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Pope Francis changes Catholic teaching on the death penalty

by Les Sillars
Posted 8/02/18, 10:49 am

Pope Francis in a new policy published Thursday changed the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty, saying it is always “inadmissible” because it “attacks” the inherent dignity of all humans. The Vatican said Francis approved in May the change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which had previously not ruled out capital punishment if needed to defend human life “against the unjust aggressor.” That position is now considered “outdated,” according to Catechism No. 2267. Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said there is an understanding that “the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes.” Francis announced his intention to change church teaching on capital punishment last October when he said the death penalty violates the gospel. In the past, he said, the Holy See had erred in allowing a mentality that was “more legalistic than Christian” but now knew better.

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Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is WORLD Magazine’s Mailbag editor.

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  • AlanE
    Posted: Thu, 08/02/2018 07:30 pm

    That seems strange. How, then, to account for Elijah taking out the 450 prophets of Ba'al (I Kings 18:40) at God's word (I Kings 18:36)? Or what of Genesis 9:6, the teaching that predates all the difficult issues of the OT law and directly ties the death penalty to the imago Dei? It seems to be fashionable these days to unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament, an idea that never seemed to cross the mind of Jesus or Paul.

    All sorts of profitable discussion might be centered around when the death penalty is and is not appropriate, but to reject it as "inadmissable" is to say something very nearly blasphemous of the God who reveals himself in the Old Testament. You might as well say, "Our Father, who art in heaven, you can't say that."

  • Narissara
    Posted: Thu, 08/02/2018 10:30 pm

    And what about the teachings in 1 Peter 2:13-17 and in Romans 13:1-7, which both acknowledge government’s God-given authority to bear the sword and punish true criminals and deter would-be criminals?  (Remember, Peter and Paul are held up as paragons of Catholicism.)  There has been a push in recent years at the state level to do away with the death penalty.  These measures are usually introduced by the same legislators who vehemently oppose pro-life measures and support euthanasia.  At first this seems inconsistent, but it makes perfect sense coming from people with a nihilistic worldview.  If there’s no afterlife, the death penalty would be letting criminals off easy; therefore, it would be better to give them life sentences and let them spend the rest of their days in prison.  And if I’m not mistaken, Pope Francis also said recently himself there’s no such thing as hell.     

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Fri, 08/03/2018 12:39 pm

    This Pope has unburdened himself from biblical knowledge or authority.  Recently he ruled that Christ's teaching on the Lord's Prayer was incorrect, because God would not lead us into temptation.  He is basically replacing biblical doctrine with the secular religion of progressivism.  Thank goodness for Catholics that they finally have a leader who can teach God a thing or two. 

  • Allen Johnson
    Posted: Fri, 08/03/2018 04:26 pm

    Christian Trinitarian theology holds that God was executed by the death penalty (Jesus is God the Son).

    Writings of the early church show that although the church acknowledged the power of the state to execute criminals, the church itself would not partake of anything to do with the death penalty. Or abortion. Or war. The Christian issue at that time was not that a murderer did not deserve the punishment of death, but rather, that the crucified Christ has forgiven His enemies and given to to His followers the ministry of reconciliation.

  • Narissara
    Posted: Mon, 08/06/2018 03:46 pm


    Isn’t the issue rather that a murderer deserves punishment for his crime, but Christ, who committed not even the smallest of sins, took his place? 

    Governments act as God’s agent (Romans 13:1-2).  Government’s authority to create and implement law is established by God; its power (or lack thereof) to enforce the law is a result of His divine providence.  When government creates laws that conflict with God’s it steps outside its authority.  When it applies them unjustly, that’s an abuse of power. 

    Christ’s death on the cross was more than an abuse of power (although it was that, too).  Without it, reconciliation would be impossible.  God calls individuals to be reconciled to Him.  The only way that could be accomplished is to make a sacrifice to atone for sin (Hebrews 9:22).  The sacrifices under the Mosaic law were insufficient; for that reason, Christ came to earth and became fully human, while retaining full divinity as the Son of God, to offer Himself up as the perfect Lamb of God (John 1:29).  Christ, who committed no sin, became sin on our behalf, so that we might obtain righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:20). 

    Christ offers forgiveness to all, but unless a person recognizes his (or her) sinful state separates him from God, repents, and places himself under God’s authority, he receives nothing. (John 3:16).  It was your sin and mine that put Christ on the cross; the Roman government was simply the instrument God chose to serve His plan and purpose.  Christ told Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).  

    Peter and Paul were also well aware of Rome’s abuses of power (and ultimately became victims of it themselves), but they never taught that those abuses diminished its authority; instead they maintained Christians are to be in subjection to the law of the land.  Satan has sworn to destroy mankind, the imago Dei.  I fear that when society liberates itself from the consequences of the most serious of sins, that is, murder, human life will have no value at all and there will be nothing left to restrain evil until Christ returns.