Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The death penalty in the Catholic Herald

Last weekend the Catholic Herald published a letter of mine on the Death Penalty.

Greg Whelan (Letters, 14th Sept) claims to be ‘mystified’ by the widespread concern of Pope Francis’ reversal of the teaching of the Church on the subject of the Death Penalty.

He reminds us that the Church has ‘changed its mind’ about the best punishment for various offences. However this is hardly the matter at issue. The crimes he mentions, such as fornication, are still condemned by the Church as grave sins. What Pope Francis appears to be claiming is the discovery of a new grave sin, that of using the death penalty, even when it might be considered most appropriate.

The penal code found in the Old Testament was in force only for a specific group of people for a specific period of time. Other times and circumstances require other legal solutions. It is preserved for us in Scripture, however, because it teaches us about the seriousness of the crimes it condemns and the importance of the search for justice. Among other things, as St Paul reiterates (Rom13:4), it makes clear that the Death Penalty can rightly be used.

Perhaps we live in such a blessed age that it is no longer necessary. If so, we should be glad, but not imagine God erred when he included the Death Penalty in the Bible’s judicial system.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph Shaw

It was unfortunate timing that the letter of concerned academics and pastors to Cardinals setting out their grave concerns about Pope Francis' claims on the Death Penalty was immediately overshadowed by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, which has been followed by an unending stream of scandal. It remains important, because it represents the most open example yet of an attempt to reverse a teaching of the Church established in Scriptures, the consensus of the Fathers, and the Ordinary Magisterium.

Of course, like Steven Long one can take the view that the Pope doesn't mean to change the teaching at all, but has simply expressed himself very badly. But the letter to which I was responding in the Catholic Herald was taking the more usual view, that he was. If Pope Francis wanted to affirm Pope John Paul II's view that the Death Penalty was unnecessary and best not used in the circumstances of today, he's gone about it in a very strange way.

Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.


  1. The idea that the death penalty is "no longer necessary" is absolute rubbish! When JPII addressed the issue in "Evangelium Vitae," and when he embarked on his subsequent campaign of abolitionist activism, he changed the fundamental moral criterion from the inviolability of the divine image in humanity to the State's ability to incarcerate felons.

    That change not only reflects the superficial application of "pro-life" rhetoric to issues beyond abortion -- and the muddled thinking that resulted -- but also the Church's increasingly materialist, anthropocentric world view since Vatican II.

    Please read the following for a more thorough understanding of my position (BTW, in case you're wondering, I'm not a sedevacantist.):




  2. Anonymous7:54 pm

    I know, this might be somewhat provocative, but I haven't noticed anyone make this point yet, apart from all the examples, in The Old and The New Testaments, in support of the death penalty, it is a fact, that God Himself, not only, mandates the death penalty, against entire tribes in The Old Testament, He actually, has Saul deposed as king, because he didn't carry out the sentence, as instructed, presuming himself to be more merciful and to know better, than God, but for example, in the cases of Sodom and Gomorrah and the entire Egyptian army drowned in the Red Sea, God carries out the sentence Himself! So, when Francis says that the death penalty, is inadmissible in principle, which is the equivalent of saying that it is intrinsically evil, because only, intrinsically evil acts are inadmissible in principle, he is accusing God of committing an intrinsically evil act. Isn't he? And since, for God, no limits of temporal circumstance, can be imposed, there is no possible get out of jail card for changed circumstances to get God off the hook, in Francis 'logic', is there?