Reader DoughnutGuy Gets It

Reader DoughnutGuy Gets It September 16, 2019

He writes:

It strikes me as rather odd that so many Catholics take the position that this teaching of the Church contradicts the Church’s previous teaching. If said Catholics could succeed in proving that, then they would rather unhelpfully have disproven Catholicism, which would be quite the own goal.

Then again, I suppose they could make the case that disproving the Church’s claim that it cannot so contradict itself would not necessarily disprove Catholicism, but merely that particular claim. They could then maintain that, since that claim was not itself true, the fact that the Church has contradicted itself on the subject of the death penalty does not necessarily disprove Catholicism either. However, they would still be left in the position of thinking that the Church is capable of teaching error, which would tend to call all its other teachings into question, too.

No doubt that is why they are reduced to claiming that a teaching of the Pope in union with the bishops (except Cardinal Burke), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Catechism is not actually an official teaching of the Church. Yet that does not avoid the difficulty, since it does not seem possible to draw any sensible distinction between what the Church apparently teaches and what it actually teaches.

Surely, a better approach would be simply to find a way to reconcile the two teachings. This can seemingly be accomplished rather easily. The Church teaches that the death penalty is morally acceptable if it is necessary to protect society. The Church also teaches that the death penalty is not morally acceptable in the present historical circumstances, because it is not necessary to protect society.

There would only be a contradiction if the Church now taught the death penalty were intrinsically evil, but it does not. It says that the death penalty is “Today” “inadmissible”. Certainly, ‘inadmissible’ seems like an odd choice of word in this context, at least to a lawyer, since it is usually used when referring to the inadmissibility of evidence in court. However, it also has a secondary meaning of “not to be allowed or tolerated”, which makes its meaning in this context plain: the death penalty can no longer be allowed or tolerated. It might even be that there have never really been circumstances where it was morally acceptable to use the death penalty. Yet as long as the Church admits that there are circumstances where it could theoretically be necessary (and therefore moral), there is still no contradiction.

Yep.  This isn’t even hard, except for those who want to pretend they are confused so they can better hate the pope they have already chosen to hate on other grounds having little to nothing to do with the Faith.

The Church has already made exactly the same development of doctrine regard slavery.  The New Testament assumes slavery as a fact of the world just as it assumed the death penalty.  But it does not insist that either good or need to always be assumed as the will of God.  Paul tells slaves to both submit to their masters and, if possible, to seek freedom.  He never calls for the abolition of slavery because he is the apostle of a tiny, powerless sect and not a social reform movement.  But Christianity contains within it the seeds of the destruction of slavery and, when it finally comes, the Church (after several centuries of making up its mind) finally listens to the arguments of people like Bartolme de las Casas and declares that slavery is “gravely and intrinsically immoral”.  Is that a change in Catholic teaching?  Damn right it is.  Is it “reversal” of Catholic teaching?  No.  It’s a development of Catholic teaching about the dignity of the human person that goes right back to the Christian insistence that people, made in the image and likeness of God, cannot be reduced to things.

Killing people is also the reduction of person to things called “corpses”.  If the Church had ever said the death penalty was absolutely necessary, then it would have been constrained from its very foundation to insist on killing every capital criminal ever convicted.  But we know that this has never been the case, not only because Jesus forgave capital criminals guilty of both adultery and murder.  And not merely murder, but murder of the Son of the living God.  We also know that these were not one-off but the template the Church often followed herself because the early Church prescribed penance, not execution, for murder.

While still a Catholic, Tertullian wrote (A.D. 200-6) his “De poenitentia” in which he distinguishes two kinds of penance, one as a preparation for baptism, the other to obtain forgiveness of certain grievous sins committed after baptism, i.e., apostasy, murder, and adultery.

Three kinds of penance are to be distinguished: canonical, prescribed by councils or bishops in the form of “canons” for graver offenses. This might be either private, i.e., performed secretly, or public, i.e., performed in the presence of bishop, clergy, and people. When accompanied by certain rites as prescribed in the Canons, it was solemn penance. The public penance was not necessarily canonical; it might be undertaken by the penitent of his own accord. Solemn penance, the most severe of all, was inflicted for the worst offenses only, notably for adultery, murder, and idolatry, the “capital sins”.

To give some idea of the ancient discipline, the penalties attached to graver crimes are cited here from the English and Irish Penitentials. For stealing, Cummian prescribes that a layman shall do one year of penance; a cleric, two; a subdeacon, three; a deacon, four; a priest, five; a bishop, six. For murder or perjury, the penance lasted three, five, six, seven, ten, or twelve years according to the criminal’s rank.

In short, the Church has never ever said that a capital criminal must be put to death in every case and has always left open the possibility of sparing him.  All that has happened in the present hour is that the Church has concluded, “What has been done sometimes in the past should be done always in the future.  If you don’t need to kill somebody–and you don’t–then don’t kill them.”

In their folly, meanwhile, the enemies of this pope have effectively declared that the indefectibility of the Church is dead, the pope is a heretic (and possibly even an antichrist) and  something that is not, in the slightest, integral to the Tradition is the make or break hill to die on in order to uphold this stupid claim.

I, for one, would be very interested to know how the death penalty enthusiast, shrieking that the Magisterium is “contradicting itself” about the death penalty deals with the Church’s very recent absolute condemnation of slavery?  Do they assent to it or do they also want to make the insane claim that we need to return to permission of slavery on pain of “heresy”?


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