Pope Francis does something good: changes Catholic dogma to oppose the death penalty

If we’re to be credible in our criticism of religion, we must also laud it when someone uses their religious authority to do something good. And that was just done by Pope Francis, whom I’ve criticized before for being all sweet talk and no action. This time there’s action—at least a formal change in Church dogma and a pledge to work toward the abolition of the death penalty. Here’s the report from CNN; click on the screenshot to go to the story:

I don’t know if he was speaking ex cathedra, but the Catholic Catechism, the guidebook to what the Church holds to be true and moral, is said to have been changed. CNN:

Pope Francis has declared that the death penalty is never admissible and that the Catholic Church will work towards its abolition around the world, the Vatican formally announced Thursday.

The change, which has been added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, makes official a position that the Pope has articulated since he became pontiff.

The church now teaches that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and states that it will “work with determination towards its abolition worldwide,” the Vatican said.

The declaration by Pope Francis, who is spiritual leader to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, may have particular resonance in the United States, where capital punishment remains legal in 31 states and as a federal punishment.

I couldn’t find this change today in the online Catholic Catechism, which still says the following:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

But I’ll assume that the Internet hasn’t yet caught up to God.

My only beef with this, and it’s a minor one, is that the Vatican’s rationale for opposing the death penalty is because it contravenes “the inviolability and dignity of the person,” a position that could be used to buttress almost any bit of Catholic morality, including opposition to abortion. In my view, the real reasons for opposing the death penalty are that it’s not a deterrent, it doesn’t allow for reformation of the criminal, it’s barbaric, it costs society more than putting someone in prison for life and, in cases when the defendant pleaded “not guilty”, it doesn’t allow the legal system to rectify a false conviction. (Also, some people plead guilty when they’re not.) As for the “dignity of the person,” that’s in short supply in most American prisons.

Curiously, since the Church has opposed the death penalty—albeit informally—for several decades, the proportion of Catholics favoring that penalty is in line with the rest of America, and is a majority. As CNN reports:

Among Americans, 54% favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 39% are opposed, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April and May.

That represents a slight increase since 2016, when public support for the death penalty reached a four-decade low, Pew said in a June news release.

Its survey found that 53% of Catholics favor capital punishment, while 42% oppose it. Support for the death penalty is highest among white evangelical Protestants, Pew said.

Here are the data from the Pew report, showing not only a sustained temporal decrease (but a slight two-year increase) in American support for the death penalty, but also a widening gap between Democrats and Republicans (guess which party favors it most?), as well as the heartening fact that those unaffiliated with a church are the biggest opponents of the death penalty. The first bar graph is especially interesting, but I’ll let you explore that yourself.

The general decrease over time:

So the Pope did a good thing, but nonbelievers and “nones” are still the group that takes the highest road with respect to the death penalty. Maybe Francis could give us a shout-out?

The figure below shows the gap between the Dems and the GOP, so that the proportion of Republicans who favor the death penalty is now more than twice the proportion of Democrats:



  1. Posted August 2, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Uh, what happened to the death penalty for sassing your parents or not being virgin enough as a bride? Is death no longer the wages of sin? There were so many Biblical “infractions” that called for the death penalty (see Leviticus) is the Pope bailing on scripture?

    On Thu, Aug 2, 2018 at 11:02 AM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “If we’re to be credible in our criticism of > religion, we must also laud it when someone uses their religious authority > to do something good. And that was just done by Pope Francis, whom I’ve > criticized before for being all sweet talk and no action. This t” >

    • nicky
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      If you are a good Catholic you don’t need to interpret the scripture, the Church does that for you. I’m sure they can and will argue that with the coming of Christ, the Covenant has changed, and we can pick and choose from the OT as we (the Church that is) deem fit. [Eg. we baptise , but don’t circumcise.]

      I wonder if the virtual condemnation of the death penalty will have any effect on the popularity of Mr Duterte (who even dishes it out without process) in the Phillippines -the most Catholic nation in Asia. It already suffered by his calling the Christian God a stupid God (something I can’t find fault with, repugnant as Mr Duterte is).

  2. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    There have been Catholic rumblings in the direction of being anti-death penalty for decades but this is the first official “from the top” statement I know of.

    In America at least, Catholic rarely pay attention to all political views of the Vatican. The folks at the top have always been fairly conservative on sexual ethics, but slightly liberal on issues relating to money and business ethics. (Which is what C.S. Lewis said overtly a Christian society should be.) But conservative Catholics in America seem to think the Vatican has authority on sex but none on money and they are free to ignore the latter.

    In the 1890s there was a famous papal statement on the Industrial Revolution (Rerum Novarum) and its consequences, which as Wikpedia reports “supported the rights of labor to form unions, rejected socialism and unrestricted capitalism, whilst affirming the right to private property.”
    A running joke in Catholic circles was that William F. Buckley was always quoting the parts on the right to own property, but never the parts supporting labor unions, while Catholic socialist Michael Harrington was always the other way around.

    • nicky
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Correct. In Catholic Italy (and most other Catholic countries) the birth rate has been dropping vertiginously. That was not achieved by sexual abstention, methinks, but by contraceptives, which are explicitly forbidden by the Church.

      • Pierluigi Ballabeni
        Posted August 3, 2018 at 3:09 am | Permalink

        Good point. I come from a country where a bit more than a third of the population declares itself Catholic and a bit more than a quarter Protestant. My subjective inpression is that peopple who call themselves Protestants tend to take religion more seriously than those who call themselves Catholics.

  3. W.T. Effingham
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Is the pope bailing on scripture? We can only hope,..hmm first he needs to bail on Leviticus, then he has a few dozen more..in no particular order as long as Rev…sorry I’m doing some wishful thinking.☺

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Leviticus and Revelation.
      Easily the two most problematic and troubling books of the Christian Bible.

    • Pierluigi Ballabeni
      Posted August 3, 2018 at 3:15 am | Permalink

      The catholic Church does not take the scripture literally (at least not all of it). It interprets it and imposes the official interpretation to its followers.

  4. Posted August 2, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I thought the CC was officially opposed to the death penalty as it stands; what looks to be new is an official, top-level campaign to eliminate it.

  5. peepuk
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    As a(n) (atheistic) catholic I think it doesn’t matter much what the pope says, at least not here in Northern-Europe.

    And one could argue that indoctrinating innocent little children with superstitious beliefs is also an attack on the inviolability and dignity of a human.

    • Blue
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      I .do. argue .exactly. that, peepuk, as did
      the late Mr Hitchens:
      … … ” ‘Religious education’ is child a b u s e. ”


    • Pierluigi Ballabeni
      Posted August 3, 2018 at 3:23 am | Permalink

      I think it is more or less the same in Southern Europe. Forty years ago the Communist Party used to get 30% of votes in several Italian elections, while over 90% of the country’s population declared itself Catholic.

  6. Mark Reaume
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I was curious which countries carried out capital punishment still, this site seems pretty good: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-penalty-international-perspective

    Interestingly, the USA (perhaps some of African countries) is really the only predominately Christian state on the list. So I’m not sure how much impact this statement will have globally.

    • freiner
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for the link. I notice on the site that the USA was just about neck and neck with Somalia in the number of executions in 2017. Make of that what you will.

      • Posted August 2, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        The USA has twenty times the population of Somalia but Somalia kills about the same number of people.

        • freiner
          Posted August 2, 2018 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          I see your point, but I’m not sure whether scaling with respect to population is relevant here. Somalia is a human rights nightmare on a scale thoroughly out of proportion to anything the USA aspires or lays claim to. It seems cold comfort to say “Look, the States have executed only the same number of people as Somalia, yet the States have so many more people.”

          • Posted August 2, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

            I thought the point you were making was that the USA was as bad as Somalia: “the USA is neck and neck with Somalia” implies they are equivalent and as we both know, Somalia is an absolute basket case in human rights terms.

            Well the USA is not as bad as Somalia and scaling according to size of country is absolutely relevant to that assessment.

            • freiner
              Posted August 2, 2018 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

              I want to be careful here because I think we are probably more aligned than it may seem. The “neck and neck” simply referred to the raw scores on the list, certainly not to some sort of moral tally. In fact, that’s actually my overall point: The USA — given not only its ideals and values but what it in fact is — should not even appear on this list that contains some of the worst offenders of human rights. This is regardless of relative sizes.
              Here is where we may differ. I think scaling according to size gains validity only when other factors — in this case, social factors and even ethical values — correspond. In this event, compare the USA with, say, Canada, or with western European countries. We well know how the USA compares in this respect with regard to the death penalty.
              Which comes back to the countries with which the USA does end being lumped in among. It should almost seem like a category error to make a USA-Somalia comparison. Which brings (me at least) back to wondering at how disgraceful it is that the USA can end up on this list. The closeness of the number simply underscores — even if does not provide some statistical measure — this outrage.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if he was speaking ex cathedra …

    I kinda doubt it, given that the Holy See has acted ex cathedra just once before since the doctrine was created from whole cloth in the 19th century — to make the Assumption of the Mary church dogma.

  8. Posted August 2, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m personally ambivalent on the death penalty, but it’s fascinating yet disturbing to see yet another social issue where the liberal elite & the Dems are increasingly aberrant from the rest of society.

    • mikeyc
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Wait. What? From the simplest of the graphs above one could just as easily say that it is republicans who are aberrant from the rest of society as it is only among them that support for the death penalty has never dipped below 50%. Independents and Dems track together for the most part, are only a few percentages off each other, and even agreed at one point (way back in the oughts).

      Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you’re referring to.

      • Posted August 2, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        I refer to the simplest data point of all: a majority favor the death penalty; a majority of Dems oppose it.

        More importantly, a majority of independents — the folks the Dems need to persuade to win elections — favor it.

        The Dems are in a good position to take back Congress this November. Of late, however, they’ve shot themselves in the foot, first by demanding that Immigration & Customs be abolished, then by agonizing over the potential end to late-term abortions. I could easily see them, inspired by Francis’ statement, to bring abolishing the death penalty to the fore. As the polling shows, it’s a losing plank.

        • Posted August 2, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

          So you say Democrats should abandon a principle to get more votes. Frankly I think that would play worse with the electorate.

          • Posted August 2, 2018 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

            The DNC adopted that particular position for the first time in 2016 — the same year, btw, it couldn’t get a floor vote to approve the plank stating Israel had a right to defend its sovereignty.

            The trend is clear: since 2008, the Dem party has been steadily bleeding affiliation to the ranks of independents (while GOP affiliation has been stable.)

            So, did more Democrats change their opinion on things like the death penalty, Israel, etc., over the past four years? Or did the stridency of the Party’s hard-left wing just drive out still more moderates?

            If the Dems wishes to continue to lose membership and lose elections, then they should continue to adopt positions that alienate them from the rest of America.

            As for individuals, everyone should feel free to express their opinion on this or any subject. But the liberal elite are not just increasingly out-of-step with the rest of the nation, they are both incredibly arrogant about it, and entirely bereft of any means for persuading others (as condensation, insult, and hectoring only back-fire.) In short, they are more interested in being right than in being effective.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Mean the same way the “liberal elite” was on civil rights?

      • Posted August 2, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        What’s the Godwin’s Law equivalent for the inevitability that an SJW will make a false analogy to the Civil Rights movement?

        Anyway, what’s wrong with the hoi poilloi, insisting on forming their own opinions, instead up just thinking the way the superior NPR elite tell them to?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 2, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

          Do tell why the analogy is false. Someone is always in the vanguard in any advancement of basic human-rights (and we could as lief be talking here about universal suffrage or child-labor laws or laws protecting the environment, as about civil rights) and those someones have invariably come from the Left — whether poor, or working-class, or “elite.”

          I never said that anyone should be denied the opportunity to form their own opinions; I was responding to your assertion that “liberal elites” were “increasingly aberrant” from the rest of society.

          When it comes to basic human rights — including the rights secured by the first 10 amendments to the US constitution, such as the right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishment” — I don’t believe such rights should be left to a show of hands. Do you?

          • Posted August 2, 2018 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

            I believe everything should be left to a show of hands — a.k.a. democracy.

            Apparently, you support an aristocracy.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted August 2, 2018 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

              So you’d make free speech, freedom of religion, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, due process, equal protection, the right to a fair trial, etc., dependent upon the will of the majority? Or does that apply only to the constitutional rights you apparently disapprove of, like the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment?

              I believe there are some essential inalienable rights that are beyond a show of hands. That’s the creedal notion this nation was founded upon.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      The death penalty has no deterrent effect. It’s an order of magnitude more expensive in application than life-without-parole. This nation has yet to find a system for determining which cases to impose it in that is not arbitrary and capricious at best, and more often biased against the poor and minorities. We’ve also never found a method for conducting executions humanely. All of which is why the US is an outlier among civilized western democracies in continuing to employ it.

      What countervailing factors place the case for capital punishment in sufficient equipoise for you to make you “ambivalent” about it?

      • Posted August 2, 2018 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        I’m not inclined to discuss the merits of the arguments for & against the death penalty with someone who has tendentiously equated supporting it with supporting segregation.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 2, 2018 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

          You said liberals were “aberrant” in their opposition to capital punishment. I simply pointed out that liberals were similarly aberrant in their support of civil rights (which is self-evidently true; Jim Crow always enjoyed immense support among southern voters).

          That’s your excuse for being unable to put forward so much as a single cogent argument in support of the death penalty?

          • Posted August 3, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            I never intended on putting forth any arguments in favor of the death penalty. And, as I noted, I’m not inclined to engage in such a discussion with someone who’s already arrogantly declared there to be no cogent arguments in favor, and who’s placed supporting the death penalty on par with supporting segregation.

            Further, the impact of the leftist elite’s ‘moral leadership’ on the civil rights movement is debatable (and arguably at risk of a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy), as it was a gradual, longitudinal shift in public option across all strata.

            Finally, although you mentioned a vague aversion to majority rule, I remain at a loss as to your precise proposed mechanism for imposing the morally superior views of the elite upon the general public.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted August 3, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              By enacting a Bill of Rights, the founders of this nation placed certain inalienable rights beyond the purview of majority rule (including the right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishment”). If you do not understand this — if you believe, as you’ve said above, that “everything should be left to a show of hands” (emphasis added) — you are fundamentally confused about the structure of American government.

              And say what you will about the Left’s moral leadership during the civil-rights movement, it sure as shit wasn’t the rightwing leading the way. The Right did everything in its power to retard the effort.

              • Posted August 3, 2018 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

                And who defines what is cruel & unusual punishment? The courts. Who selects judges? Either the electorate directly, or indirectly through governors & legislatures, or the POTUS & Senate.

                The Supreme Court has ruled that capital punishment per se is not unconstitutional. You and a minority of Americans believe otherwise.

                So again, please outline your plan for imposing your minority view on the entire nation.

              • alexander
                Posted August 3, 2018 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

                So, if you lived in one of the African Muslim countries, where genital mutilation of women is practically the rule, you would agree to the genital mutilation of women because of a majority supporting this?

              • Posted August 4, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

                Nowhere did I say one must agree with anything just because the majority do.

                I’m just trying to figure out why Ken believes he has the right to impose his personal views upon all of society despite them being minority views, and what his proposed mechanism for that would be.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 3, 2018 at 7:19 pm | Permalink


                So you’re cool with “hate crime” legislation, as long as it’s favored by 50%+1 of the electorate (or their duly-elected representatives)? Or do you have some plan for imposing your minority view on free-speech issues?

                I’m seeing precious little consistency on your part regarding constitutional issues.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 3, 2018 at 7:28 pm | Permalink


                And who decides? Ultimately the courts do, of course. But our courts are not bound by any “show of hands.” (It is precisely to inoculate the courts from the shifting will of the majority that federal judges have lifetime appointments.)

                Hell, if we were simply going to be bound by the majority’s will, we wouldn’t have need of courts at all — or need of a written Bill of Rights, for that matter. We could just put every issue up for a majority vote.

                Is that the country you wish to live in?

      • Posted August 4, 2018 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        “The death penalty has no deterrent effect.”

        Clearly the death penalty has some deterrent effect: the murderer you execute will be effectively deterred from murdering anyone else.

        • Posted August 4, 2018 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

          That’s not what “deterrent effect” is. It is deterring OTHER PEOPLE from committing the crime. You’ve simply redefined “deterrent.” And even under your definition, life without parole is equally “deterrent.”

          • Posted August 4, 2018 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

            When you make the non-deterrent argument against the death penalty you’re implicitly suggesting that if the death penalty did in fact save lives you would be inclined to favor it. The same is true, in fact, of all the “practical” arguments against the death penalty—e.g., that it costs more than putting someone in prison for life.

            Thing is, I doubt very much that this is the case—i.e., that you would favor the death penalty if the practical arguments were shot down. I can’t speak for you, of course, and please correct me if I’m wrong; but most people who make such arguments are firmly opposed to the death penalty a priori and on principle and not as a conclusion based on statistical evidence.

            I too am opposed to the death penalty, but my reasons have more to do with the “sanctity of life” line of argument than for practical reasons. Like “expert” testimony delivered in the courtroom, evidence for the latter will vary according to the predeliction of the party enlisting the opinion.


  9. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I would expect the catholic rich Supreme Court will fall in line and eliminate the death penalty soon.

    • Posted August 2, 2018 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      That is a good point. It also mirrors the fact that despite many Catholics in America ignoring the pope, this formal message is not likely to be overlooked.

      The trend is continuing to be more progressive in the Catholic Church. Those public servants who profess to be Catholics will have less choice then private citizen Catholics to choose what they like from what they do not like from church dogma.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Something cynical tells me they might choose this time to remember the First(?) Amendment and decide their Catholicness should be carefully disregarded in that respect.

      I hope I’m wrong.


  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    That sound you hear is Antonin Scalia spinning in his crypt. Nino was keen to tell fellow Catholic jurists they should resign if they felt religiously conflicted about imposing capital punishment.

  11. CAS
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Nice, but what’s the point of the death penalty if the Church can no longer openly support the slaughter of the true evil doers (unbelievers)? As suggested by Aquinas the death penalty used to be a handy tool.
    “If forgers and malefactors are put to death by the secular power, there is much more reason for excommunicating and even putting to death one convicted of heresy.” Saint Thomas Aquinas

  12. alexander
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    About 25 years ago, I asked Opus Dei in New York via email if they thought that the death penalty was something the Catholic Church supported. I received a convoluted response, saying yes. Ten years later I asked them the same question again, and they responded that Opus Dei did not agree with the death penalty. Unfortunately I don’t have these emails anymore.

  13. Dave
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    The funny part is: they wouldn’t even have a religion if it weren’t for the death penalty.

    • mikeyc
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 3:23 pm | Permalink


      Dave wins the internets today.

  14. Angel
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but I disagree with most of the posts here. Would you have opposed the death penalty for Hittler and other Nazis? Not me. Was Nurembergh, wrong? Nope. How about Lenin, Stalin, Castro , Guevara and others? To the wall….How about rapists of minors and/or torturers? I’m not hypocritical, thus if someone does that to my family, l would kill them, and then go to the near police station. …..

    • Posted August 2, 2018 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      I can’t speak for Jerry, but yes, I oppose the death penalty in all of the cases you list.

      • mikeyc
        Posted August 2, 2018 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

        Not me. I oppose the death penalty not because I think no one should be executed for their crimes but because we’re not really all that good at this justice thing. We think we are, but we really aren’t.

        We make mistakes all the time and the death penalty is a mistake you can’t take back. Also we’re not so good at the blind part of justice – some people, because of their skin color or their religion or their income get treated differently by our justice system and again, you can’t make amends to someone you’ve killed.

        But there are plenty who deserve it and ought to suffer it, especially the people Angel mentioned.

        • Angel
          Posted August 2, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

          I agree that the legal system is far from perfect, but there are -in my opinion- clear cases.

        • darrelle
          Posted August 2, 2018 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          That is a big one for sure. A similarly large reason I think, perhaps even more important, is what effects execution has on society as a whole and to the individuals involved. I don’t think the cost is worth it and it isn’t necessary in order to protect society from the criminal.

    • freiner
      Posted August 2, 2018 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      I would oppose the death penalty in all these cases. Even without bringing in the aspect of execution, Nuremberg raised and continues to raise many ethical problems — ones that I think are too serious and too thorny to lead to a single categorical yes-or-no answer.

      • Angel
        Posted August 2, 2018 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Nuremberg? The USSR? What are the ethical questions that you would raise? Goering, Keitel , etc were given the right to a trial. Ask the millions that were murdered by them, or Stalin, Mao, Castro, et al, what they think.

        • freiner
          Posted August 3, 2018 at 5:54 am | Permalink

          The problematic nature of Nuremberg lies not in the culpability of the accused, but in the the extent to which it might serve as a model for future war crimes trials. I suppose most problematic would be the appearance of “victor’s justice,” particularly with regard to the fact that at Nuremberg the Soviets sat in judgment of war crimes. On the other hand, one of the strengths of Nuremberg, I think, was its restraint: not all the accused were found guilty and many were not executed.
          But all these issues require continual consideration, and it seems that international law has responded to such considerations. The instance of The Hague and Milosevic came closer to a fairer model of international justice, but it did so as a result of efforts that recognized and struggled with the problematic issues Nuremberg and other preceding instances raised.
          I probably overreacted to the firm “nope” and what I saw as a binary “right or wrong” in your earlier comment. But I don’t want to see even the extreme nature of extreme cases obscure from us that we can do better through questioning what seem to be our most obvious responses.

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    “Curiously, since the Church has opposed the death penalty—albeit informally—for several decades, the proportion of Catholics favoring that penalty is in line with the rest of America, and is a majority.”

    Well, they’re Americans. [Trigger warning: snark follows]
    ‘Muricans just luurve executing people or putting them in prison forever.
    A factoid that struck me watching QI last night – which country in the world has the biggest percentage of its population in prison? Bigger than Russia. Bigger than China. Bigger than Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia. Bigger than every shithole(TM) country in the world? You guessed it…


    Incidentally, India and Pakistan are near the bottom of the list.

    Admittedly in terms of executions it’s different, the US is only #7 (though this list is numbers, not rate:)


  16. rickflick
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    While the Pope deserves some credit for this change in attitude, it is still pretty depressing to think that the church usually pretends that morality is absolute and universal having been handed to man(the priesthood) from God. So, why so wishy-washy now? It is also inconsistent that the Church would like to say it takes the lead in morality and that society is dependent on the Church (otherwise we’d all be murdering and raping). In fact, The West, with the notable exception of the God-soaked US of A, had already abandoned the death penalty. So, a little bit of credit to the Pope, but just a bit. Better late than never.

  17. FB
    Posted August 3, 2018 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    My only beef with this, and it’s a major one, is the reason why Bergoglio decided this week to change his mind about the death penalty: Argentina’s bill to legalize abortion that will be put to a vote on August 8.

    The slogan of the campaign organized by the Catholics against the decriminalization of abortion is “Salvemos las dos vidas”.

    Aborto legal ya!

  18. Posted August 3, 2018 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Personally I don’t care much for the argument that it costs more to execute someone than to imprison them, as while it may be true, the system could be changed so that it doesn’t. I’m sure that in some other countries that have the death penalty that it is actually cheaper to execute than to imprison for life.

    Another argument in favour of the death penalty is that it prevents repeat of crime. In cases in which there is no doubt about the guilt of the criminal, eg. Jeffery Dahmer, Ted Bundy, etc., capital punishment ensures that they can’t kill again. It is quite common to hear that a convicted murderer upon release from prison – on parole, after serving time, or escaping – kills again. It also appears that psychopaths can’t be reformed, so imprisoning them is a waste of resources in that sense.

    Anyway, food for thought. I look forward to read some counter-arguments and criticisms.

    • alexander
      Posted August 3, 2018 at 5:18 am | Permalink

      “In cases in which there is no doubt about the guilt of the criminal, eg. Jeffery Dahmer, Ted Bundy, etc., capital punishment ensures that they can’t kill again.”

      This is not a valid argument. You always have “no doubt” when a convict is sentensed to be killed, but history is full of cases, in the US, UK, and elsewhere that after killing the convict it is found that the person was innocent. In some cases, when DNA testing became available, it was refused by the judges or even worse, governors.

  19. Alan Clark
    Posted August 3, 2018 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    I wonder why he doesn’t simply quote the 6th Commandment, “Thou shall not kill”. perfectly clear, no ifs, no buts. And I wonder why so many so-called Christians disagree with it.

    • Posted August 3, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Perfectly clear if that’s regarded as the commandment. I am told the original is “do not murder”, which is basically an ethical tautology.

  20. Posted August 3, 2018 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    FYI, according to The Tablet:

    The catechism now will read: “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,” the new section continues.

    Pope Francis’ change to the text concludes: “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,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”


    • Posted August 3, 2018 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      Conservative Scottish Catholics ‘Catholic Truth’, and staunch opponents of Francis, are flabbergasted:

      If such a certain doctrine of the Church (of the possibility of the death penalty at least in some situations), affirmed by Christ Himself in Scripture — when, confronted by Pilate who affirmed his right to inflict capital punishment, told him, “You would have no authority over Me if it were not given to you from above”, affirming that it is a power granted to the State in its authority, even if, as all governmental powers, it can be exercised illegitimately and unjustly — can be changed, then anything can be changed. A “development” of doctrine may bring about anything: from the end of the “intrinsic disordered” nature of homosexuality to the priestly ordination of women, from the possibility of contraception in “some” cases to the acceptance of the Lutheran understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist as a possible interpretation of what the Church has always believed — and so on.

      I agree with them! For once. Bring it on, Frankie.


      • Posted August 3, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        More from an opinion piece at The Tablet:

        This is how the Church makes changes: by developing a deeper understanding of divinely revealed truth. The word tradition has its roots in the Latin word ‘tradere’ which means to ‘hand over’ or ‘hand down’ – it doesn’t mean ‘keep everything the same.’


        Cool, now we just have to convince them that they should develop ‘a deeper understanding of divinely revealed truth’ regarding catechisms 2270-2275 too, which understanding could save many women’s lives.

  21. Posted August 3, 2018 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    I’d wait until Catholic countries act on this before crediting him.

  22. Posted August 3, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Conservative Catholic philosopher Ed Feser is naturally a bit miffed, having only just last year published a defence of the (then) Catholic position on capital punishment (https://www.amazon.com/Man-Shall-His-Blood-Shed/dp/1621641260/)!

    Writing at First Things, his position is that Pope Francis is in error:

    If Pope Francis really is claiming that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, then either scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and all previous popes were wrong—or Pope Francis is. There is no third alternative. Nor is there any doubt about who would be wrong in that case. The Church has always acknowledged that popes can make doctrinal errors when not speaking ex cathedra—Pope Honorius I and Pope John XXII being the best-known examples of popes who actually did so. The Church also explicitly teaches that the faithful may, and sometimes should, openly and respectfully criticize popes when they do teach error. The 1990 CDF document Donum Veritatis sets out norms governing the legitimate criticism of magisterial documents that exhibit “deficiencies.” It would seem that Catholic theologians are now in a situation that calls for application of these norms.


    Quite a few commenters calling Pope Francis a heretic too, but then some believers love a bit of ostracising.

    It does mean that there will be a large number of Catholic conservatives and theologians pushing back on this ‘doctrine’, so I’m not sure it will last.

    • alexander
      Posted August 3, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      “It does mean that there will be a large number of Catholic conservatives and theologians pushing back on this ‘doctrine’, so I’m not sure it will last.”

      Yes, the same Catholic theologians, bishops, and a pope, who kept their foul mouths shut during the persecution of Jews during WWII.

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