Catholic Church: Problems with Her Newest Death Penalty Position:
The Catechism & Section 2267
The relevant, first, major shift in Catholic teaching on the death penalty occurred in 1997, with a hastily drafted amendment, to the newest Catechism (CCC), within section 2267 - an amendment based upon Pope (now Saint) John Paul II's "Evangelium Vitae" (EV) (1995).
The amended CCC 2267 (2267) makes obvious rational, factual and secular errors, throughout, just as the problematic theological, biblical, traditional, Magesterium teachings, therein.
Saint Pope John Paul II (SPJPII) made a prudential judgement, within EV, and such judgement was factually and rationally in error and, then, those errors were amended into CCC 2267.
I do not believe that a prudential judgment has ever been entered into a Catechism, before, as such is contrary to the purpose of a catechism, " . . . a text which contains the fundamental Christian truths formulated in a way that facilitates their understanding." (USCCB).
The amended 2267 is a solid example of the opposite of that purpose and why a prudential judgement should never have been placed within a Catechism and, hopefully, will not occur, again.
"Catholic teaching on capital punishment is in a state of dangerous ambiguity. The discussion of the death penalty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is so difficult to interpret that conscientious members of the faithful scarcely know what their Church obliges them to believe." paraphrase - It has been recognized that the amended 2267 avoids the full Catholic teachings on the purposes of punishment, which are (1) defense of society against the criminal; (2) rehabilitation of the criminal, (3) retribution or the reparation of the disorder caused by the transgression . . . some authorities list (4) deterrence as a fourth purpose of punishment [Dulles, "Catholicism and Capital Punishment"]."The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by Canon Lawyer R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, Sept 14, 2003
Only one of those is primary, that being (3) retribution or the reparation of the disorder caused by the transgression, aka redress, justice or just retribution. All the others are expected or realized outcome of sanction, but not the foundation for it. Justice is primary, with all other outcomes, deterrence, safety, etc, important, but secondary.
“(The amended 2267) is 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 (redress) , but (the amended) 2267 ignores it.” "There are times when the state needs capital punishment in order to save society." “This is Christian doctrine.” “The cogency of Catholic apologetics crumbles when reason is abandoned for sentimentality in consequence of philosophical idealism and subjectivism.” “On Capital Punishment”, Fr. George Rutler National Catholic Register, March 24-31, 2002
1) The death penalty teachings in CCC 2267 are prudential judgments and have been confirmed as such by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (1), Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, now, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Saint/Pope John Paul II (SPJPII) appointed Ratzinger.
As a prudential judgment, any good Catholic may, justly, reject the 2267 amendment, may call for more executions, based upon 2000 years of Church tradition, finding that justice is primary, as confirmed within the most recent CCC (see redress) , and that a primary principle, justice, cannot be subjugated by a secondary principle, even an important one, such as defense of society, and one can confirm the rational truth that the death penalty/executions provide better protections for the innocent than does a life sentence (2&5), calling upon a compassionate Church to consider that sparing more murderers will cause more innocents to be murdered (2), as history and the facts make clear (2&5) and that execution may provide some unjust aggressors with expiation (3), a means to salvation, the ultimate in restorative justice (3).
As taught in this very same CCC, redress (aka justice and just retribution) are primary and eternal. Public defense/criminal justice systems are secular and utilitarian and, therefore, must always be secondary to the primary, eternal truth of justice. Yet, both the CCC and SPJPII are stating that secular utilitarianism must rule over the Church teachings of justice - a clear error.
Always and everywhere there is the prescribed sanction of "For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning.... "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed." (CCC 2260), "For in the image of God have human beings been made" (see Genesis 9:5-6). which, is confirmed in the Council of Trent, that execution represents paramount obedience to that commandment.
Paramount obedience is primary.
What we have today, in 2267, is the Church making every possible effort to avoid such paramount obedience to eternal teachings and to replace that with a human reliance on incarceration systems.
2) Re: CCC 2267:
from Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Flannery was, also, appointed by SPJPII.
“The most reasonable conclusion to draw from this discussion is that, once again, the Catechism is simply wrong from an historical point of view. Traditional Catholic teaching did not contain the restriction enunciated by Pope John Paul II." (4).
“The realm of human affairs is a messy one, full of at least apparent inconsistency and incoherence, and the recent teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment—vitiated, as I intend to show, by errors of historical fact and interpretation—is no exception.” (4)
3) from the amended 2267: " 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."
Reply: Such does not appear to exist in traditional or any other Catholic teaching and, since this 1997 amendment (20 years), I am unaware that anyone has found that it does. It seems to have just appeared, out of thin air. It is, in fact, contrary to much of the traditional teachings.
There is, also, a rational and lack of compassion error: It is not the "only possible" way of "effectively" defending human lives. From a rational standpoint, that is irrelevant. The issue is what is the "best possible and most effective way to defend innocent lives. Such would be the death penalty, which protects innocent lives, in three ways, better than lesser sanctions (2&5) and which, in some cases, provides that the primary purpose of sanction, justice/redress will best be served by the death penalty.
Why weren't the Church and PJPII highly sensitive to crime victims and their offenders being allowed to re offend, but, instead, such was, completely, forgotten within the CCC.
4) from 2267: ""If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect 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."
Reply: This is opposite the confirmed facts (2&5) and is in error, by reason.
"Sufficient' does not mean better, does not mean worse. It is no standard.
In 2258-2266 the standard is a requirement to protect innocents from unjust aggressors: 2265: "the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm.".
With the amended CCC 2267, the "common good" requires us to do everything we can "not to render the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm.", or, to put it another way "the unjust aggressor must always be able to harm, again" - the opposite of 2258-2266 and of reason.
Pope Francis has, personally, confirmed his support of that positions, calling for the removal of the death penalty, life in prison and solitary confinement (6), which conflicts with:
CCC 2260: "For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning.... Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image." "This teaching remains necessary for all time."
This is an eternal command, contradicted by the amended 2267's secular "bloodless means".
"surely require a reckoning" and "shall" overwhelm a "sufficiency" standard, which is no standard, at all.
"Require" and "shall" rules over "sufficiency". Also problematic is the lack of compassion, as detailed.
The issue is what is the "best possible and most effective way to defend innocent lives. Such would be the death penalty, which protects innocent lives, in three ways, better than lesser sanctions (2&5) and which, in some cases, provides that the primary purpose of sanction, justice/redress will best be served by the death penalty.
Later, the Church amended, again 2267, replacing "bloodless" with "non- lethal".
Because the secular "bloodless" was too obvious a conflict with that eternal command within 2260 - "by man shall his blood be shed;" - and 2260, further, establishes that execution is most "in conformity to the dignity of the human person", as it is a commandment from God, which defines the dignity of man, made in God's image.
I cannot find where Church teachings define which sanctions are "most in conformity to the dignity of the human person".
The dignity of each human person is the result of the actions and beliefs of each individual, as observed with Sodom and Gomorrah and the like and what became of those individuals, just as with the Saints and Fathers of the Church, with their actions and beliefs and their dignity.
Upholding human dignity cannot be anything but the foundation of the Genesis passage, as man was made in God's image. By their heart and actions, with free will, men may accept or reject that dignity, following the teachings of Christ or rejecting them, respectively.
CCC 2265: "Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm." - "requires" - teachings which are contradicted, just a few paragraphs later, within 2267.
"requires"and "shall"rule over "sufficiency".
Reason dictates that:
If by "sufficient", 2267 is telling us that "sufficient" meets the requirement to render "the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm", then we know "sufficient" must include the death penalty, thereby finding that 2267 agrees with 2265-2266, but also contradicts 2267, which is not, rationally, possible.
If 2267 excludes the death penalty, then we know that "sufficient" excludes sanctions which "render the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm" and therefore, under 2267, the standard for the common good, now includes sanctions which fail to "render the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm", lowering compassion and safety for the innocent, by allowing more murderers to harm, again (2&5), and is, therefore, in contradiction of 2265-2266.
Pope Francis doubled downs on this last paragraph, with his rejection of life imprisonment and solitary confinement, as well, thus condemning more innocents, in exchange that our worst unjust aggressors should be spared and freed (2&5).
“Absolute rejection of capital punishment weakens the cogency of pro-life apologetics.” “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. “ “The pastoral commentary of the Church guides moral method, but the prudential calculus, in punishment as in the declaration of war, rests in the civil government whose authority pertains to natural law and is not granted by the Church." "To propose otherwise under the guise of doctrinal development would be a species of clerical triumphalism that post-Enlightenment humanists claimed to abhor.” “On Capital Punishment”, Fr. George Rutler, National Catholic Register, March 24-31, 2002
By reason and CCC, the common good requires executions, as it is the only sanction which "renders the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm.".
All are aware that living murderers, as other unjust aggressors, can and do harm and murder, again and again, countless times per day, within prison, under supervision, after release, after escape and after we fail to restrain them (2&5). Executed ones do not.
What the amended 2267 teaches is that we must only keep our worst offenders able to inflict harm, again.
Reason and history confirm that amended 2267 will produce more innocents harmed and murdered (2&5).
Sufficiency is not the issue and it is not a standard.
The issue is what sanction best fulfills justice (redress) and what sanction best protects innocents, if both compassion and safety of innocents are to be, truly, considered.
As confirmed by reason and 2000 years of Church teachings, execution is just in some cases (redress) and execution protects additional innocents lives, in three ways, better than does a life sentence (2&5) or lesser sanction, establishing execution as both more compassionate and a better defender of society and innocent lives, than lesser sanctions (2&5).
2266: "The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good." which "requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm".
"requires" and "shall" rule over "sufficiency" and saving more innocent lives rules over sacrificing more innocent lives, that is until the amended 2267 lays waste to everything before it (2258-2266).
5) from amended 2267: "Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent."
The known reality is so in conflict with that statement (2&5) that one is staggered by its irresponsibility.
It defies any type of rational consideration, with EV and the amended 2267.
The most obvious, relevant example is that the Church not only had the "possibility", the "means" and potential to prevent child sex abuse by priests, but the moral obligation and "absolute necessity" to do so, yet, instead, abandoned the innocent and protected the guilty, even allowing some to repeat their crimes, over about a 50 year period, that we know of, with some leaders in the Church trying to cover it up.
From where does the Church obtain such blind and irresponsible confidence that secular criminal justice systems will perform better than She did?
Answer: From nowhere . . . nor does the Church envision that either "possibility" or "means" will reflect any reality in actually protecting the innocent, which is why She completely avoids reality and replaced it with blind speculation - "possibility" and "means".
It is astounding that the Church could say that such moral and protection failures are "very rare, if not practically nonexistent . . . ". in the secular world, when She has such horrendous failures Herself, so well observed, the exact moment of Her statement, when such secular failures are just as well known (2&5) and continue to occur, every day.
So what does the Church say?
Avoid reality, instead establish what "means are possible", thus, irrationally, excluding reality from the discussion, repeating Her same errors, as She, again, looks the other way as more and more innocents are harmed. Horrendous.
Both EVand the CCC invented the fiction that such criminal justice failures, with our modern standards are "very rare, if not practically nonexistent . . . ". The CCC avoided fact and reason *2&5). Why and how?
This may reflect the mindset: The majority of Pope Francis' 2014 speech to the INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF PENAL LAW looked at the unjust aggressors as the victims and left out discussing the true innocent victims until the near end of his speech (6).
Responsibility demands a considering of reality which must rule over the irresponsibility of the speculative "possibility" and "means", if innocent lives and compassion are relevant and they must be, but were neglected by both EV and the CCC.
Man errs and sins and any "err" by the Church and man should be on the side which protects more innocent lives (see 2258-2266) as opposed to what the CCC has now, in 2267, which is sacrificing more innocent lives, again (2&5).
How the Church jumped from a standard of "requires", "shall", "paramount obedience" and reality to one of speculation - "possibility" "means" and "sufficiency" - within this same section, is a sad and dangerous mystery.
To paraphrase: "Today, in fact, 'given the means at the State's disposal', countless innocents are murdered and harmed, every day, by known repeat offender/unjust aggressors, because of the reality of widespread human error and harm committed in the world's criminal justice systems (2&5), just as with the Church's 'mismanagement' of the priest sex horrors, whereby "possibilities", "means" and "sufficiency" had zero relevance to the reality of Her not protecting the innocent."
Such reality is the factual opposite of: "very rare, if not practically nonexistent . . . ".
It is astonishing that neither EV nor CCC show any consciousness of this, when EV and the amended 2267 were written as the firestorm of the priest sex scandal raged.
As Catholic theologian Steven Long places the arrow:
" . . . (it) is symptomatic of a society that can garner more support to spare the guilty than to save the innocent."
"The crowd still wants Barrabas." (7)
Not only are all their writings and comments devoid of any awareness of that reality, but they seem determined to spread their dangerous falsehoods to others, with Pope Francis doubling down, also seeking an end to life sentences and solitary confinement.
When these well known realities are taken into account, the foundations of the newest death penalty teachings, within both EV and the amended CCC 2267, disintegrate.
Pope Francis' Many Problems
c) ". . . .without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself"
How this language could, possibly, get into a Catechism is incomprehensible. Man does not redeem "himself", but is redeemed through the grace and mercy of God.
The CCC is saying that God is taking away from man the possibility of redeeming himself, because of an early and earthly death - execution.
Biblically and theologically, that is not possible, of course.
The well known teaching, not subject to change, is that we all have the opportunity of redemption (3), prior to our deaths, whatever that early and earthly death may be, whether by cancer, car wreck, old age, drowning, murder, execution (3) and all others.
The story of the good thief on the cross, St. Dismas, is an obvious example, contradicting the CCC's wrongful reversal of these eternal teachings.
And the authors of CCC are, somehow, unaware?
We all die early and earthly deaths.
What the CCC has done is to make a secular exception to an eternal teaching.
Man, via the Church, has, now, established an exception to God's redemption, that being that execution is the only earthy and early death which denies that God provides for the opportunity for man's redemption, prior to death -- a teaching that can, obviously, never be true.
This is not the norm for inclusion into a Catechism.
Archbishop Charles Chaput: “Both Scripture and long Christian tradition acknowledge the legitimacy of capital punishment . . . " "The Church cannot repudiate (the death penalty) without repudiating her own identity." (3)
2015, Pope Francis calls for the end of capital punishment, in all cases, thereby, according to Chaput, disavowing the Church's identity, as supported by . . .
Saint (& Pope) Pius V, "The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder." "The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent" (1566).
From the newest Catholic Catechism
CCC 2260 The covenant between God and mankind is interwoven with reminders of God's gift of human life and man's murderous violence:
"For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning. . . . Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.This teaching remains necessary for all time."
. . . the source for which is the Noahic Covenant, Genesis 9:6, an eternal command, for all peoples and all times, which establishes the sacredness of life as the foundation for death penalty support.
--- By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, Edward Feser, Joseph Bessette 2017
In defense of the, above, book:
1) Hot Air vs. Capital Punishment: A Reply to Paul Griffiths and David Bentley Hart, Dr. Edward Feser, The Catholic World Report, November 28, 2017,
"Griffiths’ review in First Things . . . is rich in condescension, high in dudgeon, and largely devoid of substantive engagement with the book’s arguments."
"Hart’s review in Commonweal is so rhetorically over-the-top and dishonest that the effect is more comical than offensive"
2) Yes, traditional Church teaching on capital punishment is definitive, Dr. Edward Feser,
The Catholic World Report, 11/21/2017,
"Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the popes for 2000 years have taught that capital punishment can be legitimate in principle . . . this teaching is irreformable."
"Given the “hermeneutic of continuity” emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI – and given especially the teaching of the First Vatican Council that popes have no authority to introduce new doctrines . . . "
3) Reply to Brugger and Tollefsen
Traditional Catholic Doctrine on Capital Punishment is Irreversible: A Reply to E. Christian Brugger, by Edward Feser, The Public Discourse, November 19th, 2017, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2017/11/20497/
"The Catholic Church has always taught that capital punishment can be legitimate under certain circumstances. Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and every pope who has commented on the topic up to Benedict XVI have all clearly and repeatedly affirmed this teaching."
St. John Paul II Did Not Change Catholic Teaching on Capital Punishment: A Reply to E. Christian Brugger
by Edward Feser, The Public Discourse, November 20th, 2017, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2017/11/20501/
"To change (the Church's 2000 year old teachings) would be to contradict the clear and consistent teaching of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the popes, and no pope has the authority to do that. "
Capital Punishment, Catholicism, and Natural Law: A Reply to Christopher Tollefsen, by Edward Feser, 11/21/2017, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2017/11/20504/
" . . . the reason a person can be deprived even of the highest good, God, is that a person can do something to deserve such a loss. The same thing is true of life. A person has a right not to be killed unless—by virtue of having committed a sufficiently heinous crime—he has, as Pope Pius XII put it, “deprived himself of the right to live.” Tollefsen’s argument against capital punishment simply ignores the fact that the right to the enjoyment of a good—any good—depends on whether or not one is guilty or innocent."
4) Capital Punishment: Eppur non si muove, Michael Pakaluk, The Catholic Thing, NOVEMBER 4, 2017, https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2017/11/04/capital-punishment-eppur-non-si-muove/
5) Reviews: By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, Janet Smith, moral theologian, Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2017
6) Review: By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, Daniel Lendman, Reading Religion, a publication of the American Academy of Religion, June 29, 2017,
--- The Traditional (CATHOLIC) Case for Capital Punishment, By Fr. C. John McCloskey, The Catholic Thing, MARCH 16 2015
--- Four Catholic Journals Indulge in (anti death penalty) Doctrinal Solipsism, Steven Long, THOMISTICA, March 5, 2015,
--- Okay, what about Catholics and the death penalty?, In the Light of the Law A Canon Lawyer's Blog, Edward Peters, JD, JCD, Ref. Sig. Ap. March 9, 2015,
--- Intellectual dishonesty and the "Seamless Garment" argument, JIMMY AKIN, National Catholic Register, 01/25/2015
---- New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming
1) "3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
"Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, from a memorandum sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick, made public in the first week of July 2004.
2) a) The Death Penalty: SAVING MORE INNOCENT LIVES
A Review of All Innocence Issues
3) The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation
4) “Capital Punishment and the Law”, Ave Maria Law Review, 2007 (30 pp), by Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (since 2002) and Ordinary Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University(Rome) and Permanent Research Fellow - Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture (University of Notre Dame. http://lr.avemarialaw.edu/Content/articles/V5i2.flannery.copyright.pdf
5) see footnote 2, above
Do a google search: I am sure this was not done for either Evangelium Vitae of the CCC amended 2267.
a) crime recidivism -- 852,000 results (0.34 seconds)
b) prison violence -- 179,000,000 results (0.24 seconds)
c) prison "cell phone" crime -- 1,780,000 results (0.37 seconds)
d) recruit terrorism prison -- 12,800,000 results (0.40 seconds)
e) prison escape news -- 5,720,000 results (0.31 seconds)
f) repeat offender -- 1,170,000 results (0.63 seconds)
and on and on and on
6) ADDRESS OF POPE FRANCIS: TO THE DELEGATES OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF PENAL LAW, Hall of Popes, Thursday, 23 October 2014
7) Four Catholic Journals Indulge in (anti death penalty) Doctrinal Solipsism,