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Priests: Why we’re urging Cardinals to challenge Pope Francis on death penalty

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Fr. Andrew Pinsent

ROME, August 15, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Over 75 clergy, lay scholars and prominent intellectuals today took the unprecedented step of issuing an open appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church, to urge Pope Francis to “withdraw” his new teaching on the death penalty from the Catechism, and to teach the authentic Catholic doctrine on capital punishment.

READ MORE: 75 clergy, scholars appeal to Cardinals: Urge Francis to ‘withdraw’ death penalty teaching

Here below two of the signatories, including well known priest and canon lawyer, Fr. Gerald Murray, and respected British priest and physicist, Fr. Andrew Pinsent, explain why they signed the appeal.

Fr. Gerald Murray 

The Church’s perennial teaching on the morality of capital punishment cannot be done away with, even by the Roman Pontiff. The Church has always taught that the death penalty is not per se immoral and can be applied justly for certain grievous crimes. This teaching is part of the Magisterium and is not subject to change or nullification. The Pope does not have the power to change the Church’s teaching on the question of the inherent morality of capital punishment for grievous crimes. The Pope cannot compel the faithful to believe that, while the Church taught in the past that the death penalty was a moral and therefore just punishment for serious crimes, now the Church teaches that capital punishment is per se a violation of human dignity, and therefore is an immoral and unjust punishment that can never be inflicted without offending God and man. Contradicting the teaching of the Church as expressed in the previous paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church dealing with capital punishment is not a development of that teaching, but rather an attempt to overthrow that teaching.

Asked how he would answer those who argue, against the signatories, that the language used in the rescript is ambiguous enough to leave open the possibility that Pope Francis is making a prudential judgment rather than changing doctrine, Fr. Murray told LifeSiteNews:

Pope Francis says that capital punishment is inadmissible because it offends human dignity. It is therefore in itself an immoral act, since it is never moral to offend human dignity. The church has never taught that capital punishment offends human dignity.

If Pope Francis had said, for instance, that capital punishment is inadmissible in our day because too many innocent people are executed, then it would be admissible in those cases where the guilt of the convicted criminal was beyond any doubt and was a certainty.

Rev. Gerald Murray, JCD is a canon lawyer and Pastor of Holy Family Church in the Archdiocese of New York. He is also a member of the “papal posse” on The World Over with Rayond Arroyo. He has appeared as a commentator on religious topics on various television and radio outlets, including EWTN, EWTN Spanish, Fox News, Fox Business News, MSNBC, NY1, Radio Maria, Relevant Radio, Fox News Radio and the Voice of America. He served in US Naval Reserve Chaplain Corps from 1994 to 2005.

Fr. Andrew Pinsent

I signed because Jorge Bergoglio has gone well beyond the powers of his office, forcing Catholics to choose between the perennial teaching of the faith, affirmed by Pope St John Paul II, and his personal views on capital punishment. Of course, the word ‘inadmissible’ might retain sufficient ambiguity to render a formal contradiction deniable, but then what does the revision add? If it adds nothing except ambiguity, then the change is retrograde. If it marks a genuine change, then the change is a contradiction and therefore ‘inadmissible’ in itself.

Fr. Andrew Pinsent is a British physicist and member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford University.  His most recent book is The Second-Person Perspective in Aquinas’s Ethics: Virtues and Gifts (2012).

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