Did the Pope Contradict Church Teaching When He Introduced a New Teaching on the Death Penalty? No - By: Suzanne Fortin
In this article a prominent Pro-Life mother and blogger defends Pope Francis' teachings against the death penalty - She speaks of her experiences dealing with the social media anger against the Pope.
When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the Death Penalty, my Facebook feed exploded into criticism of Pope Francis. He contradicted Church teaching! They cried.
He declared it intrinsically evil!
But of course, he never said any such thing.
The pope may have condemned the death penalty as inadmissible, but he did not declare it “intrinsically disordered.” Many people confuse the two concepts because they think that “inadmissible” means that capital punishment is “gravely sinful” and by virtue of it being “gravely sinful,” it’s “intrinsically disordered.” But the phrase “intrinsically disordered” doesn’t automatically mean “gravely sinful,” although many intrinsically disordered sins are that. A white lie is intrinsically disordered, but it is not a grave sin. An intrinsically disordered act is one that contradicts a natural function God attributed to creation. When two men have sexual relations, that is intrinsically disordered because God ordered the sexes to be complementary. When someone blasphemes God, that is intrinsically disordered, because God ordered that the human soul be destined to be united with God. And forth. Because of the very specific nature of these sins, relatively few sins are intrinsically disordered.
Most sins are sinful because of intention, circumstance or consequence. Remove the offending intention, circumstance or consequence—or add a required one—and the act is no longer sinful.
As the teaching of the death penalty is not one dealing with an intrinsically disordered acts, it is within the Magisterium’s authority to determine under what conditions an act is moral or immoral. This is all that Pope Francis did. He determined that under the present circumstances, because we have come to a greater understanding of human dignity, and because the penal system is sufficient to protect human life, it is not acceptable to have recourse to the death penalty.
Should the penal system ever become inadequate in protecting human life, then, it is logically implied, capital punishment could be acceptable.
Critics of Pope Francis who insist that he contradicted the Church’s Magisterium do not understand the nature of contradiction. They think that the Church’s Magisterium and Pope Francis’ teaching are mutually exclusive.
Logically, they are not.
The Church’s Magisterium asserted that capital punishment is permitted, that is does not contravene the commandment against killing. But the Church has never asserted capital punishment is obligatory or that every act of capital punishment is moral.
Note, that when the Church developed her teaching before the modern era, the penal system was woefully underdeveloped. In many instances, if criminals were not physically punished for their crimes, they were forced to pay fines or forfeit property. There was no concept of putting people in jail for decades at a time to expiate a crime. This is a modern development. Given that the Church never made capital punishment obligatory and that conditions have developed to allow for expiation of crimes in ways other than death, it is natural that the Church place conditions on the use of capital punishment, so the we do not use it so long as we have a penal system capable of protecting human life.
Pope Francis is not saying that capital punishment is, henceforward never permissible, only that, in our current condition, while we have a penal system capable of protecting human life, it is not acceptable to execute a criminal. This is not a contradiction, according to the rules of formal logic.
Now some might say that this is grasping at straws. But Truth is constructed by these very self-same rules of logic. If we believe in reason, and thus, in logic, then we are forced to admit that Pope Francis did not contradict the Church’s Magisterium in modifying the teaching on the death penalty.
About the Author: Suzanne Fortin, originally from the Province of Quebec, holds a BA in History, she is currently studying at University of Ottawa and is a Pro-Life mother of 4. She blogs at http://www.bigbluewave.ca/ and http://www.historyoftheunborn.com/- She also runs a popular French language pro-life FB page