Capital

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We in the Ordinariates have a special relationship with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Many of us in England, at the behest of Bishop (now Monsignor) John Broadhurst signed a submission to its content as a way of indicating our desire to be received into the Church. And when, by the generosity of Pope Benedict, the Ordinariates were eventually set up, the Catechism of the Catholic Church had a special place in that arrangement, as the adequate and necessary statement of the faith into which we were grafted.

It comes, then, as something of a surprise to find that Pope Francis is nowhere near so committed to the Catechism as we are.

In one of his early morning sermons at the Domus Sanctae Marthae the Pope recently addressed the subject of capital punishment. It will come as no surprise that he was against it. ‘Today’, he said, ‘we say that the death penalty is inadmissible’. In so saying the Holy Father aligned himself with the emerging consensus of the post-Enlightenment West. But there are two problems.

The first is that the Church does not hold that capital punishment is ‘inadmissible’. The Catechism (2267) makes clear that ‘the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.’ It allows not much of a loophole; but it is nevertheless very far from claiming it to be ‘inadmissible’. Did Francis speak in ignorance, or out of a mischievous desire to stir controversy? We may never know.

But a second point eclipses the first. The Pope was citing capital punishment, along with slavery, as an obvious example of the way ‘we’ have improved and progressed. It is the familiar Enlightenment dialectic: ‘in former times of darkness and ignorance…but now all reasonable men agree that…’ Members of the Ordinariates will be all too familiar with that mode of argument from the tedious debates about women’s ordination.

The problem is that the Church does not and cannot proceed like that. It has its own requirements and its own means of discernment. A Church which supinely embraces the majority opinion of the liberal West is no Church at all.

It is disheartening to think that the Holy Father, even when expressing a merely personal point of view, thinks and proceeds in that uncatholic way. Disconcerting to think that the Pope, in such matters, might be little more than a very exalted Protestant.

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