How can you make sense of and respond to the announced changes to the Catechism regarding the death penalty?
Watch Brian Holdsworth’s video commentary on Pope Francis’ change to the Catechism…
When I had first become a Christian, I was eager to learn as much as I could about what it means to be a Christian; what practices and beliefs were expected of me.
If Christianity was true, then I wanted reap the benefits of living in that truth, but if it wasn’t true, then I wanted to figure that out too so that I could set it aside and get on with something else.
One of the ways I did that was by reading the bible. I wanted to know what was true and according to the Bible, the Church was the pillar and foundation of truth. She’s not some Jenga pillar that’s always changing shape and constantly at risk of toppling over.
Well, all of my experience of interacting with the world around me has taught me that reality, exists apart from me. It’s not my own invention and it doesn’t bend to my will or preference. I don’t have a single experience to suggest that if I wish hard enough, the world will conform to my expectations.
Every grief I wanted to avoid, every pleasure or reward I wanted, every social interaction I desired, all depended on my playing by the rules of reality, not reality playing by my rules. In other words, every single experience I have teaches me that truth is objective.
And because it’s objective, it has to be consistent. If I discover that falling from a certain height hurts I won’t discover the opposite to be true tomorrow.
And the exact same thing is true about moral behaviour. If I learn that I’m happiest and healthiest when I treat other people the way I would hope to be treated, then that is a principle that can be relied upon always. The changing winds of fashionable thought cannot influence objective reality any more than a starving person can conjure up a steak dinner through wishful thinking.
So, as I surveyed the various denominations that claimed to be this Church, this pillar of truth, it seemed obvious to me that it would act as a messenger of truth would. It would treat it with great care and concern for the gift that it is.
It wouldn’t tamper with it or obfuscate it behind the political agendas or appeals to populism or trending ideas.
This is what I found so attractive in the Catholic Church. None of the other churches I had attended even claimed to be this kind of messenger, let alone acted like it. But the Catholic Church claimed to have doctrinal integrity. It claimed that there was this thing called infallibility and that the teaching magisterium had authority to teach what is true.
Well, if the Church truly is the pillar of truth, then this is what I should expect to find and as I scrutinized that claim, I found that she did remain consistent in her teachings. For example, when all the other denominations changed their minds about divorce and remarriage, she remained consistent. When all the other denominations flipped and flopped over certain teachings and proscriptions about sexual morality and birth control, the Catholic Church remained firm.
Being able to rely on the Church to guide me in my life has been a constant source of liberation and comfort from all the dead-ends and anxiety a person without that kind of roadmap could face.
So when it was recently announced that Pope Francis was revising the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say that capital punishment is always inadmissible, I have to admit, I was bothered a bit because I was familiar with several teachings and sayings by church fathers and doctors, saints, and other popes of the who have said otherwise.
Now, since this news broke, several commentators, philosophers, and theologians have jumped on the topic to help us understand how to deal with this development because if the Catholic Church can change a teaching about what is true, then she can’t be the pillar of truth.
“The particular good should be removed in order to preserve the common good.
But the life of certain pestiferous men is an impediment to the common good, which is the concord of human society.
Therefore, certain men must be removed by death.” St. Thomas Aquinas