Just as the latest round of homosexual network and sex abuse allegations in the Church are reaching a fever pitch, Pope Francis – who has been eerily quiet of late – dropped a nuclear theological bomb into our midst.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the death penalty now is no longer admissible under any circumstances.
The Vatican announced on Thursday Pope Francis approved changes to the compendium of Catholic teaching published under Pope John Paul II.
“The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church now says on the death penalty, adding that the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
As I have previously attempted to demonstrate, this is simply theologically wrong. There’s no way around that. But I wanted the opinion of an expert – which I am not – so I reached out this morning to a trustworthy theologian who is well versed in the finer distinctions of Magisterial authority and its limits. This was the response I received:
The traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on the intrinsic morality of the death penalty is irreformable dogma. To deny this or assert the contrary is formally heretical. Catholics remain obliged to believe and accept this doctrine regardless of any changes to the Catechism.
What does it mean to say that this is “formally heretical”?
1. Formal versus material heresy. This is a distinction pertaining to the objective status of doctrinal propositions. A heresy is any proposition opposed to any dogma. Two things are required for a doctrine to be dogma: (1) it must be contained in divine revelation and (2) it must be proposed as such by the Church (either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal magisterium). If both of these requirements are met, then the doctrine is a formal dogma, and the denial of such a dogma is a formal heresy. If a doctrine is contained in divine revelation but has not yet been proposed as such by the Church, then it can be called a “material dogma”. Such was the case with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the patristic and medieval periods. Material heresy is the denial of a material dogma.
2. Formal versus material heretic. This is a distinction pertaining to the subjective culpability of persons. A heretic is a person who believes or teaches heresy. A material heretic is a person who believes or teaches something which is objectively a heresy; a formal heretic is one who continues to do so obstinately after having been duly corrected.
So in the case of the dogma of the intrinsic morality of the death penalty, the denial of this dogma is formally heretical, since it contradicts a doctrine which is contained in divine revelation and which has been proposed as such by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church. The person who denies this dogma is a material heretic simply in virtue of his denial; but he is not formally a heretic unless he persists in his denial after having been duly corrected.
What is so absurd about this moment in the Church is that to simply reiterate Church teaching in the face of it being contradicted from the highest office is so dangerous for a theologian in full communion that I am compelled to protect this person’s identity.
I don’t know what to add to the above. We are way off the map at this point in rough and uncharted waters. I began arguing that the Galatians 2 moment had arrived back when Francis had given the green light for eugenic contraception in 2016. Things have only gotten worse since.
Bishops of the world, if you are orthodox and you care at all about the faith or the souls being lost due to the relentless barrage of scandal and error coming from Rome, you have a moral duty to correct this pope.
Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Sarah, Cardinal Brandmüller, Cardinal Müller, Bishop Schneider – your names come first to mind, but there are others. Hiding out and making oblique references to what his happening and condemning errors without discussing their source is not sufficient in the eyes of the faithful. The scandal of this pope is only compounded by the absolute lack of confrontation on the part of our bishops who will not rebuke this disaster by name, to the face, as St. Paul did to St. Peter in Galatians 2:11.
Dom Prosper Guéranger wrote that “[w]hen the shepherd becomes a wolf, the first duty of the flock is to defend itself.”
Are you really going to force us to do this alone?
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children.