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Pope Outlaws the Death Penalty ... Or Does He?

by Tony M.

Unless you live under a rock or do not read religious news at all, you have probably heard the news, to the effect (depending on the precision of the news source) that Pope Francis has done away with the death penalty (DP). He has issued a new version of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) which says that the DP is “inadmissible”.

But to be more careful, or at least more precise, it is not clear that what happened is that Francis has “done away” with the DP in calling it “inadmissible”. In order to get a fair estimate of what actually happened, let’s read the actual new text that replaces the old:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. [my emphasis] [1] FRANCIS, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017, 5.

There are two major opinions about the meaning of the money quote in bold, and especially, about the import of “inadmissible” here. They are as follows: (1) “inadmissible” has the effect of saying that the DP is intrinsically evil, a per se immoral and disordered act, because that’s what happens if an act is, by its very nature an unjust attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person. (I insert “unjust” here, because if it was a JUST attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, then it would not be inadmissible). If the character of “being an unjust attack” did not belong to the very nature of the DP, then the Pope could not have called it “inadmissible” simply, but could only have called it “inadmissible under certain conditions”.

This is the more coherent reading of the text, and of the intent of the Pope in setting it forth this way, (to the extent his intent is concrete enough to have ANY characterization at all).

The second is this: (2) “Inadmissible” has the effect of raising the bar of the prudential judgment estimate made by JPII in the former text of #2267 when he said that the occasions of the licit use of DP are “rare, it at all”. Francis now declares that “rare” now entails 0 cases, and makes this assertion as definitive as to covering ALL cases, not just all usual cases: no exceptions are available.

This is the less reasonable reading of the text.

The reason it is less reasonable as an interpretation is that it is virtually impossible to construct a textual rationale for it that holds water, or even seems to hold water, even for someone who was convinced we should use the DP at most only rarely.

First of all, if Francis meant for his statement to remain (like JPII’s) at the level of a prudential judgment of concrete conditions, then perforce he would have meant for faithful Catholics to be perfectly free to GO ON SAYING “well, that’s your judgment, but I have considered the issue, including your advice, and I come to the opposite conclusion”. And go on disagreeing, while remaining in perfect communion with the Church. But that’s where we were BEFORE he changed the text. So what would he have accomplished? Did he go through all this to say “yeah … what HE said, only MORE”? You don't change the Catechism text for that.

Secondly, there is no clear way to make sense of the rationale stated for the “inadmissible”, i.e. that it IS “an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person” so that it comes to a prudential matter in that it is sometimes an attack and sometimes not an attack on inviolability and dignity. (Or, to be more coherent: sometimes a just attack and sometimes an unjust attack.) If the very nature of the act is as being in attack on that which must not be attacked must be established one by one each time (that’s what prudence implies), then there are cases where it is NOT an attack on what must not be attacked, and the number of “admissible” cases of DP is (potentially) greater than 0.

The subvariant (B) of (2) that, I would guess, to make the most sense of the whole passage of #2267 is this: He says earlier in 2267:

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.

which could be taken to qualify the meaning of “is” in the conclusion “because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”. How? Because the new “awareness” and the new “understanding” are the lived experience of new ages of anti-Christian Catholics who don’t know beans about their Bibles, older Catechisms, doctrines, or general theology. They have imbibed too deeply of secular humanism’s doctrine that this life is the only life there is, and in that understanding, the death penalty is an insurmountable, definitive outrage to the human so-called “dignity”. That is to say: in these times and in this culture, given the deformity of the modern understanding of punishment and justice, of the human moral being, of the next life, and of this vale of tears, the death penalty is TAKEN TO BE an unjust attack on the dignity of the person.

This “taken to be” is, of course, culturally conditioned, dependent on time and place and custom, is capable of difference in degree, and thus can be more so in one place and less so in another place even today. It can be understood as a violation in Italy, and not in the US. Hence Francis’ text would then be read not as setting forth a per se prohibition on the death penalty, but a culturally limited one extending to some situations today and not others.

I don’t think that’s what he was shooting for in penning those words.

In addition, this variant (2)(B) would, I suggest, constitute the introduction of the heresy of modernism into Church teaching. For it would entail superceding prior teaching, which IS about the per se nature of the DP (and that it is not intrinsically wrong), and trump it with a temporary and conditioned conclusion about the DP (that it is inadmissible right now in the right conditions) as if the new position REPLACES the old rather than merely qualifies it for certain cases. It would be to declare (implicitly, of course: that’s what modernism does) that there is no such thing as per se immorality, only culturally conditioned bad acts.

And maybe this is actually what is driving the Pope’s underlying agenda, and maybe it is what made him formulate his text the way he did. But saying so doesn’t actually save the text from being objectively disordered and to be repudiated; it would only save him from being having taught a _formal_heresy _about the DP issue itself_. I suppose for the sake of his surviving some future inquiry (tantamount to an impeachment) regarding his teaching acts, it would be slightly helpful, but in terms of saving the teaching itself, not.

Now, some people point to the words of Cardinal Ladaria, prefect for CDF, about the change in text:

7. The new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved by Pope Francis, situates itself in continuity with the preceding Magisterium while bringing forth a coherent development of Catholic doctrine. … 8. All of this shows that the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.

and try to argue that this means that we MUST read the new text as consistent with the old, even if that gets us into irrational conundrums of “what can be the meaning of ‘is’ instead of ‘may be’ when the rational of ‘inadmissibility’ is given as ‘an attack on inviolability and dignity’ ? To say it IS an attack, without qualification, is to assert a thesis that is of universal character, not a qualified and conditioned one.”

But in reality, the Pope and his handlers are (at this point) well known for saying things that JUST AREN’T TRUE. A famous one, pertinent here, was his silly, nonsensical, and just plain dumb comment that the “reform” of the mass now is protected by infallibility. It was a strange and strangled category error. Press conference remarks to the effect that ‘what the Pope said” IS “consistent with prior teaching” are to be taken with huge salt mines worth of salt: as a myth, a legend, a fable, or (more likely) a tall tale that is good in the hearing but bears no discernible import on reality. If there is no way to cash out what the Pope says as compatible with prior teaching, then it is not compatible, regardless of what myths Ladaria tells us. And if the Pope intends for us to take his words in a twisted, strained, unappetizing way in order to make them semi-consistent with ONE part of prior teaching, only to fall afoul of a different heresy anyway, we can be forgiven for not following his wishes in this.

So, let’s go back to (1): that Francis is trying to teach a new teaching, that the DP is incompatible with moral acts, it is ALWAYS inadmissible because it per se and necessarily constitutes an unjust attack on “inviolability and dignity of the person”.

Well, this has the virtue of being (relatively) straight-forward and clearly understandable – as opposed to the nonsense of other readings.

Unfortunately, it has the vice of being wrong, and not merely wrong, but contrary to settled Catholic teaching. This is, at least, the conclusion of the argument in the book “By His Hands Shall His Blood Be Shed” by Professor Ed Feser and Joseph Bessette. The book argues, quite well, that Catholic teaching has ALREADY made a specific teaching infallibly, and therefore irreformable: that the DP is in principle morally licit. If so, then any Pope who attempts to contradict it is, perforce, both in error, and failing to actually engage in Catholic teaching.

Wait: isn’t the pope infallible on faith and morals? Isn’t this a bedrock Catholic teaching?

No and no.

The pope can teach under the special charism of infallibility if he invokes it by declaring a point of teaching (on faith and morals): by his authority as Peter’s successor, to settle all doubt, as definitive, to be held by all the faithful, etc. Unless he invokes that special charism by clearly setting forth the conditions which call it forth, he teaches only under the same teaching authority that the college of bishops have, of which he is a member: the ordinary charism of teaching the truth given by Christ to the Apostles and in them to their successors. Just as not every comment a bishop makes is infallible, so not every comment the pope makes is infallible. But when the bishops all teach consistently the same truth, in union with the Apostles and the Fathers in antiquity, they exercise and participate in the infallibility of the ordinary magisterial (i.e. teaching) office Christ gave to his Apostles.

OK, so how do we know if the pope’s teaching here bears the charism of the ordinary magisterial office, to which we owe grave respect and adherence? By seeing whether what he teaches conforms with what has always been taught. Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, explained that the pope has no special authority to create new teaching, he only has special authority to PRESERVE the teaching received from Christ through the Apostles and successors. Hence he is utterly powerless to authoritatively issue a new teaching that does not stem from the earlier (and earliest) teaching. And to the extent that prior popes, in union with the college of bishops, have already taught in such a way as to determine an issue, to that extent he too is powerless to issue a new teaching that contradicts it – or at least, if he tries to, his effort is devoid of any authority to compel acceptance.

Has any pope tried to do this? Yes. Few, fortunately: the case of Pope John XX is one of the clearest.

Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons. In this he met with strong opposition, many theologians, who adhered to the usual opinion that the blessed departed did see God before the Resurrection of the Body and the Last Judgment, even calling his view heretical. A great commotion was aroused in the University of Paris when the General of the Minorites and a Dominican tried to disseminate there the pope's view.

Turns out he was wrong, and was shown so by theologians, and he retracted his error before his death. In that case, he had not attempted to state a teaching explicitly contrary to a definitively stated doctrine given beforehand – but then, it’s never that cut and dried (unless someone is on their way to jettisoning their Catholic identity and leaving the Church formally anyway).

In our case, the teaching is one made so by the ordinary magisterium over the course of 2000 years of Church teaching, in so many different ways as to defy full description. (Read Feser’s book to get a fair sampling (but only a sampling, not the full range.) The particular point to note, perhaps, is this: in spite of claims by Card. Ladaria, there has been little effort to set forth precisely how it is that the new teaching conforms to and is consistent with the old teaching, and indeed springs out of what was received from Christ through the Apostles. The “new understanding” and “increasing awareness” that the pope speaks of are, in all truth, only found in those who have taken on a distinctly secular humanist cast to their view of the human person. The new understanding is strong in those who are not Catholic or even Christian, and those so-called Catholics who follow alongside in that new understanding do so without any proper attempt to connect it to Christ and his teaching. Those in the Church who reject modernism fully seem to have missed out on that new understanding. That is to say, the “new” part of this change is decidedly NOT authentic development, it is anything but authentic development. And since modernism is a formally declared heresy, a Catholic is in good standing in standing with those who reject the heresy and not with those who have fallen prey to it in its current forms.

In addition, every time a priest, bishop, or cardinal attempts to give a derivation of the new teaching on DP from true roots of Christian teaching (especially, the Bible) the effort is almost always a rousing failure – their arguments are full of holes and open to very strong counterarguments that they rarely even try to answer. The modernist attempts to collar the stories of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, and to discount St. Paul’s Romans 13:1-4 are prime examples. Not to mention Genesis 9:6.

You may ask: but didn't the Pope make his statement an "ex cathedra" statement by putting it into the Catechism?

Not so: Benedict, back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, said about the Catechism when it came out that it was not infallible: the TEXTS IN IT carry with them the authority that they have in the sources they came from. Thus some of them are infallible because they come from a source that is infallible. Others have no such authority. Now this thesis by the Pope is based on: his own pronouncement at a speech to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. And in that speech it was not stated more definitively than just ordinary teaching. Thus, IF it were consonant with the immemorial teaching of the Apostles, Fathers, Doctors, and bishops, then it would also participate in the robust authority of the ordinary magisterium applicable to such cases. Otherwise... not.

Unfortunately for those who like their religious determinations simple and easy, this is all unsettling and difficult. They can’t just take a pope’s words at face value and say “I agree” right out. Sorry, that’s the nature of Catholicism. You can blame Christ for that: it is He who decided to give the role of authentic teaching office to a BODY of men, the bishops, rather than to one man (at a time) so there could be no confusion. Christ allowed for the possibility of many teachings by different men that must be weighed and considered before assenting, even if the assent is driven by faith in Christ and His word. Thus it has been from earliest times in the Church: Paul told his disciples not to believe “any other gospel” than the one preached to them at first, knowing full well that men would come along trying to teach “another” gospel. He required that they exercise discernment.

Another attempt (3) to square the circle has the pope’s statement here setting up a binding determination as to a set of prudential judgments about the use of the DP, such that (a) all use of DP is determined to be inadmissible on prudential grounds, and (b) that this conclusion is now mandatory for Catholics, even though it takes no new stance about whether the DP is in principle morally licit or illicit. It is a juridical obligation, though, not a teaching.

This attempt to square the circle also fails. If the Pope’s statement is of a prudential character, then it necessarily falls into the class of teachings that are not binding determinations: that’s the nature of the category. The Church has no special providential protection from error in making prudential determinations in matters that can be judged yea or nay (i.e. are not intrinsically immoral). And the determinations of her prelates on such are thus not binding as a matter of conscience, they at most claim our attention and due respect while those who have the proper role of decision-making go about their task. Indeed, the Church has for a century and more been very clear that she has no authority to decide things that are the specific task of civil authorities – and the proper determination of the best punishment, out of the licit punishments, as redress for violation of civil law, is definitively a civil task, not ecclesiastical.

It is only in virtue of taking a position on the DP being intrinsically wrong can the Church render a definitive conclusion about ALL cases of DP, that is binding on all the faithful.

In addition, if the Pope wants to make a law, he generally has to issue a LAW. Laws are in the imperative voice. They express specific requirements, positive or negative. This statement is not a law, it is a teaching. It states what is, not what shall be. It leaves completely vague and inferred just what is permissible: can a Catholic vote in favor of the death penalty as a juror? As a legislator? Must he rule against it as a judge? Must he rather recuse himself from such cases? (If the position were that (a) the DP remains morally licit in principle, but (b) Catholics are forbidden to use it, then a Catholic judge would have no rational basis to do anything other than recuse himself – or quit the bench entirely – rather than reject the DP in a specific case when legitimately it was called for under the civil law.) Can he argue for it as a theologian or philosopher? These and a hundred more are only implicit, left to be deduced by the subject, which is poor law.

The final interpretation of the sentence, what I will call interpretation (4), is almost like 3: It is to say that when the Pope says "the Church teaches, in light of the Gospel,..." what he really means is "it is my opinion that..." And he really is setting forth truly and accurately his own opinion.

This version would have the effect of not forcing us to read it by first swallowing a slinky and squinting with one eye tied behind our backs. It would also have the effect, like (1), of being contrary to already clear teaching by the Church that the DP is morally licit in principle.

At this point in Francis' tenure, picking between the 4 options is basically an exercise in futility. There is no knowing which one he really meant (if any), and it is an almost certainty that he will make no clarification of it as time goes on. Asking the faithful which is "more charitable", picking the one that calls the pope a (possibly material) heretic but leaves Catholic doctrine intact, or picking one that leaves one doctrine intact but runs afoul of another, or one that is not heretical because it is actually incoherent, or ... is not something Catholics have generally been trained to deal with. And frankly, with liberals who are poorly trained, more often than not when they use a word salad to explain their obscure statements

10. The new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church desires to give energy to a movement towards a decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities,

they don't ACTUALLY have a determinate meaning at all. It's like Kant all over again, but by people not half as smart as Kant. But just as silly-clever, by golly.

It remains an open question of what the Church expects if a pope tries to teach a heresy: when John XXII did it, nobody thought that he ceased to be pope and that the chair of Peter was vacant. But since then, we have had a papal constitution Cum ex Apostolatus Officio that purports to declare that a prelate who teaches heresy loses his office. Properly speaking, though, that document is so troubled in content that it is generally ignored by the hierarchy, and has been ignored more or less since it was issued. And there is some doubt as to whether it intends that the removal from office follows automatically from an official Church finding that heresy was being taught, or merely from the actual act of teaching heresy itself. The more reasonable position is the former, not the latter.

The probability of locating a majority of bishops who even THINK that the pope has fallen into error on this point, much less into heresy, is abysmal. Which just goes to show you how bad is the level of education of clerics these days. Oh God, preserve your Church, for surely you are the only one who can.

Comments (9)

I saw one meme that said, "I think we're gonna need a bigger dubia."

Question: What happens if the Pope tries to teach error and *says he is invoking the charism of infallibility* when he does so? I mean, Francis *could* up the ante I suppose by doing that.

Well, it's simple: either the Pope gets it right (states the truth), or he fails to say anything. Could be because he is struck dead. Or is struck dumb. Or is prevented from speaking by some extraneous circumstance. Or, he sets out to declare some stupid error, but he is guided to use language that HE thinks entails the nonsense but he "accidentally" slips in some qualifier or other that undoes what he set out to do ... but he doesn't even notice it.

I invite the Pope to try it. I hope he will - put his money where his mouth is. I think he will be surprised at the result.

Would you say that such prevention (being struck dead or not being permitted in some way to do such a thing publicly) absolutely must happen, by the nature of the Catholic Church? In other words, does that sort of empirical counterfactual (one of these would happen in the world if he tried to do that) follow deductively from the principles of the infallibility of the church?

One additional point to pick apart: the language of "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" may seem obvious in meaning, but most people will fail to understand it in detail.

"Involability" is a particularly in-apt means of expressing what is true here. In one sense, if a person is "invoilable", then no attack can succeed in violating, because they CANNOT BE VIOLATED. If a person is protected by an impenetrable force field, then an "attack" will leave them untouched, undamaged, undefiled, safe from harm. It will not even affect them.

It would be rather odd to say that the DP is a bad idea because when you try to kill them, you won't touch them, won't damage them, they will remain safe and whole and unaffected.

THAT can't be what "inviolable" means.

It also can't mean this: when you put a person to death, they retain at root a human dimension that is above your attack, your attack is meaningless with regard to that "inner", spiritual reality that is inviolable. If that's what "inviolable" meant, then the DP would be FREE from censure on this point. This aspect of a person is impossible to violate, and the DP does not violate it.

What must be meant is that when you put someone to death, you "attack" something that MUST NOT be attacked. Indeed, you violate something that must not be violated, but CAN be violated by your attack. Even better, (more clear), it is something that must not be harmed by attacking it, for this something, by being harmed in an attack such as the DP, constitutes being "violated". It is this "must not be harmed" aspect of their person that is "inviolable". It is an aspect of them that belongs to them merely by being a person, not in virtue of being "innocent" or "guilty". Hence they ALWAYS have this feature or characteristic that must not be harmed, and when you harm them with death and thus violate them in this aspect you do wrong.

It must be observed that there are many difficulties with this conception, and I only have time for a few of them. First off, do you notice that the advocates of this new theory never can identify just exactly WHAT this feature or characteristic IS that "must not be harmed" - without question begging, anyway. They cannot cash it out as some specific attribute, and even when they try, they cannot ever agree among themselves. If it is so difficult to locate... maybe it isn't there?

Secondly: perhaps one of the easiest and best aids to explaining it is its similarity to the Jefferson's words in the Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

"Inalienable" is VERY MUCH like "inviolable", right?

Well, it's a good try. But it exposes to ruin more than it helps. For, it is very well settled in American jurisprudence that in this context, the word "inalienable" cannot mean "there is no possibility that a person loses their right to life, liberty, ..." For all jurisprudence allows that if a man breaks the law, he can be locked up, i.e. he can lose his liberty. He is then no longer free to direct his comings and goings, or what he is to do with his time, etc. The legal theory, rather, is that a man can ONLY lose his right to liberty through his own damn fault, but he can indeed lose his right to liberty.

And, equally (because the theory is unable to distinguish them in this context) also may lose his right to life and pursuit of happiness by his own damn fault.

In fact, when you try cash out just what it is that is "inviolable" (i.e. "must not be harmed", you cannot arrive at an answer that shows "life" is in there, without question-begging arguments. The reality is that the modernists, the ones pushing NEW theories of human "dignity," are doing so not from any Christian source, but from sources having nothing to do with Christianity. Ultimately, what we are not allowed to do is to treat a human being like they are an animal or a thing. But the arguments that are used to "prove" (not actual proofs at all) that death is just that kind of harm that is a "violation" all fail, for they either (a) all fall exactly the same way on punishment as such, not just on the DP. In the modernist lexicon, it is because it is punishment that it is a "violation" of the person, not only because it extends to death. Or (b) they simply assume that "life" is not to be harmed, begging the question of just why it is a "violation" and not merely the nature of due punishment. Because punishment, in order to be punishment and not something else, has to be an imposition of an evil on the evildoer, in order to redress justice.

Properly, though, punishment for sin, accepted willingly, is not an imposition against something "inviolable", for the person who accepts his punishment as just and due recompense for his crime thereby satisfies God's justice regarding the temporal punishment due for sin and can be redeemed precisely in that acceptance, which is to the glory of God and to the sanctification of the individual. There is nothing that establishes that "death" as a punishment fails to fit this mold, when lesser punishments fit it just fine.

And just what do we mean by "attack on" anyway? When a prison guard puts a prisoner in his cell, is he "attacking" the prisoner's liberty? No, we don't say that. If the prisoner struggles and tries to get away, THAT is an attack on the guard, not the other way around: because the prisoner is justly due the prison sentence, visiting it upon him is not "an attack" at all, and using that language is a red herring for the reality of TRUE punishment. Pope Pius XII explained this, defusing the theory that the DP entails the notion of aggression against a person. It isn't aggression to impose upon him what his own actions call forth from the authorities under due process and deliberation, whether that imposition be an evil like a fine, or like a prison sentence or some other evil to be suffered. Of course it will LOOK JUST LIKE "aggression" to those who are morally infantile and do not even get retributive justice (even 4-year olds get retributive justice), but they are making a category mistake.

Nor is death a harm that constitutes a "violation" of the criminal given their grave, capital crime. The notion of "violation" requires within it the element of "being contrary to its due end or ordination." Raping a woman is a violation of her sexuality, because the act of rape is utterly contrary to ordination or due end of sex, which is as a voluntary choice to participate with God and spouse in the possible procreation of a new human being destined for unconditional love. Now, imposing death where there is no just deserving of death is a "violation" of the person in that their temporal life is ordained to many intermediate goods to be achieved ON THIS EARTH. But ultimately, our final end is not on this Earth, it is in the next life, and actions that bear most especially on achieving THAT end in particular need not constitute "violation" if they disregard goods of this life in favor of the next. That is why drafting a man into the army and asking him to put his life at risk is not a violation of his right to life: it is due and fitting to a man's true ends considered properly. When a person has committed a grave civil crime, consideration of his ordination to his final end trumps his lesser and temporary ends in this life, and imposing death in temporal satisfaction of his crime, if he accepts it with due recognition of its justice, lends itself fittingly and most excellently to his ultimate redemption and eternal happiness. Thus it most certainly is not a "violation" of his life or person. Saying so is un-Christian. It is also offensive to pious ears.

All the controversy surrounding this Pope is very disturbing. I feel like he thinks we are stupid. It’s an attempt to change doctrine while simultaneously assuring us nothing has changed. All the lies, deceptions, and ambiguities only confuse the faithful. It goes something like this: 1) Church traditionally teaches X 2) Pope teaches not-X 3) We are told this is not a change, but a development of doctrine. Then we are left scratching our heads.

In other words, does that sort of empirical counterfactual (one of these would happen in the world if he tried to do that) follow deductively from the principles of the infallibility of the church?

Yes, that is my sense of what the Catholic Church has always meant under the teaching of papal infallibility (under the required conditions). It's not a moral sense of "he cannot", it is a much stronger sense that God will prevent it.

I take under advisement the passage in the Torah in which God kills the priests who were not following the way prescribed by Moses: God is well able to intervene and do something fast and direct to protect his own word. In this age of the Church and of mercy, I think he would be be even faster and more prompt to preserve his Church from the stain of a direct, concrete, unquestionable grave error in a wrong ex cathedra teaching. And I think that this follows deductively from the principles of infallibility.

But as far as I know, no official teaching of the Church has laid this out explicitly.

Does capital punishment offends against human dignity or support it?
In the existing 1997 CCC we have the statement

2267: If non-lethal means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and 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.

So, the same idea is present in the existing catechism that the death penalty offends against human dignity. In this sense, the present development is really a valid development of doctrine presented in 1997 CCC.
The real innovation was done in 1997 when the death penalty went from a support to human dignity to something that offends it.

I'm inclined to agree with Mactoul that JPII was setting the course for this. His rationales against the dp were unconvincing and (to my mind the biggest change) retribution completely disappeared from the rationale *for* it. He didn't even *address* it! He wrote EV as though, literally, preventing future harm was the only possible rationale for the dp. This was a huge change. Anti-retributism was *assumed* in JPII's discussions of the dp, and the existing catechism reflects this. I have used this previously in discussions with other people as an example of a change in RC doctrine. I was never convinced by the arguments that it was merely a prudential discussion.

I completely agree that JPII was responsible for setting this in motion. It is, in fact, one of his most reprehensible actions as pope. That particular statement is in direct defiance of the most carefully worked out and widely taught principled body of teaching on punishment - and he laid it out with hardly even a nod to the tension (or contradiction) involved. After 20 years, hardly anybody in the Church has taken on that task seriously and TRIED to show the resolution or reconciliation. That's not what happens in "development", that's what happens when someone is trying to put their own opinion into the "teachings of the Church".

Mactoul, for 25 years, those who understand the older teaching fully have been asking for an explanation that makes sense. For a theory of punishment that holds water. For a teaching that can stand up and be seen in detail, not just in the very broadest brush strokes (or, worse, just in hints and suggestions). For 25 years, it's just been crickets. Or accusations that we don't love the Pope.

Back then I asked of my bishop an explanation of that teaching that made sense and was not offensive to pious ears. IIRC, he (or rather, his theologian) effectively answered by saying that the whole of JPII's treatment in 2267 was part of JPII's prudential judgment about the matter, and thus were not binding in the way the Church teaches principles. One might put it that JPII's "should" retains a note of suggestion rather than command. Francis rejects that note, seemingly.

What is the Pope afraid of, that he and his will not try to SHOW FORTH the resolution of the problem? Why is it that the teaching in 2267 (both the old and the new) is ALWAYS left in terms of such vagueness? Why is it that nobody in the Vatican or the rest of the Church who are so positive that the new teaching is right can even imagine explaining it and its foundations in a clear and principled way, rather than mere references to sentiment? I don't know the answers to these questions. But I do know that until someone has answers to them, the teaching has no claim to the name "development". It remains, at best a new hypothesis.

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