, with respect to the question of capital punishment, the german bishops were ahead of the patrimony for about 70 years. The so called "basic law" which was made in 1947 /48 instead of a constitution forbids capital punishment in Germany. It was at the time applauded by the bishops then in office. A few capital punishments were actually apllied in (Western) Germany after that date, but not by german courts but by allied courts (for war crimes) and strongly opposed in public. This eventually led to the Allies handing over any cases still open to german authorities and in due course e.g. with the Auschwitz trial it led to sentences of life long imprisonment.
Just to put things into some perspective.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I was in no way implying that the German Bishops were in favour of Capital Punishment. I would wager money that, like all good European liberals, they would to a man be against it. I was suggesting that Marx is selective in those topics with regard to which he regards local autonomy as an important position to be established.

Lurker #59 said...

The State's recourse to wield the sword of justice has historically been understood to stem from God's own authority as Judge, thus on those grounds, the magisterium would lack the authority to render it "inadmissible".

Death, any death, should be abhorrent to the Christian mind, not because death is somehow contrary to human dignity but rather in death we see the punishment of sin, that estrangement from one's own self, community, and God brought about by Adam's transgression. The Christian mind should rightly shudder at what is wrought by sin's affront to the Divine Dignity.

When we look at the death penalty, Christians should desire an end, but this end cannot be brought about by eliminating punishment due to sin, (as if sin can be covered over like so much snow on a dung heap) but rather by rooting out sin, of repentance and sinning no more through grace. Let us not have the death penalty, but by bringing about a society that repents of sin and sins no more.

As a convert, there is so much that I see wrong in this move to modify the Catechism. The Catechism should be a sure guide to the faith handed on whole and intact, NOT as a political program, which is what Card. Ladaria put forth in his letter explaining this modification.

Aidan Clevinger said...

Father, you've set an excellent example, not only with your clear thinking, but your steady confidence in God throughout a difficult pontificate. I thank you for it sincerely.

One thing I don't understand, however, is the prevailing attitude which sees the death penalty as something abhorrent or dirty. Isn't it just intuitively *right* that certain heinous crimes be met with swift, final punishment? Doesn't something in your heart cry out for the balancing of the scales of cosmic justice, which the execution of notorious criminals affords? Granted that we ought to pray for their salvation, have mercy on the penitent, etc; granted also that we ought to work for circumstances in which the death penalty isn't necessary. But when it is, isn't it not only permissible as a concession, but a positively *good* thing for punishment to be meted out by God's representatives on earth?

Louis Gasper said...

Somewhere on the internet there is a site that does nothing but list the names of persons in the United States who were murdered by persons already convicted of murder but who were imprisoned and perhaps released. There are thousands of names on that list. Yet society has developed better or surer ways of protecting itself?

What is particularly galling about prelates and pontiffs, well, "pontificating" on prudential matters is that they seem so often to be ignorant of the realities that must guide prudential decisions. Offhand, I think of the statutory minimum wage. Here in the States, the bishops campaign for increases in the minimum wage in utter ignorance of the professional studies that show it increases unemployment, the effect falling almost entirely on the most disadvantaged.