Why Do We Hate the Pope for Telling Us the Truth?

Why Do We Hate the Pope for Telling Us the Truth? August 8, 2018

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It’s like some sort of rule. 

The more wrong a thing is that people want to do, the meaner and madder they get when you tell them they can’t do it. 

The truth is, everybody’s got somebody they feel righteous about hating, and a lot of people have whole groups of people that they feel righteous about killing. One group that falls into this category quite frequently is prisoners of any sort, but those convicted of heinous crimes most particularly. 

The only way a person could try to explain away some of the things that convicted killers have done to earn their place on death row is if they’re a couple of cards short of a full deck. The jackets on some of these guys read, to quote Grosse Point Blank, like a demon’s resume. 

That makes death row inmates the logical people to zero if you’re looking for someone to feel righteous about killing. There is no question that they “deserve killing.” In fact, there is no question that, if the only way to keep them away from the public is to kill them, then they need killing. 

What isn’t so clear, at least to me, is why so many otherwise normal people have such an emotional investment in the concept of killing. Why are otherwise good people so eager to become executioners? What, exactly, is fueling the outrage over the pope saying that, since we have the option of locking these birds up and keeping them locked up until they die naturally, killing them is an inadmissible thing for Christians to do?

Isn’t that rather obvious?

It is not self-defense to kill someone, even someone with a demon’s resume, when they can’t fight back. If a person is in lockup, shackled when they step out of their cell, killing them is not necessary to provide for the public safety. There is no right or moral reason to kill them. 

I sometimes hear people say that the death penalty is necessary to achieve justice. They seem to think that  an execution would provide a kind of parity between these killers’ victims and what the killer did. 

As if.

There is no way that we, as normal human beings, can ever provide parity with these people’s crimes. There is no eye for an eye that we want to provide for someone who has raped another human being to death, tortured someone for hours or days and then killed them and thrown their body in the dump as if it and they were trash. How do we get down to the level of people who enjoy inflicting agony, who bury innocents alive and pour acid on living flesh?

The answer is, we can’t. More to the point, we won’t.

In order to do that, we’d have to be them. 

There is no parity with evil. There is no quid pro quo with monsters. 

They are murderers. The question is, are we?

I have been more than a little flummoxed by people who are so deluded that they are attacking the Holy Father because he has told them that it is wrong to kill people who can’t fight back. It’s nonplussing to read their comments claiming that they are taking the moral and righteous high ground with their demands that the Holy Father back down and tell them that the unnecessary killing of a human being is, somehow or other, admisable behavior for Christians.

They base this on the fact that the Church has allowed the death penalty for centuries, that it has, in fact, exercised the death penalty itself. The focus of their outrage, at least the focus they will admit to, seems to be that the Church is static and cannot change. 

While it is true that the basic teachings of the Church, the dogma of the faith, is unchanging, the way that those teachings apply to the particulars of changing human culture has and will continue to slowly change. 

The same Church that forbade female infanticide and rape, that said that women were co-heirs to eternal life, is now confronted with the logical extension of these truths to women’s civil rights. The Church that taught that there was no slave or free, no male or female, that all are one in Christ Jesus, had to later deal with the logical extension of those truths and the recognition that no human being may be reduced to the level of chattel. 

This latest development on the death penalty is neither sudden nor unexpected, and it in no way overturns Church teaching. It is, as are the other examples I gave, simply the logical extension of the basic teachings of the Gospels and the Church to a new reality.

A succession of popes going back decades has steadily narrowed the Church’s understanding of when or even if the death penalty is morally allowable. This narrowing has, from its start, been based on the fact that we no longer have any reason to kill prisoners in order to maintain the public safety. We can keep them locked up. 

These popes weren’t changing the Church’s teaching about the sanctity of human life. They were simply following the logical and natural extension of it in light of changed reality.

The ability to keep the public safe without the death penalty exists in the poorer nations just as it does in the United States. Any stable government in today’s world has the wherewithal to provide for life in prison if they choose. 

We the faithful are faced with learning to accept that there aren’t any people that it’s ok to kill. From conception to natural death, human life is sacred.

This does not mean that we are bound to allow ourselves to be slaughtered by those who carry a demon’s resume. Self-defense, including defense of the life of others, is not only an acceptable reason for using deadly force; it may, depending on the circumstance, be morally necessary. 

However, executions of death row inmates are not self-defense. It is not necessary to kill them in order to provide for the public safety. 

I know quite well that people get mean and unreasonable when you tell them that they can’t discriminate against someone they’ve decided belongs in the back of the bus, or, kill some other someone they think deserves killing. 

It’s as if they cancel out the part of their mind that keeps them moral and replace it with primal blood lust. If there’s a way to reason with someone who’s in the grip of their primitive killer self, I haven’t found it. 

It’s even more difficult to get through when they cloak this impulse in rage-soaked religious speak and self-righteous claims of a higher morality. They may not convince anyone but themselves, but they themselves are utterly convinced that the moral, right and christian thing is to kill. 

That’s what I’m seeing in the defenders of killing people on death row. They seethe and fume about tradition and constant teaching, but what they are defending is killing someone who can’t fight back. 

It really is that simple. 

All these people who claim that they’d be happy to be the one to “throw the switch,” push the plunger on the hypodermic, pull the trigger on the gun … would they really?

Some of them, yes. I have no doubt. 

But most of them, no. They’re just talking. Not only would they refuse to do the deed, they don’t want to serve on a death penalty jury. They wouldn’t want to hand down the sentence or strap the prisoner to the gurney or wash off his or her body after the execution. 

It’s all a hypothetical to these people. But their big mouths and their big votes are why executions happen in this country. 

Now, they’re angry with the pope for telling them the truth. The death penalty is inadmissible, because it’s the unnecessary killing of a human being. 

Most of the people on death row are murderers. 

The question is, are we?


For a more in-depth look at Catholic teaching and history on the issue of the death penalty, check out Mark Shea. 

Also, Dave Armstrong’s excellent apologetics on the death penalty. Here, and here.

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24 responses to “Why Do We Hate the Pope for Telling Us the Truth?”

  1. But Pope Francis is also saying that our current understanding of the inviolability of the human person and human dignity makes capital punishment inadmissible, in addition to it being contrary to the Gospel. This implies that previous Popes and councils erred when they taught that capital punishment was just. Has it always been contrary to the Gospel to execute prisoners? Popes even in relatively modern times acknowledged the justice of capital punishment, aware of the capacities of the modern penal system. I dont see how their view and the view of the Church for centuries squares with Pope Francis’ teaching if his teaching is rooted in an understanding of human dignity, that is, morality as a whole.

  2. The problem is the nagging suspicion that he has not told us the Truth; or at least, not all of it.

    Let me start by saying I’m FOR this change. I see it as a change in technology, not a change in doctrine; we in the developed world are able to show mercy to those who deserve death, and we should.

    But that does not excuse the extremely bad timing of this change.

    I realize doctrine develops slowly, and the Church, God, and the Holy Spirit have their own agendas and their own timing. But this seems awfully convenient when just as a bunch of Pope Francis’s friends and even appointees are being accused of a crime that in many people’s minds is still worthy of the death penalty (even if not in law) the church suddenly comes out against the Death Penalty.

    To be a Devil’s advocate for a moment, it looks like we’re saying all those victims of clergy abuse deserved their fate, but we’re going to save the bad actors among the Bishops from their just reward in this life by preventing the death penalty from being used for pederasts.

    I somehow do not think that is going to fly with the mobs that are gathering against sexual sin in general worldwide. And if they can’t kill those who rape men, women, and little children repeatedly, of what value does the poor soul on Death Row have?

  3. Well when someone changes roughly 2000 years of a rule, it makes Catholics, including me, anxious. I’m not going to get into the issues of the death penalty here now. I’ve stated my position in the past but it’s not important. It’s the particular language the Popeused that is particularly troubling. Read his change, specifically the sentence that uses the words “increasing awareness.” That suggests theChurch is changing with the times like Protestants do rather than having fixed values. That suggests he is moving with the secular culture. That suggests a progressive mentality, not a conservative (small c) mentality.

    So let me ask you Rebecca, if this or any other Pope decides suddenly that it is with increasing awareness that a human life is not really developed fully until four or five months of gestation, allowing for abortion, will you find that copesetic? What changes in our morals are subject to increasing awareness?

  4. Well let me ask you this. If the doctrine is now fixed for us, doesn’t that preclude people from offering mercy? If we aren’t free to choose, isn’t heroic offerings from people who are family of victims gone?

  5. Manny, that would be inconsistent with the Gospels. It would be anti-Christ. Saying that the death penalty is inadmissible, on the other hand, is consistent with what Jesus said. Your analogy is a false dichotomy. However, if you don’t choose to agree with the pope on this, that’s your call. If it makes you anxious, I understand that, even though this particular change is entirely in keeping with what Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict taught. If you read what they said, there is very little wiggle room for allowing the death penalty and none of it would apply to a country like America. Perhaps the Holy Father felt that a more explicit teaching was needed since so many people took “prudential judgment” to mean “ignore and do what you want.”

  6. Ancalahon, I think you make the point very well. Rebecca, this is not about wanting to kill people. It is about the continuity of papal teaching on matters of faith and morals. They can develop such as the prudential sense regarding the efficacy of capital punishment and when and where it is acceptable. But when Francis effectively says “it is never permissible and never should have been” he is saying that previous popes and major councils were dead wrong on this matter of morals. So if they were dead wrong, whose to say he ( Francis) is right? He is undercutting his own authority. Francis the vicar of Christ in a long line of vicars of Christ has lasting authority because of the line of succession back to Peter who is “rock”. Francis the pope who says all his predecessors were wrong is a man wearing a white cassock with an opinion. Very serious.

  7. OK, perhaps that’s not the best example. How about the Pope says with increasing awareness it’s now permissible for divorced couples to remarry? Or it’s now permissible for remarried without an annulment to receive communion? Or it’s now permissible for non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist? All within the realm of possibility and even perhaps within the progressive agenda of this Pope.

  8. I read the first paragraph of Mark Shea and I just gave up. That’s just typical obnoxious Mark Shea. He is just so childish. Dave Armstrong is always excellent.

  9. There was a time not so long ago when I wrote reams in protest to these exact trends. Then I got cancer. By the time I’d been through that grinder, I was different. I know all the arguments. I’ve made — and meant — them myself. But what it comes down to for me is that I have no right to Christ in the Eucharist, based on what I’ve done. Yet He welcomes me. If the Holy Father decides that other people who have sinned can receive Him, I am not going to be the one to complain.

  10. It’s never a good sign when someone says, “when a person effectively says blah blah blah.” Is that what he said? No, that’s not what he said. If you have to change what he said to make your point, it might be a good idea to consider whether or not our point is on target.

  11. My best friend’s mom is a devout, life-long Catholic. However, her first marriage was an abusive relationship, so despite the Church’s teachings, she ended up getting divorced. Funny thing is, had she strictly followed the Church’s rules on marriage, my friend would’ve never been born. But stranger still, is this idea that a woman is obligated to remain in a situation that endangers the physical, emotional and psychological well being of both her and her children in order to “do right by God”.

    Its ironic how many Christians define their devotion to their religion by their adherence to the rules, when Jesus was credited with saying on multiple occasions to forget the rules, especially when there was a larger principle at play. Its like they’ve reduced God to a predictable flowchart comprised of rules to follow and loopholes to exploit.

    Yes, God is supposed to be a God of Justice, but he’s also a God of Mercy, and Mercy, by its definition, is a suspension of Justice. Circumstances matter. Intent matters. Future consequences matter. We take all these things into account in our human justice systems, so why do so many Christians expect less from their God? If anything, by giving the priests more leeway when it comes to these matters, the Pope is allowing them to be more Christlike, not less.

    And yeah, my best friend’s mom absolutely loves Pope Francis.

  12. I enjoy Armstrong, although I don’t agree with him on the death penalty.

    Shea is an obnoxious jerk who seems like he is descending in lunacy. His posts are increasingly violent. Something tells me this isn’t going to end well.

  13. in “The ability to keep the public safe without the death penalty exists in the poorer nations just as it does in the United States. Any stable government in today’s world has the wherewithal to provide for life in prison if they choose. ”

    As someone who worked for a state correctional department for 20 years I can tell you this is untrue. The things that are necessary to keep everyone safe — full time video and recording, full time psychiatrists, social workers, medical care, etc. — are well beyond what most countries can afford. I just read a story that Zimbabwe has 5 dollars in its treasury.

  14. “If a person is in lockup, shackled when they step out of their cell, killing them is not necessary to provide for the public safety. ”

    I can tell you’ve never been into a high security prison. Yes, inmates can be shackled, but they have to be unshackled to provide medical care, recreation or go to the shower. And this is the most dangerous time because if they get hold of the shackle it can be used as a weapon.

  15. A government must provide for the public safety. This is essential. However, I fail to see how a government that had only $5 in its treasury would be a functioning government on any level. It certainly could not afford a judiciary, which is an essential part of the death penalty, since it provides the first component of it, which is a fair trial. Summary judgement does not provide for either the public safety or anything like justice. When summary judgement becomes government practice, you end up with people being “disappeared,” which is another name for murder.

  16. No, I don’t. If they can field a government, including police and a judiciary, then they are perfectly capable of running a prison system that will keep people locked up. A government that is not capable of doing that is also not capable of handing down the death penalty with anything like justice or even a reasonable assumption of guilt. The reason I mentioned summary judgement is that this is what it would come down to with a government like that; random killing.

    Also, a government with $5 in its treasury could not govern on any level. They would not be a government. Since we are discussing the death penalty as a judicated action based on law rather than random killings, we must presuppose a working police force, judiciary and a prison system which is capable of incarcerating people for set periods of time. That is, unless you envision citizens grabbing people off the streets, getting a rope and heading for the nearest tree. That, of course, would be a lynching, not enforcement of a statute.

    If a country has a working police force that is capable of fact-finding investigation, a judiciary that can hold trials and enforce laws, and a prison system capable of incarcerating people for a set length of time, then it is also capable of enforcing life sentences without parole.

  17. Also, the pope opposes life in prison without parole. But being concerned about victims of crime isn’t exactly a priority of the church.

  18. I think Lisa’s point was that they can’t field a government. “That is, unless you envision citizens grabbing people off the streets, getting a rope and heading for the nearest tree.”- I must confess that has run through my mind in the last 21 days for a certain class of criminal within the Church.

  19. Sorry it took me a month to come back and answer, Manny.

    After the past month, I’m finding the modernist, Jesuit concept of mercy as expressed by this Pope to be extremely problematic. The heroic offerings from families of victims was thrown back in their faces by a cabal intent on changing church teaching surrounding homosexuality and marriage, while using blackmail to plunder the Vatican Bank.

    And thus this change in technology, though not in doctrine, seems to be significantly against Christ’s plain words in Luke Chapter 17, where he did indeed call for the death penalty for such crimes.

  20. Well, here’s my (second) problem with it.

    How far should we go to protect prisoners from each other? They are not part of the public, but they are still human beings with human rights. Many people are imprisoned because they prey upon others, and when they are cut off from preying upon the general public, especially the worst will instead prey upon fellow prisoners.

    I am thinking particularly of recidivism in prison rape. Without serious prison reform, the serial prison rapist cannot be separated from his victims except by means compared to psychological torture. If we fail to protect the victims, we are severely damaging their chances at rehabilitation, and denying them basic human rights.

    I’m not sure I’m okay with recidivist prison rapists being put in solitary confinement. More than one prisoner’s rights advocacy group calls solitary confinement torture, and given the intense psychological stress it creates, and how it tends to make people more antisocial, can we tell them to their face that they are wrong? Just as revenge is never justification for killing, neither is punishment justification for torture, which Mark Shea (rightly) decries as wrong in absolutely every case. God knows that solitary confinement did nothing good for the mental health of Pornchai Maximillian Moontri (see http://solitarywatch.com/2011/08/19/voices-from-solitary-welcome-to-supermax/ ).

    So what do we do? I’m okay with using deadly force to stop a rape in progress, especially by the victim. But we do not allow prisoners to go armed, for obvious reasons. So how do we protect them? Or do we conclude that they don’t deserve protection from rape?

    I am all for reform. But it will take physical reform, and penitentiaries with much different design principles, to create a safe prison environment. That is not going to happen quickly, in no small part because there are so many people who think prisoners who are raped “deserve it.”

    In the meantime, I am willing to let the state execute those who are recidivists in prison rape (or prison murder), by which I mean convicted on at least two separate counts, in at least two separate trials. That process ought to be expensive enough not to be used capriciously, and rigorous enough to protect the innocent — and it is the death of the falsely convicted that makes me most strongly oppose the death penalty.

    My first is that the Church has taught for over a thousand years that governments may execute criminals when necessary to ensure peoples’ safety. My own writings on the death penalty emphasize that this is a necessary component of a justified execution, and that using death *as a penalty* is intrinsically unjustified.

    But my writing on infallibility ( http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/2007/10/regarding-doctrine.html ) says that a teaching, once established, cannot be reversed. I don’t think that anything the Church previously taught as true can now be false without denying either that God is eternal or else that God is Truth.

    I will readily admit that the number of criminals whom our government has to execute in order to protect people from the dangers they pose has dramatically decreased. I don’t think we can safely say that it is now zero.

  21. But that is where the logic inevitably leads: death, torture, or permitted suffering. If the answers are not possible*, then one of the premises must be flawed.

    Which one? I have no answer. That is what debate is for.

    *Based upon the premises that all 3 results are sinful and we are told that God will always allow for an alternative to sin.