Sunday 5 August 2018

Pope Francis defends the indefensible...

Pope Francis has made a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows:

"The death penalty

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”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide."

[Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017, 5]

There has been a lot of public angst among Catholics about this.

We all need to relax. 

This new statement of the Pope is not infallibly taught, nor anything like it and, indeed, it cannot be. 

It is not even "teaching" in the proper sense. It is no more than a prudential statement for our times and any Catholic is free to disagree with it. 

To those who think it is some kind of "official" change of doctrine, I must say that I wish Catholics would educate themselves on the status and level of particular statements and teachings in the Church. The level of gross ignorance on the subject is truly abysmal.

This statement is clearly time-bound on its face with references to "long considered" and "today". That makes it, at best, a prudential, not doctrinal statement, even without more.

This snot only not and infallible statement (let alone ex cathedra) but it cannot even be such.

The Ordinary Infallible Magisterium is exercised diachronically over time and not by a "one off" addition to the Catechism and, in any event, once a teaching is taught infallibly, as the historic teaching on capital punishment is, it can never be changed, even by the Magisterium. 

That is what the word "infallible" means i.e. it is always right and can never be wrong. 

To believe that infallibly taught teaching can be changed is to deny the doctrine of infallibility, to embrace heresy and so to cease to be a Catholic.

Moreover, the Pope's argumentation is faulty and irrational.

Capital punishment does not, and never has, in principle, diminished the dignity of man, provided it is done justly. Indeed, it arguably enhances the dignity of man by recognising the seriousness of his moral choices which arise from the principle source of his dignity, namely his free will. 

It also is profoundly pro-life since it punishes with the loss of life, the most serious punishment, those who, with the ultimate indignity, have no regard for innocent human life.

On the other hand, but for entirely different reasons, I endorse the prudential disapproval of capital punishment. I am not being perverse. I just don't trust modern politicians not to abuse the power as e.g. the odious Bill Clinton did when he refused to commute a death sentence so as to deflect the media from his bombing of innocent Bosnian civilians.

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