Pope Francis

A comment on a cardinal’s tweet re capital punishment, by Canon Lawyer Ed Peters:
June 17, 2019

Earlier today Cdl. Dolan of New York tweeted: “With the clear and cogent clarification of the successor of St. Peter, there now exists no loophole to morally justify capital punishment.”

The supposedly clear and cogent clarification that Dolan has in mind must be Pope Francis’ 2018 modification of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert that the death penalty is “inadmissible”. But, while it is likely that Francis meant what Dolan said, the pope did not quite claim what the cardinal clearly did. Francis (or his handlers) left just enough wiggle room (by using “inadmissible”, an ambiguous term in magisterial-moral discourse) to avoid flatly declaring the DP “immoral” and setting off thereby a magisterial firestorm such as has not been seen for some centuries.

Highly recommended book on legitimacy of Catholic teaching and tradition on Capital Punishment.

Dolan, in contrast, tweeting in terms well-known to tradition, plainly stated that the DP is immoral, thus going beyond what Francis was willing to say. That’s a problem. Indeed, it’s two problems.

(Photo: Highly recommended book on the legitimacy of Catholic teaching and tradition on Capital Punishment.)

1. Numerous serious studies argue (convincingly, in my view) that the liceity of the DP in certain cases is taught by the Church’s infallible magisterium (specifically, as “secondary object” thereof); at the very least, such studies make a prima facie case for the liceity of the death penalty under the infallible magisterium. Therefore, Church leaders contradicting that position must, simply must, deal with the possibility that infallibility is in play here, and, at a minimum, they should refrain from unnuanced declarations that might, in the end, be shown as “opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church” per Canon 750 § 2. See also Canon 1371 n. 1.

But the stakes might be higher still.

2. Many of the sources invoked for the liceity of the DP as a secondary object of infallibility (Scripture, Patristics, etc.) are those commonly associated with infallible assertions of primary objects of infallibility, that is, with matters of revelation. Now, while contradicting infallible assertions regarding secondary objects is, as stated above, to make one opposed to the doctrine of the Church, contradicting primary objects of the Church’s infallible magisterium is a specific element of heresy per Canons 750 § 1 and 751. See also Canon 1364. Obviously, this characterization risks even greater harm to the Church.

Am I saying that Dolan has committed heresy in his tweet or that he has expressed opposition to the teaching of the Church? No, but I am saying that declaring the DP as immoral per se puts one at risk of asserting something that many qualified scholars argue powerfully is opposed to infallible Church teaching, and possibly even to contradicting something divinely revealed. The real possibility of so offending the truth should, I think, trigger more respectful caution by those in positions of authority when speaking on these matters.

Think of it this way: A hunter shooting toward something moving in the underbrush can’t defend his accidental killing of a human being by saying “I did not know it was a man, I thought it was a deer.” The hunter has a duty to verify the status of his target before he shoots. Likewise, popes and bishops taking shots at the long-recognized moral liceity of the DP have a duty to verify the magisterial status of that teaching lest they accidentally hit something they had no business aiming at in the first place.

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Edward Pentin interviewed Professor John Rist as to why he signed the controversial letter along with 85 other prominent theologians and scholars. Frankly, I admire these men who stood up and spoke out. They may not have proven formal heresy (which is something I leave to experts and canon lawyers) but the silence in the face of the papal confusion and seemingly intentional ambiguity and silence from the Pope and the Vatican is frustrating and divisive and to hear voices decrying such is refreshing. Where are the bishops?

Professor-John-Rist-CUAOne of many questions in Pentin’s interview with Risk is this: “What other concerns do you have that prompted you to sign the letter?”

Rist replied: I am concerned above all else to expose double-talk, which is how the present Pope has been evading charges of heresy. Uttering ambiguous and/or contradictory remarks on important issues must ultimately be viewed as a planned attempt to change doctrine by stealth. Had such ambiguities/contradictions been occasional, they could be attributed — in accord with the canonical principle of benignity — to “mere” muddle. Prolonged ambiguity on this scale requires that a sadder conclusion be drawn: that there is a design to achieve by stealth what could not be achieved by openly and unambiguously un-Catholic decrees.

What do you say to the various criticisms of the letter: that it represents an “extreme” and “intemperate” approach which “overstates” the case — as some see it — and this makes further criticism of this pontificate harder?

Criticisms of intemperance, etc., whatever their intent, can only have the effect of diverting attention from the main concerns: that the Pope is deliberately using ambiguity to change doctrine and that the attitude he adopts over appointments indicates that he is out of sympathy (to put it mildly) with traditional Catholic teachings on a whole range of subjects. Fussing about “extremism,” etc. seems like fiddling while Rome burns; what it shows is that even many conservatives do not want to grasp the gravity of a situation where the Pope seems bent on turning the Church into a vaguely spiritually flavored NGO.

Another criticism is that the signatories are not in a position to accuse the Pope of heresy, that only bishops can hold him to account for such a charge, and that the letter would have been better just calling on bishops to investigate the alleged heresies rather than accusing the Pope of them. What is your response to this view? 

But calling on the bishops is precisely what the letter does! The signatories are not in a position to convict a pope of heresy; they are in a position to “prosecute” the charge, and we judged it was our duty to do so. The letter is primarily and immediately a challenge to the bishops to act rather than ignore or wring hands only.

What is your view of the critique that it’s not yet possible to accuse Pope Francis of specific formal heresy, but he can be accused of deliberate ambiguity and confusion, or “drift” toward heresy, and that that might have made a better critique?

See my answer above. I am not a canonist, nor (see above) a judge. What I am is someone who believes he can recognize intended heresy in word [and] also how the words are confirmed by the actions.

For the whole interview in National Catholic Register here.

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This is a significant and important 20 page letter written to the Pope by a group of scholars. I hope Rome takes it seriously. I am in Rome right now two blocks away from the Vatican. I’d love to go over and beg Pope Francis to consider this letter seriously.  I am not saying that I agree or disagree with the letter but I agree with the frustration and the need for the Pope and the Vatican to respond and give clarification to the bushel basket of confusion they have created among the faithful

Below is a video from Fr. Joseph Fessio and Mark Brumley, the president of Ignatius Press, discussing the situation and encouraging the Pope and the Vatican to respond for the good of the Church.  Based on past experience I don’t think this will happen, but I sure agree with them that The Pope should respond and hope he does.

Here is the link to Jimmy Akin’s rebuttle of the letter accusing the pope of heresy.

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Why Stay with the Church? Make Rome Catholic Again! Steve Ray Talks Straight with Teresa Tomeo

March 9, 2019

Steve’s segment starts 24:00 minutes into the show. The questions are multiple. What is happening to the Church? Why aren’t Rome and the bishops doing something about homosexual clergy? Why should I stay with the Church with all the confusion and lack of action with Pope Francis and the Vatican? I am angry and don’t […]

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Pope Francis and the Papacy: Steve Ray on Catholic Answers Live

February 27, 2019

The Papacy, What the Pope Does and Why It Matters (Steve’s new book)  February 25, 2019 – 7pm Questions Covered: 12:30 – If every bishop and priest is a successor of Peter, why is the bishop of Rome the sole successor of Peter? 15:34 – Our pope was talking about the Mark of the Beast. How are […]

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So, What Do I Really Think about the Papacy and this Pope?

February 26, 2019

Two radio shows on Monday were quite lively. They were both based on my new book The Papacy: What the Pope Does and Why It Matters. The first was an interview with Fr. Robert McTeigue SJ. What a sharp and perceptive priest. He asked me very pointed questions about Pope Francis, today’s Vatican and the papacy […]

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A MUST READ: Cardinal Müller issues Manifesto: A quasi correction of Pope Francis’ pontificate

February 9, 2019

“February 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) (News also released by Catholic News Agency) – Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, has released a Manifesto which reads like a correction of many of the doctrinal errors Pope Francis has taught during his tenure as Pope…. …Pope Francis removed Cardinal Müller from his post as […]

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3 Keys to Credibility at the Upcoming Sex Abuse Summit in Rome

February 3, 2019

There will be little real progress unless the summit tackles these three issues — including the “forbidden” topic of homosexuality. National Catholic Register, by Msgr. Charles Pope, Feb 2, 2019 ********************************************* The summit on clerical sexual abuse called by the Holy Father is scheduled for Feb. 21-24. While no meeting of four days can be expected to […]

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What to Think About Bad Popes

January 2, 2019

Written by Dave Armstrong and used with permission: BAD POPES: REPLIES TO A SINCERE INQUIRER, by Dave Armstrong God made an everlasting covenant with King David, even though he was an adulterer and murderer. Dave writes: “As this was originally private correspondence, my correspondent’s exact words will be paraphrased, not cited. Her “words” will be […]

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INTERVIEW: Cardinal Müller on Homosexuality Practiced and Covered Up within the Clergy and Hierarchy

November 24, 2018

Pope Francis recently fired him from his position as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (and maybe now we know why!) Here is part of the interview: “In this discussion about the abuse crisis, Müller does not shy away from pointing out that the Church needs to address the problem […]

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BREAKING: Abp. Viganò urges U.S. bishops to confront sex abuse as ‘courageous shepherds’

November 13, 2018

ROME, November 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò today issued a brief message to the U.S. Bishops, urging them to confront sex abuse as “courageous shepherds” rather than “frightened sheep.” The U.S. Bishops are currently in Baltimore at their much-anticipated fall annual meeting at which they were expected to vote on concrete proposals […]

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She Wrote that She is Worried about the Church…

November 10, 2018

In response to a concerned convert to the Catholic Faith.  What to think about all the scandals and the confusion and the divisions in the Church under the current Vatican? Here is my short response… ********************* You’re not the only one distressed by what’s going on in the Church today all the way up to […]

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Are You a Schismatic if you Disagree with the Pope (e.g., Cardinal Burke)?

November 7, 2018

A note on the other kind of schism Canon Lawyer Ed Peters. November 7, 2018 Most Catholics correctly, but incompletely, understand schism as “the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff” (1983 CIC 751). Overlooked here—perhaps because it is much rarer than is typical ‘anti-papal schism’ and is harder to spot when it does occur—is […]

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Pope Francis Summation, I Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself

November 2, 2018

He has elevated immoral men in order to change the Catholic faith Just over five years ago, the Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio came out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s as Pope Francis. It is useful to recall the situation of the Church that he inherited. The sex-abuse scandals that had rocked the Church […]

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If you decide to follow the unfortunate Youth Synod… (NEW: Ouellette and Vigano)

October 3, 2018

UPDATE: The Catholic Thing has posted an update, especially of interest is the last half of the report regarding Vigano and Oullette HERE. If you intend to follow the ill-advised Youth Synod in Rome, I suggest you check in periodically with “The Catholic Thing” which has Robert Royal there for the duration. The conflicts between […]

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Maybe a Better Illustration for the Pope to Use

October 2, 2018

In some of his recent homilies and comments the Pope has suggested he is being like Jesus when he retreats to “silence.” When Jesus was at trial before Pilate he kept his mouth closed and was silent. Pope Francis has made it clear that this his position regarding the charges against deviant and sinful clergy, […]

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