As many of you know, on Thursday, August 2nd the Vatican announced that pope Francis had officially changed the church’s catechism regarding capital punishment. See my post here. Prior to the change, the catechism stated that the death penalty was allowable only in cases in which the execution of the offender was an absolute necessity. Francis’ revision states that the death penalty is now “inadmissible under any circumstances.”
While liberal Catholics hailed the change, conservatives were once again dismayed by their pope, who has already overturned other doctrines that were held to be infallible (i.e., the ban on both communion for remarried divorcees and intercommunion with Protestants). I was anxious to hear how Catholic apologists would address this latest controversy and I didn’t have to wait very long for my answer.
A few days ago, I was listening to the 8/9/18 podcast of the “Called to Communion” (EWTN) Catholic talk radio show with moderator, Tom Price, and host, David Anders (photo above). The stated purpose of “Called to Communion” is to convince Protestants to convert to Catholicism.
At the 20:18 mark, Misty from Bloomfield, Indiana called into the show with a concern. She stated that she was a Protestant, and had been very strongly considering converting to Catholicism, but Francis’ banning of the death penalty was, for her, an impediment to moving forward with that decision. She said she was experiencing a “crisis of faith before even coming to the faith” because she is aware the Roman church allowed the death penalty for centuries prior to August 2nd. From the tone of her voice, it was obvious that Misty was emotionally upset regarding this dilemma.
Anders then embarked on a long, drawn out, twelve-minute reply to Misty. Firstly, he stated that Scripture teaches, and previous popes taught, that capital punishment was not only allowable, but required in some cases. Anders cited several popes who directly authorized the use of the death penalty in their role as sovereign of the Papal States. Pope John Paul II had limited the use of capital punishment to very rare cases in his 1995 encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae,” but Anders argued that the encyclical was a “policy recommendation” and a “prudential judgement” on the part of JPII and not a dogma of the faith. In 2004, in his role as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (once known as the Inquisition), cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later pope Benedict XVI) wrote that Catholics could disagree with JPII’s “prudential judgement” limiting capital punishment to very rare occasions without incurring mortal sin.
Anders admitted that he doesn’t know how to interpret Francis’ complete ban on capital punishment. He is not sure if Francis’ new teaching is infallible or simply another “prudential judgement.” A flustered Anders even pondered over the airwaves what few Catholics openly dare to say; if Francis’ ruling is dogmatic and infallible, then how does that mesh with previous infallible popes who not only allowed church members to use capital punishment, but authorized it themselves?
Anders spent twelve minutes replying to Misty’s concern, but she was no further ahead than she was prior to the call and neither was he. At the very end, a stuttering, frazzled Anders advised Misty that “my Catholic faith is unaffected. I mean, I’m not troubled by this in the sense that it would make me go, ‘Oh my, maybe I made the wrong decision (in converting to Catholicism).’ Not at all.” But the diffident tone of Anders’ voice betrays his words.
We live in amazing times when pious Catholics are repeatedly rattled by their pope. Catholic friend, this mounting controversy in your church that is being spearheaded by your own pope reveals the danger of placing your faith in a religious institution with its man-made traditions. Place your trust in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior by faith alone and in His Holy Word. Your church is built on sinking sand.
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” – Psalm 118:8-9
75 Catholic priests and scholars ask Francis to backtrack on death penalty