Pope Francis’ Statements About The Death Penalty Are A World-Class Lesson In Catholic Theology

Pope Francis is the leader of the Church, and he has surprised many people by making statements of a progressively more questionable and potentially heretical nature. Recently, the Pope made a major statement saying that the death penalty was “inadmissible” and went so far as to criticize all the popes of the past for their support of it:

Pope Francis today said that popes “in past centuries” ignored “the primacy of mercy over justice” in using the death penalty, which he called an “inhuman form of punishment” that is now “always inadmissible.”

The Pope’s remarks came in a Dec. 17 address to a delegation from the International Commission against the Death Penalty.

During the private audience, the Pope set aside his prepared address and spoke to the delegation in unscripted remarks. After the meeting, the Vatican released the prepared address to reporters, noting that it had also been given to participants.

In the prepared speech, the Pope highlighted the various interventions he has made over the years in favor of abolishing the death penalty, including one to the United States Congress on September 24, 2015.

He also spoke about the recent change to n. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which he said “which now expresses the progress of the doctrine of the most recent Pontiffs as well as the change in the conscience of the Christian people, which rejects a penalty that seriously harms human dignity.”

Claiming that “in past centuries” the use of the death penalty was based on the inability to protect society, and an insufficiently developed understanding of “human rights,” the Pope said in his address that “recourse to the death penalty was sometimes presented as a logical and just consequence.”

“Even in the Papal State, this inhuman form of punishment was resorted to, ignoring the primacy of mercy over justice,” he said.

The Pope added: “That is why the new wording of the Catechism also implies taking responsibility for the past and recognizing that the acceptance of this form of punishment was a consequence of a mentality of the time, more legalistic than Christian, that sacralized the value of laws lacking in humanity and mercy.”

Insisting that the change to the Catechism is not a “contradiction with the teaching of the past” but a “harmonious development” of doctrine, Pope Francis reiterated that the Church now teaches, “in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is always inadmissible because it counters the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”

“In the same way,” he said, “the Magisterium of the Church understands that life imprisonment, which removes the possibility of moral and existential redemption, for the benefit of the condemned and for the community, is a form of the death penalty in disguise.”

He therefore urged all states that continue to use the death penalty to “adopt a moratorium with a view to the abolition of this cruel form of punishment.”

In his address, the Pope also drew attention to “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” which he said are “which are a regrettably recurrent phenomenon in countries with or without legal death penalty.”

“These are deliberate homicides committed by state agents, which are often passed as a result of confrontations with alleged criminals or presented as unintended consequences of the reasonable, necessary and proportional use of force to protect citizens,” he said.

Here below is an English translation of Pope Francis’s prepared address, which was written in Spanish. This article was updated at 4:00 pm on Dec. 18, 2018.


Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

I greet all of you cordially and wish to express my personal gratitude for the work that the International Commission against the Death Penalty carries out in favour of the universal abolition of this cruel form of punishment. I also appreciate the commitment that each of you has dedicated to this cause in your respective countries.

I addressed a letter to your president on March 19, 2015, and I expressed the Church’s commitment to the cause of abolition in my speech before the United States Congress on September 24, 2015.

I shared some ideas on this topic in my letter to the International Association of Penal Law and the Latin American Association of Criminal Law and Criminology, on May 30, 2014. I explored them further in my address to the five major world associations dedicated to the study of criminal law, criminology, victimology and prison issues, of October 23, 2014. The certainty that every life is sacred and that human dignity must be safeguarded without exception has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to work at different levels for the universal abolition of the death penalty.

This was reflected recently in the new wording of no. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which now expresses the progress of the doctrine of the most recent Pontiffs as well as the change in the conscience of the Christian people, which rejects a penalty that seriously harms human dignity (cf. Address on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, October 11, 2017). It is a penalty contrary to the Gospel as it implies suppressing a life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which only God is the true judge and guarantor (see Letter to the President of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, March 20, 2015).

In past centuries, when the instruments available to us for the protection of society were lacking and the current level of development of human rights had not yet been achieved, recourse to the death penalty was sometimes presented as a logical and just consequence. Even in the Papal State, this inhuman form of punishment was resorted to, ignoring the primacy of mercy over justice.

That is why the new wording of the Catechism also implies taking responsibility for the past and recognizing that the acceptance of this form of punishment was a consequence of a mentality of the time, more legalistic than Christian, that sacralized the value of laws lacking in humanity and mercy. The Church cannot remain in a neutral position in the face of the current demands for the reaffirmation of personal dignity.

The reform of the text of the Catechism in the point dedicated to the death penalty does not imply any contradiction with the teaching of the past, because the Church has always defended the dignity of human life. However, the harmonious development of the doctrine imposes the need to reflect in the Catechism that, notwithstanding the gravity of the crime committed, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is always inadmissible because it counters the inviolability and the dignity of the person.

In the same way, the Magisterium of the Church understands that life sentences [las penas perpetuas], which deny the possibility of moral and existential redemption of the condemned and of the community, are a form of death penalty in disguise (cf. Address to a Delegation of the International Association Penal Law, October 23, 2014). God is a Father Who always awaits the return of the son who, knowing that he has made a mistake, asks for forgiveness and starts a new life. No one, then, can be deprived of his life or of his hope of redemption and reconciliation with the community.

As occurred in the heart of the Church, it is necessary that a similar commitment be assumed in the concert of nations. The sovereign right of all countries to define their legal system cannot be exercised in contradiction with their obligations under international law, nor can it represent an obstacle to the universal recognition of human dignity.

The resolutions of the United Nations on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty, which aim to suspend the application of the death penalty in member countries, are a path that must be travelled without implying rejection of the initiative of universal abolition.

On this occasion, I would like to invite all States that have not abolished the death penalty but do not apply it, to continue to comply with this international commitment and that the moratorium be applied not only to the execution of the sentence but also to the imposition of death sentences. The moratorium cannot be lived by the condemned as a mere prolongation of the wait for the execution of the sentence.

To the States that continue to apply the death penalty, I urge you to adopt a moratorium with a view to the abolition of this cruel form of punishment. I understand that to reach abolition, which is the aim of this cause, in certain contexts it may be necessary to go through complex political processes. The suspension of executions and the reduction of crimes punishable by capital punishment, as well as the prohibition of this form of punishment for minors, pregnant women or people with mental or intellectual disabilities, are minimum objectives with which leaders around the world must engage.

As I have done on previous occasions, I would like to call attention to extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, which are a regrettably recurrent phenomenon in countries with or without legal death penalty. These are deliberate homicides committed by state agents, which are often passed as a result of confrontations with alleged criminals or presented as unintended consequences of the reasonable, necessary and proportional use of force to protect citizens.

Self-love is a fundamental principle of morality. It is therefore legitimate to enforce the right to life itself, even when it is necessary to inflict a mortal blow on the aggressor (CEC, No. 2264).

Legitimate defence is not a right but a duty for the one who is responsible for the life of another (ibid., N.2226). The defence of the common good requires placing the aggressor in the situation of not being able to cause harm. For this reason, those who have legitimate authority must reject any aggression, even with the use of weapons, whenever this is necessary for the preservation of one’s own life or that of the persons in their care. As a consequence, any use of lethal force that is not strictly necessary for this purpose can only be considered an illegal execution, a state crime.

Any defensive action, to be legitimate, must be necessary and measured. As Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, “such an act, in regard to the preservation of one’s own life, is not illicit, since it is natural for all beings to preserve their existence as far as possible. However, an act that comes from good intention can become illicit if it is not proportionate to the end. Therefore, if one, to defend his own life, uses more violence than is called for, this act will be unlawful. But if he counters aggression moderately, the defence will be lawful, since, according to law, it is lawful to repel force with force, moderating the defense according to the needs of threatened security” (Summa theologiae, 2-2, q., a.7).

Finally, I want to share with you a reflection that is linked to the work you do, to your struggle for a truly human justice. Reflections in the legal field and philosophy of law have traditionally dealt with those who injure or interfere in the rights of others. Less attention has been paid to the omission to help others when we can. It is a reflection that can no longer be postponed.

The traditional principles of justice, characterized by the idea of respect for individual rights and their protection from all interference by others, must be complemented by an ethic of care. In the field of criminal justice, this implies a greater understanding of the causes of behaviour, its social context, the situation of vulnerability of offenders to the law and the suffering of victims. This method of reasoning, inspired by divine mercy, should lead us to contemplate each individual case in its specificity, and not to deal with abstract numbers of victims and victimizers. In this way, it is possible to address the ethical and moral problems that arise from conflict and social injustice, to understand the suffering of the specific people involved and to reach other types of solutions that do not deepen those sufferings.

We can express it with this image: we need a justice that besides being a father is also a mother. The gestures of mutual care, characteristic of love that is also civil and political, are manifested in all actions that are intended to build a better world (Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, 231). Love of society and the commitment to the common good are an excellent form of charity, which affects not only the relations between individuals, but also “macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)” (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter, Caritas in veritate, June 29, 2009, 2: AAS 101 [2009], 642).

Social love is the key to an authentic development: “In order to make society more human, more worthy of the human person, love in social life – political, economic and cultural – must be given renewed value, becoming the constant and highest norm for all activity” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 582). In this framework, social love moves us to think about great strategies that encourage a culture of care in the different areas of life in common. The work that you do is part of that effort to which we are called.

Dear friends, I thank you again for this meeting, and I assure you that I will continue working together with you for the abolition of the death penalty. The Church is committed to this and I hope that the Holy See will collaborate with the International Commission against the Death Penalty in the construction of the necessary consensus for the eradication of capital punishment and all forms of cruel punishment.

It is a cause to which all men and women of good will are called and a duty for those of us who share the Christian vocation of Baptism. All people, in any case, need the help of God, Who is the source of all reason and justice.

I invoke, therefore, for each of you, with the intercession of the Virgin Mother, the light and strength of the Holy Spirit. I bless you with my heart and, please, I ask you to pray for me. (source, source)

Pope Francis’ statements are objectively wrong because as not merely a professing Catholic, but as the temporal leader of the Church, he is corrupting the dogmas of the Faith.

This is the textbook definition of heresy. You can read the full definition with details at the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia.

But this is not the end. It is just the beginning, and Pope Francis’ statements, heresy though they may be, are an excellent example as to the wisdom and genius of the Faith because his statements have absolutely no effect on the integrity of the Faith itself. In short, his statements are meaningless and Catholics in this case are morally obligated to ignore the Pope on this issue.

The Catholic Faith is a simple and easy thing to understand.

God says he is going to perfect the Law of Moses and fulfill the words of the prophets, which happens with the first coming of Christ as promised.

Christ fulfills, perfects, and perfectly explains the words of the Old Testament to the scholars, and then tells His followers that He is going to build His Church on St. Peter, over which the gates of hell will not prevail, and whatsoever he binds on Earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever he looses on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.

After Jesus is murdered for the sins of the world and is raised from the dead, the disciples go out, preaching the gospel, opening churches, and spreading the Good News, and all of them are put to death for Christ except for St. John, who is boiled alive in oil and then dumped on the Greek island of Patmos in exile. St. Peter, the first Pope, is crucified and he insists on being crucified upside-down because the honor of a normal crucifixion was given to Christ, and is the reason why the chair of St. Peter at the Vatican has an upside-down cross on it.

St. Peter’s crest, showing his cross with the keys to the Church entrusted to him by Christ in Matthew’s Gospel.

You can read the story of St. Peter’s martyrdom here as it is related by Origen in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The writings of the ancient saints consistently emphasize the importance of Christ’s appointment of St. Peter to be the foundation on which His Church for salvation. There is a reason why the Church teaches that, clearly, extra ecclesiam nunca sallus est.

This is just a small selection of the words from the saints, which have been said throughout the ages.

The Catholic Church functions like a bank account. God is the owner and what is in the account is the Faith- men are only assigned to watch over the account, but they cannot add to or subtract from it because it does not belong to them.

The consistent teaching of the Church since Her inception is that the death penalty, while it is the option of last resort, is certainly permitted and it is not wrong to use. This was a fundamental theme in Ted’s book, Christianity Is At War, which gives an extensive overview of this issue and the concept of war in Christianity.

Pope Francis, by making this statement, is putting himself against the very faith he is charged to represent.

He cannot change anything. He can only express either a person opinion that is objective heresy, or lie, in which case he is guilty of both lying and heresy.

So how does one remain Catholic when the Pope is clearly not doing the job he was charged with? This situation is not unique in that it has happened before, and millions of people still remained in the Faith.

This article was originally published on Rorate Caeli, where you can read the full article. I am putting it here because it is worth the read in these very interesting times:

The question then is, what can be done during the time of a calamitous Pope. What behavior is conveniently adopted in times like this. Well then, since recently lists of tips have become common, to achieve joy, to lower cholesterol, to try to be more positive, to stop smoking, to get thinner, I will allow myself to propose to the reader a series of tips in order to survive a calamitous Pope without stopping being Catholic. I should not have to say that it is not a definitive list. But it may be useful anyhow. Let us begin:

(1) Keep calm. In moments of anguish, the tendency to hysteria is only too human, but it solves nothing. Calm down. Because only by way of calm can the convenient decisions for each case be taken, and the words and deeds one might soon regret can be avoided.

(2) Read good books on the history of the Church and the history of the papacy. Used that we are to a series of great Popes, living through a calamitous pontificate can be a traumatic experience, if one does not manage to put it into context. Reading good tomes on the history of the Church and on the history of the papacy helps to analyze in a better way an ongoing situation. Above all because in these books other cases are shown – numerous cases, unfortunately, or just because that is the way human nature is – in which the waters of the Roman source looked murky. The Church suffers from such weaknesses, but does not collapse because of them. It happened like this in the past, and we can expect it also to happen in the present and in the future.

(3) Do not give in to apocalyptic warnings. When some are subjected to the ravages of a calamitous pontificate, they take them as signs of the imminence of the end times. It is a concept that always comes up in such circumstances: apocalyptic passages motivated by similar evils can also be read in texts by medieval authors. But this fact should precisely serve to us as a warning. It does not make much sense to interpret each storm as if it were the Great Tribulation. The end times will come when they have to come, and it does not belong to us to know neither the day nor the hour. Our job is to fight the combat of our own age, but the global view of things belongs to Someone else.

(4) Do not stay silent, nor look away. During a calamitous pontificate, the defect that is the opposite one of adopting the behavior of an apocalyptic prophet is that of minimizing events, being silent when faced with abuse, and looking away. Some justify this attitude by recalling the image of the good sons who covered the nakedness of Noah. But what is certain is that there is no way of righting the course of a ship if the deviation is not revealed. Moreover, Sacred Scripture has an example that is much more appropriate than Noah’s: the hard yet just and loyal reproaches made by the apostle Paul to the pontiff Peter, when the latter let himself be taken in by human concerns. This episode of the Acts of the Apostles is there so that we learn to distinguish loyalty from silent complicity. The Church is not a party in which the chairman must always get unconditional applause. Neither is it a sect whose leader is acclaimed at every moment. The Pope is not the leader of a sect, but a servant of the Gospel and of the Church; a free and human servant who, as such, can occasionally adopt reprehensible decisions or attitudes. And reprehensible decisions and attitudes must be reprehended.

(5) Do not generalize. The bad example (of cowardliness, of careerism, etc) of some bishops and cardinals during a calamitous pontificate should not lead us to disqualify in a general way all bishops, cardinals, or clerics. Each person is responsible for his own words, his own actions, and his own omissions. But the hierarchical structure of the Church was instituted by her Founder, due to which it must be respected, despite every criticism. The objection to a calamitous Pope should not extend to all his words and deeds. Only those that deviate from the immemorial doctrine of the Church, or which set a direction that may compromise aspects of said doctrine. And the opinion on these points must not be based on private events, opinions, or preferences: the teaching of the Church is summarized in her catechism. When the Pope moves away from the catechism, he must be criticized. Not in other matters.

(6) Do not help initiatives for the greater glory of the calamitous pontiff. If a calamitous Pope asks for help for good works, he must be heard. But other initiatives should not be supported, such as, for instance, multitudinous meetings that serve to show him as a popular pontiff. In the case of a calamitous Pope, acclamation is unnecessary. Because, based in them, he might feel supported to deviate the course of the Church’s ship even more. It is not good enough, then, to say that it is not the Pontiff, but Peter, who is being applauded, Because the result will be that this applause will be used for the personal ends not of Peter but of the calamitous Pontiff.

(7) Do not follow the instructions of the Pope in that which deviates from the treasure of the Church. If a Pope would teach doctrines or would try to impose practices that do not correspond to the perennial teaching of the Church, summarized in the catechism, he cannot be supported nor obeyed in his intent. This means, for example, that priests and bishops are under the obligation to insist on traditional doctrine and practice, rooted in the deposit of the faith, even at the cost of exposing themselves to being punished. The lay faithful must likewise insist on teaching traditional doctrine and practices in their area of influence. Under no circumstances, not even out of blind obedience or fear of reprisals, is it acceptable to contribute to the spreading of heterodoxy or heteropraxis.

(8) Do not financially support collaborationist dioceses. If a Pope would teach doctrines, or would impose practices, that do not correspond to the perennial teaching of the Church, summarized in the catechism, diocesan Pastors should serve as a wall of contention. But history shows that bishops do not always react with sufficient energy when faced with these dangers. Even worse, they at times endorse, for whichever reasons, the efforts of the calamitous pontiff. The lay faithful who lives in a diocese ruled by such a Pastor must therefore remove his financial support to his local church while the inappropriate situation persists. Obviously, this does not apply to aids that are directly destined to charitable ends, but it does apply to all the rest. This also applies to any kind of collaboration with the diocese, whether it be for example some kind of volunteer work or institutional position.

(9) Do not support any schism. When faced with a calamitous Pope, the temptation of a radical rupture may come up. This temptation must be resisted at all costs. A Catholic has the duty to try to minimize, from within the Church, all the negative effects of a bad pontificate, but without breaking the Church or breaking with the Church. This means that even if, for instance, his resistance to adopt some theses or some practices would lead to the application for him of penalties, he must not as a consequence initiate a new schism nor support any of those already in place. It is necessary for him to keep being a Catholic under any circumstances.

(10) Pray. The permanence and salvation of the Church does not ultimately depend on ourselves, but on the One who wanted her and created her for our good. In moments of distress, it is necessary to pray, pray, and pray, so that the Master will wake up and calm the storm. This tip was placed last, not because it is the least important, but because it is the most important of all. Because ultimately what matters is that we truly believe that the Church is supported by a God who loves her, and who will not allow her to be destroyed. Let us pray, therefore, for the conversion of nefarious pontiffs, and so that calamitous pontificates may be followed by pontificates of restoration and peace. Many dry branches will have been lost during the storm, but the ones that remained united with Christ will bloom again. May God allow this to be declared also about us.

God promised that the gates of hell would not prevail over His Church.

He did not promise that the Church would not be infiltrated or severely assaulted, or that she would not have to suffer grave hardships or be beaten into a bloody pulp.

He promised that no matter what happens, She would prevail because She is His bride and He will see to Her victory, and that truth will prevail over all.

There is more good that can be said than bad, and if anything the situation is a testament to the truth and veraciyt of the Faith. What bad actions there are serves as but a lesson to the wise and faithful on how to distinguish truthfully between good and evil teachings.

Indeed, there are many good popes looking down upon the “church militant” on Earth, praying for the faithful in the midst of the diabolical disorientation characteristic of these times.