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Bishops bear the burden of clarifying Church teaching on the death penalty

Letter to the Editor

10/19/2018 | Comments

I want to thank Bishop Sheridan for his article on “Veritatis Splendor,” the document by which Pope St. John Paul II dealt with the modernist philosophies infiltrating the church that obscured and twisted Catholic moral teaching and the “Splendor of the Truth.” Today, those philosophies are in the ascendancy within our church once again. However, there is an even greater threat to the understanding of church teaching that has raised its head recently, about which there is an ominous silence: the ambiguous change to the catechism by Pope Francis.

This change has been erroneously understood by many Catholics: that the pope has declared the intrinsic immorality of the death penalty. Though the USCCB knows better, no bishop has come forward to clarify this misperception, implicitly allowing for the error that the pope  has the authority to unilaterally change church teaching. While it has been unthinkable that a pope would promulgate significant doctrinal error, the change in No. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), when taken on its face­ value, reverses the 2,000-year teaching of the church that the death penalty is a legitimate course of action for the state in the punishment of particularly egregious crimes. This perennial teaching accords with Scripture, the church fathers, papal and conciliar magisterial teachings — in short, the Church’s entire doctrinal history.

 To reverse this settled teaching is a rupture, not a development, and a rupture is a heresy — hence the necessity of clarification by the bishops on its proper interpretation as a prudential opinion of the pope’s — not requiring the assent of faith, in order to avoid the misperception.

If the pope can “change” doctrine on his own authority, what else can he change — the doctrine of the Trinity? the canon of the Bible? the CCC wording on the Church’s teaching on persons with same-sex attraction? This last possibility may be the ultimate goal of the death penalty change, as the Synod on the Youth working document gives away an agenda compatible with such a change. What does this misunderstanding of the Pope’s authority do for the credibility of the magisterium and the irreformability of Catholic doctrine?

To allow this misunderstanding to continue unanswered, the bishops themselves will be complicit in obfuscating the “Splendor of the Truth.” When the next “change” to the catechism comes, their own authority will be weakened to fight against its weaponized ambiguity. We need warriors for the truth, my brothers — do your job!

Lyn Rooney

Colorado Springs

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