Recent remarks by Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, captured on audio, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Burke explicitly rejects the revised teaching on the death penalty in Catechism #2267 and urges catechists not to accept or teach the change that Pope Francis has mandated.

On this site, we have long been tracking the views of those with extremist viewpoints who criticize Pope Francis. We have also noted a more mainstream contingent whose members strongly oppose Francis’s papacy but couch their language in a manner that allows them to argue that they are trying to promote his teaching. I earlier observed this phenomenon with regard to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. More recently, Cardinal Raymond Burke has likewise attempted to present himself as a supporter of Pope Francis in a recent interview on Fox News where he said:

“They say that I’m the enemy of the pope, and nothing can be further from the truth. I’ve never spoken against Pope Francis or spoken disrespectfully of him.”

Perhaps Burke hasn’t spoken explicitly against Pope Francis’s character or passed judgement on the state of his soul. However, he has explicitly rejected magisterial teachings on faith and morals that Francis has promulgated, has openly mocked them (and has done so in front of an audience), and has referred to them as Francis’s “personal opinion.”

When he became a cardinal, he swore an oath, whereby he pledged to:

“Promise and swear to be faithful henceforth and forever, while I live, to Christ and his Gospel, being constantly obedient to the Holy Roman Apostolic Church, to Blessed Peter in the person of the Supreme Pontiff [name], and of his canonically elected Successors; to maintain communion with the Catholic Church always, in word and deed.”

Sadly, in his comments to this audience, he demonstrates supreme disobedience to Francis, Peter’s successor, who asked, upon promulgation of the revised section of the Catechism, “for it to be translated into various languages and inserted in all the editions of the aforementioned Catechism.

First, here’s some background.

On July 25, 2019, Cardinal Burke delivered a keynote address to the ninth annual Napa Institute Summer Conference at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, California. According to an article by Dan Morris-Young in the National Catholic Reporter, the title of the address was, “Proclaiming the Truths of the Faith in a Time of Crisis,” and was focused on the document that has come to be known as “The Declaration of Truths.”

The Declaration is a list of 40 statements, signed by Burke and four other bishops on May 31, 2019, that intends to respond to “some of the most common errors in the life of the Church of our time.” The Napa Institute does not seem to have made Burke’s address publicly available in audio or video format (despite posting videos of many of the other speakers and programs at the conference), which must be disappointing for those who were unable to afford the conference’s $2,600 registration fee.

It seems that the Napa Institute may have had good reasons not to post the address publicly, however. The Reporter’s account did not include any direct quotes from Burke on the death penalty, but summarized his statements on the issue in this way:

“Lack of clarity that the church does permit civil authority to exercise capital punishment, a statement that seemed to conflict with Pope Francis‘ recent description of the death penalty as ‘a serious violation of the right to life of every person’ and the US bishops’ move to re-cast the US Catechism on the topic.”

While this is indeed troubling, without direct quotes or a transcript (not to mention an audio or video record), it’s impossible from this to know with certainty whether Burke really does dissent from Pope Francis’s teaching. Likewise, the text of the Declaration on the topic is too ambiguous to determine with certainty that the signatories reject the revised version of #2267. It says:

“28. In accordance with Holy Scripture and the constant tradition of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, the Church did not err in teaching that the civil power may lawfully exercise capital punishment on malefactors where this is truly necessary to preserve the existence or just order of societies (see Gen 9:6; John 19:11; Rom 13:1-7; Innocent III, Professio fidei Waldensibus praescripta; Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. III, 5, n. 4; Pius XII, Address to Catholic jurists on December 5, 1954).”

The revised formulation of Catechism #2267, states:

“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.”

This formulation does not explicitly say that the Church taught error in the past. Indeed, the Catechism explains that the change is a response to an increasing awareness of human dignity and the effectiveness of modern systems of detention. It is clear from both the revised text and the letter issued on the same day by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that explains the change, that Francis went to great lengths not to suggest that past teaching was doctrinally erroneous. The teaching expresses that it is only in light of more recent developments that the death penalty is now deemed inadmissible by the Church.

Therefore, it’s not possible to determine from this whether Burke and the other signatories openly dissent from the teaching.

But just days prior to the Napa conference, he did speak candidly about his position on the exact same topic, and the audio recordings are readily available on the internet. From July 19 through 21, Cardinal Burke participated in the “Consecration Weekend” for the Marian Catechists, an apostolate he inherited from Fr. John Hardon, which I discussed in my piece last week. Burke gave at least two talks on the Declaration and took part in a lengthy Q&A session.

The audio for all three presentations in their entirety is available at this link. I have transcribed the relevant sections, and have provided them in full below.

(Note: if the audio files are taken down from the Marian Catechists’ website, I have downloaded the files to multiple devices, as have others. Update March 24, 2020: it was brought to our attention that the audio to the Q&A and the question sheet are no longer available on the website. We linked to the PDF and the audio file on the internet archive.)

If you don’t have time to listen to the audio or read the full transcripts, here are some key quotes.

From his second address, on Saturday, July 20, 2019, Cardinal Burke spoke on the declaration’s response to the pope’s teaching on the death penalty, and said:

  • “Number 28 declares the truth about capital punishment. This also has been called into question in our time, as if for 2000 years, the Church was in error in its teaching, with regard to capital punishment.”
  • Society has this Right. Pope St. John Paul II rightly pointed out that today, that probably the need for this is less than it had been in the past, as society has other means. We cannot rule out absolutely, that: the necessity of resorting to capital punishment.”

In his Q&A session the next day, Burke went far beyond these common talking points against the revised teaching. He explicitly rejects its Magisterial nature, the pope’s authority on faith and morals, and decries the possibility of any future changes to the Catechism (never mind that John Paul did just that in 1997). He also strategically avoids any mention of paragraphs 2 and 3 of the 1997 teaching, those that demonstrate clearly that JP2 planted the seeds for Francis’s development.[1]

Here are some examples of what he said (key passages are in bold, I used italics when he’s quoting something, anything in [brackets] was added by me):

  • Responding to a question about what to do about the revised teaching, he says, “I’ll explain this to you now: you should teach what’s in the Catechism.” (Meaning the 1997 edition, which doesn’t include Pope Francis’s revision.)
  • He goes on to say, “Is the change now official teaching? No.
  • “The Pope doesn’t change the teaching of the Church by his personal opinion.”
  • Critiquing the new teaching, he says, “‘Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority following a fair trial was long considered’The word should be ‘always’ considered.
  • Consequently, the Church teaches in the light of the gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible.” This is simply not any language; this doesn’t have any doctrinal import to it. What does it mean to say something isn’t admissible? That is a relative term, either say it’s intrinsically evil, or it’s good. — “Because it is an attack on the inviolability indignity of the person.” — And it’s not. And what’s the citation? What’s the doctrinal citation? A speech of the pope on October 11 2017. [Audience laughter.] My point is this, with all due respect, and I’m not trying to be disrespectful in any way: This is an opinion of Pope Francis as a man.
  • “He has this personal opinion about, about capital punishment, but this does not suffice, to change something the church has always held and taught.”
  • “Once in a while, a pope would express his personal opinion about something and generally caused a lot of confusion and turmoil. And so, but Pope Francis does this a lot, but you can’t – this, this kind of argumentation that’s given in this text – it simply won’t do it.”
  • “Archbishop Fisichella, who says that … he’s heading up a rewriting of the Catechism, we have to be very attentive to that. But what I would advise you to do is to buy a copy of the Catechism as it is now and keep it in a safe place.” [Audience laughter.]

The statements above clearly demonstrate that Cardinal Burke rejects the teaching of Pope Francis on the death penalty in its entirely. He seems to think that a change to the Catholic Catechism, mandated by the pope and accompanied by a document from the CDF (one which declares the change to be, “An authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium”) is simply the personal opinion of the pope “as a man.”

He even advises his audience to buy a copy of the 1997 edition of the Catechism and “keep it in a safe place,” as if doctrinal development, papal authority, and the Living Magisterium are all a big joke.

This dismissal is inexplicable in light of what is expressed in the Profession of Faith, which states:

“I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”

It’s also a rejection of Lumen Gentium 25, Canon 752, and Catechism number 892, which assert the same teaching.

In the past, Cardinal Burke has cited “ambiguity” and “lack of clarity” in Francis’s teachings as a way to create reasonable doubt about his dissent. He’s a (canon) lawyer, after all, and is skilled at lawyerly language. In the past, he’s also avoided naming Pope Francis when describing his problems with the Holy Father’s teachings. Not in this case, however.

What we have here can be described as a “smoking gun” that indicates that Cardinal Burke openly dissents from magisterial teaching.

Lest we forget, the 1990 CDF instruction Donum Veritatis says this about dissent:

  1. Dissent has different aspects. In its most radical form, it aims at changing the Church following a model of protest which takes its inspiration from political society. More frequently, it is asserted that the theologian is not bound to adhere to any Magisterial teaching unless it is infallible. Thus a Kind of theological positivism is adopted, according to which, doctrines proposed without exercise of the charism of infallibility are said to have no obligatory character about them, leaving the individual completely at liberty to adhere to them or not. The theologian would accordingly be totally free to raise doubts or reject the non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium particularly in the case of specific moral norms.

I suppose Cardinal Burke’s defense is his absurd claim that the teaching on the death penalty is mere “personal opinion.”

Your Eminence, when the pope mandates a change to the Catechism and approves a CDF document explaining the change as a development from “prior magisterium,” it’s not simply his personal opinion.

It is my hope that Cardinal Burke will be called forth by ecclesiastical authorities so he can be corrected and given a chance to repent of his error and to retract his dissenting statements.


  1. A PDF of a handout from the conference. On page 6, the worksheet explicitly rejects the clear teaching on the inadmissibility of the death penalty.
  2. The audio files are available at the links below.

Transcript 1: The Address on July 20

(beginning at 22:59)

Number 28 declares the truth about capital punishment. This also has been called into question in our time, as if for 2000 years, the Church was in error in its teaching, with regard to capital punishment. In fact, in accordance with the Holy Scripture, and with the constant tradition of the ordinary and universal magisterium, the Church did not err in teaching that the civil power, may lawfully exercise capital punishment on malefactors, where this is truly necessary to preserve the existence or just order of society. This is simply a corollary of the principle of self defense, that even as a person can be justified in taking another person’s life to defend themself – when there’s no other way to defend themselves. So too, society has this right. Pope St. John Paul II rightly pointed out that today that probably the need for this is less than it had been in the past, as society has other means. We we cannot rule out absolutely, that: the necessity of resorting to capital punishment.

Transcript 2: From the Q&A on July 21

[Note: I attempted to transcribe the words of Cardinal Burke as accurately as possible. He often expresses himself in a halting, stuttering way. I indicate these transitions through the use of dashes and hyphens. When he repeated the same word multiple times (“We we we,” “I I I,” etc.), I consolidated them into one word. I also omitted “Um” and “Ah.” I used italics when he’s quoting something, anything in [brackets] was added by me. Otherwise, this should be extremely accurate.]

(beginning at 55:23)

[Cardinal Burke’s response to question 18]:

The death penalty. I responded to this a little bit yesterday in the “Truths.” I understand that Pope Francis has changed the Catechism teaching on the death penalty. This is not clear and I don’t say this to try to– But I’ll explain explain this to you now: you should teach what’s in the Catechism.

Number two, is the change now official teaching? No. And I’ll explain this to you in a minute. The church had already promulgated an opinion on the death penalty in favor of it with certain conditions in the Catechism. If the Catechism can be changed by him in this way, where does that leave the infallible teaching of the Church before? That’s the whole point.

The Pope doesn’t change the teaching of the Church, by his personal opinion. And then we’ll get this– this question is actually quite well formulated. The basic question is where does this leave a person who wants to teach the truth? You teach what’s in the Catechism and you simply, if someone asks you about about it, I’ll tell you how to respond. This involves four questions in Fr. Hardon’s courses. And I’ve gone over those. Those are found in the basic and advanced courses, 7-31, then 7-32, these questions. And then so if you go in the– you’ll find those in Fr. Hardon’s course.

Now, here’s the new text proposed by Pope Francis for the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority following a fair trial was long considered” — The word should be “always” 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.” — and that was never denied by the teaching on capital punishment — with it — It never said that the person no longer had human dignity —

“In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.” – And no one has been able to tell me what that is. [Audience laughter.] – “Lastly, more effective systems of detention,” – this is the reasoning behind this supposed change. — “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.” — Well, capital punishment never denied any guilty person redemption, the church never assumed that capital punishment was equivalent to eternal damnation. So this is all quite confused. — “Consequently, the Church teaches in the light of the gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible.” — This is simply not any language; this doesn’t have any doctrinal import to it. What does it mean to say something isn’t admissible? That is a relative term, either say it’s intrinsically evil, or it’s good. — “Because it is an attack on the inviolability indignity of the person.” — And it’s not. And what’s the citation? What’s the doctrinal citation? A speech of the pope on October 11 2017. [Audience laughter.] My point is this, with all due respect, and I’m not trying to be disrespectful in any way:

This is an opinion of Pope Francis as a man.

That he – this is not – as pope, he is obliged to his faith – as a teacher of the faith to uphold and to safeguard the constant teaching of the Church. He has this personal opinion about, about capital punishment, but this does not suffice, to change something in the church is always held, and taught.

And so I think I wouldn’t get into discussions with people about it, and so forth, because they might misunderstand you and think you don’t respect the office of the pope.

We have a situation today, I talked about this with you last year, we just haven’t had this before — of a pope who speaks a lot in the first person. In other words, the bulk – in the Middle Ages, they talked about the “two bodies” of the pope: of the body of the man who was the pope, in this case, Jorge Bergoglio, an Argentinian man who has become – and then the Vicar of Christ on Earth. And the Vicar of Christ on earth – the normal – because normal people, everyday people, when the pope speaks, they think he’s speaking as the Vicar of Christ on Earth. And for that reason, in the past, the Pope spoke very seldom, and they always avoided expressing their personal opinions.

Once in a while, a pope would express his personal opinion about something and generally caused a lot of confusion and turmoil. And so, but Pope Francis does this a lot, but you can’t – this, this kind of argumentation that’s given in this text – it simply won’t do it.

It doesn’t show us that the Church’s teaching has changed. And so, myself and the other — Cardinal Pujats and the other bishops who signed the “Declaration” made it very clear that the church has not erred in her teaching in this matter.


[Audience member asks a question that sounds like, “What about the actual printing of this in the new Catechism?”]

There’s nothing as far as I know — the bishops of the United States approved something for the Adult Catechism for the United States I think, or something of that nature, which doesn’t — I mean, certainly, it’s an important document, and so forth.

But I — what we have to be attentive to now: recently, there was an article in America magazine [Note: Link here], which wouldn’t be famous for its orthodoxy. [Audience laughter.] But — by a certain Archbishop Fisichella, who says that he — and he is the president of the Pontifical Council for [Promoting the] New Evangelization — he’s heading up a rewriting of the Catechism, we have to be very attentive to that.

But what I would advise you to do is to buy a copy of the Catechism as it is now and keep it in a safe place. [Audience laughter.] This is going to be the point of reference.

I really — I can’t imagine what this other [inaudible] to be. And it’s all with this confused notion about the development of doctrine.



[1]        Cardinal Burke does not mention the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs – in bold below — of the 1997 formulation of the Catechism’s teaching on the Death Penalty, nor does the worksheet provided by the Marian Catechists. (source:

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.”



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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

Cardinal Burke: “This is an opinion of Pope Francis as a man”

72 Responses

  1. Jessica says:

    This has been fascinating. Every mistake this bloq makes is a mistake that I make, or have made in the recent past. I have to admit that I’m still uncomfortable about not being allowed to voice dissent about certain issues. It feels uncomfortably like a gag order.

  2. Marie says:

    It says a lot about a man who lacks integrity. I much prefer a dissenter who has allowed pride to cloud their judgment, rather than someone who carefully walks the fence to protect himself from the ramifications of an open dissent. Not someone who should be lecturing on the indissolubility of marriage either, considering he has broken his oath to Christ.

    • Yaya says:

      Well said. Thank you. Sadly, Cardinal Burke fits the description to the T.

      Praying for all of us Catholic Christian’s and our beloved Church.

  3. Anne Lastman says:

    Hello Mike thank you as always for this. Sadly I haven’t been receiving any articles from WPI for a while now so I figured I must have offended someone.
    Re above article we do have confusion within our Church but it is not brought about by HHolines.
    I am so surprised that some of +Burke’s followers do not see the subterfuge and the locked door activities and be deeply concerned. This locked door campaign is what has caused the division especially at a time when the voice of the Church is most needed.
    It’s also a sadness that +Burke is lauded by pro life groups but he doesn’t see that death penalty is same penalty which an in utero infant is condemned to. The humanity, dignity and personhood of child is rejected by state as is the one of the prisoner condemned by the state to be killed.
    I am reminded of words St John Paul II said along these lines (don’t remember where I read it)
    Even in his darkest the human being never loses their dignity.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Dear Anne, you haven’t been blocked or anything. I am not sure why you aren’t getting emails. Maybe try signing up again? It’s an automated system – we don’t control it.

      • Anne Lastman says:

        Mike I have received this one so maybe gremlin has left me alone.
        So I wait and see if i continue to receive before i sign up again
        Blessings in abundance

  4. chris dorf says:

    The ethos emanating from the ‘Pope Francis is a heretic’ circle reminds me sooo much of decades that I was trying to dialogue with anti-Catholic fundamentalists. The snide comments; the inside jokes; the ‘I’m saved-you’re mislead by the devil’ attitude. Only this time it some folks inside the Catholic Church claiming that the other Catholic are lost. How times change. Only now it’s not Jack Chick or Bart Brewer or fundamentalists calling the Catholic Church the Whore of Babylon and the Pope the anti-christ.

    • Hugh W says:

      Chris I agree I am shocked and disgusted with the schoolboy taunts and outright trolling and cruelty of many of the Francis bashers. One man in particular Patrick Coffin (Who listened to for years on “Catholic Answers Live” has been particularly nasty lately. I just don’t don’t it? I mean how far from open schism are these people?? It seems like the next logical step

  5. Pete Vickery says:

    Christ’s words in Matthew are “Simply let your ’Yes’ be ’Yes,’ and your ’No,’ ’No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one.” It sounds like Cardinal Burke is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. To paraphrase another verse, “What you whisper in front of the rich Republican Trumpophiles at the 2600$/plate Napa Institute Conference will be shouted from the rooftops.” Or perhaps the advice to either be cold or hot since we know what the Lord thinks of the lukewarm. Sayings for all of us to ponder, but especially Cardinal Burke. Yes the Holy Spirit chose wisely when He chose Pope Francis.

  6. chris dorf says:

    Conservative Christians seem to sincerely believe that people represented by Pope Francis are fulfilling prophetic words of Jesus when he says that people in the future will be changing morality and the used the phrase ‘tickling their own ears; with the morality they want to have.

  7. James Belna says:

    What does it mean to say that the death penalty is “inadmissible”? If it means that the death penalty is intrinsically immoral, then there is no question that Frances has repudiated the prior clear and consistent doctrine of the Church – and that the Church has been in error for the past two millennia on a fundamental moral question. On the other hand, if it merely means that – in the Pope’s personal opinion – the death penalty is no longer necessary to protect society under currently prevailing circumstances, then it what sense can it be a magisterial teaching? After all, if this “teaching” is only a reflection of Frances’ prudential evaluation of contemporary criminal justice systems, it is conceivable that he is wrong – or that he may change his mind in response to changing circumstances and decide that it is necessary after all. None of us are bound to accept the fallible personal opinions of the Pope on legitimately circumstantial questions. It is not Cardinal Burke’s fault that Frances intentionally employed ambiguous language, and that neither interpretation of “inadmissible” can be reconciled with the valid exercise of the teaching office of the Pope.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Congratulations, you have recited Cardinal Burke’s talking points very faithfully.

      Inadmissible is not an ambiguous term. It means that the Church teaches that it is not allowed. If you want to dig into the metaphysical implications of the term, go to it. But it doesn’t change the magisterial implications of the teaching.

    • Mary Angelica says:

      James, I struggled with this one a bit, and still have some questions about the teaching, but my take is this. JPII taught against the death penalty, but left open its use under the condition that it was a last resort for protecting society. However, what happened was that this” last resort” was not well defined at all. So you could have, in one hand, someone who pointed to the modern prison systems which effectively protect those people of it, and also most of those inside, though occasionally you still have murders, (as would happen anywhere), ri ther point that the DP wouldn’t make much of a difference, but then you also would have people who would point to the imperfections or any imperfections whatsoever as an excuse for allowing the DP. And both would be, at least on paper, consistent with JPII. In this case, the statement is not on the concrete facts, but rather on what actually are the “sufficient conditions” for abolishing the DP in a region

      What Francis did was clarify to an extent, on a theoretical level, what qualifies as sufficiency, by pointing to concrete systems (the modern prison systems in stabler countries) . But this is still theoretical, because it is telling about what “kinds” of systems are sufficient and what sufficiency actually means in this case, and not so much whether any random country fits the description.

      What tripped me up is that we commonly take Pope Francis to be saying that this has already been achieved everywhere. I don’t think it has, and can point to a few concrete instances myself, but I don’t think that is his point either. Rather, he is arguing two things: 1) sufficient systems have been established in “many” places, so when we talk about sufficiency were mean, at least, the conditions on these places, and 2) given the feasibility of 1), it should be promoted as a goal everywhere, and thus can no longer be admitted as a policy that is ok to maintain without improvement. (Btw, this also works very well with BXVI’s take on it).

      In a sense, continuing to support the continued practice of the DP in the midst of the current feasible alternatives, is like finding to support a wide use of amputation for infection, without change, in a world where way more advanced medicine has been discovered, because some third world countries don’t have access to modern medicine. In this case, even if amputation is better than nothing, and even if you could justify using it in your third world country as a result, you can’t justify the continuation of their use without any further improvement. What one should do is work to make modern medicine accessible in places that don’t have it.

  8. James Belna says:

    I don’t have a problem with the Catholic Church. I have a problem with Pope Francis and the CDF, who seem to have gone out of their way to avoid answering the very obvious challenge that Cardinal Burke and others (like me) are raising. If, as the CDF claims, “the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism . . . is not in contradiction to the prior teachings of the Magisterium”, then “inadmissible” cannot possibly mean “intrinsically immoral”; and if the death penalty is not “intrinsically immoral”, the most that Pope Francis can say is that in his personal opinion it is unnecessary. If you want to accept the Pope’s personal opinions as authoritative and binding on you, be my guest.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      You are free to disagree with the official teachings of the Vicar of Christ and follow a dissenting cardinal, but I’m sticking with the magisterium and the pope. Thanks.

    • jong says:

      James Belna
      Did Jesus gave Cardinal Burke a Duplicate Keys to bind and loose his personal interpretation? Your logic is insane why? You are calling Pope Francis interpretation on St.JP2 teachings as “personal opinion” when in fact Cardinal Burke is also expressing his “personal opinion”. Which personal opinion is SUPREME?
      Pope Francis is the Supreme Interpreter,Legislator and Guarantor of Faith and that is a DOGMA. How about Cardinal Burke can he bind his “personal opinion or interpretation”?

  9. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Dear Mike,

    Thank you for your excellent article. At the very least, Cardinal Burke should be more careful in what he says publicly. I would also add that the revised CCC 2267 says “the Church …. teaches” (Ecclesia …. docet); it does not say that Pope Francis, in his personal opinion, teaches. If Cardinal Burke does not believe that the Roman Pontiff can, in his ordinary magisterium, teach authoritatively for the whole Church, then he is contradicting three ecumenical councils that affirm the Pope’s universal ordinary teaching authority, viz., Florence (D-H 1307); Vatican I (D-H 3064); and Vatican II (Lumen gentium, 22 and 25). Cardinal Burke seems to accept the Feser-Bessette position that the Church has infallibily taught the liceity of the death penalty. This position, as you know, is open to question. But even if one were to accept the liceity of the death penalty in the conditions of the past, there is nothing to prevent the Church—under new conditions and a deeper understanding of the inviolable dignity of the human person—to teach that the death penalty now is judged to be inadmissible. To publicly resist this teaching authorized by the Roman Pontiff is to go against what Lumen Gentium 25 teaches about the need to adhere to authentic teachings of the papal magisterium with religious submission of will and intellect. Thank you again for your article. Let’s keep Cardinal Burke in our prayers.

  10. James Belna says:

    As Dr. Fastiggi concedes, it is at least arguable that the Church has infallibly taught the liceity of the death penalty. If so, there must be some way to credibly assert that this new teaching – which seems to hold that the death penalty is now illicit under all circumstances – does not contradict the historic teaching of the Church.

    But in order to use a “development of doctrine” theory to reconcile this new teaching with the past, these “new conditions” and “deeper understandings” could only have arisen in the quarter century since JPII issued Evangelium Vitae. Otherwise, we would have to say that JPII was in error when he explicitly acknowledged that states have the right to impose the death penalty under certain rare circumstances.

    It is quite telling that neither Dr. Fastiggi, Mr. Lewis, or anyone else who is defending the authority of this teaching will even offer a plausible guess as to what those new conditions might be. It is also unfair to suggest, as you do, that Catholics not only have the duty to assent to the authentic teaching of the papal magisterium, but to refrain from even pointing out that the Holy See has failed to provide a clear explanation for a radical change in moral doctrine.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      It is not “arguable” because the Magisterium has now spoken, and those who argued this in the past are now proven wrong. Or, at the very least, the Magisterium has now established that the Church is under no obligation to allow Catholics to support it.

      The authority of the Magisterium is not dependent on your ability to understand it.

      That said, we have a piece coming out soon that will explain the continuity of this.

    • Marie says:

      James- Do you embrace the teachings of JPII when he said “….the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”? I assume you accept that there have been no examples, since then, in the US where it was absolutely necessary to execute someone, therefore, as a Catholic I presume you are against the death penalty, correct?

      Your argument is strictly concerning whether or not it is development of doctrine? I’m curious where you find, in doctrine of course, that you get to determine which Magisterial teachings you should follow and which you get to reject and call it something else for comfort?

      • James Belna says:

        I am not telling anyone else , much less myself, to ignore any teachings which they are morally obliged to accept. I am merely observing that as recently as 1995, the magisterium explicitly stated that the death penalty could be licitly imposed in certain circumstances. Now the magisterium is saying that it cannot be imposed under any circumstances; but Pope Francis and the CDF are also explicitly denying that they are contradicting the prior magisterial teaching. I cannot see how this can be so. It would be very helpful if the Pope, the CDF, or anyone else could actually tell me what “conditions” have changed in the past two decades which have suddenly rendered the death penalty illicit under all circumstances, but no one seems to want to answer that question. Perhaps you would like to take a stab at it.

      • Marie says:

        Pope JPII determined there was no longer any plausible instance where it was necessary. Fast forward more than 20 years later, Pope Francis determined indeed, there are no such circumstances that this is necessary. They BOTH stressed the dignity of the person. You can argue the nuances, but we all know the truth.

        The application of the death penalty in the US, has been contrary to Catholic teaching for decades. If you support the death penalty, even before Francis, you were NOT following Church teaching. Let’s all be honest about it.

  11. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Dear James,

    It’s interesting that you and others who question what the Church now teaches on the death penalty want detailed arguments to convince you. If you go back and look at magisterial statements on the death penalty prior to John Paul II you’ll find assertions that are very brief with little or no argumentation. I do not believe the Magisterium has ever set forth the liceity of capital punishment in a definitive manner. I agree with
    Fr. Anselm Günthör OSB (1911-2015) who in 1979 wrote that the statements of the ecclesial Magisterium on the death penalty “are occasional assertions and do not represent a fully definitive position; we must not undervalue them, but nor should we consider them to be unchangeable and perenially valid Magisterial statements.” Chiamata e risposta. Una nuova teologia morale. III: Morale speciale: Vol. III (Alta: Edizioni Paoline 1979) 557-558.

    • James Belna says:

      I have not asked for a detailed argument, but merely some credible explanation for how the Church can now authoritatively teach that the death penalty is illicit in all cases, when it very recently taught – presumably with equal authority – that it is licit in certain cases. At this point I would be satisfied if anyone would dare to advance a single “changed condition” which could account for such a drastic reversal on a fundamental moral question. Can you think of one?

      • Marie says:

        What is the drastic change from practically nonexistent to nonexistent?

      • James Belna says:

        It’s the difference between practically eradicating smallpox and destroying the entire supply of smallpox vaccine. The death penalty may only rarely be necessary, but unless the Church can authoritatively declare that it is never necessary to safeguard innocent life, it cannot deny the right of states to maintain the capacity to use the death penalty if and when such cases may arise.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        Last comment on this thread, James. You’ve made your point. Wait until our next post on the subject is posted.

      • jong says:

        James Belna
        Jesus At the Foot of the Cross has the perfect answer for your question. Have you ponder why Jesus gave His life and offer His most precious blood up to the last drop? Jesus Redemptive Sacrifice is offered to all those souls who committed heinous crimes and even atheist ,satanic priest and even to all evil men who already sold their soul to the devil. Try googling Blessed Bartolo Longo and now Zachary King life testimony. Jesus said, their “dignity” the “image of God” in their soul is not lost. The simple answer to your question is, Pope Francis inspired teachings is an instrument today in showing the Face of God, the Mercy of God. Are you not glad that our God is a loving & merciful Father who are willing to give all of us a chance to seek repentance and forgiveness up to our last breathe?
        Life is sacred and no one has the God given right to take away the life of another even the worst sinners.

  12. Mike says:

    @James Belna
    Thank you for raising the question. It is an important one that one can ask in good faith (I have, several times) for precisely the reason of the paragraph’s “eloquent ambiguity,” and yet the questions hangs in the air unanswered.

  13. Christopher Lake says:

    At this point, I have to admit that I am struggling with falling into an attitude of semi-resignation, regarding the “anti-Pope Francis resistance” in the Church. I simply don’t know what to do in response to it anymore, other than to pray that God would open their hearts and minds to listening to the Pope without *already presuming* that he is wrong and not a “faithful Catholic.”

    It seems that more Catholic clergy are becoming outspoken against the Pope. Among so many of my practicing Catholic friends who have long been vocally serious about taking their cues from the Church, rather than from secular culture, the default mode of thinking seems to be that, why yes, of course, it’s self-evident that Francis is not faithfully representing Catholic teaching, and he is skirting the edges of heresy, and therefore, must be resisted.

    I firmly disagree with these friends about Pope Francis, and, even more so, I *seriously disagree* with the Catholic clergy and Catholic media figures whom I believe are misleading my friends and poisoning their hearts and minds against the Pope. However, other than pray, I just don’t know to do about it all anymore.

    In my personal experience, and from what I can observe in the wider Church, the Catholics who are firmly in a place of being “anti-Francis” and/or “Francis-skeptical” are, with a few exceptions, perhaps, not even open to listening to Pope Francis as their spiritual leader anymore. So many Catholics seem to be convinced that it is they, and those who agree with them, who are the “orthodox Catholics,” and that Pope Francis, the current Vicar of Christ, is, at best, a bad Pope, not representing the true teachings of the Church, or, at worst, some kind of impostor and maybe not even a valid Pope.

    Truly, what does one do when an increasing number of one’s Catholic friends seem to be allowing themselves to be taken in by (as only one example) Taylor Marshall and his radical conspiracy theories– an allowance which appears, to me, to be the culmination of years of believing that they are the “faithful Catholics,” and that Pope Francis is against them and “true Catholicism?” All I can do is pray is pray for them, it seems, because their anti-Francis default mode of thinking seems very resistant to being challenged (whenever I have tried to do so). It deeply saddens me, and I admit that, on a daily basis now, I have to fight off a sense of resignation about it. I can’t allow myself give in to complete resignation about these fellow Catholics, because while I may not be able to change their hearts and minds about Pope Francis, God still can.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Sorry for the typos!

      • jong says:

        Dr.Marshall and the rest of all Rad Trads channel are spreading Fake News by twisting Pope Francis words and accusing him with so many speculations, conspiracy theories not to mention their personal interpretation of Church Traditions & Doctrines.
        If you look at the comment section all that is posted is an evil comment attacking the dignity of Pope Francis, That alone will tell you who are the listener & commenter of Dr.Marshall “Discussiping Show”.
        Since day1 Pope Francis papacy the Rad Trads had been throwing numerous false accusations on Pope Francis and even heresies and cover-ups but all these accusations are already proven LIES & DECEPTIONS. I dont know about you, but if you cannot see that all the Rad Trads channel and Dissenters are just spreading their confusions, they are already blinded by the Truth, why?
        If you continue to listen to the Rad Trads channel and read their coruppted articles you can no longer disguished Truth from lies.
        “Sharing ‘fake news’ makes one an accomplice in evil, pope says”

    • Lazarus says:

      I used to read eschatology. I’m expecting a schism before something big happens.

  14. M. says:

    Dear Christopher, I know exactly what you mean. It’s like everyone’s ears are stopped up and they are not even willing to consider that these blogs that have become their real Magisterium, might be mistaken. I am resigned. I have learned that there isn’t anything I can say to them, their hearts are not open to hearing anything. Wow. How did this happen so fast? I would say there is a real seething resentment of our Holy Father Francis among many. I read once that once resentment and then contempt enters a marriage, it is very difficult to ever heal it again. (Although I can couch that it can be done, it can be healed by the grace of God, the impossible can happen!) But it will be God doing it, not us, so I am waiting on Him, and just asking him to show me the opportunities He would like me to take, and leave the rest alone. Trust in Him. He can do all things!

    • Marie says:

      M & Christopher,

      Never give up! I just found out last night that one of my brothers follows Where Peter Is. I have been sending some links to my brothers and sisters (all but one sister has been poisoned by the anti Francis movement, and she was ‘saved’ by reading a link from Where Peter Is).

      Over recent years my brothers seem to be part of a new religion, “Evangelicalcatholic”, a result of their involvement in the Pro Life movement in Canada (which is very much linked to Lifesite News). My younger brother posted something very anti Francis a year ago, bad enough it brought me to tears, both for what he said and the arrogance with which he expressed it. I actually cried thinking what my parents would think if they were still alive.

      Fast forward to last night when my sister called to tell me that he posted something saying he was faithful to Pope Francis! Is he ‘cured’? Well I would guess he has a ways to go, but the fact that he said that and he is taking in another perspective (Where Peter Is), if you knew him, you would know that this is great progress!!! From the comment he made a year ago, to saying he is faithful to the pope, however real or imagined, is a great step forward. Never give up!

      Thank you Where Peter Is!!!!

      • Christopher Lake says:


        I’m so glad to hear about your brother’s apparent change of heart and heart regarding Pope Francis! God can, indeed, do the seemingly impossible! In this light, I will commit myself to praying anew for a deep and true change of hearts and minds in the wider anti-Francis movement in the Church.

        What a great witness it would be, if many of the currently anti-Francis priests, Bishops, Cardinals, and Catholic media personalities began to realize that in attacking the Pope’s *actual Magisterial teachings* (in the revised Catechism section on the death penalty, and in other areas too), they are, perhaps without realizing it, attacking the *one most visible, physical, ecclesial, and teaching-wise, point of unity* in the Church. They claim to care about protecting the Church, but by not uniting behind Pope Francis’s teachings, they are actually dividing and damaging the Church.

        However, if God can change even one or two largely unknown lay people from being skeptical of Francis, or anti-Francis, to being supportive of the Pope, then He can do the same for Cardinal Burke, or Taylor Marshall, or Patrick Coffin! I would dearly love to see that happen, and I am going to pray for it! After all, at one point in 2017, I, too, was becoming influenced by the anti-Francis voices, and although I was briefly “on the ledge,” so to speak, God kept me from completely joining them, so He can also bring people out of this damaging “resistance movement” who have already vocally joined it.

  15. Francisco Pereira says:

    All this problem about the defense of the death penalty it only happens in the United States Catholic Church. Here in Europe Catholic Church its no problem because here the states don’t have death penalty.
    Even the catholic church in the United States live in the frame of mind of American Exceptionalism: we are the chosen people to lead the world to the light, because we are right and the other are wrong.
    How can a person say that only God has the power over life and death, be a pro-life and say that we have the right to kill our brothers and sisters as a vengeance for their crimes? The dignity of the human life is absolute.

    • Mary Angelica says:

      To be fair, a lot of the people opposed to Francis on this issue also personally don’t like the death penalty. They are just having trouble seeing how his condemnation of it would square with past statements made in support of it.

      For them, it’s less about the death penalty itself and more about the church’s indefectability being dependent on the consistency of her teaching.

  16. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Dear Mary Angelica,

    Thank you for the ponts you raise. Some friends of mine have expressed similar concerns. Perhaps this article might help you understand the possibility of doctrinal development on capital punishment:

    It also should be noted that there’s been a strong movement since the late 18th century against the death penalty. Following the arguments of Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794), the Italian state of Tuscany abolished capital punishment in 1786. The Italian philosopher, Blessed Antonio Rosmini (1797–1855) advocated for the eventual elimination of the death penalty in Christian societies (Rosmini, The Philosophy of Right, vol. 6, Rights in Civil Society, trans. D. Cleary and T. Watson (Durham: Rosmini House, 1966), fn.423 to no. 2508, pp. 375-376). It’s true that the death penalty was carried out in the Papal States. The fact that it was carried out does not mean it ought to have been carried out or that it should be carried out today. We cannot derive an “ought” from an “is” without falling into the naturalistic fallacy. In 1889—not long after the takeover of the Papal States in 1870—Italy abolished the death penalty. In 1926 the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini re-introduced it into Italy. The Lateran Treaty of 1929, which established Vatican City State, stated in article 8 that any attempt on the life of the Supreme Pontiff would be punishable with the same penalties as an attempt on the life of the King. In the actual text of this article, the Italian term for the death penalty (pena di morte) does not directly appear (see AAS 21 [1929] p. 213). Article 8 was only an indirect sanction of the death penalty which became obsolete in 1946 when the Italian monarchy ended. Since 1948 the death penalty has been illegal in Italy for civil crimes and since 1994 for military crimes during wartime. The example of Italy, which has deep Catholic roots, shows that there has been a growing movement against capital punishment by Catholics for over 200 years.

    • Mary Angelica says:

      Hello Robert,

      To clarify, my comment to Marie was to explain the real issue that many of the opponents have with the Pope’s teaching. For the most part, I have been able to resolve my own issues with it in a way, I think, that aligns the Pope’s teachings with that of past Popes. One of my major hurdles was the idea that the DP is no longer needed anywhere because of the possible alternatives. I have taken issue with this claim because the country of my parents (Venezuela), is being run by a tyrannical cartel masquerading as a government. I also have family that actually has experienced the prison system there, and they are ridiculously ill equipped to protect people. Now Venezuela abolished the DP a long time ago, but should stability return, it may have to come with some executions (it’s that bad), precisely for the sake of protecting the safety of the people ( not saying that it has to, just if it comes to it). However, this was resolved for me a while ago… see my first response to James above. A textual support the interpretation that I have of PF’s approach is that the CDF clarification, in paragraph 10, says “The new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church desires to give energy to a movement towards a decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect.” The specific encouragement for the “creation of conditions [allowing] for the elimination of the death penalty” would not make sense if PF were making a specific claim about the current conditions of every country, because it is specifically calling for the sufficient conditions that would eliminate the need, implying that some countries still may not have sufficient conditions.

      There are, nonetheless, two general issues that I wish to see addressed in these discussions. The first is that I do not think it is right to prioritize one Pope’s / council’s/ synods statements over another of similar authority, at least on an abstract level. I assent to the Catechism’s treatment of the DP, but in the same way that I would have assented to Trent’s treatment of it had I lived in those days. But this implies the need for a real theological reconciliation between the two. I am not comfortable with attempts by some thinkers who readily declare the DP as intrinsically evil on the basis of personalist arguments with shallow roots, for example (not saying you are doing this, but I have seen it by others), but at the same time, I am no Feserite, precisely because he seems to dismiss the strength of witness of the Church’s general reluctance to endorse it wholesale throughout the ages, and not just in modern times. A full explanation of its teaching, and all of its contextualizations would have to be ones that takes into account the early, midieval, and current formulations. The second is a specification of the first. The article above touches on it. The early Church texts referring to the DP seem to take an approach that neither supporters nor opposers use, namely a sort of refusal to use it on specifically Christian grounds of mercy, rather than on the question of justice itself. I do wish this were further studied, because otherwise, what I am seeing in DP opposers is a position that isn’t as well rooted theologically, but rather susceptible to non-Christian systems of morality, and among the Feserites, I see a sort of attempt to proof text the fathers in search of a “lack” of judicial condemnation, which totally misses the point.

      • Robert Fastiggi says:

        Dear Mary Angelica,

        Thank you for your gracious comments. I went back and re-read your earlier postings, and I understand your position better now. I agree that the points you raise deserve further study, and this is where faithful Catholic scholars can help. I know the situation in Venezuela is horrible, and we can only hope and pray that a regime change will occur. I don’t believe re-introducing executions there is wise. In his letter of August 1, 2018, Cardinal Ladaria says that “the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church desires to give energy to a movement towards a decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect.” This passage is directed toward those places that still have the death penalty. It should not be used to re-introduce it in places that have eliminated it. The new formulation of the CCC 2267 is not definitive or infallible, but it is authoritative. We always need to give priority to what the magisterium is now teaching. Otherwise, Catholics could pick and choose what teachings from the past they prefer and give priority to them rather than to what the magisterium is now teaching.

      • Mary Angelica says:

        Hello Robert,

        I can understand your point about Venezuela. I’m personally unsure and don’t straight up advocate the DP in part because it’s already been eliminated there. But whatever my personal inclinations, a position of no resurgence wouldn’t really be hard bullet to bite anyway. My greater concern at this point is arriving at a position that has the nuances of reality and is fully faithful to the Church, but doesn’t feel like it requires rationalization or mental gymnastics.

        Thanks for the discussion!

  17. Pete Vickery says:

    Where are the greatest Catholics of all time who compelled us with their conversion stories from other denominations to the Church? They sold us their cassettes and books and discs and videos of their stories and their interpretations of Scripture. I remember Scott Hahn saying on one of his cassettes that when you hear the voice of the Pope that you are really hearing the voice of Christ. Such immense apologists for the Pope and the Church have all fallen silent. Where is Hahn’s voice now? It appears the only well known ones (that I am aware of) who have come to Pope Francis’ defense are Jimmy Akin, Mark Shea and Dave Armstrong. The silence from all the rest is deafening. The cynic in me thinks it is a combination of fear of losing income and status with their followers. Could it be that they were wrong on some key points and they don’t want to admit it? Did they get it wrong about who they thought should be in the communion line and who shouldn’t? Apparently they weren’t so heroic as they made themselves out to be. Apparently God’s mercy extends farther and in more varied ways than they thought. God bless the writers on this blog as well as those who have the guts (Akin, Shea and Armstrong) to come to the Pope’s defense as well as the humility to realize their understanding of Church teaching is to be guided by Peter’s successor and not the other way around.

    • Christopher Lake says:


      I wonder, too, about many of the contemporary Catholic apologists and thinkers whose work helped me to re-embrace the Church and her teaching authority. So many of them (most, sadly) seem to now be either silent on Pope Francis, or increasingly, vocally, opposed to him.

      I remember what these apologists and thinkers told me about the Magisterial authority of the Church to teach– interpreting Scripture and Tradition, always in communion with the Vicar of Christ, the Pope. I was told that it is the Pope, and the priests, Bishops, and Cardinals who *teach in communion with the Pope*, who authoritatively interpret Scripture and Tradition in the Church. I was told that if I have a personal interpretation or understanding, on a matter of faith and morals, which conflicts with the Pope’s public, authoritative teaching, I should listen to the Pope and follow his teaching as the Vicar of Christ.

      I wonder, now, about these Catholic apologists and thinkers who seemed to be so adamant about the Pope’s teaching authority years ago, but who are now either silent on Pope Francis or openly opposing him. Did they, themselves, ever truly believe, to the core of their souls, what they told me (through their books, articles, lectures, etc.) about the Pope’s teaching authority in the Church, and about the need of all Catholics to listen to and follow that authority?

      I still believe what they told me many years ago, not *because* they told me, but because it is what the Church that was/is founded by Christ teaches. That is why I have not joined, and by God’s grace, will not ever join, the “resistance” against Pope Francis. Patrick Coffin and others can call this resistance “becoming red-pilled on Francis” all that they want, but that doesn’t change the fact they are contradicting their own past Catholic apologetics on Papal teaching authority, and, in the process, setting themselves up as ironically Protestant-like judges on Pope Francis’s teachings as the Vicar of Christ.

      • Pete Vickery says:

        Very well stated Christopher. I remember Hahn saying he had to take a leap of faith and just commit to saying the rosary even though he didn’t see where the Church had enough reason to justify it’s view of Mary. He figured the Church had been right on everything else, and even though he wasn’t seeing the rationale behind some of it’s Mariology, he would trust the Lord enough to show him in time a convincing argument for Mary’s lofty position. He said his first rosary and began to pray it daily. He said that within a short amount of time, he saw Scriptural evidence for everything wrt Mary. He hadn’t believed it to be possible. He took a leap of faith. He needs to do the same thing wrt Pope Francis. It takes humility to admit you may be wrong and there may be something or somethings you are overlooking. There is no doubt that Pope Francis is Peter’s successor and therefore has Christ’s promise to back him up. Hahn knows this. Hahn needs to practice what he has preached. There are many others complicit in this silence. Others yet who, as you noted, have chosen to oppose Pope Francis. Pride can blind anyone. They don’t seem to think they are capable of being blinded in this area. They are wrong. I lived in Mexico part of my life. I go back regularly since my wife’s family lives there. I have seen the types of poverty and raw characters in terrible living conditions that Pope Francis lived among in Argentina. I would never go alone into certain areas, yet Pope Francis did it for decades in scruffy clerics’ garb with old ugly shoes. He evangelized the “rejects” of society who have very rough manners, if any at all. He brought Christ to them. He risked his life on multiple occasions. I guarantee none of these American critics have anything close to the life experience that Pope Francis has, especially not Burke. Pope Francis rejected the good life even when he could have bathed in it’s luxury. Read Austin Ivereigh’s brilliant biography of him, which came right after he was elected. Look at the photos of how he dressed, where he went, and what type of transportation he used. Pope Francis was never too proud to love and live with the least of God’s creatures. His first world comfortable critics need to do some serious repentance.

  18. john says:

    I’m confused. Is the present teaching that the death penalty is no longer admissible because it is now considered intrinsically evil because of our more enlightened developed understanding of human dignity? If this is the case, does this not imply the previous teachings given by the previous pontiffs about the death penalty being allowable under certain circumstances was an error? Or, is the death penalty now simply inadmissible because there are always, in all circumstances everywhere, ways of locking up a hardened criminal for the life that guarantees the protection of the general public? Thanks for the clarification in advance

    • Mike Lewis says:

      We have several pieces on this website that address all of your questions and more.

      • Robert Fastiggi says:

        Dear Pedro,

        I recommend your article as well. It’s one of the best I’ve read on the subject. It’s unfortunate that Cardinal Burke seems to suggest that an action is either intrinsically evil or it’s good. This, though, is a false dichotomy (as your example of amputations makes clear). There are numerous evils that are not intrinsically evil. Divorce, for example, is an evil (see Amoris laetitia, 246), but the Catechism of the Catholic Church in no. 2383 states that civil divorce can be tolerated if it “remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights.” I think Pope Francis chose the proper term in judging the death penalty to be inadmissible. Contrary to Cardinal Burke, “inadmissible” is not simply a relative term. In a letter to the Bishop of Strasbourg of January 9, 1212, Pope Innocent III stated that Church “does not admit” (Ecclesia non admisit) trials making use of cold water or hot irons or duels (Denz.-H. 799). Innocent III did not declare these types of trials to be intriniscally evil, but his meaning was quite clear: the Church finds such types of trial to be inadmissible. Pope Innocent III made an authoritative judgment for the Church regarding the inadmissibility of these types of trial. Now Pope Francis has done the same regarding the inadmissibility of the death penalty. In doing so, he’s not contradicting any infallible teaching. It has never been infallibly taught that the Church must always approve of the admissibility of the death penalty. Whether the death penalty is intriniscally evil is a separate theoretical issue. Pope Francis, for very good reasons, has made it clear that the Church now teaches that the death penalty is inadmissible. This teaching, as Mike Lewis notes, must be adhered to by the faithful “with religious submission of mind and will” (Lumen gentium, 25; CIC canon 752; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 892). Accrding to canon 356 of the 1983 CIC, “Cardinals are obliged to cooperate assiduously with the Roman Pontiff.” Let’s hope and pray that Cardinal Burke will fulfill his canonical obligation and cooperate assiduously with Pope Francis in teaching the inadmissibility of the death penalty.

  19. Kimberly Fleury says:

    Extremist? Couching language? Really? Suspicious much? In all seriousness, this is divisive language. We are to consider views with charity, and neither blindly reject nor blindly accept anything that any priest, bishop, or even the Holy Father says. This is not a playground battle or a junior high clique formation squad, and it’s certainly not politics. Consider the arguments, not the people who make them.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      When the Holy Father officially promulgates a magisterial teaching, that’s not an invitation for Catholics to debate or reject it. Least of all a cardinal of the Church. Re-read the oath he took as a Cardinal and the profession of faith he made, and honestly assess whether he is living up to those promises he made.

    • Robert Fastiggi says:

      There are multiple problems with Prof. Feser’s article.

      1. He sets up a false dichotomy with his insistence that either Pope Francis’s revision of CCC 2267 represents a doctrinal change or merely a prudential judgment. This either/or does not do justice to the new formulation in the Catechism, which represents a deepening and a development of the moral principles of John Paul II that apply to the prudential order (but are not merely prudential in nature).

      2. Feser falls into the fallacy of begging the question when he insists that a total rejection of the death penalty contradicts “the irreformable teaching of Scripture and Tradition.” This is his position, but I don’t believe he’s proven it to be true. There’s no irreformable teaching of Scripture and Tradition that prevents the Church from judging now that the death penalty is inadmissible in light of a deeper understanding of the Gospel. But even if Feser were persuaded that his position is true, he should abide by what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) teaches in its 1990 document, Donum Veritatis, no. 27: “ the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions.”

      3. Feser assumes that Pope Francis’s opposition to life sentences is not defensible. In fact, Pope Francis’s position is in line with the top human rights court in Europe, which in 2013 ruled that sentences of life in prison without parole represent inhuman and degrading treatment and violate the European Convention of Human Rights: Feser’s suggests that Pope Francis’s opposition to life sentences represents “a secular rather than a Catholic understanding of hope.” This is a complete non sequitur. To hope for criminals to undergo reform and eventually be released from prison in no way denies hope in eternal life. Feser’s suggestion is gratuitous and insulting to Pope Francis.

      4. Feser speaks of Pope Francis “attributing” a certain position to the Russian author Doystoyevsky. Feser, though, seems ignorant of the source of the Holy Father’s citation. The passage Pope Francis cites is from the novel, The Idiot, and it needs to be read in context to appreciate the profound insight of the Christ-like character, Prince Mishkyn, concerning the death penalty:

      Pope Francis’s reference to Doystoyevsky is not really central to his arguments against the death penalty. Nevertheless, Feser should not comment on the quote from Doystoyevsky unless he understands the context in which it appears. It should also be noted that Doystoyevsky was once brought before the firing squad to be executed (only to receive a last-minute reprieve to serve five years in Siberia). Doystoyevsky saw a side to the death penalty that few of the living know.

      5. Prof. Feser continues to appeal to a leaked 2004 memo of Cardinal Ratzinger regarding worthiness to receive communion. This memo was not focused on the death penalty, and it was written within the context of the 1997 Catechism on the death penalty. Since the new formulation of CCC 2267 has replaced the version in force in 2004, the brief comment of Cardinal Ratzinger articulated in his 2004 memo no longer applies. Moreover, it’s simply bad theology to cite a document of lesser importance to override a later document of greater importance and authority.

      6. Feser seems to believe he is justified in not accepting what Pope Francis and the Catholic Church now teach about the death penalty because he finds the arguments unpersuasive. Here Prof. Feser directly contradicts the teaching of the CDF in no. 28 of Donum Vertitatis which explictly says that disagreement with a magisterial teaching “could not be justified if it were based solely on the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable.”

      7. Feser’s rejection of the new teaching of the Church on the death penalty is in direct violation of what Lumen Gentium, 25 teaches about the need to adhere to teachings of the ordinary papal Magisterium “with religious submission of mind and will.” His rejection also violates canon 752 of the 1983 CIC and no. 892 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Feser and his followers do not seem to understand the “argument from authority” that applies to teachings of the ordinary papal magisterium and judgments of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Catholics who support the new formulation of CCC 2267 are being faithful Catholics. Prof. Feser’s attempt to put such faithful Catholics and the Pope on the defensive suggests that he believes he has more authority than the Roman Pontiff. If he has difficulty accepting the Church’s new teaching on the death penalty he should, in a spirit of humility, make every effort to understand the teaching “with an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve his difficulties” (CDF, Donum, Vertiatis, 30). I have no difficulty with the new teaching. I hope and pray that Prof. Feser and his followers will overcome their difficulties.

      • James Belna says:

        I have spent the past three decades as a criminal prosecutor, and it is apparent to me that the new version of the Catechism was written by people who either have no understanding or no regard for how the criminal justice system actually works. In particular, the CDF explanation seems to be premised on the false notion that the only purpose of capital punishment is to “guarantee that the criminal could not repeat his crime”. (CDF Letter, paragraph 8.)

        Capital punishment has been an essential feature of civilization for thousands of years, and it has been constantly refined to more perfectly address the state’s essential duty to maintain social order. The extremes are unacceptable. A state which employs capital punishment too freely – as, for example, to execute pickpockets – undermines respect for the rule of law and devolves into tyranny or revolution; and a state which refuses to employ it under any circumstances – as in Colombia, for example – cedes control of the social order to criminal cartels and private vendettas.

        The laws on the books in the United States represent the most morally and practically sophisticated development of the death penalty in human history. They apply to only a small subset of particularly aggravated homicides; they afford extraordinary procedural safeguards against factual or legal errors; and they rarely result in an actual execution. Certainly no one can argue that anyone executed in the United States in the past fifty years has been deprived of the opportunity to appeal his case or to make his peace with God.

        But the most astounding thing of all is that the Pope and the CDF cannot see how the death penalty is morally obligatory in certain circumstances – assuming that we consider the defense of innocent human life to be a greater moral good than guaranteeing criminals the right to kill others without having to put their own lives at risk.

        A few examples to make my point: Suppose we have taken Pope Francis’ advice and abolished all of the death penalty laws. Suppose further that we have a career criminal with a long history of violent felonies (what we in California would call a “three-striker”) who knows that he will be sent to prison for the rest of his life if he is ever caught and convicted of committing a new offense. When he goes to rob the local convenience store, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone – he just wants the money.

        But he also knows that, as there is no death penalty, he will receive the exact same punishment (life imprisonment) whether or not he kills the clerk. And as the clerk is the only witness to the crime, he would be a fool not to do so. If he happens to bump into a police officer on the way out, he may as well kill him too; there is no extra charge, so to speak.

        If we somehow manage to catch the “three-striker” and place him on trial, it will be in his self-interest to sabotage the trial – perhaps by killing witnesses, jurors, prosecutors, or judges. As you must know, this is routinely done by drug lords in countries like Colombia and Mexico that have done away with capital punishment. And even if we manage to successfully prosecute him for one of these new murders, he will still only face the same life sentence that he was sure to get just for robbing the store.

        Finally, if we do manage to put a convicted murderer in prison for life, he can then kill anyone he wants to – inside or out of prison – with complete impunity. After all, what more can we do – give him two life terms? In California alone, we presently have something like 40,000 inmates serving life sentences, many of whom have little or no prospect of ever being paroled. Repealing the death penalty would quite literally give them a license to kill.

        It is an incontestable fact – and I would say, perhaps with technical imprecision, an artifact of natural law – that we cannot get rid of capital punishment, and renounce a credible commitment to execute convicted murderers under some well-defined circumstances, without creating a powerful incentive for certain criminals to commit murders that they would otherwise not choose to commit. Any society – and for that matter, any organized religion – which decides a priori that it will not set any punishment whatsoever for murders committed by criminals who are already subject to or serving a life sentence is morally complicit in those new murders.

        It is certainly possible for a moral society to generously grant clemency to repentant murderers – and perhaps even to unrepentant ones as well. This is a proper exercise of prudential judgement in the context of the death penalty, and the United States has already pushed it to the extreme – so much so that execution is by far the least common cause of death for death row inmates. But no moral society can intentionally establish a system of justice which expressly exempts entire categories of intentional murder from any punishment at all, save for a purely symbolic second (or third, or tenth) life sentence.

        I hope you understand that this is a preview of how the Church’s doctrine on abortion and euthanasia is likely to “develop” in the near future, at least with respect to certain extreme cases. As with capital punishment, our attention will be diverted from the fate of the nameless victim (who we will be assured was going to die anyway) to the “dignity” of the doctor who was just trying to ease unnecessary suffering, and who can personally make a claim on our sympathies; appeals will be made to “new understandings”, “growing consensuses”, and declarations by international organizations like the UN and the EU; we will be assured that this in no way contradicts the past teaching of the Church; and the revised version of CC 2267 will be explicitly cited as the authority to justify these new developments.

      • Pedro Gabriel says:

        For some strange reason, every other developed country is able to achieve good security for their citizens without recourse to the death penalty. Clearly they have no understanding of the legal system works

      • Marie says:

        James- Maybe you should have spent a few years as a defence attorney to gain a different perspective. You imply that in the past fifty years, since everyone executed was allowed to appeal his case, a fair verdict was reached. That is laughable really, and innocent people in your country have been executed. You continue to have prisoners exonerated with DNA. Right now there is someone on death row now, facing execution in Texas, and the DA will to allow DNA testing. With all due respect, the US is a shining example of why the death penalty needs to be abolished. The murder and incarceration rates in your cities alone are yet another example of a failing judicial system. Look outward, to the north or over the pond for comparison.

      • James Belna says:

        I implied nothing of the sort. I merely pointed out that without a death penalty law, certain categories of murder would go unpunished altogether, and in some fairly common circumstances criminals would have a risk-free incentive to kill innocent victims. If you can’t refute that, perhaps you can explain why sacrificing the lives of the innocent in order to avoid punishing the guilty is in any sense just, much less (as Pope Francis seems to think) morally obligatory.

      • Marie says:

        They have a risk free incentive all over the world, and yet in the US, with capital punishment, the murder rates are ten fold from other major cities in the developed world.

  20. Anthony De Giovanni says:

    Thanks for this site and your comment

    In addition I would like to suggest, for readers who would like to try it without any obligations other than Loving our Catholic Church n a practical concrete way as suggested by Jesus himself for difficult evil attacks. PRAYER and FASTING. (Matt 17: 21). Who ever feels that this can be done, one can try once or twice a week or as one deems fit. Feel free about it.

    Thank you for your post and for this site.

  21. Allen Thrasher says:

    One might argue that the fact that the United States has — for reasons not clear — a lot more murders and murderers than other developed countries is an excellent reason for retaining the death penalty. Is there any reason to believe that the lack of a death penalty is the reason, or a main reason, why these countries have a low murder rate, rather than that the already established low rates made abolition less risky?

    The weaknesses in the American criminal justice system should of course be corrected.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I am not sure if the legality of the death penalty has an effect on the murder rate in the US. The number of people who are executed is very small compared to the number of convicted murderers – the application of the death penalty is extremely inconsistent, which is another element of this. Often avoiding the DP depends on the effectiveness of your lawyer or possessing some kind of bargaining chip for a lesser sentence.

      But even if it was the most effective crime deterrent in the universe, IF it’s unjust, then it still shouldn’t be used.

  22. Allen Thrasher says:

    I have another one or two comments on other aspects of the issue, so I will post them separately. Many of the discussants totally gloss over the abundant evidence brought forward by Feser and others that the Old Testament approves capital punishment by prescribing it, the New Testament approves it, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church generally approved it (and statements by some of them that it should be used sparingly do not constitute a rejection of it), and that Magisterial documents of equal force as any recent ones approve it. These testimonies cannot be tossed aside by calling their rejection “development of doctrine.”

    • Mike Lewis says:

      First, from authority, Feser and friends don’t have a leg to stamd on. I’d say the old teachings aren’t being “tossed aside.” They have been fully analyzed by magisterial authority. The Pope and the CDF have officially promulgated the teaching and have taught the Church that this is a legitimate development.

      Secondly, many of the justifications for the revised teaching are built on more modern developments: an increased awareness of human dignity and a greater understanding and focus on the penal system. You take these factors and you apply them to the traditional understanding, and you put the weight of papal authority behind it, and you have an authentic development.

  23. Allen Thrasher says:

    I am afraid I have a dark suspicion about the hearts of some cultural “liberals” in their objection to capital punishment. Very many, at least, favor abortion and euthanasia. My suspicion is that they love the wicked and hate the innocent, because it suits their moral lawlessness.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I don’t think John Paul II or Benedict did when they called for the abolition of the death penalty. I’m sorry but I think that’s an unfounded assumption.

  24. Allen Thrasher says:

    Finally, could someone suggest what is meant by improvements in the penal system, on account of which the death penalty is no longer needed to protect society? I have never, repeat, never, read or heard of an explanation of this. Around the Mediterranean people never ceased to build stone buildings, which can minimize the chance of escape. And even if there were regions of Northern Europe where in the so-called Dark Ages there only wooden buildings, which are easier to break in or out of, one could prevent escape by chains or by mutilation of the feet. So what has changed? I have never heard of any penal system that churns out reformed criminals, so I cannot believe that is meant.

  25. Allen Thrasher says:

    Pardon, one more comment: Several developed countries still have the death penalty. Unfortunately my pad does not facilitate my copying the statement, but the Wiki article “Capital Punishment by
    Country” has a section “Countries categorized a ‘very high’ on Human Development Index.” It lists 11 such that actually perfom executions. Most of them are Islamic, but in addition to the US, Belarus, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore are not.

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