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

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Note: Clergy and lay scholars who wish to sign the ‘Open Appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church’ may submit their name and credentials at this email address: [email protected] Once verified, names will be added to the list of signatories.

ROME, August 15, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — A group of 75 clergy, lay scholars, and prominent public intellectuals have taken the  unprecedented step of issuing an open appeal to the College of Cardinals, urging them to tell Pope Francis to teach the authentic Catholic doctrine on the death penalty. 

The appeal comes just two weeks after Pope Francis ordered the teaching on capital punishment in the Catechism of Catholic Church to be revised.

Entitled An Open Appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church, the letter (see below) was published this morning in First Things, a leading US journal on religion and public life, with a more limited list of signatories based on their own criteria.

Its 75 signatories include Fr. George Rutler and Fr. Gerald Murray of the Archdiocese of New York, respected theologian and writer, Fr. Brian Harrison, and Fr. Andrew Pinsent, a physicist and member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford University. 

Also numbered among the signatories are professors of philosophy, theology, law, and history from Catholic institutions across the globe, including Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette, noted authors of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of the Death Penalty (Ignatius Press, 2017). 

The letter begins by recalling Pope Francis’ recent decision to revise the Catechism of the Catholic Church to read, “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” 

The signatories observe that this statement has been understood “by many, both inside and outside the Church, to teach that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral and thus is always illicit, even in principle.” 

Catholics hold that while a pope has the right to clarify matters of faith and morals, he has no right to introduce new doctrines, or to contradict what the Church has always believed. They likewise hold that a pope must not seek to impose his private opinions on the faithful. 

The petition does not insist that capital punishment must always be used in practice for the worst crimes, since this is a matter which Catholics may freely debate. Rather, it insists on the legitimacy of the death penalty in principle, as consistent with sacred scripture and the constant magisterium of the Church for over 2,000 years.

The clergy and lay scholars call on the cardinals to advise the pope that he must “withdraw” the offending paragraph. They write: 

“Since the present Roman pontiff has now more than once publicly manifested his refusal to teach this doctrine, and has rather brought great confusion upon the Church by seeming to contradict it … we hereby call upon Your Eminences to advise His Holiness that it is his duty to put an end to this scandal, to withdraw this paragraph from the Catechism, and to teach the word of God unadulterated.”

It also advises the cardinals that they have a serious obligation to warn the pope in this way, in order not to fail in their own duty toward God and the Church.

According to the Church’s own law, competent Catholics “have the right and even at times the duty to manifest […] their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful” (Code of Canon Law, Canon 212). St Thomas Aquinas, considered a model for Catholic theologians, likewise held that: “If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.”  

The petition has been sent to the cardinals, because they are traditionally considered to be the pope’s own counsellors. There are currently 224 cardinals in the world.

Here below is the Open Appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty, with the full list of signatories.

 

An Open Appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church

By Various

Pope Francis has revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to read, “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” This statement has been understood by many, both inside and outside the Church, to teach that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral and thus is always illicit, even in principle.

Though no Catholic is obliged to support the use of the death penalty in practice (and not all of the undersigned do support its use), to teach that capital punishment is always and intrinsically evil would contradict Scripture. That the death penalty can be a legitimate means of securing retributive justice is affirmed in Genesis 9:6 and many other biblical texts, and the Church holds that Scripture cannot teach moral error. The legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is also the consistent teaching of the magisterium for two millennia. To contradict Scripture and tradition on this point would cast doubt on the credibility of the magisterium in general.

Concerned by this gravely scandalous situation, we wish to exercise the right affirmed by the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which at Canon 212 states:

The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

We are guided also by the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who states:

If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” (Summa Theologiae, Part II-II, Question 33, Article 4, ad 2)

Hence we, the undersigned, issue the following appeal:

To their Most Reverend Eminences, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church,

Since it is a truth contained in the Word of God, and taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Catholic Church, that criminals may lawfully be put to death by the civil power when this is necessary to preserve just order in civil society, and since the present Roman pontiff has now more than once publicly manifested his refusal to teach this doctrine, and has rather brought great confusion upon the Church by seeming to contradict it, and by inserting into the Catechism of the Catholic Church a paragraph which will cause and is already causing many people, both believers and non-believers, to suppose that the Church considers, contrary to the Word of God, that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, we hereby call upon Your Eminences to advise His Holiness that it is his duty to put an end to this scandal, to withdraw this paragraph from the Catechism, and to teach the word of God unadulterated; and we venture to state our conviction that this is a duty seriously binding upon yourselves, before God and before the Church.

Sincerely,

Hadley Arkes
Edward N. Ney Professor in American Institutions Emeritus
Amherst College

Joseph Bessette
Alice Tweed Tuohy Professor of Government and Ethics
Claremont McKenna College

Patrick Brennan
John F. Scarpa Chair in Catholic Legal Studies
Villanova University

J. Budziszewski
Professor of Government and Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin

Isobel Camp
Professor of Philosophy
Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas 

Richard Cipolla
Priest
Diocese of Bridgeport

Eric Claeys
Professor of Law
Mason University

Travis Cook
Associate Professor of Government
Belmont Abbey College

S. A. Cortright
Professor of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s College

Cyrille Dounot
Professor of Legal History
Université Clermont Auvergne

Patrick Downey
Professor of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s College 

Eduardo Echeverria
Professor of Philosophy and Theology
Sacred Heart Major Seminary

Edward Feser
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Pasadena City College

Alan Fimister
Assistant Professor of Theology
St. John Vianney Theological Seminary

Luca Gili
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Université du Québec à Montréal

Brian Harrison
Scholar in Residence
Oblates of Wisdom Study Center

L. Joseph Hebert
Professor of Political Science
St. Ambrose University

Rafael Hüntelmann
Lecturer in Philosophy
International Seminary of St. Peter

Fr. John Hunwicke
Priest
Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham

Robert C. Koons
Professor of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin

Peter Koritansky
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Prince Edward Island

Peter Kwasniewski
Independent Scholar
Wausau, Wisconsin

John Lamont
Fellow of Theology and Philosophy
Australian Catholic University

Roberto de Mattei
Author
The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story

Robert T. Miller
Professor of Law
University of Iowa 

Gerald Murray
Priest
Archdiocese of New York

Lukas Novak
Lecturer in Philosophy
University of South Bohemia

Thomas Osborne
Professor of Philosophy
University of St. Thomas

Michael Pakaluk
Professor of Ethics
Catholic University of America

Claudio Pierantoni
Professor of Medieval Philosophy
University of Chile

Thomas Pink
Professor of Philosophy
King’s College London

Andrew Pinsent
Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre
University of Oxford

Alyssa Pitstick
Independent Scholar
Spokane

Donald S. Prudlo
Professor of Ancient and Medieval History
Jacksonville State University

Anselm Ramelow
Chair of the Department of Philosophy
Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

George W. Rutler
Priest
Archdiocese of New York

Matthew Schmitz
Senior Editor
First Things

Josef Seifert
Founding Rector
International Academy of Philosophy

Joseph Shaw
Fellow of St Benet’s Hall
University of Oxford

Anna Silvas
Adjunct Senior Research Fellow
University of New England

Michael Sirilla
Professor of Dogmatic and Systematic Theology
Franciscan University of Steubenville

Joseph G. Trabbic
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Ave Maria University

Giovanni Turco
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Udine

Michael Uhlmann
Professor of Politics & Government
Claremont Graduate University

John Zuhlsdorf
Priest
Diocese of Velletri-Segni

Additional signatories:

Dame Colleen Bayer DSG, Founder, Family Life International NZ

James Bogle Esq., TD MA Dip Law, barrister (trial attorney), former President FIUV, former Chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain

Fr. John Boyle JCL

Judie Brown, President, American Life League

Fr. Michael Gilmary Cermak MMA

Fr. Linus F Clovis, Ph.D, JCL, M.SC., STB

Hon. Donald J. Devine, Senior Scholar, The Fund for American Studies

Dr. Maria Guarini, editor of the website Chiesa e postconcilio

John D. Hartigan, retired attorney and past member, Public Policy Committee of the New York State Catholic Conference

Dr. Maike Hickson, journalist

Dr. Robert Hickson, Retired Professor of Literature and Strategic-Cultural Studies

Fr. Albert Kallio, Professor of Philosophy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery, New Mexico 

Fr. Serafino M. Lanzetta STD

Dr. Robert Lazu, Independent Scholar and Writer

Dr. James P. Lucier, Former Staff Director, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Dr. Pietro De Marco, former professor of Sociology of Religion, University of Florence

Dr. Joseph Martin, Associate Professor of Communication, Montreat College

Dr. Brian McCall, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Director of the Law Center, Orpha and Maurice Merrill Professor in Law, University of Oklahoma

Fr. Paul McDonald, parish priest of Chippawa, Ontario

Dr. Stéphane Mercier, former lecturer in Philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium)

Fr. Alfredo Morselli, SSL, parish priest in the diocese of Bologna

Maureen Mullarkey, Senior Contributor, The Federalist

Fr. Reto Nay

Dr. Claude E. Newbury M.B., B.Ch., D.T.M&H., D.O.H., M.F.G.P., D.C.H., D.P.H., D.A., M. Med; Former Director of Human Life International in Africa south of the Sahara

Giorgio Nicolini, Writer, Director of Tele Maria

Dr. Paolo Pasqualucci, retired Professor of Philosophy, University of Perugia, Italy

Prof. Enrico Maria Radaelli, Philosopher

Richard M. Reinsch II, Editor, Law and Liberty

R. J. Stove, Writer and Editor

Fr. Glen Tattersall, Parish Priest, Parish of Bl. John Henry Newman, archdiocese of Melbourne; Rector, St Aloysius’ Church

Dr. Thomas Ward, Founder of the National Association of Catholic Families and former Corresponding Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life

 

New Signatories:

On August 15, 2018

Fr. Claude Barthe, Diocesan priest

Donna F. Bethell, J.D. Washington, DC

Prof. Michele Gaslini, Professor of Public Law at the University of Udine

Brother Andre Marie, M.I.C.M., MA (Dogmatic Theology), Prior of Saint Benedict Center, New Hampshire

Fr. John Osman, diocese of Birmingham, England

Fr. Alberto Strumia, retired professor of Mathematical Physics, University of Bari, Italy

Guillaume de Thieulloy, PhD in political science, editor of the French Blog Le Salon Beige

Marco Tosatti, Journalist, Vatican observer

Christine Vollmer, former member of the Pontifical Council for Family and the Pontifical Academy for Life

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