From Catechism to Cataclysm


Torch of The Faith News on Friday 03 August 2018 - 10:59:09 | by admin

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Francis wants to abolish the dealth penalty; but is that all he is abolishing?

Traditional Clarity

The beauty about the teaching expressed in paragraphs CCC 2267 of the existing Catechism of the Catholic Church and EV 56 of Evangelium Vitae, is that these acknowledge both the conception of the dignity of the human person and the possibility of legitimate resort to use of the death penalty in extreme circumstances.

If one studies the traditional teaching of the Church on the death penalty, from Sacred Scripture, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Council of Trent and Popes Innocent I, Innocent III and Pius XII, and subsequently reflects on the in-depth philosophical treatment of those traditional teachings as found in Professor Romano Amerio's Iota Unum, it is clear to see that even the teachings on CCC 2267 and EV 56 left out a deep explanation of the reasons the death penalty had come to be accepted in the first place.

For example, Professor Amerio explains the fact that, whilst removal of the death penalty to protect the purpose of human existence is often thought to be religiously inspired, it is in fact irreligious.

This is because, such a position overlooks the fact that, from a Catholic view, ''earthly life is not an end in itself, but a means to life's moral goal, a goal that transcends the whole order of subordinate worldly goods.''

Speaking of criminals condemned to death, Amerio reflects: ''Therefore, to take away a man's life is by no means to take away the transcendent end for which he was born and which guarantees his true dignity.''

Amerio develops his theme by reminding his readers that the death penalty can thus be expiatory.

This is so, in that it can allow particularly grave sinners a profound opportunity to repent and, with the assistance of the sacraments and ministrations of a Catholic priest, to make salvific and sanctifying reparation, by means of their death.

This much-overlooked aspect can be found in various expressions of the classical position.

As Amerio concludes: ''Capital punishment comes to be regarded as barbarous in an irreligious society, that is shut within earthly horizons and which feels it has no right to deprive a man of the only good he has.''

Although CCC 2267 and EV 56 left out any developed discussion of these themes, or indeed of other classical understandings of the dignity of the human person - which actually acknowledged the existentially diminished dignity of a murderer in contrast to, say, an innocent newly baptised baby - those two key paragraphs could nevertheless still be seen to uphold the natural moral law and the traditional teaching of the Church.

This was so because both the Catechism and Evangelium Vitae allowed the legitimacy of the death penalty in extreme cases.

Therefore, whilst clearly desiring for the death penalty to be made very rare, those paragraphs did not explicitly go against the natural law or the constant teaching of the Magisterium.

It is very important to note the natural law dimension, because the authentic teaching on the death penalty is indeed part of the natural law, which can be accessed and known by all people of good will and reason with sufficient rational reflection.

Sudden Rupture

This is where Francis' sudden announcement, yesterday, of a change in the CCC on this point is as destructive as it is dramatic.

To suddenly suggest that the death penalty is now, always and everywhere,''inadmissable'' would certainly be to cut oneself off from the natural law and the constant teaching of the Magisterium on this point. It would also make the Church appear untrustworthy in her truth claims if she were to perform a dramatic u-turn on previous fundamental teachings.

Formal Heresy?

Now, Francis' updated paragraph CCC 2267 - the ''smoking paragraph''?!!! - does indeed clearly say that the death penalty is ''inadmissable''.

At the same time, it looks to me that Francis has just stopped very slightly short of proclaiming a formal heresy, because the ''new teaching'' is expressed as being consequent; it actually says ''consequently'', on the factors including both the conception of the dignity of the human person and the presence of more effective systems of detention which have been developed in our day.

Of course, it is essential to grasp - and this newly envisioned paragraph CCC 2267 fails to express this - that not all places do have such developed systems of detention. Nor will they necessarily always and absolutely have everywhere in the future.

Also, as we've alluded above, the present-day discussion of the dignity of the human person has left out some of the classical dimensions as explored in more depth by Professor Romano Amerio. Any authentic understanding of human dignity must take these into account.

Even though I think this ''consequent'' nature of the newly imposed paragraph could be argued to have stopped short of actual formal heresy, as in the fact that its ''consequent'' nature would be obliterated if, say, secure systems of detention were not present somewhere and thus the death penalty could still be resorted to, the new paragraph's wording does not explicitly acknowledge this fact. I am drawing out a potential argument which is implicit in the new paragraph; but it is only implicit with much scrutiny of the words. 

In any case, I think that the paragraph's use of the words ''in light of the Gospel'' may actually undo my ''consequent'' argument there.

In other words, Francis would not have stopped short of formal heresy. But look, we are Catholics, and the teaching of a Catechism is supposed to be a clear expression of ongoing traditional teachings. We're not meant to have to strain gnats, or to perform mental gymnastics, in trying to keep our faith, and that of our catechumens, from being broadsided by theological scandal from popes...

Real and Present Danger

All that being said, those who are still in touch with the genuine sensus fidelium are, in any case, right on target in their very real concerns about the implications of Francis' sudden intervention.

Just as a related aside, it really is remarkable to me, and suggestive of an incredible amount of hubris, that Francis' new paragraph says ''Consequently, the Church teaches'' and then provides a footnote to one of his own addresses given in October 2017 to the Participants in the Meeting for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. In other words, he claims that a recent, and pretty low-level speech of his own, be identified as the teaching of the Church!

But then, hasn't that so often been the case with Francis and his self-referential ''airplane magisterium''?

Opening Gambit?

In any case, astute commentators have rightly noticed that, with this particular teaching, Francis looks to have gone for an opening ''soft-option'' in a direct assault on the teaching of the existing Catechism. There is a genuine concern that, bad as it is, this could just be the start of a very slippery slope.

For instance, it would appear that many ''conservatives'' - and thus naturally pro-life Catholics - are likely to agree about the desirability of removing the death penalty, based upon their own truncated understanding of the dignity of the human person, in relation to the wider issues of salvation and sanctification.

Perhaps, it might seem that Francis would thus have a broad base of acceptance for his initial direct changing of a paragraph in the present Catechism.

Three-fold Problem

The problem with that position is three-fold.

1). Firstly, whilst it may be acceptable to work for the abolition of the death penalty in practice, it is also essential to always uphold its potential use in principle. Only in that way can the natural law, authentic Magisterial Tradition and, in some times, places and situations, the safety and protection of the citizenry from evil doers, be preserved.

2). In the second place, if Francis were to be seen to ''get away'' with a direct ransacking of the Catechism in this manner, then the door would have been blown permanently wide open for him to wreak further catechetical hit and run attacks in the future. If this precedent were allowed, who would be able to stop him in the future?

And, with Francis' radical homosexualist friend, Fr. James Martin S.J., being officially chosen and backed by Francis' Vatican to speak at the upcoming World Day for Families in Ireland, even though he has called for the language about ''intrinsic disorder'' to be excised from the present Catechism, then it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where things might be headed to next...

3). If Francis can so easily change a moral teaching on something so fundamental, then why should anyone ever believe anything else that the Church, or more specifically, he, ever says in the future, or has said in the past?

Resisting the Cataclysm

Given all of the above, the College of Cardinals, the Bishops of the Universal Church, ordained priests, qualified Church theologians and philosophers, parents, catechists, teachers and everyone down to your own dear old granny, need to raise their voices and call for this latest radical change to be tested and qualified by Sacred Tradition.

In short: Francis needs to be called on to the carpet to account for himself.

And whilst we're all at it, we might like to pray about why Francis so consistently seems to run so very, very close, and with such reckless abandon, against the charism of protection from error, which is given to all the true successors of St. Peter.

In the meantime, if you are heading off to scrub your existing CCC 2267 and stick in the new version, then you might consider also scrubbing the word ''Catechism'' and inserting the word ''Cataclysm''.

As in, the Cataclysm of the Catholic Church...

For, I believe that is what we are living through.

But it won't be the end of the Catholic Church.

We've Our Lord's promises and the direct and ongoing protection of the Holy Ghost to guarantee that.

Keep the Faith!

Our Lady of Fatima - Pray for us!    


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