Pope Francis clarifies Archbishop Chaput’s confusion

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Electric chair used at Sing Sing prison


Electric chair used at Sing Sing prison

Electric chair used at Sing Sing prison

Electric chair used at Sing Sing prison

Yesterday, Pope Francis came out against the death penalty about as strongly as a pope can come out against anything. In a meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law, he pretty much declared a crusade:

“All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty. And this, I connect with life imprisonment,” he said. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”

Let’s leave aside the public policy quibble that in America nothing has done more to reduce the number of death penalties handed out by juries than the life-without-parole sentencing option. What His Holiness has done is definitively reject the assertion of former Denver and current Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput when he told Colorado GOP gubernatorial candidate and staunch Catholic Bob Beauprez that it wasn’t against their religion to also be a staunch death penalty advocate.

At least that’s what Beauprez said a few weeks ago when asked about his support for the death penalty in a debate with his Democratic opponent, Gov. John Hickenlooper. According to Beauprez:

He said, “Bob, you pray on it, sleep on it, reach the conclusion that is right for your soul.” And he said, “I’ll back you up, because church doctrine is not anti­–death penalty.” I want to be very clear about that.

When reporters tried to check on the quote, Chaput’s spokeman said the archbishop wouldn’t comment on a private conversation between himself and the candidate.

Now, as you may have noticed, Chaput gave a speech the other day expressing dismay at the Vatican’s recent synod on the family for sowing confusion among the faithful. “I was very disturbed by what happened,” he said. “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.”

So far as I am concerned, Candidate Beauprez is entitled to support the death penalty even though his church doesn’t. But thanks to him, the public image that’s come across is of a church that both opposes and does not oppose the death penalty.

The Bishop of Rome has spoken. It’s of the devil for the Archbishop of Philadelphia not to clear up the confusion that’s been sown.

  • samuel Johnston

    Leaving aside the disingenuous, and just considering the philosophic, the Pope’s position makes sense, because he proposes that there is a next life. Those of us who see that position as wildly speculative and unsupported by evidence, may differ. Focus on the innocent and unavenged victim rather than the poor misunderstood perpetrator for a moment. I am enraged at the injustice. I say fry them till their eyeballs pop out. As the prosecutors say -at least that guy was deterred.

  • samuel Johnston

    If I may add, prisons are a different matter. For the most part they fail almost every goal that society might need or desire them to accomplish.

  • Michael

    Maybe it’s all those years working in that Episcopalian college, the professor seems to have no idea how Catholic doctrine, dogma, and teaching intersect.

    The Pope’s strongly worded opinion about the death penalty does not change the historic doctrine of the Church. He is free to personally be against the death penalty and preach against it in no uncertain terms, other Catholics are free to be for death penalty employed justly. The Pope didn’t solemnly define an ‘ex cathedra’ statement here, nor did he convene an Ecumenical Council regarding this matter, nor did he disavow the ordinary teachings of the Church. This is nothing like, say, the Church teachings on abortion or ‘women’s ordination’, which fits all three of the above, which leaves no room for contradiction.

    If I was the Dean at Trinity, I’d have the professor’s creds reevaluated.

  • Augustine Thomas

    Do you guys ever think about just taking a look at the Catechism rather than pretending your emotional outbursts are doctrine?
    Unlike homosexual perversion, the Catechism tells us that we can support or reject the death penalty. I’m going to go ahead and follow St. Thomas Aquinas over Frank the Hippie on this one..

  • Francis

    Sure does. The Pope went as far as to quote the Catechism that says that the Church does allow for the deal penalty and then he went and personally emphasized that the it’s OK if there are no other alternatives. He then said that in today’s work he personal cannot believe that we cannot “protect society” for criminals without use of the death penalty or life sentences or even long jail sentences. So what, it’s just a typical social commentary of the Pope’s personal opinion but not a statement ‘ex cathedra’ which means take it or leave it. This blog is completely one sided and leaves certain facts out and mixes up the Pope’s authority on these things. Typical. Summary, the Archbishop is right and Mark is wrong.

  • PAL (@PhillipAlanDom)

    To deny one the death penalty, is to deny them the chance at possible grace or forgiveness from God.
    If a murderer is given life in prison, what is the likelihood that person will seek God’s forgiveness?
    Why should he?
    He knows that he will languish in prison for years, decades.
    Pray for the victim’s families that Jose Mario Bergoglio harms with these insensitive & callous words.

  • Denny

    You misunderstand. To a liberal, the Pope must be followed, in every single utterance, to the Nth degree. That is, if he is saying something that liberals agree with.
    On the other hand, if the Pope says something liberals disagree with, the Pope does not need to be followed. Ever.

  • cenlacatholic

    “The Bishop of Rome has spoken” … in his private capacity, and in his personal opinion. That utterance was by no means employed the language of infallibility–I doubt he’ll ever employ the tradition of his predecessors as he has rejected the past two thousand years as “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism.” (EG 94)

  • tony

    Wait a minute Dr Silk…I thought catholics only had to listen to then Pope when he speaks ex cathedra??? I mean that was the old liberal mantra. If you are so concerned what the catholic teaching is on the death penalty read the catechism. Its right there in black and white.

    btw…the pope still hasn’t come out and say how cool it is to smoke pot…if you admire the pope so much…maybe you should spend more time reflecting on that then writing snarky blog posts that have nothing to do with you.

  • Allan Wafkowski

    The problem with an absolute prohibition on capital punishment is that it is contrary to 2,000 years of Catholic teaching. Christ had any number of opportunities to condemn it, but did not. The CCC inserted a stern caution about the use of capital punishment, but its origins can only be traced to a talk given by John Paul II some time before. No where in the history of the Catholic Church do we find such a prohibition. The obvious instruction about carefulness in its application has always been in effect, but the issue has always been that of justice in application, not the the morality of the use of the punishment. The most we can take away from Francis’ statement is that he is personally opposed to the use of the death penalty. What we can carry away from Francis’ condemnation of the use of life imprisonment for murderers, the torturers of children, and the occasional sadistic person who buries his or her foe alive is wonderment at the man’s lack of understanding of anything he has not conceived.

  • Marco Luigi

    This Pope is saying nothing different than Pope John Paul II, who even managed to halt the death penalty from being applied to death row inmates in the US. The teaching of the church reflects the unchanging teachings of Christ. Both points of Chaput and the Pope are right, and not opposing. But this continued attempt to divide the church reflects the confusion is really due to uneducated journalism, not Chaput and the Pope. They are far more aligned than the media and many anti-Catholics want anyone to believe. The Church does teach that capital punishment can be permissible (Chaput’s point), but this should only be in the very rare case where a society cannot protect itself against an unrepentant, unremorseful individuals, who intend to continue to commit evil acts against innocent people. That is highly unlikely in our modern world so given that, Capital Punishnent is almost never justified.,, this was taught by St. John Paul II, and now reinforced by Pope Francis.

  • Faithful Hibernian


    You are so wrong. The Catholic Church teaching is not against the death penalty, check the Catechism. The Holy Father’s thoughtful comments were not dogma, doctrine or binding teaching, like its teachings abortion, sodomy, adultery (even in so-called “second marriages”). There is reasonable basis for the faithful to support the death penalty, in a manner consistent with Church Teaching, as well equally reasonable reasons to support the abolition of the death penalty.

    I wish you alleged “Christians,” really socialist would stop misrepresenting Catholic Teaching for the promotion of the anti-religious, socialist party of the Seven Deadly Sins, namely the DNC.

    God Love You. Pray for me as I do you.

  • Ivan Sudofsky

    Jesus was executed and asked God to forgive those responsible, and God was pretty succinct on the subject of killing.

  • samuel Johnston

    “…capital punishment …should only be in the very rare case where a society cannot protect itself against an unrepentant, unremorseful individuals, who intend to continue to commit evil acts against innocent people. That is highly unlikely in our modern world….”
    Really…highly unlikely? Try drug murders in Mexico, political murders all over the globe, public beheadings, kidnappings for ransom, sex, and revenge……..

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  • FYI my response to you and other similar critics: http://bit.ly/1tAj6wq.

  • Kevan Scott

    I guess some Catholics like Boprez and Chabbot don’t consider this Pope infallible in his office pricinpally because he preaches a message of love and tolerance, wheras both the Bishop and Mr. Boprez would rather follow a gospel that preaches a gospel of fear, hate, and intolerance. Now, if you were/are a Colorado voter would you vote for this Boprez to be your next Govenor? Not me, that’s for sure!

  • Allan Wafkowski

    I believe it is much more likely that problems with Francis and infallibility as understood by him is that Francis shows more cunning than wisdom. He is nasty to those who even passively disagree with him. His actions toward faithful Catholics who wish for the church to stay on track with its God-given mission of spiritual salvation is scandalous. He has blabbered on and on as fact that which can only be understood in his feverish imagination. He has done nothing to safeguard the integrity of the faith; in fact, he has used his power to confuse and change the faith. Kevan, hopefully you will find at least sympathy with those who fight to keep Christ’s church Christian.

  • Pingback: CNA Spins for +Chaput - Cathlinks.com()

  • Dudley Sharp

    Current Problems: Catholic Death Penalty Teaching:
    Most recent Catechism (last amended 2003)

    Any good Catholic may disagree with the Church’s newest teaching on the death penalty (1) and remain a Catholic in good standing (1) and can find that (a) the primary and eternal purpose of sanction is justice and/or redress, as confirmed in this latest CCC, and that (b) justice should not be and cannot be subjugated by a secondary purpose of sanction, the important concern of “defense of society” and that (c) the death penalty offers a greater degree of protection for society and individuals (2) , that being the protection of the potential innocents harmed, now spared, and potential repeat unjust aggressors, also, now spared, by preventing them from harming even more innocents and , thereby, putting their eternal lives more at risk (3&4).

    Saint Pope John Paul II (SPJPII) made a prudential judgement, within Evangelium Vitae (EV), and such judgement was factually and rationally in error and then those errors were placed within the CCC.

    1) The first sentence from CCC 2267, being:

    “The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.”

    Response from two Catholic scholars:

    “The most reasonable conclusion to draw from this discussion is that, once again, the Catechism is simply wrong from an historical point of view. Traditional Catholic teaching did not contain the restriction enunciated by Pope John Paul II”.(5)

    “The realm of human affairs is a messy one, full of at least apparent inconsistency and incoherence, and the recent teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment—vitiated, as I intend to show, by errors of historical fact and interpretation—is no exception.” (5)

    SPJPII states that we can use the death penalty only “when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.”

    Not only is this a rational error, it conflicts with 2000 years of Catholic teaching.

    As taught in this very same CCC, redress, justice and just retribution are primary and eternal. Public defense is secular and utilitarian and, therefore, must always be secondary to the primary, eternal truth of justice.

    Yet, both the CCC and SPJPII are stating that we must replace eternal truths with secular utilitarianism. Obviously an error.

    Furthermore, SPJPII, somehow, only lists one of the Catholic Church’s four foundations for sanction (defense) neglecting all others – another error. Justice, redress, just retribution are always primary.

    A significant rational error is that SPJPII attempts to erase execution, if it is not the “only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings”. There is nothing within reason or Catholic teachings that says we must either include or exclude a method of sanction, because there may be another “practicable way to defend the lives of human beings”

    Our obligation is to find the “best way to defend the lives of human beings”, which, in many cases, means the death penalty, which better protects innocents than do lesser sanctions, in three ways (3), and is a sanction which more corresponds with justice, the primary function, in some cases.

    Both the utilitarian and eternal truths of capital punishment are in conflict with SPJPII’s pronouncements. SPJPII would have us sacrifice more innocents, by sparing more guilty murderers, putting more innocents in peril, just as he puts more unjust aggressors in greater eternal peril, as detailed (2-4).

    2) The middle sentence within CCC 2267:

    “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

    Flannery and Remick’s comments (5) apply, here, as well.

    The traditional, philosophical and eternal teachings remain the same, that the Church has and does recognize that the imposition of the death penalty is based upon the sanctity of life and is in conformity with the dignity of the human person (3), both innocent murders victims and guilty unjust aggressors/murderers.

    Then, of course, we have this, demonstrating how completely bizarre this new teaching is:

    Also within the same CCC as 2267, we have CCC 2260: “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning…. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” “This teaching remains necessary for all time.”

    SPJPII says if “bloodless means are sufficient” than we must shun the death penalty.

    SPJPII chose his dependence on wildly varying secular criminal justice systems (4), defense of society, over this eternal commandment.

    In addition, SPJPII choses to leave all unjust murderers, alive, with the well known outcome, guaranteeing many more innocents will be murdered (2-4), putting many more unjust murderers at greater eternal risk, as we know so many will murder or, otherwisew, harm, again (2-4).

    If his concern is protection of innocents, SPJPII would have said, “We will use that sanction which best protects the innocents”, but he didn’t. He only used a “sufficient” standard, when he should have used a “best” standard, if protecting innocent lives is your primary concern and if a sanction commensurate with the crime which, in many cases, both by utility and justice, will be the death penalty (2-5).

    3) Factually, we know that the last sentence from CCC 2267 is false:

    “Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’ [John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 56.]

    “In fact”, the overwhelming evidence is that, given all known realities of the State’s actions to repress known unjust aggressors, that the proper protection of innocents from unjust aggressors is, extremely often, not the case (5), as we all know (5).

    “Putting more innocents at risk, by repeat harm from known unjust aggressors and putting those same known unjust aggressors at greater eternal risk, by allowing them to harm more innocents, as we know many will do.(2-4)” is the result of this newest EV and CCC teaching.

    The factual support for this is overwhelming, as detailed (4), and as both CCC and EV avoided.

    In addition, sinners do not redeem “themselves”, a truly bizarre statement. Redemption comes from the grace and mercy of God.

    Flannery and Remick’s comments (5) apply, here, as well.


    These newest death penalty teachings, within EV and the CCC, occurred at the exact time when SPJPII and the Church were involved in the horrendous priest sex scandal, worldwide, which so clearly demonstrated the human error of allowing unjust aggressors to harm innocents, over and over, again. The Church had the “means” to protect the innocent. She just didn’t . . . and it took years of lawsuits and heartbreak for the Church to, finally, wake up and become honest.

    It is as if the Church never got the message, now repeating that same horror, over and over, again.

    In the course of human affairs, with the priest sex scandal, , for anyone who wants to learn, what we think is “sufficient” is, often, a disaster – evidently a lesson lost within EV and CCC and, now, repeated, with Her newest death penalty teachings.

    Tragic and incomprehensible.

    1) From Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict, then Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

    (paragraph 3) “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    from Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles, part of memorandum sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick, made public July 2004.

    2) The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues

    3) The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

    4) Catechism & State Protection

    5) “Capital Punishment and the Law”, Ave Maria Law Review, 2007 (30 pp), by Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (since 2002) and Ordinary Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome); and Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics andCulture (University of Notre Dame)

  • Dudley Sharp

    Pope Francis: How Wrong on the Death Penalty?
    Dudley Sharp

    In a speech to the International Association of Penal Law (1), Pope Francis denounced the death penalty and life imprisonment, continuing the Church pattern of errors in criminal justice matters.

    1) Pope Francis condemned “a ‘ penal populism’ that promises to solve society’s problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.”

    Do any leaders say that “we must solve society’s problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.”?

    Of course not. I can see no reason why the Pope would have said it.

    2) Pope Francis says, “It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples’ lives from an unjust aggressor”.

    “Impossible to imagine” is poor reasoning, nor does it have any biblical, theological or traditional support.

    On this serious topic, reality, not imagination, should be the rational guide.

    The issues are what represents justice and how can we best protect the innocent from unjust aggressors, within the reality of man’s criminal justice systems.

    Would anyone say: “It is ‘impossible to imagine’ that the Church would not protect innocents from sexual predator priests.”

    Of course not. Deal with reality.

    Reality says that the death penalty protects innocents to a greater degree than does LWOP (2) and both protect innocents better than lesser sanctions. (2).

    “Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm.” (CCC 2265). Clearly, the death penalty and LWOP do that better than any other sanctions.

    The Pope’s suggestion is to spare more violent criminals, putting their eternal souls more at risk, and to sacrifice more innocents.

    3) Neither the last 3 Popes, nor Evangelium Vitae nor the recent CCC have addressed, or even acknowledged, the huge problems that we have with all criminal justice systems, worldwide (3) – how common it is for criminal justice systems to allow known unjust aggressors, to harm over and over again (3). It is very common.

    Possibly, Pope Francis might consider:

    (To paraphrase the Pope)

    “All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to show their love and support for those innocents harmed by known violent unjust aggressors and out of respect for the human dignity of those innocent persons, who have been deprived of their safety, their lives and/or their property, to make sure that it will be “impossible to imagine” not protecting those innocents to a higher degree than we have in the past and, thereby preventing unjust aggressors from harming, even, more in the future, not only causing more harm to innocents, but also more harm to those unjust aggressors’ eternal future.”

    4) The Pope may have defined why the last 3 Popes have been such a disaster on criminal justice issues.

    Pope Francis calls sanctioned guilty criminals “sacrificial victims”, a true insult to actual innocent crime victims, a stunning moral error, with the last four decades of Church horrors staring him in the face.

    Hard to comprehend.


    1) Pope Francis calls for abolishing death penalty and life imprisonment, 10/27/2014,

    2) The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues

    3) Catechism & State Protection

  • Gary Lockhart

    You lack the necessary acumen to discern the difference between prudential statements which do not accurately articulate Church teaching and those that do.