In another decision which gave angst to the Novus Ordo conservatives, Bergoglio issued a document recently declaring that the 1992 catechism of John Paul II was wrong on capital punishment. This is the official text:
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”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
The teaching of the Catholic Church concerning capital punishment. The Church’s teaching is clear and certain from its ordinary universal magisterium. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) imposed upon a group of returning heretics, known as the Waldenses, this profession of faith: “Concerning secular power we declare that without mortal sin it is possible to exercise a judgement of blood as long as one proceeds to bring punishment not in hatred but in judgement, not incautiously but advisedly.”
Pope Pius XII defended capital punishment in a 1952 allocution to a Congress of Histopathology: “The public authority has the right of depriving the condemned person of the good of life, as an expiation of his crime, after he himself, by this crime, has stripped himself of his right to life.”
Sacred Scripture clearly supports the death penalty. We read in Romans XIII: 4: “For he [the prince] is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.”
In this passage the essential rationale for capital punishment is contained. The entire chapter thirteen is devoted to the theme that the heads of state are the representatives of God and wield the power of God. In the passage cited, Saint Paul clearly recognizes the power of the public authority to inflict capital punishment upon evildoers, for he does not bear the sword in vain, and, as God’s minister, is an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. What could be more explicit? In the first verse of this chapter, Saint Paul explicitly states that all authority is from God, and that those who possess authority are God’s ministers: “Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God.”
This doctrine, that the State receives its authority from God, and that the heads of state are the ministers of God, is key to understanding the government’s right to inflict the death penalty. For it does so with God’s authority, just as it can authorize, by the same power, its citizens to go to war and inflict death on the enemy. For this same reason, a policeman may lawfully shoot to kill someone who is posing a mortal threat to either himself or other citizens.
Modern political thinking strips God from the authority of the State. It follows the teaching of the debauched, charlatanic, and insane Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who said that the State is the effect of a social contract, in which the majority of the people contract, as a group, with the government to carry out the good order of society. In this system, the State receives all of its power from the majority of citizens, and not from God. The citizens retain political power, and merely delegate it to the elected ministers. In such as case, those elected to govern must follow the ideas and wishes of the majority. Such a system clearly contradicts the teaching of Saint Paul concerning the State and government. It also argues that the death penalty cannot be inflicted, since there is no divine authority to inflict it, but simply the authority of a mob of equals.
Despite this false notion of politics and human society, no one in history has been more lavish in the use of the death penalty than modern governments, acting on the principles of Rousseau. Think of the death tally of socialism: 20,000,00 to 60,000,000 for Stalin, 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 for Mao Tse Tung. Think of the leftist government of revolutionary France, which made ample use of the guillotine on its political enemies. Think of the 60,000,000 aborted babies in the United States alone, which carries the right to life in its very Constitution. (The right to life of the unborn child was superseded in 1973 by a manufactured “right” which the Supreme Court concocted, namely the “right to privacy,” about which the Constitution is absolutely silent.)
In the Old Testament, we also see justification of the death penalty. In Exodus XXII:18, we read: “Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live. Whosoever copulateth with a beast shall be put to death. He that sacrificeth to gods, shall be put to death, save only to the Lord.” In Leviticus XXIV:17, we read: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Bring forth the blasphemer without the camp, and let them that heard him, put their hands upon his head, and let all the people stone him. And thou shalt speak to the children of Israel: the man that curseth his God, shall bear his sin: And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die: all the multitude shall stone him, whether he be a native or a stranger. He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die. He that striketh and killeth a man, dying let him die.”
These are commands from God, who could not, by His infinite goodness, prescribe something that is immoral.
All Catholic theologians assert the lawfulness of the death penalty. Listen to Saint Thomas Aquinas:
It is lawful to kill an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of the community’s welfare. Thus it belongs to a physician to cut off a decayed limb, when he has been entrusted with the care of the health of the whole body. Now the care of the common good is entrusted to persons of rank having public authority: wherefore they alone, and not private individuals, can lawfully put evildoers to death.
This is the same reasoning given by all theologians in regard to the death penalty. As I said, the fundamental principle is that the State acts as God’s minister in the government of society, and as such, has the right to deprive someone of his life if, as Pope Pius XII states, through his crimes he has already deprived himself of the right to life. Likewise a combatant in war loses his right to life inasmuch as he is a combatant, and may be lawfully killed.
This teaching concerning the lawfulness of the death penalty is something which is theologically certain, which is a technical designation in sacred theology for a doctrine which is deduced directly from principles which pertain to faith.
It is therefore certain that Bergoglio is all wrong about the death penalty, and is logically committed to denying articles of faith in asserting that it is “inadmissible.”
Analysis of Bergoglio’s statement. He first acknowledges that the lawfulness of the death penalty is the traditional doctrine. (Indeed, it even made it into the Novus Ordo catechism of 1992.) Next he posits the principle that “we know more” now, which is typically Modernist. Modernists believe in evolution of dogma,which was condemned as a heresy by Saint Pius X. Dogmas, say the Modernists, are true for their time. It is the way in which we perceive things at the time. As time progresses, however, we learn more, and our consciousness changes, and hence the dogmas must evolve with our progress of thinking.
The principle upon which he bases the reversal of this moral teaching of the Church is “human dignity.” He says we have “increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.”
Human dignity is based on two things: (1) something natural, and (2) something supernatural. The natural human dignity is based on the fact that man, unlike the rest of earthly creation, is created in God’s image and likeness. It is true that this natural similarity to God is never lost. However, this may be said of the devil as well. The other and more important human dignity is the supernatural life of grace in the soul of man. This dignity is lost by mortal sin.
The popes in the past have spoken about human dignity from time to time, in passing, in the manner in which I have described. In pre-Vatican II documents, it is mentioned nine times. In Vatican II and post-Vatican II documents, it is mentioned around one hundred times.
Vatican II made human dignity an end in itself, that is, a moral principle to which all must conform, even God Himself. Vatican II teaches that the right to profess, practice, and proselytize a false religion pertains to human dignity, which is based on revelation. This means that God must grant, out of respect for human dignity, the right to publicly blaspheme Himself, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints through the adherence to and propagation of heresy.
Notice, then, that Bergoglio does not say that the death penalty is against the law of God, but that it is against human dignity. He says: “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.”
No reference is given to the gospel. That is because there is none. In fact, Our Lord upholds the Old Testament Law requiring the death penalty for adultery when He says, in the case of the woman caught in adultery: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” If He had wished to abolish the death penalty, as He abolished other parts of the Old Testament Law, He would have clearly said so.
Furthermore, human dignity, whether in the natural sense or the supernatural sense, has nothing to do with crime and punishment. Punishment, whether by death or prison, has to do with the administration of justice and the order of society. One could just as easily argue that incarceration is contrary to human dignity. I have visited prisons many times, and I can say that there is hardly anything more degrading to human beings than to see them caged up like animals. Yet they are still creatures of God, made in His likeness, and it is quite conceivable that they be in the state of grace if they have repented of their crimes. Despite their incarceration, therefore, they can maintain their human dignity, both natural and supernatural. The same may be said for the death penalty. There is nothing undignified about paying a price for a crime which you have committed. It is to render justice. It is an act of virtue, when properly accepted, and is nothing less than the same act of virtue which requires us to pay our bills. There is nothing undignified about a man, who is guilty of a capital crime, confessing his crime and freely accepting the punishment due to it.
Changing doctrine. Bergoglio says that capital punishment is “inadmissible.” This means that no exceptions could be accorded. In moral theology such a statement is equivalent to saying that an act is intrinsically evil, that is, by its very nature evil. It is an act that can never be posited under any circumstances.
Bergoglio’s statement means, then, that the Church was wrong in its teaching up to now, that what it considered to be theologically certain is now certainly false. It means that the Church taught false moral teaching. It made lawful something that was “inadmissible,” that is, intrinsically evil.
Once you do this to one point of Catholic doctrine, the next question is: “Well, what else is wrong with the catechism?” It places a doubt upon everything the Church teaches. Dogmas and moral doctrine become something reversible in the course of time.
Vatican II. The root cause of this change in doctrine is Vatican II, as always. For the council changed many doctrines, but most notably the one concerning religious liberty, which was condemned by Pope Pius IX as being against the Scriptures, i.e., the revelation of God. Vatican II taught exactly what Pius IX condemned in a binding way.
Vatican II’s fundamental principle is the relativization of truth. It taught this idea, which is absolutely lethal to the Catholic Church, by its embracing of ecumenism and religious liberty.
The only way out of this doctrinal mess is the dumping of Vatican II, as I have always held. It is the root cause of the problem.