leaving me speechless

This last week has brought not one but two statements presented as being from Pope Francis which seem to be – how shall I put it? – heteredox.

The first is indisputably his. It is the Letter to the International Commission against the Death Penalty. A somewhat clumsy Zenit translation is given here. We might have expected simply a repeat of what is in the Catechism – that the death penalty can be justified as a matter of social self-defence (which doesn’t imply self-defence only against the man who is executed, but could include self-defence by deterrence or by the very visible upholding of the moral law), coupled with a prudential judgement, to which no Catholic is bound, that today it will very rarely if ever be the case that the death penalty is necessary.

That’s not what we find. Instead we read:-

(i) self-defence cannot apply in the case of the death penalty as it can in the case of enemy invasion, because the harm done by the criminal is now in the past, and can’t be changed;

(ii) the death penalty is a crime against the dignity of man;

(iii) the death penalty has no legitimacy, because of the possibility of error;

(iv) the death penalty deprives the criminal of the possibility of reparation (and, bizarrely, of the possibility of confession)

(v) the death penalty is contrary to divine mercy (if only Moses had known that);

(vi) the death penalty is worse than the crime committed by the criminal.

He says, “today, the death penalty is inadmissible”; but the points (i) to (vi) imply that it always was. He quotes our Lord saying “put your sword back into its sheath” and telling the one who was without sin to cast the first stone, but does not point out that neither of these involved a properly-constitued tribunal. He does not mention Christ quoting with approval the law, “He that shall curse father or mother, dying let him die” (Mk. 7:10), nor St Paul’s assertion that the civil ruler or “prince” does not bear the sword in vain, i.e. without good reason, but rather as God’s minister (Rom. 13:4).

Nor does he quote the statement of faith which Innocent III gave to the Waldensians, which includes the assertion:-

With regard to the secular power, we affirm that it can exercise a judgement of blood without mortal sin provided that in carrying out the punishment it proceeds not out of hatred, but judiciously, not in a precipitous manner, but with caution (Dz. 795).

Nor does he quote the teaching of the Roman Catechism of St Pius V, that:-

Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and eath, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this commandment which prohibits murder.

Apart from all these things, the legitimacy of the death penalty has been taught by the universal and ordinary magisterium of the Church for many centuries and is therefore surely a matter of faith.

I can see no way to reconcile the pope’s statements listed above, with the possible exception of (iv), with this teaching of the Church.

That was the first thing.

The other thing is not an official statement, but another of these interviews with the Italian atheist chap. But it can’t be written off, because the previous interviews have been put in a book and published by the Vatican Press. So the pope presumably considers the Italian chap a reliable conduit for his own opinions. Part of it is in English here.

So, the unusal bit in this interview happens when the Italian atheist chap says to the Holy Father, “What about the souls that choose selfishness and put out the divine spark? Will they be punished?” And the pope is quoted as saying, “They won’t be punished but annihilated (non c’è punizione ma l’annullamento).” The chap says that the pope’s words were netta e chiara, “clear and distinct”.

Annullamento means annihilation or destruction. It can also be translated as cancellation, but what would that mean?

In other words, we have here the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that the wicked will not suffer after death, because they will no longer exist. Obviously this is contrary to Scripture, Tradition and many statements of the magisterium. To quote just one, from Lateran IV:-

All will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear to receive according to their works, whether these have been good or evil, the ones perpetual punishment with the devil and the others everlasting glory with Christ (Dz. 801).

I suppose it would be just about possible to interpret these words attributed to the pope in an orthodox way – ‘not punished’, because they will suffer the natural consequences of their own choices rather than a penalty arbitrarily imposed; ‘annihilated’ not ontologically but morally, in that they will no longer be capable of love etc. But frankly, would there be any point? If the words were not meant in their obvious sense, it is for an official spokesman to disavow them.

Of course none of these things touch the dogma of papal infallibility; the conditions for an ex cathedra judgement are not present. But we seem to have a pope who does not know the Catholic faith.

No doubt it was very wrong of Richard Williamson to have consecrated a bishop in that monastery in Brazil last week (and I was sorry to see him do it in such a-hole-in-the-corner way; that was not how Archbishop Lefebvre acted. Also, why on earth did he choose someone nearly as old as himself?) But in times like these, I find it difficult to be sorry that there is another orthodox bishop in the world; perhaps even a Catholic bishop, given how hard it is to excommunicate oneself under modern canon law.

Michael Davies once said that future Catholic apologists would have greater difficulties with the Eucharistic Prayers for Children than with the morals of the Borgias or the worst excesses of the Inquisition. Perhaps also they will have more difficulties with the present pope than with Popes Liberius, Honorius I and John XXII combined.

A  blessed Passion-tide to all.

Our loyal reader Magdalena has pointed me toward a topic about which she herself would be much more qualified to write. As she did, however, so far decline the honour of a guest post at this illustrous blog, only comparatively ignorant me is left to bring to your attention the Ecopop initiative to be voted upon in Switzerland on 30 November 2014.

Those of our readers in command of German can verify for themselves that this is not a hoax. I myself had to do that, actually. This initiative (initiated, to  my immense frustration, by bourgois, left-wing ecologists) demands that:

– immigration to Switzerland do not exceed  0.2 % of Swiss permanent inhabitants each year, and

– that 10% of Swiss federal developmental aid be devoted to voluntary family planning in developmental countries (including a constitutional prohibit of developmental aid given if they go against the aim of helping family planning)

Let me rephrase: We have to make those Africans have less children so they do not swamp our country.

This is probably the most blatant manifestation of the connection between xenophoby and left-wing support for family planning I have yet met.

Yesterday the German bishops started their annual spring conference.

On the GBC website, preparation for the October Synod of Bishops on the Family is only mentioned casually as one of the less prominent points of the agenda. Given recent utterances of certain German bishops, this does not quite allay my apprehension.

So, restlessly prowling around the internet, I only now discovered that the GBC’s answers to the Vatican questionnaire are online. Catholic World News summarizes the summary. Contrary to my first assumption, they did not quote the most extreme things out of context: the whole document breathes the same spirit.

Honestly, I did not expect something this blunt. One could, in fact, call this a ‘courageous’ document. I mean, how shameful and embarrassing (to say the least) to have to go to Rome and admit how fully and utterly you have failed in taking care of the immortal souls of your flock!

I was even starting to hope again: if you want to argue that changes in society necessitate some ‘development’ of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, presenting the situation as a wholesale pastoral and catechetical failure would not seem to be the most promising strategy. On the other hand, some passages seem to cross the border from bluntness to cynicism – at least, that is the best interpretation I have for sentences like this one:

Almost all couples who wish to marry in Church have already been living together, frequently for several years (estimates are between 90% and 100%).

The fact that even the bishops of my country see people like my married Catholic friends (who did not cohabit before marriage) as some barely existing freak group is somewhat disturbing.

Update: Today, the German bishops have voted for Cardinal Archbishop Reinhard ‘Who-is-the-head-of-the-CDF-to-tell-us-what-the-Church-teaches’ Marx as the head of the German Bishops’ Conference.

Yes, this is reality: scientists have found ways to grow mini brains in vats from human embryonic stem cells. What’s next?

An old man of my acquaintance once asked me, in tones of moral outrage, whether I agree with him that some pronouncement by a Polish bishop (or bishops) wasn’t heretical.

I looked at him a moment in surprise. The statement seemed a little odd, but without any context it could not be said to be contrary to the faith. What was more surprising, was the fact that this chap was outraged, and was condemning the bishops with the force of righteous anger, when he himself hadn’t been to confession for about forty years, and hadn’t been to Sunday Mass for about seven – and didn’t see anything odd about this.

I said that I thought living in habitual mortal sin was perhaps worse than making a possibly badly phrased statement. I still can’t get over the fact that he didn’t see it was a little strange for him to be criticising the bishops, and with such indignation, when he himself was deliberately, evidently and consciously flouting one of the fundamental obligations of Catholics.



… by this. While some German Christian Democrats only asked the Pope to abolish celibacy for priests, 144 German *Catholic* s.l. theology professors (that’s one third of the total) demand ‘open dialogue’ on, among other things:

  • abolishion of celibacy for priests
  • ordination of women
  • no longer ‘excluding’ remarried divorcees and active homosexuals
  • abolition of any liturgy worth that name (pardon: no centralised unification in liturgical matters preventing the inclusion of the experiences and modes of expression of today, and whatnot, in liturgy)
  • the Church begging pardon for her sins, which include ‘perverting the bibilical message of freedom into a rigorous morality without mercy’

Full text and all 144 names here (in German).