Pope Francis seems to want to reverse the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment. I’m sure that plenty of my dear readers have heard about how he intends to change the current passage in the Catholic catechism. It is important to discuss this change, because it has the chance to undermine all Catholic dogma. If the Church was wrong about whether capital punishment is an intrinsic evil, can we ever trust the Church about anything? Moreover, God Himself seems to strongly encourage capital punishments at certain times during the Old Testament. Is Pope Francis then saying that God commands people to do moral wrongs or that God is completely arbitrary? These are very troubling notions which really can completely undermine the authority of the Catholic Church.
Elijah slays a Prophet of Baal
Before I comment on the new one, let’s take a look at the old passage:
2266 The State’s effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.
2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’
So, the old statement says that the State has the right to use capital punishment in defense of society. At the same time, it offers the opinion that First World systems of penal correction are sophisticated enough to protect society from even very violent people; hence, there is no need for Canada, the United States, Europe, and certain other countries to have recourse to the death penalty. There are many developing countries where the prison systems are not so perfect, so that line of argument does not fit there.