Death Penalty

What a shock on Thursday to learn from the BBC that the Catholic Church has changed its teaching on the death penalty.

In Paragraph 2266 of the Catechism we read that the death penalty is justified in very serious cases. The Catechism was published in 1994. Thirty-five years later, on such an important issue, the Church has changed its teaching.

Will you accept the change or do you still believe that in extreme circumstances the death penalty is justified? Consider the plight of good Catholics in those parts of the world where the death penalty obtains who will have to choose between Church and State.

Imagine their work even including executions: they will have to choose between obeying the Church and losing their job, or keeping their job, disobeying the Church.

You may not know the name Giovanni Bugatti. He worked for the Popes in Rome 1796-1864, beginning at the age of seventeen. He was the Roman executioner and in those brutal years he carried out 514 death sentences. He hanged, decaptitated, quartered and burned victims, adept at using axe or guillotine. He is one of the horrors of the Popes’ rule over Rome. The Church certainly approved the death penalty then – and severe penalties for many so-called crimes, like life sentences for writing graffiti.

Now the Church has condemned the death penalty. Would you call this a change in teaching or a development of teaching? The Church, like many ruling powers, likes to portray change as development.

It is hard to understand black developing into white, but people in power will try. They will even justify it by “Whatever I say is right,” though we can see it is different from what they said yesterday and what may be said tomorrow. Absolutely clear, they say. Hah!

Listen to the politicians, churchmen, justifying new positions. They weren’t wrong but they are more right now. They are like the advertisers who claim “New low price: £5!” and the old low price was £3.

The Church has changed its teaching on the death penalty. The awful possibility is “Who cares?” Who does? I do and I hope you do. Next stop, nuclear arms. Anyone coming?

God bless us with truth,

Fr John
(4th August 2018)