Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Pope changes the Church's teaching on ...


executioner of the Papal States
The Pope changes the Church's teaching on the death penalty, is running on Twitter and a few blogs at the moment. Well that is not true, Popes do not, cannot, change Church teaching on anything, not even when they speak Ex Cathedra, All Popes can do is clarify.

The two 'classical' acts of such clarification, the Immaculate Conception and Assumption in many ways were completely unnecessary at the time of their promulgation, except to promote Papal power. The Church had and always will believe the Theotakos was 'full of grace', and had been from her beginning, what the doctrine does is say that Mary's beginning (and therefore our beginning) happened not at birth or at her quickening, or ensoulment but at the moment of conception. The Assumption, with its deliberate ambiguities reconciles the western doctrine of the Assumption and the Eastern doctrine of the Dormition, it purifies the doctrine of possible unnecessary pious legends.

Better uses of infallible teaching are Paul VI's declaration that contraception, (especially/including modern forms of artificial contraception) are contrary to the constant Tradition of the Church. Similarly JPII's, and maybe more clearly Benedict XVI's, declaration that women never have been and therefore never can be ordained priest are the more usual forms of 'infallible teaching' but these statements depend not so much on supernatural inspiration but the Holy See's library and record keeping. I have always thought that amongst the many papal titles ought to be a reference to 'keeper of the archives' or 'first amongst historians'. These are Church teaching because they are historic facts handed on to us, not because a Pope signs a document.

The problem is that if some other historical sources produced contrary historical evidence then 'infallible' teaching becomes very fallible.

So, Pope Francis has declared the death penalty is contrary to the Church's teaching, well the office of executioner to the Holy See has been unfilled for some time now and the Old Testament laid down quite clear rules about about when the death penalty must be enforced, so one can hardly say that the death penalty is historically contrary to Christian doctrine, however one of the strands that has been developed in Catholic theology, really since the declaration of the Immaculate Conception, is that Life, all life, is sacred, that Life is the fundamental right of all human beings.

For the Pope to say that the death penalty is contrary to the constant teaching of the Church is historically untrue. Obviously he can say that the death penalty is contrary to the Church's teaching but that is his opinion and should be taken seriously as he is Supreme Pastor. The problem is that an incoherent Pope or confused Pope damages the whole concept of Papal teaching. What Francis teaches us is to be sceptical about such teaching.

18 comments:

kiwiinamerica said...

And by implication, the "just war" doctrine goes down the gurgler too, right?

The Church's faithlessness and rebelliousness must have truly angered God for him to inflict this horrible chastisement on us. I've come to utterly loathe this man.

Anita Moore said...

The death penalty is not only consistent with the sacredness of life, it actually affirms it. The principle is that life is so sacred that the fitting punishment for depriving another of his life unjustly is for the murderer to be deprived of his own.

I suspect, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia argued, that modern-day opposition to capital punishment is based in large part on the rejection of a belief in life after death. After all, if there is no life after death, then when you execute a criminal, what you are really doing is annihilating him, and there could be no worse fate than to be annihilated (although this is apparently fine in the case of unborn babies). I wonder if this thinking has not crept into the Church, so at least some opposition to capital punishment within the Church is rooted in a mentality which has lost sight of the fact that there are worse things that can befall a criminal than death.

thomas tucker said...

It seems to me that if he teaches that definitively, then he is contradicting the ordinary universal magisterium of the Church which has held that the State has the right to impose the death penalty. He would be saying that what has been held to be moral is immoral. What then? Is he no longer the Pope?

M. Prodigal said...

Thank you for clarifying that a pope can only clarify true teachings. Tell that to the present pontiff. Or perhaps that is why he is silent when asked to clarify. Does he even believe? One can think not.

geneticallycatholic said...

Isn't about time for a fraternal Correction? Dear Cardinals of the Church...where have you disappeared to?

Ann said...

So, is this grounds for an execution? If so, may I volunteer my services as High Executioner?

Anna said...

Did Pope Francis, in saying this, speak as the Head of the Church, on a matter of faith and morals, to be held universally by all the faithful? I am seriously asking, as I don't know the details of how this was done. If he did attempt to do that - then what? He'd be contradicting continuous Church teaching, whichever limit one wants to place on the details, has always allowed it within certain parameters. It will be interesting to see what the USCCB comes up with as well.

Physiocrat said...

There is a tail to this topic. The OT prescribes the death sentence but tradition was against it. A Sanhedrin that permitted even one execution in 70 years was regarded as "murderous". Limitation on capital punishment was accomplished by stringent application of the rules of evidence.

Revulsion against the death penalty in Britain was focussed by the Evans/Christie and Bentley/Craig cases in the 1950s.

Stephen Lowe said...

But euthanasia is okay. There is nothing but darkness spewing forth from this man.

Stephen Lowe said...

The jovial one is squabbling over Fulton Sheens bones for the $ from pilgrimages. Sham on him.

Cosmos said...

On the Pope's fallibility when not speaking infallibly:

Some people seem to think that a Pope would be struck by lightning or rendered dumb before he could contradict a doctrine of the Church. But I think it's more simple than that. If the Pope were to, say, try to incorporate Mary into the Trinity, adding a fourth person, he would be rebuked by the law of non-contradiction. There would be no need for anything supernatural. If one is true, the other can't be. Catholics need not entertain the new teaching.

Here, it's the same. If the Church is infallible in matters of faith and morals. And it has clearly taught that the death penalty is allowable in some situations... then the Pope simply has no room to teach that it's wrong in ALL situations. He can be ignored on this matter. Either he's wrong or the claims of the Church are wrong.

Otherwise the Church would no longer be handing on what has been revealed. Instead, the Pope would be a prophet-King with special access to the Holy Spirit, charged with revealing NEW truths as history unfolds. There would be no need for "faith and reason," because reason would give us no access to anything. In fact, they could even offer new truths that contradict Jesus himself who (they would say) was fallible and culturally-limited by his decision to become a first century Palestinian. The teaching evolves... I mean develops and the Spirit leads us into the future.

This may be a nice religion, but is not Catholicism. Paul himself was well aware, as we are, of the danger of conflating conditioned cultural norms with the Truth. That is the exact issue he confronts Peter on!!! He's the one who says there is no longer need for circumcision because the old divisions were cast aside. Yet he clearly also says that governments have the power of the sword from God, not the keys to the prison.

To accuse early Christians of not understanding the ramifications of the Gospel--the men who declared there is no longer man or woman, Greek or Jew--is arrogance or ignorance.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Cosmos. Of course you are right, another factor is that the Church will become ungovernable and divide into factions, manyy will apostacise because nothing will hold us in union with Christ

John Vasc said...

Even if PF inists that the teaching of the Church on capital punishment has changed, it will have not the slightest effect in practice, as the Church no longer has any influence over secular politics - not even in matters directly affecting the Faith such as education, worship and social evils. This is the result of devolving such influence to national conferences of modernist bishops who prefer to keep 'in' with the politicians, not to rock any boats, and to let Catholicism retreat entirely to the private sphere, except for empty words about 'JustisandPeas'.
For many bishops, the message of the New Testament has been replaced by the message of Bambi's mother: 'If you can't say anything nice, better not say anything at all!'

John Vasc said...

Also, to echo Anita Moore's comment above:
"Fear not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt 10:28)

"And I say to you, my friends: Be not afraid of them who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will shew you whom you shall fear: Fear ye him who, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell. Yea, I say to you: Fear him." (Luke 10: 4-5)

Indeed, that 'him',is really'Him'. But Hell is not frequently mentioned in this papacy, is it...

Cosmos said...

Father, I agree. The Pope certainly has the ability to cast some serious doubt over the Church's claim to universal jurisdiction. He can make it look like a hollow proposition with no practical benefit.

John Vasc. The interesting thing is that the bishops are willing to speak quite forcefully on some issues: environment, death penalty, immigration, civil rights, greedy bankers, etc. Then the same bishops tell us that we need not force our opinions on other, or be judgmental, on issues like homosexuality, abortion, centralized socialism, etc. Seems more like, "if you can't say anything progressive, better not to say anything at all."

That's not to say that parts of the Church's social teaching aren't more progressive than conservative, but it's clear that the communication strategy is much more worried about offending one particular sensibility than to remain intellectually consistent.

Anita Moore said...

Cosmos said: The interesting thing is that the bishops are willing to speak quite forcefully on some issues: environment, death penalty, immigration, civil rights, greedy bankers, etc.

The bishops want to impose absolutes on matters of prudential judgment, like the items listed above, but squish around on real absolutes.

Elisabeth said...

Just because he can't logically change it, it doesn't mean he can't give the impression it has changed especially to the majority of Catholics who are poorly formed in the faith. I have already had Catholics criticise me for standing up for Christ's teaching on the death penalty and thus say I am over critical of Pope Francis. All is left for us faithful is to standby good clerics like you Fr Ray Blake and pray that you continue to proclaim the gospel without fear especially at Mass. In meantime we will also do our bit by evangelising the people around us and praying for the salvation of souls.

Dom said...

We have a duty to defend and preserve innocent life; that may include going to war, defending others who are attacked and where law enforcement is ineffective, to execute. Indeed not to execute when we know that a murderer will kill again would be to permit the killing of the innocent. We have a duty to act in certain circumstances which may appear paradoxical.