Sunday, September 15, 2019

Three problems for Catholic opponents of capital punishment


What is left to say about Pope Francis and capital punishment?  Plenty, as I show in a new Catholic World Report article titled “Three questions for Catholic opponents of capital punishment.”  Those who appeal to the pope’s statements on the subject in order to justify the claim that Catholics are now obligated to oppose capital punishment face three grave problems.

First, when you disambiguate the pope’s various imprecise statements, they either contradict irreformable traditional teaching, in which case Catholics should not agree with them; or they amount to a mere prudential judgment, in which case Catholics need not agree with them.  Either way, Catholics need not agree with them.  The supposition that the pope’s statements make opposition to capital punishment obligatory rests on a fallacy of equivocation.

Second, Pope Francis has repeatedly called for the abolition of life imprisonment, and even for the abolition of long prison sentences in general.  And he has claimed that such sentences are morally on a par with capital punishment, so that to oppose the latter requires opposing the former as well.  So, Catholics who appeal to the pope’s statements against capital punishment must, to be consistent, oppose life imprisonment too – yet few seem to do so, and there are serious theological and practical problems with doing so.

Third, Pope Francis has expressed the view that executing a murderer is worse than what the murderer himself did, and made other rhetorically over the top statements about capital punishment which even many Catholic opponents of the death penalty could not accept.  But if they minimize the significance of these extreme statements, they cannot consistently insist that all Catholics are obligated to share the pope’s view that capital punishment should be abolished.

I develop these points at length in the new article.  Catholic admirers of the pope’s views on capital punishment have failed to see the dilemma that the imprecision and excesses of his remarks puts them in.

142 comments:

  1. On Saturday, in an audience with prison officers, he said: "Dear brothers and sisters, to revive this flame is the duty of all. It is up to every society to feed it, to ensure that punishment does not compromise the right to hope, that prospects of reconciliation and reintegration are guaranteed. While remedying the mistakes of the past, we cannot erase hope in the future. Life imprisonment is not the solution to problems, but a problem to be solved. Because if hope is locked up, there is no future for society. Never deprive anyone of the right to start over! You, dear brothers and sisters, with your work and your service are witnesses of this right: the right to hope, the right to start anew. I renew my thanks to you. Keep going, take courage, with God's blessing, caring for those entrusted to you. I pray for you and I ask you too to pray for me." - Full address is here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2019/september/documents/papa-francesco_20190914_polizia-penitenziaria.html

    Let's not forget what he said back on May 10th to the International Union of Superiors General of Woman Religious: "I have clearly stated that the death penalty is unacceptable, it is immoral. 50 years ago, no ... but there has been a better understanding of morality." The video is here: https://mobile.twitter.com/CatholicSat/status/1126800009847087105

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  2. I have been thinking about capital punishment and the consistency of the pro-life movement a bit lately. I have realized that in order to be consistently pro-life, you have to be pro-capital punishment. And in a sense, you should be so practically as well as in principle. If you believe that murdering innocent people cannot warrant death, it seems you do not place a very high value on life. Maybe part of the reason that we have had so many abortions is that we are so flippantly permissive and accepting of sin. Just a thought.

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    1. Wahtever argument you may have in favour of the capital punsihment, being pro-life as well as pro-capital punishment is simply a contradiction.

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    2. "Wahtever argument you may have in favour of the capital punsihment, being pro-life as well as pro-capital punishment is simply a contradiction."

      I am not sure what you understand by being "pro-life", but as it is commonly understood in Catholic circles there is no contradiction -- it is what the Church has always taught, and while this is no guarantee of the absence of contradiction, you (or me for that matter) are not *that* smart to find one where 2000 years of man brain power, including some of the sharpest minds humanity has produced, didn't. Period, end of story.

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    3. Walter,

      In respectful reply to your reply to Scott...,

      No. Being pro-capital punishment is entirely compatible with being pro-life unless one holds that there is no relevant difference between, on the one hand, an innocent human being, and on the other, a human being guilty of a sufficiently heinous crime such that capital punishment is a proportionate response.

      But if there is a relevant difference between the two, then there is nothing about a pro-life position which rules out a position simultaneously favoring capital punishment for the worst crimes.

      * cough *

      In replying this way, I'm matching the pattern of the thread thus far: Scott made an assertion, for which he offered only a fig leaf's worth of supporting argumentation. In response you made an assertion, with little or no supporting argumentation. In response to you, I've made an assertion with barely-detectable supporting argumentation. What good fun.

      But it's a bit like bluffing at poker, isn't it? Acting like we have arguments ready-to-deploy, but without revealing them. (But we'll never learn who is holding the best hand unless we, y'know, show our arguments and compare them.)

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    4. I suppose it is contradiction if you interpret pro-life in a very simplistic and literal sense. Indeed, being pro-life and not a fruitarian, Jain-style hyper-Vegan and pacifist would would then be a contradiction. But, of course, more sensibly pro-life is just a one word epithet to describe the position that we shouldn't deliberately take innocent human life.

      I think the pro-choice position is more contradictory, given that it pushes choice as so important, but most pro-choicers seem to only mean the mother's choice. Even ignoring the baby's choice, pro-choicers seem to invariably want taxpayers to pay for abortions when they have the sway to demand this, as in Britain or Australia.

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    5. I interpret pro-life as in "human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end"
      But maybe that is a "simplistic and literal sense" but it doesn't allow for any exceptions.
      As for taxpayers. Yes, they pay for abortions and they pay fro nuclear weapons and maybe some day they will have to pay for a wall between two countries. The bottom line is: taxpayers pay for things they do not like in every country in the world. They also pay for the costs of capital punishment.

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    6. But why does your definition matter? Protecting innocent human life doesn't seem an unnatural interpretion of the term pro-life to me. Remember the term is just a partisan descriptor. It certainly seems less so than calling yourself pro-choice and yet only caring about the mother's choice.

      The point on taxpayer funding is that the movement is all about choice. It is often said, my body, my choice; it's a sensitive moral issue everyone should be able make up their own minds about; you can be personally pro-life, but pro-choice as a matter of state policy; etc. But then many pro-choicers don't seem to think that taxpayers moral choices on the issue should be respected. It's not like any of the issues you mention, at least it isn't allegedly to pro-choicers (before they become dominant, at least).

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    7. I should have added, if you don't want an abortion, don't have one, to the commpn rhetorical positions of pro-choicers. Their rhetoric, at least before they become dominantly, is suffused with this kind of stuff.

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    8. Jeremy

      I am not going to discuss the taxpayer problem because it is off-topic.
      The reason why "my definition" matters is because it is not my definition but the definition of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church. The CCC also says that "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.
      That is the foundation of the CCC's rejection of abortion, e.g.
      I am not claiming, BTW, that one cannot be opposed to abortion if one supports capital punishment. There can be other arguments against abortion that have nothing to do with an absolute respect for human life. But if one uses absolute respect for human life as a basis for opposing abortion, one cannot be pro-captital punishment. That is logically impossibel.

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    9. Okay, but it seems to me pointing out that pro-choicers seem to be far more inconsistent in their use of their appellation has some relevance to the topic.

      Otherwise, isn't what you say part of what is at issue about the Catholic view on the death penalty that this blog post is about? Also, your claim about impossibility seems to rely on what you mean by respect.

      Besides, far from all pro-lifers are Catholic. I am not.

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    10. I do note the quote you give from the catechism does also say protect.

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    11. The Lonely ProfessorSeptember 18, 2019 at 6:02 AM

      IMO, the entire debate is getting sidetracked by what is "intrinsically evil" or not, when it should be focused upon what values society should attempt to promote and uphold.

      "Intrinsically evil" in itself involves a circular definition. Why is an act intrinsically evil? Because it can never be justifiable under any circumstances. And why can't it ever be justified? Because it's intrinsically evil.

      Sure, it will be argued that, for an intrinsically evil act, the evil arises from the nature of the act and not due to the circumstances. But the separation is arbitrary, defined after the fact in order to achieve the desired conclusion. Is killing intrinsically evil? Well, no, only intentional killing of the innocent. OK, so what about vigilantism? Well, no, intentional killing of the guilty is only permitted by those authorized to do so. OK, and who determines who is authorized to do so? God does? Well then killing of the guilty isn't intrinsically evil, for if it were, even God couldn't authorize it under any circumstances.

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    12. Jeremy

      It may very well be so that pro-choicers are far more inconsistent in their use of their appelation, but that is not the issue here.
      The issue here is that you can't be pro-life in the sense of respecting and protecting human life from the moment of conception and also be pro-capital punishment.
      I don't think there is anything abiguous about the word respect, and if there is, "protect" solves the ambiguity.

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    13. Walter,

      The point I made about being pro-life, is that in order to be pro-life, you have to take appropriate measures (such as self-defense and retributive justice) to uphold the dignity of human life. If a man with a knife breaks into your home to kill your child, it is no good to say “Well I cannot kill him because I am pro-life.” It is exactly BECAUSE you believe killing innocent humans is wrong and worth fighting against that you kill attackers in self-defense and certainly criminals as proportionate retribution.

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    14. certain* criminals (not certainly)

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    15. Scott

      Nobody is disputing that you have to take appropriate measures, and those measures can indeed entail self-defense. But self-defense is not the same as deliberately killing someone.
      The killing may be inevitable at some point, but if you are truly pro-life (in the sense I argued above) you cannot ever intend to kill someone.
      As for retributive justice, for someone who is pro-life, this can never amount to killing someone.
      I am perfectly aware that this is far from easy in reality, but who has ever claimed that being consistently pro-life is easy.

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    16. Walter,

      Do you believe in (and agree with) the concept of proportionate punishment and retributive justice? If not, we should discuss that to avoid talking past each other. Please let me know.

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    17. The term "pro-life" is a contraction of "pro-innocent human life".

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    18. Scott

      No, I don't agree with the concept of retributive punishment but I can accept it for the sake of the argument because my argument does not hinge on that concept.

      Micha

      That may be true for you, or maybe evne for Scott, but it is not true according to Catholic Doctrine.

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    19. Walter,

      Okay, but not all pro-lifers are Catholic. Also, again, it seems to me that a large part of the dispute between Feser and anti-DP Catholics is whether Catholic doctrine mandates, or can be changed to mandate, that human life must always be protected. So you seem to be begging the question.

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    20. Walter,

      Okay if you do not believe in retributive justice, then that is the main issue.

      I am sure that you would agree that it is evil to kidnap and imprison an innocent person, correct? Would you say that people who think that criminals (such as rapists and human traffickers) should be locked away in prison for extended periods of time are not pro-L͏i͏b͏erty? The Catholic Church has many things to say about the dignity of human beings as volitional agents and their right to liberty. Do you think that imprisonments contradicts this position?

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    21. Scott

      If liberty were defined by the Catholic Church as an absolute right, then imprisonment would indeed contradict this position.

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    22. Jeremy

      My argument is about pro-lifers who agree with the definition given by the CCC. Obviously, there are other pro-lifers who have a different definition.
      I am not begging the question, I am simply observing what the CCC says about human life and concluding that capital punishment contradicts this.
      That means one of the two positions (or both) are wrong.

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    23. Walter,

      Are you Catholic? I feel like our past debates implied you were not, but I could be mistaken. Edward Feser has literally written the book on the Catholic position on capital punishment and how the right to life is qualified. There is a mountain of evidence against you.

      But right now I am simply arguing from a natural law perspective which is more foundational than the revelation of the Church (and this requires the acceptance of fewer premises).

      So I ask, from a purely ethical natural law point of view, aside from religious doctrine, do you find imprisonment to be immoral?

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    24. Walter,

      Okay. But who are these pro-lifers? You talk, for example, of the hypothetical of liberty being defined as an absolute by the Catholic Church in your response to Scott. I would presume, though, that Feser and almost all pro-DP pro-life Catholics accept it is Catholic doctrine that human life can never be taken.

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    25. Scott

      No, I am not a Catholic, but I disagree there is a mountain of evidence against my position.
      To anwsre your question, no, I don't think imprisonment is immoral.

      Jeremy

      My point is that if it is Catholic doctrine that human life can never be taken, the DP cannot possibly be permissible, and pope Francis is somply correcting a 2000 year old mistake.
      But, of course, it is also doctrine that Catholic doctrine can never be mistaken, so I understand why conservative Catholic sare so afraid of Francis.

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    26. Walter,

      It's almost as if someone should write a book and a number of blog posts about the issue. Perhaps suggest it to Dr. Feser?

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    27. Walter,

      As I said, read Dr. Feser’s book if you would like to understand the Catholic position. The prohibition on killing has always been understood to be qualified. There have always been exceptions for self-defense, capital punishment, and just war. All are endorsed by Scripture and tradition.

      Back to natural law: Okay you just said you think imprisonment is acceptable. I am assuming you think that kidnapping (even of an adult) is unacceptable, correct?

      If that is the case, why is one form of retributive punishment (that were it not a punishment for a crime would be immoral) acceptable whereas another (death penalty) is not an acceptable punishment? Can you please explain the difference in your view?

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    28. Scott

      The point is that, if it is Catholic doctrine that human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception, the prohibition on delibetate killing cannot possibly have been qualified.
      As I argued above, self-defense does not involve deliberate killing and I only support "just war" as a means of self-defense.

      I have never said that I endorse imprisonment as a form of retributive punishment.

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    29. Walter,

      Again I am not debating Catholic doctrine right now.

      If you do not support retributive punishment, I assume you accept imprisonment solely as a means of defense? Please correct me if I assume incorrectly.

      Let me present this thought experiment to you; I would like to hear your thoughts.

      A man on a whim decides he would like to know what it is like to rape a woman. He commits a very brutal act of rape to an unsuspecting teenage girl. But upon reflection after he is finished, he decides that the whole ordeal was very unpleasant for himself and decides he would never want to do such a thing again. In every other respect apart from this fact, the man is a model citizen.

      Since he has sworn off all future instances of criminal activity (and we can be sufficiently certain of his sincerity, since this is a thought experiment), do you think it would be right to imprison such a man? His imprisonment would not serve to protect society in any way. Should he go free?

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    30. Walter,

      No offence, but it seems pretty inane to me to talk about "if it is Catholic doctrine that human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception" and then ignore everything Dr. Feser has written on the subject. What you are talking about is a major subject of his book and quite a few blog posts.

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    31. Walter,

      Perhaps you should have spoken up before, as clearly you have discovered Dr. Feser has missed something so simple. You could have saved him so much trouble!

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    32. Scott

      If he is truly and sincerely sorry about what he has done, not only for his own sake but also for the girl's sake and also does everything in his power to alleviate the pain he has caused, including apologising to the girl, then yes, he should go free.

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    33. Jeremy

      I have spoken up before and several people have attempted to convince me that I was wrong. But so far, they haven't succeeded, so I don't agree with you that it is inane.
      Again, there is nothing ambiguous about "absolute respect for human life from the moment of conception".

      Now, I am not posting my views somewhere in an anonymous blog on the internet, but right here, on Dr Feser's blog, surrounded by (mostly) Feser supporters.
      If Dr. Feser wants to reply, he can do so and show me why I am wrong. But of course, he is under no obligation to do so.

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    34. Walter,

      What if the man is not sorry or apologetic. He doesn’t care that he raped the girl. He just will never do it again because he did not enjoy it, and we can be sure of that. Should he still go free?

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    35. He should be taught why raping is wrong.

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    36. I don't think retributive killing counts as intentional killing.Part of the problem is that defining "intentional" is hard.

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    37. Red

      How is executing someone not intentional?

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    38. Walter,

      I'm not a Catholic, but it seems to me that what you are suggesting is a too easy refutation of Dr. Feser. You'd have thought that he would have noticed it, and you would have also thought his opponents would have noticed it too.

      There could be a few reasons Dr. Feser has not responded to your objection. It could be that he can't answer it. But it could also be that it is inane and he doesn't see if point in responding to such trivia. It is interesting he does respond to some objections and queries.

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    39. Walter,

      Fair enough. He should be taught. But people can be taught without assenting to a teaching. I am trying to teach you the legitimacy of retributive justice, and you are rejecting what I am trying to teach you. You are trying to teach me the illegitimacy of retributive justice, and I am rejecting what you are trying to teach me. Regardless of who is right, it is quite evident that earnest teaching does not always result in conversion.

      So let us say that he was taught with all due diligence that rape is wrong, but let us also say that he is a moral relativist who is unconvinced by the arguments. Now the fact that he is a moral relativist does not make him dangerous in our thought experiment, for suppose that he finds all other crimes personally revolting (although not immoral). The only crime he was curious about was rape. He has tried it, found it to also be revolting, and will never be a danger to society again. However, he does not have a shred of regret or remorse for the teenage girl that he raped, and he still thinks there is nothing per se wrong with rape (he just personally happens to find it quite unpleasant).

      So the question still stands. Should this man be punished for his crime, or should he go back to his normal life without any punishment?

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    40. Walter
      Because the intention is to punish.

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    41. Jeremy

      No offence, but either you present counter arguments to my claim, in which case we may proceed, or you don't, in which case I will respectfully bow out.

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    42. Scott

      If he doesn't have a shred of regret he is a psychopath and should be treated in a metal institution.

      Now, enough about retributive justice, because that's off topic. As I said earlier, even if retributive justice is legitimate, my argument still stands.

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    43. Red

      The intention a is to punish by intentionally killing someone. If we are to draw the distinction as you seem to do, we can say in the case of euthanasia, e.g. that it is simply the intention to alleviate the patient's pain and this can be done only by killing him. Or in the case of abortion, the intention is simply not to be pregnant anymore.
      This simply doesn't work.

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    44. Walter,

      As I said, I'm not a Catholic, and hardly an expert on these issues. As an outsider, I have to guage which points and counterpoints are worth taking seriously. It seems to me unlikely that Dr. Feser has overlooked so obvious and easy an objection. What's more, it seems unlikely that most of his opponents have also overlooked so easy a refutation of his claims. Make it what you will, but if were you, I would hardly rest on my laurels, but double check myself that I hadn't missed something. Have you read Dr. Feser's book?

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    45. walter
      Like I said that is problem with analysis of intentions, that the distinction can be drawn in an extremely fine-grained manner.
      This applies to self-defense case too.
      But the argument for the contradiction that you have presented to doesn't succeed.

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    46. "If he doesn't have a shred of regret he is a psychopath and should be treated in a metal institution.”

      Sorry to interrupt but this sounds like retribution to me;given all the factors in Scott's case.

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    47. Walter,

      To make it clear, are you suggesting that it's Catholic doctrine that human life must always be preserved? Surely this flies in the face of a host of evidence, such as that Dr. Feser has documented, that shows that Popes, Fathers, doctors, and divines of the Church have consistently taught the licit nature of the death penalty, at least in certain circumstances.

      Also, and someone correct me if I'm wrong, but, apart from issues of exegesis, I believe the Catechism is meant to be a record of Catholic doctrine, but simply being set down in it, doesn't give a statement doctrinal authority.

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    48. Red

      It may sound like retribution to you, but it isn't. It's called treatment.
      For the rest, I deal with arguments, not with assertions.

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    49. Jeremy

      I really don't care why people "overlook an obvious and easy objection". I care whether they have a counterargument or not. So far, I haven't seen any, but I am open to the possibility that someone might come up with one. So, I am not resting on my laurels.
      But I have one advantage ver a Catholic. I have the incredibly comfortable position of free investigations without the restriction that the Catholic Curch must always be right.
      BTW, I don't think Feser's opponents have overlooked so easy a refutation. The appeal by pope Francis to the absoluteness of human dignity certainly comes close. But, the Pope is a Catholic and ha sto be very careful. Thank God I don't.

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    50. Walter
      What is it treatment for if there really aren't particular negative consequences in the case in the first place?
      I take retribution to be punishment,like imprisonment for the sake of duty rather than preventing harm.. that is why that looks like retribution.

      What do you think I haven't provided argument for?
      My point was that the two doctrines in question aren't contradictory, then I pointed out that whatever problems you have with my remarks are related to the notion of intention not that there is a contradiction after all.

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    51. Walter,

      Is it treatment against his will? Then that is retribution. People are allowed to have private opinions if they are not using them to harm people (in the future). There are lots of people who believe in moral relativism who are not in immediate danger of committing crimes.

      Do you think we should lock all of these people away in mental institutions? Also, I do not know if you can get committed to a mental institution for an earnest philosophical worldview if you show no other signs of mental illness.

      He also may not be a psychopath. Perhaps he feels extreme empathy and sadness when he sees the puppy commercials with Sarah McLaughlin.

      He just does not think rape is intrinsically evil because he is a relativist.

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    52. Red

      I don't see how denying that the death penalty is intentional killing of a human being is even possible. If you want to argue for that position, then be my guest, but you'll have to make a very strong case.
      The point about psychopaths is that being a psychopath is necessarily a threat to society.
      Scott's case does not correspond to a real life possiblity, because, unless you are God, you cannot rule out that there can be negative consequences.
      Anyway, as I told Scott, this is not about retributive justice, so i am not going to discuss it any further.

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    53. Scott

      See my reply to Red. He doesn't have to think rape is intrinsically evil, but if he sees no need to apologize, he is a psychopath. That has nothing to do with moral relativism.

      Anyway, I do not want to defend my view on retributive justice here any further because it is way off topic.

      If anyone has anything to say about my actual argument, feel free to do so and I may reply if I think there is anything substantial. But I am not going to repeat myself ad infinitum.

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    54. Walter.
      I did just that in my first post here, we are discussing what follows from those remarks.

      whether the case corresponds to real life is irrelevent. We are just testing moral intuitions here. Also note that although it would be very rare, such case isn't physically immposibble.

      And most importantly, I don't know why are you equating the person in the case, someone who doesn't believe in intrinsic moral wrongness with a psychopath. If you were in charge many brilliant ethicists would be in gaol right now.

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    55. Walter,

      I guess we can leave it there. But retributive justice is relevant because capital punishment is a special case of retributive justice. If you do not accept retributive justice, there is no way to accept capital punishment. Otherwise you have to say that it is okay to kill anyone who is a potential danger, which could be anyone. So I would argue that if retributive justice is immoral and bogus, you are 100% correct. If the Church had no understanding about retributive justice, you would be correctly interpreting its teaching.

      But that is not and has never been the case. See Dr. Feser’s book for details.

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    56. You can have a last word if you like. I will refrain from responding any further.

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    57. Red

      I am not equating someone who does not believe in intrinsic moral wrongness with a psychopath and I have never done so.

      Furthermore, if the death penalty is not intentional killing, then neither is abortion or euthanasia.

      Scott


      I have said all I wanted to say and my argument is that claiming that human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception contradicts the use of the DP, regardless of whether retributive justice is legitimate.

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    58. Walter, you have indeed said quite a lot...but, IMHO, your arguments are not at all persuasive. More specifically, you have skated around the obvious distinction between an innocent human life, and one who is guilty, having committed grave offenses within and against the body politic.

      If Capital Punishment is intrinsically evil, or perhaps has become absolutely prohibited under the New Covenant...then how do you explain/reconcile the inspired words of St. Paul in Romans 13:1-4:
      ----------
      "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the SWORD in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer."

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    59. But if one uses absolute respect for human life as a basis for opposing abortion, one cannot be pro-captital punishment.

      I am not going to get involved in this particular debate, but I just want to point out a clarification. For those who have not run into Walter on this topic, his interpretation of "absolute" here is so comprehensive and so extreme that according to his understanding, it would be wrong for God Himself to directly take the life of a human being. Yes, that sense of "absolute".

      He has (in my past discussions with him) shown no willingness to consider any other sense of absolute than this sense, even if it were proposed by the Catholic Church in, say the CCC. Hence he cannot be persuaded to another stance. For example, he is unwilling to consider that if the CCC itself lays out the "absolute" term in one paragraph, and in another paragraph only a dozen or two away it infers some other result that is contradictory to HIS idea of "absolute", that this amounts to the Church refining and qualifying what it meant by "absolute.

      As a result of this intransigence, I have sworn off discussing life issues with him. Your mileage may vary, but you should at least know what you're getting into.

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    60. Walter,

      For Francis to have not overlooked the point you are making, he would have had to appeal to those words in the catechism as authority, as you are doing, with the same interpretation as you give. That's not what you are describing him doing.

      You ignored my further points. What about the evidence Feser has gathered that the Church has consistently taught the licit nature of the death penalty for two millennia? Also, what doctrinal authority do you believe the passage from the catechism has, even if we accept your interpretation (which is a big if)?

      Tony,

      Yes, this whole sub-discussion does seem rather silly. Apparently Feser overlooked something so obvious.

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    61. Jeremy

      The question is whether someone who agrees that human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception can also support the death penalty.

      My answer to that question is a definite "no".
      No, agian, if you have an actual argument against my position, I am all ears, but it appears you don't have one, so i am going to bow out of this discussion.

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    62. Tony

      If you don't want to discuss this with me, I respect that, but maybe you sgould let other people make their own decisions.

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    63. Walter,

      Okay, but that seems like a rather obvious contradiction, so few people are likely to explicitly hold both such views. What I am questioning is your insinuation that Catholics must hold that human life must always be preserved.

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    64. Walter
      "I am not equating someone who does not believe in intrinsic moral wrongness with a psychopath and I have never done so."

      But that is exactly what you have been doing this entire thread, otherwise I don't know if your comments so far even make sense.

      "Furthermore, if the death penalty is not intentional killing, then neither is abortion or euthanasia."

      I have already addressed this point, so just read what I have said above.

      And I can just as well say that if DP is intentional killing then so is self-defense.
      problem again is with intentions, there is no contradiction between the doctrines in question.

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    65. Red

      No, that is not what I have been doing.

      And, no, you cannot just as well say that self-defense is intentional killing.

      I think we should leave it here.

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    66. Jeremy

      That's exactly my point. It is an obvious contradiction. My first post was a reply to this statement by Scott, "I have realized that in order to be consistently pro-life, you have to be pro-capital punishment".

      That is an obvious contradiction. Maybe nobody else holds this view, but I doubt it, judging by the fact that many pro-lifers take the absolute respect for human life as the basis for their anti-abortion and aniti-euthanasia stance, e.g.

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    67. Walter
      Like I said your remarks in this
      regard do not make a lot of sense then. My point still stands though, what you were describing there looks like a case of retributive punishment.

      If my claim about self-defense doesn't follow,then yours about abortion etc doesn't follow as either.

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  3. Also, I would love to hear some commentary by Dr. Feser on what Dr. Taylor Marshall often refers to as weaponized ambiguity. Dr. Feser has alluded to it, but I do not know if he has directly addressed it. Do you think this is a useful term? I tend to think that unnecessary and intentional ambiguity is used for political agendas. It seems as if the Pope does not want to outright contradict the death penalty so as to render his authority illegitimate, but he also seems to want people to think that the death penalty is intrinsically evil. We shall know them by their fruits, as it is said.

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    1. I second Scott on this.

      "Weaponized ambiguity" does indeed seem to be the most consistently-used technique for the advancement of heresy over the last hundred years.

      A related technique is the exploitation, by heretics, of the hesitancy of orthodox persons in positions of authority to object with sufficient force (indeed, with anything louder than a polite quibbling) to public heresy, or ambiguous near-heresy, or that which is "offensive to pious ears."

      In other words, a lot of persons called to be fathers aren't being strong fathers.

      Time for that to end. Unite the clans.

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    2. I recommend looking at the blog of Zippy Catholic (RIP), in particular what he's written on Motte and Bailey rhetorical tactics, as well as weaponized ambiguity.

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  4. The Pope said this on Saturday. The English translation omits the repetition:

    "Life imprisonment is not the solution to problems, but a problem to be solved. Because if hope is locked up, there is no future for society. Never deprive anyone of the right to start over!"

    "L’ergastolo non è la soluzione dei problemi - lo ripeto: l’ergastolo non è la soluzione dei problemi -, ma un problema da risolvere. Perché se si chiude in cella la speranza, non c’è futuro per la società. Mai privare del diritto di ricominciare!"

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  5. Dr. Feser, regarding infallibility and docility, what do you make of these words from Lumen Gentium: "Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking."

    This passage seems hard to trump to me.

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    1. The existing body of defined doctrine is harder yet though, surely - and if any bishop, from Peter down, should contradict that? Papal positivism is not a coherent Catholic position.

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    2. Well, therein lies the dilemma.

      I read "By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed" and thought it very persuasive. I was distressed to hear of the Pope's change to the catechism, too. I've wrestled with this matter for some time.

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    3. Making contradictory demands is a trait of domestic abusers.

      Don't bother "wrestling" with this stuff. That's buying into an abusive paradigm. The teaching is clear, and if the Pope doesn't like the teaching, that's the Pope's problem.

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    4. The Council three times: at the beginning, middle , and end; refused to invoke infallibility.
      The Council itself is therefore to be treated like this Pope; to be followed only when IT FOLLOWS the doctrine that has come down before from sources that DO invoke infallibility!

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    5. What do you even need a Pope for in that case?

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    6. What is "religious submission of mind and will"? Is it an obligation to do something impossible like obey a contradiction? You are not required to instantaneously submit to what you imagine Catholic teaching to be, but what it actually is (which is manifest by consistency over time according to Canon Law). And in this case, the pope is not forthcoming with any assistance in that regard.

      What do we need a pope for? To define the deposit of faith, not contradict it. Ergo the current problem.

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    7. But he is there as the ultimate arbiter, and what is the point of an ultimate arbiter if everybody reserves that right to themselves?

      I'm not trying to be combative. These are the questions I ask myself.

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    8. What is "religious submission of mind and will"? Is it an obligation to do something impossible like obey a contradiction?

      TN, that's a great question. Oddly enough, I have searched for official explanations that detail exactly what is entailed in "religious submission", and I have found precious little to explain it. However, I believe that the following is true of it:

      The highest two types of Church teachings
      ( (i) revealed dogma, that requires assent of "divine and catholic faith"; and (ii) doctrines set forth definitively (necessary to preserve and defend revealed truth), that require assent that they be "firmly accepted and held") require unreserved assent: our assent leaves no room for "but what if" and such reservations, no room for possibility of error in the teaching.

      Religious assent, then, by contrast is not unreserved, which is to say that it IS reserved: you do not assent to it in such a way that you leave NO room at all for the possibility of error. You reserve space for the possibility that the teaching might change.

      The second critical point is that the assent is capable of degree, according to the manner in which it has been proposed; there is variability in the how firmly the Church teaches it. This matter of degree is subject to historical determination: part of "how firmly" comes from how long the Church has taught it without alteration. Another part comes from the sort of assertion with which it is proposed by the bishops and teaching offices of the Church (e.g. how strenuously they propose it, or how universally the teaching document applies).

      This much is clear from sources such as "AD TUENDAM FIDEM". I would suggest, on my own thoughts, that a third qualifier on the degree of assent owed in religious assent hangs on how clearly the Church proposes a NEW teaching insofar as it relates to past teaching. For example, if a new teaching is merely a small refinement of a prior teaching and has the overall effect of clarifying the prior teaching so as to make it more reasonable, more defensible, more coherent, then the newly proposed detail is accorded assent nearly as firmly as the old teaching to which it is attached. On the contrary, a newly proposed teaching that appear to contradict an old, settled teaching that is firmly held, which is not proposed in such a way as to offer any plausible pathway of harmonization, is accorded very little in the way of assent (i.e. allows very much in the way of reservation), precisely because the mind of the teacher has not made manifest how it might be harmonized with a prior teaching that is already held firmly. This is why Donum Veritatis explicitly allows for a theologian to WITHHOLD strong assent to a teaching which he is unable to make conformable to other more settled teaching, and to ask for clarification.

      Many prelates and theologians have asked the Pope for clarification on his DP teaching, and have received nothing that even remotely fits the name "clarification". With that lack of response, the Pope has indicated that he does not expect or intend to bind the Church under a high degree of submission to his new teaching. (Indeed, because of the immense difficulty of even plausibly making the new teaching conform with prior teaching that is to be firmly held, it is best understood that the Pope is not intending to teach this new idea as one requiring religious assent, but as a prudential determination (which does not require religious assent but requires "respect").)

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  6. Regarding the picture accompanying the OP, the real question is "Was Jimmy Cagney yeller?"

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  7. The Lonely ProfessorSeptember 16, 2019 at 9:50 AM

    OK, I'll play devil's advocate, not that I really have a problem with the execution of a mass murderer with guilt clearly established beyond all doubt. I'll answer the questions as follows:

    1. Does Pope Francis’s teaching on capital punishment amount to a doctrinal change or merely a prudential judgment?

    It is clearly a doctrinal change, when it is published in a Catechism (which is a compendium of doctrine) and entails that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral (which is clearly a change).

    Feser himself admits as much:
    "Exactly how can capital punishment fail to be intrinsically wrong if it is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”? For if it is at least in principle legitimate to execute an offender under certain circumstances, then he cannot be inviolable in that respect."

    2. Do you agree with Pope Francis that life sentences should be abolished?

    No. It can be argued however whether Pope Francis has taught this authoritatively or not, as it hasn't appeared in the Catechism. But even if he has, and I am inconsistent for so dissenting, this just proves that I am inconsistent and disobedient, not that I am wrong that there is an obligation to agree with Pope Francis on the death penalty. (IOW the argument is a tu quoque fallacy).

    3. Do you agree with Pope Francis that executing a murderer is worse than what the murderer himself did?

    No, but the same above arguments apply.

    Now, to the meat of Feser's argument:

    "...it is not open to the Church to teach that capital punishment is wrong intrinsically or of its very nature. The most the Church can teach is that capital punishment is wrong under certain circumstances. The reason is that Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the popes prior to Pope Francis have consistently taught that capital punishment can be legitimate at least in principle. Given the Church’s claims about the reliability of Scripture and of her ordinary magisterium, it is not possible for the tradition to have been wrong for over two millennia about something that fundamental... If Pope Francis were teaching that capital punishment is intrinsically wrong, then we would be in a similar situation, and would have a clear case in which the teaching of Donum Veritatis and of St. Thomas would apply. We would have a case where Catholics need not assent, indeed must not assent."

    But why believe the Church's claim about the reliability of Scripture and the ordinary magisterium when it is contradicted by her own teaching, when her own teaching in fact entails that it is not reliable? IOW, the Church is making contradictory claims, which means it is not a reliable source of truth.


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    1. Look at the entire body and history of Catholic doctrine. It's easy to tell what's the truth and what's not. If you get hung up on legalistic nit picking you're missing the point of the Church's infallibility, which is that the Church has to be reliable enough to teach the truths needed to save souls in the real world.

      Any reasonable person weighing the "evidence" as it were, of two thousand years of doctrine and practice vs. one modern Pope, can easily figure out what the Church's true teaching is. And it's the Church's true teaching which is protected and guaranteed by the Spirit, not every single emission of hot air that proceeds from the mouth of a Pope.

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    2. https://thewandererpress.com/catholic/news/frontpage/the-revised-catechism-section-2267-what-the-latin-text-actually-says/

      "Fortunately a close examination of the pre-eminent Latin text shows that it does not support such rejection of the past. The critically important sentence in section 2267’s new wording reads as follows, given here first in the Latin formulation and then in its English rendering:
      Ecclesia . . . docet “poenam capitalem non posse admitti quippe quae repugnet inviolabili humanae dignitati.”
      The Church . . . teaches that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
      Those, sadly a dwindling number, who can still command a bit of Latin will no doubt take note of two important divergences from the Latin in the proffered English translation. A third, though comparatively minor, divergence appears in the translation of “quippe quae” as “because.” The more accurate translation would be “to the extent that” or “inasmuch as.”

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    3. Anon, the "inasmuch as" is conformable to the sense of saying "it IS an attack, in that it IS in direct conflict with human dignity..." Under that reading, "inasmuch as" is equivalent to "because" or "since".

      The also possible reading "to the extent that" provides a qualifier or limitation on the following words, but such a limitation is not supported anywhere else in the entire passage. Nothing clearly leads us to believe the pope intended to craft a limiting assertion. Either the pope intended the ambiguity itself, or he probably intended "because" or "since".

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    4. I own a copy of the Catechism. I own a pen. I can write anything I like in the Catechism. THAT DOESN'T MAKE IT BINDING.

      The Catholic Church had already been around a long, long time before you or I or the man who became Pope Francis was born. In this long history, there have been Popes who were geniuses, and Popes who were not; Popes who were known for their personal saintliness, and Popes who were not; Popes who were able administrators, and Popes who were not; Popes who were carefully heeded by leaders of nations, and Popes who were not. The Church has learned a few things by practical experience, such as that bishops should not be princes or presidents, and how to make doctrinal teachings that are permanently binding. The Catechism is no more such a means than putting on St. Edward's Crown would make me the king of England.

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    5. Howard,

      The Pope can use whatever medium he wishes for teaching. All that is required is that he make clear his mind and will on the matter. When the Pope (as Pope, not just as a private person) says "The Church teaches..." as he does in the Catechism revision then you'd be hard pressed to argue that he isn't therein expressing his mind and will as Pope.

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    6. The Lonely ProfessorSeptember 17, 2019 at 12:49 PM

      Clearly Pope Francis changed the teaching.

      "6. In this same prospective, Pope Francis has reaffirmed that “today capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the condemned’s crime may have been.”[8] The death penalty, regardless of the means of execution, “entails cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.”[9] "

      https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2018/08/02/180802b.html


      Edward, you seem to missed the point.

      Why believe the Church is reliable when her own teaching entails that it is not? It just may have happened to be right on the death penalty before, but so were many other religions.

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    7. But why believe the Church's claim about the reliability of Scripture and the ordinary magisterium when it is contradicted by her own teaching, when her own teaching in fact entails that it is not reliable? IOW, the Church is making contradictory claims, which means it is not a reliable source of truth.

      Exactly. That's why studying recent church history stopped me in my tracks when I was already more than halfway through the Tiber.

      Look at the entire body and history of Catholic doctrine. It's easy to tell what's the truth and what's not. [...] Any reasonable person weighing the "evidence"...

      Try looking at this from the outside, as a potential convert, and perhaps you'll see this is not easy at all. The recent Church, and even more the current Pope, do at least seem to contradict previous teaching.

      If I have to do all the heavy lifting myself to get to the "correct" positions, what is the Magisterium for?

      And it just can't be good for my spiritual health for me to come into the Church thinking, "well, I've been Catholic for all of five minutes but I already know it well enough to disagree with the Pope, all the cardinals and 97% of the bishops".

      The alternative, of course, is no better. "The current Church contradict the previous one, but the older/newer one is right". This destroys the reliability of the Church and is precisely why I stopped crossing the Tiber midway.

      The only good answer is that there is no contradiction, just the appearance of it. I tried going down that road. I respect people who do that. Maybe I'll do it in the future again. But at least for now, this requires a level of intellectual gymnastics and obfuscation that I'm not capable of.

      Professor Feser wrote some time ago that he planned writing an apologetics book. Waiting for it!

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    8. @Al -- responding to your post of September 20, 2019 at 8:25 AM:

      Hell Al, if I may, I think you are hung up on and confused between disputes and disagreements within the Church, which you may be conflating with the Doctrine of Infallibility. There has ALWAYS been disagreements, disputes and even outright conflicts within the Church. This has and does occur not only within the universal Magisterium (College of Bishops), but even between the Magisterium and the Pope.

      Such disagreements, disputes and conflicts do not threaten the reality of Church Infallibility, as it is rightly understood and clearly defined.

      You would need to provide some specific examples of either a definitive ex-cathedra statement, or decree from an Ecumenical Council, which contradicts a past dogmatic teaching of the Church.

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  8. >"Exactly how can capital punishment fail to be intrinsically wrong if it is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”?

    Logically wouldn't an imprudent application of the Death Penalty be an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person?

    Let's take the Slavery example. Chattel Slavery is intrinsically immoral. Theoretical slavery is not contrary to the moral and natural law. But would not the unjust abuse of a lawful theoretical slave be contrary to the moral and natural law?

    So the Pope is being prudential.

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    1. "It is not open to the Church to teach that capital punishment is wrong intrinsically or of its very nature. The most the Church can teach is that capital punishment is wrong under certain circumstances."

      So basically Pope Francis is making a prudential judgement that under modern circumstances the Death Penalty is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.

      Thus given taking this teaching at face value we are all one civilzation ending catastophy or nuclear war away vs St Leibowitz from that doing a complete 180.

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    2. I agree. Pope Francis himself, when he made the catechism state that even a criminal doesn't lose his dignity, echoes Pope St JP2 on this regard - and the call to end the death penalty worldwide also echoes the words of B16 and JPII as well.

      It's clearly meant to be a prudential judgement that, in modern circumstances, the DP is cruel and shouldn't be used.

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    3. Joe and Son: I agree with you that the new 2267 is not more authoritative than a prudential determination, and in that sense a Catholic is free to agree or not agree with the Pope.

      I do not agree with you that the Pope intended to state the new position merely as a prudential determination. I think he intended to be ambiguous about it, and that his ambiguity was intended to confuse and fool many into thinking that the new teaching was at a higher level than a prudential determination - that it was (at the least) one requiring religious assent.

      I think this is the reason he used "inviolability" in the passage. On the surface, it appears to state something that applies to all men everywhere, and thus speaks to all capital punishment as a matte of principle. But in actuality, the expression that he uses cannot actually be resolved in a way that is conformable to prior Catholic teaching and retain the sense of "inviolability". The hitch becomes apparent when you start to explore just what is it in human dignity that is "inviolable?" First, note that the term is not meant to refer to something in men that cannot be violated, or the Pope wouldn't be complaining that the DP violates it. Of course it CAN be violated, what the Pope is saying is that it ought not be violated. But what, precisely, ought not be violated?

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    4. Compare, for example, the US Declaration, which calls men's rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as "unalienable", very much comparable to "inviolable". But is a man's right to life unalienable in every sense? Not at all: the very Framers of that Declaration intended to say that a man COULD by his own action alienate his right to life, and to liberty. And, indeed, all men agree that by choosing to commit a crime, a man can throw away his personal human right to freedom and be thrown in prison. Thus the "unalienability" refers to something narrower than an absolute and universal reference.

      Now reflect again on "inviolable". It is absolutely clear in Catholic doctrine that man has one sort of dignity as being made with a rational nature, and another level of dignity infinitely higher when he is favored with sanctifying grace giving him a participated share in God's own life - making him a child of God. Certainly we don't believe that committing a mortal sin makes him not to be a human being any more, but we DO say that by it he loses his grace and his dignity as a child of God.

      But what is it, in his status as retaining human nature, precludes the severe punishment of death? Or, for that matter, putting him in prison for a year? Neither of these punishments are contradictory to the dignity of human nature, because that dignity implies an ordering under justice, and therefore submission to proportionate punishment.

      Obviously, then, while excess punishment is an outrage to human dignity, proportionate punishment is not. Thus, unless the DP is inherently disproportionate to any and all crimes, it is simply not true that the DP "IS" an attack on the inviolability of the human person, the most that can be said is that "depending on circumstances, it may be" such an attack.

      But nobody would set out to say all that by what the Pope said in 2267 if what he meant was merely that according to his prudential determination, the DP should not be used in today's world.

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    5. @ Tony

      I return the favor in that I agree and disagree with you(the later is minor IMHO).

      You said "I do not agree with you that the Pope intended to state the new position merely as a prudential determination. I think he intended to be ambiguous about it, and that his ambiguity was intended to confuse and fool many into thinking that the new teaching was at a higher level than a prudential determination - that it was (at the least) one requiring religious assent."

      This analysis is meaningless to me. I don't know what the Pope intends. One can speculate on the Pope's hidden motives or internal views but it is futile. I am sure when Boniface VIII taught Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus it is likely he thought all non-Catholics everywhere in all circumstances where damned to Hell. He might have balked at his successors Pope Alexander VIII or Pius IX or St Pius X or Vatican II qualifiers that EENS does not apply to invincibly ignorant non-believers who follow some extra-ordinary grace & light God in His mercy might grant them to be saved who are then not technically outside the Church etc...

      But such speculations of their inner motives are meaningless unless they care to share them. Maybe he is thinking that but so what? The virtue true heretics have that the Holy Father lacks is perspicuity. Arius and Luther and even Pope John XXII where plain in their errors. Francis is as you initially said is "ambiguous" & that leaves his stated teaching a little wiggle room for orthodox interpretation. It doesn't matter what the Holy Father secretly intends. The Holy Spirit will threw a future Pope drag his teaching here to orthodoxy.

      You wrote"But in actuality, the expression that he uses cannot actually be resolved in a way that is conformable to prior Catholic teaching and retain the sense of "inviolability".

      Aren't you contradicting yourself here Tony? If Francis clearly taught that then he failed at his intention to be ambiguous.

      Anyway I do agree Pope Francis being ambiguous is very problematic and leads some Catholics into thinking the DP is somehow intrinsically evil. For a practical example of this I offer up an argument I am having with one Paul Fahey over at the Where Peter Is blog under my other monker handle Jim the Scott.

      https://wherepeteris.com/the-death-penalty-doctrine-or-personal-opinion/

      Apparently this man thinks the change in the CCC now means " The Church now teaches, as a matter of doctrine, that the death penalty is not morally acceptable."

      Naturally I am not having it. OTOH if he affirms the DP is not intrinsically evil then that would be some progress.

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    6. Great Job Tony!

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    7. @ Son of Ya'Kov, we agree on the ambiguity itself, so that's a start. I understand your sentiment that we cannot know the pope's intention other than what he said, and I respect that. I will not claim to know it, that would be rash.

      However, the parameters of the obligation to give religious assent to a teaching by a bishop or pope is to assent according to the mind of the teacher, as he has indicated through his manner of teaching it. This is, of necessity, a somewhat fluid or imprecise sort of measure, and cannot be nailed down with perfect certainty, but the analysis is part of the obligation to give religious assent. So, while it might be rash to claim to know with certainty the intention of the pope (other than when he states it explicitly), it is not rash to make an estimate of it for practical purposes, subject to correction and revision.

      While we are not called on quite as strongly to assess the mind of the teacher in his prudential determinations, the estimation is not completely absent from it, either: we are called upon to give respect to these prudential teachings, and doing so properly requires an estimation of just how strenuously the teacher is proposing it.

      Finally, when a teaching is ambiguous, especially when it is ambiguous as to whether it is one requiring religious assent or only the respect of a prudential determination, it is unavoidable that the faithful make some kind of estimation of the "mind of the teacher" so as to resolve whether he has one sort of obligation or the other.

      Pope Francis has repeatedly said, in explicit terms, that his administrative style is to "make a mess", and he has made manifest by many acts that included therein is the intention of being obscure and ambiguous. It is not at all unreasonable to conclude that he intends to be ambiguous here in 2267. Unlike with his many adjustments of "pastoral" issues, though, I am unable to identify a plausible rationale for the specific sort of ambiguity present in his words other than to make it easy for some to think the teaching requires religious assent. I am open to being taught better.

      Peace, God be with you.

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    8. @Tony

      >Finally, when a teaching is ambiguous, especially when it is ambiguous as to whether it is one requiring religious assent or only the respect of a prudential determination, it is unavoidable that the faithful make some kind of estimation of the "mind of the teacher" so as to resolve whether he has one sort of obligation or the other.

      My rule is a wee bit different. Where the teaching is ambiguous it must be interpreted in light of what is clear. Paul Fahey over at Wherepeteris seems to think because the CDF called Pope Francis' change to the CCC a "development of doctrine" then it is a "doctrine" the DP is "inadmissible" or something. Well the same CDF "Clarification" said it did not contradict the previous Magesterium. Well the previous Magesterium under Pope Benedict (who is against the DP) said Catholics are allowed to disagree with the Pope on the DP. So I am gonna make Paul eat those words when he dares to print the rest of my post stuck in Moderation.

      Let the games begin....

      Cheers sir.

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    9. Pope Francis has repeatedly said, in explicit terms, that his administrative style is to "make a mess", and he has made manifest by many acts that included therein is the intention of being obscure and ambiguous.

      Can't his ambiguity be taken two ways? One is to muddy the waters intentionally, as a lawyer does arguing a weak case, or a politician trying to sell something he knows is unpopular.

      But isn't there another sense, that of glorying in the very vagueness, and thinking that "a mess" per se is good?

      In the former case, there would be a clear intent and likely a clear understanding underlying the confusion; the latter being a means to an end. But in the latter, we are looking at someone who doesn't want to be clear; who really prefers the confusion for its own sake. And I must admit that Francis pretty strongly gives me the impression that is true of him. The first post-modern Pope. (And God willing, the last.)

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    10. @Tony,


      About the inviolability of human dignity part; appealing to human dignity as an argument against DP in practice is also used by JP2. And JP2, as well as B16, even expressed sentiments that the DP could also be completely abolished as well, and in general that penal justice must move more in line with human dignity. So there is a clear precedent for appealing to human dignity to not only use the DP less, but even to abolish it wholesale from being used.

      So what Francis is saying can clearly be interpreted in a way that doesn't imply the DP is intrinsically wrong, but rather that modern circumstances and considerations of human dignity make the DP obsolete, and as such shouldn't be used at all.

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    11. About the inviolability of human dignity part; appealing to human dignity as an argument against DP in practice is also used by JP2. And JP2, as well as B16, even expressed sentiments that the DP could also be completely abolished as well, and in general that penal justice must move more in line with human dignity.

      JoeD, I do not dispute your observation that JPII and Benedict claimed "dignity of the human person" as a basis for opposing capital punishment. But I am waiting, at this point now for 27 years, for one single (coherent) argument that "dignity of the human person" actually constitutes a reason to oppose the DP universally. Waiting....

      I don't mind, so much, that JPII published high level comments that in extremely brief allusions to the _possibility_ of such arguments, effectively ASKED for the Church to come forward with a reasoned argument that human dignity means avoiding use of the DP universally. (It does bother me that in effect he did so in an encyclical and then a Catechism, which are supposed to be (a) teaching documents (not exploratory investigations), and (b) statements of clear and settled doctrine, not discussion of debated issues; but, whatever.) What really bothers me is Francis now changing the Catechism AS IF the requested arguments have not only come forward, but have been clearly and manifestly proven and approved, when nothing remotely like that has occurred. What we have had, since JPII raised the issue in the first version of the Catechism and then EV, is a vast argument about whether JPII's statements require religious assent, and virtually complete silence about the ACTUAL ARGUMENTS that might possibly establish that the DP should be avoided universally. The ones that are proposed are transparently contrary to prior teaching and/or completely senseless as Catholic teaching - they should not be counted as among "arguments showing that we should avoid DP universally" unless the objective is to prove the exact opposite, because they are that bad.

      I get that those who are opposed to DP want there to be some sort of "development of doctrine" on this. But merely hoping for it doesn't amount to any sort of reality establishing it. And (to date) there hasn't been even a remotely plausible theory advanced by those opposed to DP as to how to "develop" a new teaching that is new but does not contradict the old. All they can say is "we would like it to be true that universal opposition to DP is not contrary to 2000 years of doctrine", without showing the least possible pathway to there being any compatibility. This is not how development of doctrine occurs. Maybe in 100 years they will have come up with something. Right now, it's not much better than "I don't like the DP even for the most extreme cases, and I would like to believe that my feeling is from the Gospel", and that's about all. I don't know why we should credit this with any sort of deference.

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  9. The other day, I was reading St. Ambrose of Milan's Letter to Studius. Studius was a judge in the Roman Empire; part of his job was passing sentence on criminals, including the death penalty. Ambrose tells Studius, "you will be excused if you do it, and praised if you do it not".

    I think contemporary Catholic supporters of the death penalty are taking a rather different position than St. Ambrose. They fail to praise those who refrain from the death penalty, as St. Ambrose does. To "excuse" something is to allow it, but not support it; to recommend against it, but to refrain from condemning those who do not follow that recommendation.

    Why do they reject St. Ambrose's position?

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    1. I do not feel like Dr. Feser does reject St. Ambrose’s position. Even if he thought that we should have ten times as many executions in the United States, that would still mean that 95% of murderers are shown mercy. To show mercy is praiseworthy. But when mercy is conflated with justice, then there is nothing praiseworthy for judges who merely follow just principle.” So just as you would never praise a judge for not ordering a teen delinquent to be physically tortured until rendered impotent, you would never praise a judge or jury for providing a lesser ruling. In order to accept St. Ambrose’s position, you have to accept the legitimacy of capital punishment in principle and in practice.

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    2. So, what would St. Ambrose have to say about California Governor Gavin Newsom's moratorium on the death penalty? Judging by his letter, it seems that he would have praised Governor Newsom for it. Would Dr. Feser praise it? I don't know if he's said anything publicly on the topic, but I'd be surprised if he were to do so.

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    3. St Ambrose lived in a society where the death penalty was applied with much greater frequency than in any modern society. So perhaps his advice to Studius was not arguing against the death penalty as such, but simply expressing his view on its frequency.

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    4. Yes. When there are 10,000 murders in a year, many of which involve other crimes such as rape, kidnapping, human trafficking, etc. and only 50 people are executed, I think your system is about as merciful as you can get without outright abolishing the death penalty. That is a very different system from one that crucifies 6,000 slaves in a line along the road for rebelling due to their horrible treatment. The context for the Church Father’s prudential opposition to the death penalty was very different than the context today. But the Church Father’s certainly did not believe our justice system should just let anything go.

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  10. Michael, if you read his letter – it is brief and available here – http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/ambrose_letters_03_letters21_30.htm#letter25 – he doesn't seem to be talking about frequency at all. St. Ambrose is laying out principles applicable to any case, whether it be a single capital case or ten thousand.

    From my reading of the letter, he views clemency as always worthy of praise, but not required by the law (by which he is referring to ecclesiastical and divine law). His praise for clemency does not come with some limitation on the number of cases. If he thought there was some limit to clemency, whereby it should cease to be praised if it exceeded that limit, he gives no indication of that in his letter.

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  11. Feser quotes Francis as saying:

    The Magisterium of the Church holds that life sentences, which take away the possibility of the moral and existential redemption of the person sentenced and in favour of the community, are a form of death penalty in disguise.

    This is not a mistake, he has other sayings that have the same meaning, if not quite as clear.

    Am I the only one who finds this not only troublesome, but actually shocking. It seems to me that that it is at an absolute minimum at least "offensive to pious ears", but much more probably far worse in the categories of censurable assertions - such as perverse, corrupt, and dangerous, and perhaps temerarious, or even worse.

    As far as I can see, the meaning implicit in the words "take away the possibility of the moral and existential redemption" can only be held if one believes only in this life and not the life hereafter. And at the same time, it reduces the notion "redemption" to a relationship having to do with goods of THIS life, i.e. goods to be enjoyed (or withheld) in the temporal order, rather than one's relationship with God.

    Even a convicted murderer living under a sentence of "25 consecutive life sentences" can be in the state of grace and hope to enjoy heaven in the afterlife, and have the grace of peace in this life wherein he willingly undergoes his due punishment for God's sake, enjoying here the foretaste of heaven that is possible to one in the state of grace. To reject this by saying such a person cannot have moral and existential redemption is sheer madness from a Catholic point of view.

    I would dearly like to find that I have made a mistake here, that the pope is not implying such a thing. But I cannot find any other possible reading of it. Any ideas?

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    1. Maybe Francis is saying that moral and existential redemption should be reflective on Earth as opposed to being an asymmetrical "next-life-only."

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    2. Nope, it's not just you Tony. It's quite shocking indeed.

      I mean, you could claim the phrase "which take away the possibility..." specifies the genus "life imprisonments" rather than being descriptive (i.e., he's only singling out certain types of life sentences), but in that case you wouldn't expect commas. (Not sure what the original shows). It's also not clear how that interpretation really jives with other things he says, where he seems to condemn life imprisonment "simpliciter".

      It's like with the death penalty change to the Catechism. You might be able to make the "quippe quae" serve as a qualifier such that the death penalty is wrong only insofar as a particular execution violates human dignity, but how convincing is such an interpretation in light of the extended context? Yep, not very convincing. So, yeah, it's shocking.

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    3. @ BalancedTryteOperators: I thought of that, more or less. But I cannot for the life of me come up with a reason to think (a) that this sort of mangling is "really" what he means, nor (b) how such a meaning actually saves Catholic doctrine. On what BASIS would the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church choose to use "redemption" in a purely temporal sense without clarifying or qualifying it, without showing he means "only a part of the equation". Similarly, on what foundation would it be valid for a teacher to insist that the punishment's correctness to be determined on a basis that ignores into non-existence the eternal order and how the temporal order serves it?

      In other words, if that's what Francis is doing, it just moves the shockingly bad teaching to one layer beyond, without in the least diminishing the shockingly bad impact.

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    4. To expand on that: as I said above, when the convicted murderer serving multiple life sentences accepts his punishment as due, and repents and receives absolution in confession, and turns his heart to God, he can become a saint while living in prison. He can become effectively a contemplative, he can give himself to a life of prayer and penance, he can suffer not only for his own sins but for others, he can undergo spiritual growth like that of the great mystics (e.g. St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, etc), he can become a model and an exemplar for other prisoners (and guards), he can be a leading witness to Christ in prison and convert many others, he can lead a turning of the prison into a humane society of those who give themselves to justice for love of others.

      To refuse to call this "redemptive reflective of this life," is to defy all rationality AS WELL AS to defy Catholic teaching. So, no, what the pope says is just plain unresolvable to Catholic teaching, so far as I can see.

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    5. He also says this is a teaching of "the Magisterium of the Church." What could he have in mind?

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    6. Greg,

      IMO, one way of taking "the Magisterium of the Church holds..." is that Francis is in that sentence using his magisterium to teach. I.e., he isn't referring to some previous act. He's basically saying: "I'm teaching this now, and thus the Magisterium holds this...". I think it's the same thing you find in the Catechism revision, when he says: "The Church teaches in the light of the gospel...". He's not referring to a previous act. He's referring to the present act.

      In any case, if you look at the 2018 address where Francis says "The Magisterium of the Church holds..." you'll see that he (and editor?) does indeed refer back to a 2014 address in which Francis said "A life sentence is just a death penalty in disguise". So there's the precedent. LOL.

      Link to 2018 address: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2018/december/documents/papa-francesco_20181217_commissione-contropena-dimorte.html

      Link to referenced 2014 address:http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/october/documents/papa-francesco_20141023_associazione-internazionale-diritto-penale.html

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    7. To follow up on that: I think that it is almost always a mistake for a pope or a bishop to use "magisterium" in a personal sense, as it has been bandied about recently: "the magisterium of Francis" and "the magisterium of Benedict", which is different, note, than the magisterium of the bishops, and the magisterium of the theologians.

      I don't think so. As I understand it, "the Magisterium" refers to the teaching office of the Church. Of the whole Church. The teaching office is ONE THING, in that it is borne within the whole Body of Christ, though it is borne BY those who have been entrusted with the office of bishop and consecrated thereto. A pope can exercise the office of teacher in a way that a bishop cannot, but when he does so he is exercising a role for the Magisterium of the Church, he is not exercising his own personal magisterium. There is one Magisterium. Therefore, the Magisterium cannot be said, for example, to teach one thing by Benedict and something else by Francis. The Magisterium of the Church, when Francis is pope, always includes within its scope everything that the Magisterium of the Church taught when Benedict was pope, so under Francis the Magisterium cannot depart from the Magisterium as it existed under Benedict.

      In the matter of the middle types of teaching, which are subject to religious assent the degree of assent is determined by the way that the Magisterium teaches it. But "the way that the Magisterium teaches" here means, the way it has been taught throughout the entire history of the Church - THAT one single Magisterium. So (as related to my prior comments about religious assent), if the Magisterium starts to propose a new teaching in 1992, its very newness implies a very, very limited kind of assent is required. Only after centuries, with constant re-affirmation, would that take on the more typical levels we associate with the usual teachings that require religious assent.

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    8. Tony,
      "... so under Francis the Magisterium cannot depart from the Magisterium as it existed under Benedict. "

      Wouldn't this imply that every act of the magisterium is infallible? If not, then why couldn't it depart? It can err but not depart? Seems odd.

      Also, by the way, Lumen Gentium refers to the magiserium in a "personal" sense (e.g., the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, his magisterium, etc. ) so it doesn't seem that way of talking is inappropriate, even if in the ultimate analysis the Magisterium is "one thing" that can be exercised in different ways and by different people as you say. Neither is that manner of speaking unique to Lumen Gentium and neither is it found only in the generic sense of "Roman Pontiff". It is also found in the specifically personal sense (i.e., singling out a specific pope by name), and not only in popular texts. I know I've seen expressions such as "magisterium Gregorii XVI" in even technical Latin theological texts.

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    9. Albinus, I am willing to be taught better. Until about 10 years or so ago, I don't think I had ever seen the term used so as to distinguish the "magisterium of Pius" from "the magisterium of Paul VI". And it has become vastly more common in the last 5 years. Now, admittedly I am not vastly read, but at the same time I have read somewhat deeply in various parts of the Fathers and Doctors. If you say that it is older literature, I will take your word for it. Is it possible, then, that the term is more common in the last 200 or 300 years (of which I have read rather less)?

      Wouldn't this imply that every act of the magisterium is infallible? If not, then why couldn't it depart? It can err but not depart? Seems odd.

      Perhaps I didn't make myself clear enough. I didn't mean that the Magisterium couldn't correct prior errors. The whole point of there being a category of non-infallible teachings is that they are fallible, and could in theory be reformed - corrected. It would be conceptually possible for Pope Francis to declare "Pope X and Pope Y erred when they taught Z in document Z'. The Church now rejects the thesis Z, and teaches a different result, namely teaching A." (That's far more bald-faced and direct than the Church ever actually does something like this.)

      What I meant is that you can't call it "magisterial" if Pope Benedict says under "his magisterium" that "Z is true" and then have Francis under "his magisterium" say "Z is not true" and have there be some continuing "Benedict's magisterium" that still holds Z is true. When Francis reverses the teaching, that holds for THE Magisterium, and therefore it is no longer "true under Benedict's magisterium". Benedict doesn't have a magisterium that continues with a separate existence from Francis's magisterium. Nor does Benedict's magisterium kind of suffer a slowly disintegrating existence gradually withering away from reality like mist.

      Hence, I suggest that if we see in texts something like "Benedict's magisterium" we should think of it in terms of "the Church's Magisterium as it was under Benedict", and later on we have "the Church's Magisterium as it was under Francis".

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    10. Tony,

      "...When Francis reverses the teaching, that holds for THE Magisterium, and therefore it is no longer "true under Benedict's magisterium". Benedict doesn't have a magisterium that continues with a separate existence from Francis's magisterium..."

      OK, gotcha. I see what you're saying now. I agree. Well said.

      As far as whether the usage "magisterium of Pius" etc is more common in the last couple centuries and especially nowadays, I'm certainly no expert (neither am I "vastly read"), but I suspect you're right. You can find it, for example, in early/mid 20th century (Latin) articles featured in periodicals published by the pontifical universities. You've got me curious now, though. I will have to keep my eyes open to see if I come across anything prior to 1900. You may be right that it is quite a recent phenomenon.

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  12. Cardinal Schonborn on why the Pope changed the catechism:

    https://www.katholisch.de/artikel/22959-schoenborn-darum-hat-der-papst-den-katechismus-geaendert

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  13. Still, as Pope Francis has remarked, he still has some honour and Catholic cred in being attacked by Americans... Temporal powers fall in and out of fashion, but there will always be another Pope.

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  14. From my outsider point of view, the debate among Catholics on capital punishment and life sentences looks like a trope for a future debate over eternal hell. Who is ultimately in and who is permanently, irredeemably out--and is callous harshness and torture okay?

    Dante's Inferno famously declares, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter." This is medieval justice. It includes harshness and torture. But Pope Francis--700 years later--is now saying: "if hope is locked up, there is no future for society."

    And thus by implication, no future for God.

    In other words, on earth as it is in heaven. The pope is framing retributive--eye for an eye--imprisonment absent hope of future forgiveness and release as wrong in a basic, fundamental sense, not reflective of the heart of God. And torture is completely off the table.

    God would leave no finite, unlucky human being behind, permanently deprived of love and hope--and we shouldn't either. It is not in keeping with correction. And torture (cruel and unusual punishments) is also excluded.

    The implication of Pope Francis's words is that finite, contingent beings--beings not wholly responsible for their actions, but under at least some significant influence of genetic and environmental factors--mustn't be robbed of future hope, forgiveness, and release--nor should they be tortured.

    By contrast, if lifetime imprisonment and capital punishment are okay, hell is okay ("Abandon all hope...")--including torture in hell.

    But (implies Francis) eternal hell is not really okay--and torture is not okay--and retributive justice is not okay. It's not consistent with a God of corrective justice and love. Thus (Francis is suggesting) humans ought not ever treat punishment as absolute, absenting any human being of hope.

    To support lifetime sentences, retributive justice, and capital punishment is a way of sublimating God's hell problem. To oppose these is to bring God's hell problem to the surface. If society is not good in doing these things, God cannot be good in doing these things.

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  15. Ed:

    "For how could it be the case that capital punishment ought never to be applied even in principle, not even to protect the innocent, unless it were intrinsically wrong?"

    Something could be intrinsically permissible but still forbidden by divine law in all circumstances in the Christian era. For instance, it may be intrinsically permissible to refrain from forgiving one's repentant neighbor, but refraining from forgiveness is forbidden by divine law in the Christian era. The intrinsically supererogatory can become divinely obligatory.

    Thus, it's a logical possibility that in the Christian era, clemency in capital cases becomes commanded by God, perhaps as a corollary to duties of forgiveness.

    Another logical possibility, which fits well with what Jesus said in the case of the woman caught in adultery, is that by divine law in the Christian era, *sinners* are forbidden from executing capital punishment. But then only Jesus and Mary could permissibly execute (given the plausible hypothesis that they are the only ones without sin), and the Catechism isn't written for Jesus or Mary.

    I am not agreeing or disagreeing with your conclusions here, just with the argument. There are more logical possibilities than the article takes into account.

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    1. Prof Pruss,

      I can find no fault in yer reasonings here. But of course we would have to wait on the Church to clarify.

      Cheers.

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    2. Hi Alex,

      Those proposals would seem to fall under the notion that capital punishment is intrinsically contrary to the Gospel (as opposed to being intrinsically contrary to natural law). In the earlier CWR article I linked to in the current CWR piece (the earlier article being "Capital punishment and the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium") I argue that the ordinary magisterium of the Church has already irreformably taught not only that capital punishment is not intrinsically contrary to natural law, but also that it is not intrinsically contrary to the Gospel. So I took it in my latest article that I had already, in that earlier article, ruled out a response of the kind you're proposing here.

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    3. @Alex Pruss

      Further to Dr. Feser's comments...I would argue that because it is an irreformable teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium, then it is permissible/sanctioned by Divine Authority, as that authority was passed on to the Apostles with the power of Binding and Loosing.

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    4. The Lonely ProfessorSeptember 20, 2019 at 5:36 AM

      What is completely lacking here is any explanation of how the ordinary Magisterium cannot be habitually horribly wrong in its judgments, but yet can be horribly wrong in a specific individual case. That latter is forced on theologians due to the Galileo affair, but that doesn't mean there is any intrinsic sense to the thing. It is the "eccentrics and epicycles" of theologians.

      Does the Holy Spirit take periodic vacations? And how can the Magisterium not be habitually horribly wrong unless the Holy Spirit is guiding it in every individual case?

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    5. The Lonely ProfessorSeptember 20, 2019 at 5:38 AM

      ETA: What I mean is, what guarantee is there that the Magisterium won't be habitually horribly wrong unless the Holy Spirit guides it in every individual case?

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    6. @The Lonely Professor,

      The "Galileo Affair" doesn't fall under the conditions in which Church infallibility (whether, extraordinary or ordinary) would be in effect.
      ------
      "Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and in a particular way, to the Roman Pontiff as Pastor of the whole Church, when exercising their ordinary Magisterium, even should this not issue in an infallible definition or in a "definitive" pronouncement but in the proposal of some teaching which leads to a better understanding of Revelation in MATTERS OF FAITH AND MORALS and to MORAL DIRECTIVES derived from such teaching." -- Donum Veritatis

      -------------------

      "Galileo
      As to the Galileo affair, it is quite enough to point out the fact that the condemnation of the heliocentric theory was the work of a fallible tribunal. The pope cannot delegate the exercise of his infallible authority to the Roman Congregations, and whatever issues formally in the name of any of these, even when approved and confirmed in the ordinary official way by the pope, does not pretend to be ex cathedra and infallible. The pope, of course, can convert doctrinal decisions of the Holy Office, which are not in themselves infallible, into ex cathedra papal pronouncements, but in doing so he must comply with the conditions already explained — which neither Paul V nor Urban VIII did in the Galileo case." -- http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm

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    7. ETA: What I mean is, what guarantee is there that the Magisterium won't be habitually horribly wrong unless the Holy Spirit guides it in every individual case?

      @ Lonely Professor, the guidance is "soft".

      This is of the same principle by which the Catholic Church teaches that Christ's promise that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" means that Hell cannot completely eradicate the Church, even if Satan can succeed in attacks against many of us. The Holy Spirit, and God's Providence generally, is an overarching guidance such that even in the midst of individual beings fail to reach their individual best outcomes (the hatchling bird gets eaten by a fox), the WHOLE created order satisfies God's plan for good, (which includes the fox getting fed). In the concrete, God will ensure some Catholics remain faithful, and this is enough to validate the promise that Satan shall not prevail.

      Something is similar in the guidance of the Holy Spirit: As Ratzinger said, the assurance is NOT that this man X who was elected was the one the Holy Spirit was urging each cardinal to vote for. Rather, the assurance is that the Holy Spirit will by grace so influence the procedings that by their votes the cardinals will not completely wreck the Church. They might elect a wretch, they might vote for someone by choosing to defy the grace urging them to vote for Y rather than for X, but even in doing so the Holy Spirit influenced them away from electing Z who really might have wrecked the Church.

      Similarly, the idea behind the guidance of the Holy Spirit that the Church would not be habitually wrong is that "soft" kind of guidance: it allows individuals to be wrong to some degree and in some instances, but also limits HOW wrong, and also raises up counter-acts that limit how long the error persists.

      God's Providence is an overarching hold over all of creation, and is a hold that presses upon every single act by every single created being. But in the case of free moral creatures, it is a hold that does not force the morally good act; rather, (a) it works "behind the scenes" so that the conditions of the morally bad acts that creatures choose STILL end up in the long run contributing to the final result He designed, and (b) that He so encourages and enlightens and assists many moral beings to the good acts that are proper to their nature at that moment, that the bad acts permitted will not overwhelm the good that He intends overall.

      So, He involves Himself in EVERY moral act, either to urge and assist it (if morally good) or to limit and shape its effects, (if morally bad), but His control of all does not imply that He prevents each bad act that He could prevent in order to reach the overall good He intends.

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    8. Lonely Professor,

      Surely the presumption should be in favor of the Magisterium. Your reasoning can fail horrible in some individual mistakes; is that therefore a reason to be skeptical and think that your reasoning might be habitually failing horribly? No.

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  16. And one would still be left in wonder at how the Church could have been so wrong for so long on so fundamental an issue - if what we She claims is true.

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  17. Another logical possibility, which fits well with what Jesus said in the case of the woman caught in adultery, is that by divine law in the Christian era, *sinners* are forbidden from executing capital punishment.

    I agree with Professor Pruss that theoretically there could have been events in Jesus's life in which he demanded foregoing the use of the DP, and there could have been included in the Gospels passages describing such. God could have required us to avoid using it. But in actual fact, nothing in the Gospels clearly suggest anything of the sort, and the passage about the woman caught in adultery is much better understood as having nothing to say about the use of DP in general. (See my analysis of it, here: http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2018/03/the_woman_caught_in_adultery.html ).

    The manifest unanimity of the Fathers and Doctors since the time of Innocent I on the issue - and on interpreting the Gospels on the issue - preclude any serious doubt whether there might be something in the Gospels that requires us to forego the use of the DP.

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  18. Fastiggi has appeared in the combox and implied that he would support and defend a future pope that reverses this one. I am currently trying to think through this stance. If one it is fundamental morality that is the subject, I don’t see how ones intellect could be so malleable; perhaps at some point it becomes an act of faith.

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  19. The term 'death penalty' frightens people. Suggest it be changed to 'retro-active abortion' and the same procedures be used (scientists claim there is no pain).

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  20. The Church as never taught that her teachings can "add up" over times by various Popes, as Feser relies on for his position. The reasonable position is that each Pope guides his own flock

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  21. Capital Punishment is worse than murder in the same way that Institutional Abortion is worse than abortion.

    Capital Punishment, in the proper sense of the word, is like Institutional Abortion, something new and terrible in the history of the world, something which did not previously exist.

    To confuse abortion with Instituional Abortion is sophistical. It is the sophism of those whos justify their Acquiesescence to Institutional Abortion with expressions like “I am personally opposed to abortion, but…”


    Institutional Abortion is worse than abortion because it entails more than a simple disordered act, but the establishment of a right and a principle.

    The legalization of abortion is already an institutionalization that I want no part of, because I stubbornly refuse to bloody my hands.


    (On the other there are countries such as Germany where one speaks not of legalization, but of de-criminalization. One might naively hold that that amounts to the same thing, but it is not quite the same thing. I might agree with the Church´s teaching in Gaudium et Spes that abortion is an abominable crime, and still not wish to criminalize women who have had abortions, that such an option might be defensible as a prudential judgement and a wise manifestation of mercy within an authentic Culture of Life.)


    The failure to distinguish between abortion and Institutionalized Abortion manifests a legal positivism that makes no distinction between positive and natural law.


    St. John Paul II, who strove against this positivism, reminded us that there are such things as structures of sin (such as Institutionalized Abortion, and Such as Capital Punishment) which are not in themselves sins, but are evil and exceedingly evil, and which those persons in charge of the common good are obliged to resist.)

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    1. Just to clarify the record, Carl Kuss's position here would amount to teaching that the death penalty is an intrinsically evil act. Such a teaching would contradict Pope JPII and his teaching in EV and CCC, and Benedict's teaching as well. They both insist that the death penalty is not to be considered as intrinsically evil.

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