Is Pope Francis changing church teachings before our eyes?

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Pope Francis leads Mass attended by thousands of the ticketed faithful at Madison Square Garden in New York on Friday, September 25, 2015. Pope Francis is in the middle of a three-city tour of the United States that includes Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Michael Appleton

Pope Francis leads Mass attended by thousands of the ticketed faithful at Madison Square Garden in New York on Friday, September 25, 2015. Pope Francis is in the middle of a three-city tour of the United States that includes Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Michael Appleton

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(RNS) With comments to Congress on abolishing the death penalty and by declaring a “right of the environment" at the United Nations, the pontiff may be pushing the envelope on Catholic doctrine -- not that anyone will admit it.

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  • Greg1

    The reason the death penalty is being looked at with disdain by the Church is that the prison systems have gotten pretty good, and most of these criminals can be put away for life, without fear of them getting back out into society. In that way God will have more opportunity to soften their hearts in their old age, calling them home to repentance. And regarding the environment, well, with modern society comes modern pollution, which has many more long term negative effects, and, complete devastation in some instances. So in order for man to continue on, he must protect the planet God has given him to support his life. To destroy the planet, is to destroy the human race. The environmental focus of the Church began in the late 1960’s, and leading ultimately to Pope Paul VI writing his encyclical OCTOGESIMA ADVENIENS in 1971. So these two subjects are nothing new for the Church, but rather that the Church must address them when the time is proper.

  • Doc Anthony

    Surprised to hear that the Pope even wants to abolish life imprisonment. Wasn’t expecting THAT much liberalism. Not even Obama will go that far.

    Yes, this pope IS into changing church teachings. Not overtly and immediate, but clearly some big changes anyway, on a tacit, backdoor installment plan.

    One wishes Pope Benedict XVI would take back his resignation, and do so quickly.

  • Greg1

    Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2267 “…Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” So again, Francis only echos the Catechism.

  • Betty Clermont

    This is a far reach even for papal lapdog Gibson. The US episcopate has been almost universal in its condemnation of the death penalty for as long as I can remember. Being “green” is hardly the message that Catholics were awaiting on birth control, gay marriage, abortion to save the life of the mother etc.

  • Bernardo

    Birth control?

    The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions (one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. (based on calculations from )

    Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.

    There is the message you have been waiting for. Go forth a preach it to all nations.

  • Greg1

    I think what would be more fitting, is men and women abstaining from sexual intercourse until married. And then, using Natural Family Planning. That way, no surprises. Birth control is nothing more than a destructive tool, which treats the woman’s body as a receptacle for pleasure, rather than a self giving act of love.

  • The legitimate use of the death penalty by the state is founded upon the teaching of Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, and so, the pope (any pope) cannot change that revealed truth, but he can ask that the state refrain from the use of that specific penalty as an act of mercy.

  • Thomas Patrick

    The Catholic Church will not change Divine Law because it cannot; it lacks the authority. This principle explains why matters touching upon the 10 commandments, the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and essential elements of how Christ set up the Church cannot change (for example, using artificial birth control, sexual relations outside of Christian marriage, divorce and remarriage, ordination of women, etc.) Anything that is not Divine Law can be changed and has been changed occasionally by the Church over the past two millennia if there is reason to believe that such a change will promote the salvation of souls according to the needs presented by particular times and places (for example, priestly celibacy in the Latin Rite, fasting and abstinence laws, how to administer the Sacraments, etc.). The crucial question when considering the possibility of change in Church teaching is whether a change would contradict Divine Law or not. If it would, it cannot happen. If not, it is possible.

  • seescaper

    Speaking of the death penalty, I wonder how many former Popes were poisoned? How many Jews and other heretics were killed by the Church in the name of Jesus Christ?
    And then there is that little ditty from the Bible (Matthew 10:34) about Jesus coming not with peace but with a sword. Jesus, the “Nazarene” (basically a freedom fighter) was trying to oust the Romans and become King of the region, if not the entire Roman empire. That’s why he was crucified.
    If the Church cared about the poor, why does the Vatican redistribute some of it’s obscene wealth? The Pope lives in privileged luxury.
    And Pope Francis’ call for families? A priest or Nun can’t have a family. Women cannot become priests. Priests must be celibate. Maybe that type of unnatural sexual oppression combined with a position of power and trust leads to the sexual scandals rampant throughout Catholicism.
    As for the environment, how many trees are in the Vatican district? How much fuel is burned by the Pope’s…

  • seescaper

    Jesus Christ did not set up the Church. Nor did he start a religion. He was a Jew born of wealth with royal lineage, who sought to gain power by opposing the Romans. The Church, as well as the fictionalized picture of Jesus in the Gospels, is a Pauline construct that hybridized Judaism and Paganism. The objectionable elements of Judaism were removed, such as circumcision and Mosaic law, and Pagan holidays of the solstices were kept to appease Pagans and assist conversions, yet modified to reflect Paul’s concept of his invented religion. The final structure of Christianity was not even Pauline, but was a political fiat imposed by Constantine at the Council of Nicea in AD 325, effectively ending all threads of Christianity, such as Arianism, except the officially endorsed version. All oppositional literature was destroyed, as was all references to the true life of Jesus, which is why it’s difficult to find him in the historical record outside of official Christian theological…

  • Chris

    Wow, straight from the pages of that great scholar of Christianity, Dan Brown. Normally, I’d laugh at such nonsense being pedaled here (Christ himself was subject to the Mosaic Law and thus was never abolished), Constantine destroyed the church to reform it in his image, the Church destroyed everything to Jesus being married and how Mary Magdalene was the true successor to the apostles, etc. However, considering how mainstream such warped views are now (as opposed to 20 years ago when it would have been described as such), I have to respond more with alarm that people like you have been taken in by such rubbish.

  • Ben in oakland

    So in other words, kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong.

    And do it with god’s approval.

    Life is sacred, eh, wot?

  • Ben in oakland

    In other words, god’s law never changes except when it does. A and even then it doesn’t, except when it does.

  • Victor

    Only the first part of the quote, “Ignorance is bliss” would apply to your statement.

  • Victor

    If you saw a sign that says “Touching this electric fence can lead to death”, and you touch it, who killed you? The guy who put up the fence? The institution that authorized the sign? No, you did.

    In the same light, people who kill other people know that the justice system can lead to a death penalty. They made the choice. It is not society that made the choice or killed them.
    I am not for the death penalty. But I do not agree with your argument that society kills murderers. The argument is about how a nation sees itself and has nothing to do with “killing killers”.

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  • Rocky

    That line was Pope JPII’s personal opinion submitted into the Catechism. BAD PRECEDENT. What happens if the state collapses and is not able to render the offender harmless? Do we change the Catechism again? It’s also why the Catechism is not an infallible document.

  • Jack

    Besides Texas, the death penalty is a seldom-used punishment and most people convicted of first-degree murder never get it. Much if not most of the time, prosecutors don’t even ask for it….and when they do, it’s usually because the killer was an unusually sadistic or calloused individual.

    I don’t weep for convicted murderers and I have nothing in principle against capital punishment. There are too many others in the world who are more deserving of our compassion and sympathy — starting with the families of the people murdered…..or refugees who are desperately seeking a place in this world. I commend the pope for speaking on their behalf, and pushing back against bias and prejudice.

  • Jack

    Chris, seescaper’s post and your response remind me of that old adage, “you can’t fool an honest person.”

    People believe Dan Brown’s fantasies because they’re not approaching the issue with honesty and integrity. They don’t want the Gospel to be factually accurate because of its implications for how they are living their lives. Christians who are not self-righteous — yes, they do exist — will tell them that nobody’s higher than anyone else, that the Gospel has disturbing implications for all of us, since to be human is to be fallen, albeit gloriously made.

    Nobody, Christian or non-Christian, started out with a desire to hear the Gospel. To be a Christian is simply to own up to the fact that it’s telling humanity the truth about itself and how to respond.

    One way to respond is to deny, even if it means believing things we know to be false, and Dan Brown is a way for many to do just that.

  • Jack

    Seescaper, you skeptics can’t have it both ways. On the one hand, you try to refute the Gospels by saying there are no contemporaneous documents corroborating them. But if there are no such documents, where do you get the idea that Jesus was a political revolutionary when the Gospels say otherwise?

    The Gospels tell a consistent story of how Jesus ended up on the cross. I don’t have to repeat it….it’s quite basic, widely known, and internally consistent. There is no good reason to doubt it — and all you have to replace it is pure speculation which is based on nothing, either within the texts or beyond them.

  • pbecke

    (continued) also be needed.

    However, the big, in fact, insuperable problem is the uncertainty of human justice – court verdicts, today in our secular societies more than ever? Then when one considers how many of the leading citizenry deserve execution and worse (which they will no doubt meet when they die), not to speak of those in he general public, Francis’ wish to see it abolished world-wide is the only thing that makes sense.

    Francis’ similar attitude to life-imprisonment, rare enough in the UK anyway, despite the deliberately obfuscatory nomenclature used by the legislators, seems less comprehensible.

    On the other hand, Francis may be right in hoping that it will become part of an enormous synergy created by unconditional love across a whole range of historically pragmatic leglislations, secular as well sacred.

  • Bill

    Is there a chance you misunderstood or misinterpreted the Guttmacher findings you site?
    Here’s a quote from that report: “When used correctly, modern contraceptives are very effective at preventing pregnancy. The two-thirds of U.S. women (68%) at risk of unintended pregnancy who use contraceptives consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies (Figure 1). The 18% of women at risk who use contraceptives but do so inconsistently account for 41% of unintended pregnancies, while the 14% of women at risk who do not use contraceptives at all or have a gap in use of one month or longer account for 54% of unintended pregnancies.[14]
    The report does not show a failure of widely used methods. Rather it shows a failure of women and men to take advantage of the widely used methods.

  • Thomas Lewis

    The reason the death penalty is being looked at is because the Socialist perspective of the United Nations was recently adopted by the past few post Vatican II popes whose focus is the Modernization of the Catholic Church for a so-call more Man centered and less God center focus of Catholic Morals and Doctrines. Providing God solutions (because he is not altogether capable of creating such solution) by increasing the dimension of time, is indicative of the lack of Faith in God’s Providence and more faith in Man’s need for survival and sustainability as promoted by the United Nations Agenda 21 and recently accepted by pope Francis. Unfortunately Francis is demonstrating with unbelievable compunction the need to remove God’s involvement with the Catholic Church and impress upon it the Needs of Man found foremost in the Communist Manifesto. Furthermore the Global Climate Pseudo Science now promoted by the Vatican and the pope are also part and parcel of the United Nations Agenda.

  • Thomas Lewis

    If you imply that Catholic Men and Women must kill their progeny to protect your uncommon knowledge of world sustainability, then you know nothing about either Murder nor Marriage. Sad but so many people live by the value of things and the quantity of things, rather than the Catholic Faith that they say that they adhere to. If the pope does not adhere to the Catholic Faith, and insist on changing it, then he has made his own bed, and he must LIE in it. As for the Catholic Faith, it would appear that the pope will have no part of it in order to create his own New pagan religion. Otherwise the dope comes to mind regarding this Vicar of Christ.

  • Nonsense. There has been no change of teaching regarding the principle of religious freedom. What was condemned a century before Vatican II was not even remotely close to what was endorsed by Vatican II. The former anathema applies to the notion that one is *individually, in his own conscience* free to choose religion of his own preference. The latter endorsement refers to the (correct) notion that one ought to be free of *legal* compulsion to hold a religion — even if it be the true one.

    This is Catechism 101. Really sad that this misunderstanding is being promulgated here.

    You completely undermine both Catholicism and Christianity by saying that teachings have “flat out changed.” Please repent of this error and publicly retract it. Catholicism is *nothing* — worse than nothing, rather — if teachings can change.

    They can’t. They never have, and they never will. Those who hold that they have, or can, or will, are called heretics.

  • RodH

    Daniel O’Conner, you are right.
    However, there is the doctrine “on paper” nd there is the “teaching on the street”. While it is true that for all time various and sundry heretics have flown under the radar {i they kept quiet enough and had a lazy Bishop} I believe it is safe to say that today we have vast changes in “street teaching” in the Catholic Church that goes undisciplined by the leadership. Thus we see heretics like Archb Koch rise to high levels. I believe as you do that the teachings of the Church do not changein terms of the official doctrine and dogma, however, I believe what we see today is a vast assault on the Magesterium by heretical forces, many of whose promoters are very important leaders in the Church. It will be interesting to see how the Lord Jesus Christ protects the Church even in this current situation.

  • Bernardo

    Calculations were made using the typical use data from, Tables 1 & 2.

    Percentage of women experiencing an unintended pregnancy

    Some examples
    Pill (combined)……… 8.7 (resulting in ~one millon unplanned pregnancies)
    Tubal sterilization ……0.7
    Male condom ……….17.4 (resulting in ~one million unplanned pregnancies)
    Vasectomy…………… 0.2
    IUD (Copper-T)……….1.0

  • Bernardo

    Additional and perused reviews of the historical Jesus refutes your conclusion that JC will be protecting the church from anything as he is a long dead, simple preacher man made into a deity by the likes of P, M, M, L, and J.

    So where are the bones???

    According to Professor JD Crossan’s many exhaustive studies, they still are a-mouldering in the ground outside of Jerusalem or were eaten by wild dogs and are now cycling through nature’s recycling system.

  • Bernardo


    The truth is that Christianity as with all religions will slowly fade from society as they crumble from their absurdities.

  • Jack Gordon

    Yours is the usual deceptive and silly bumper-sticker-style phrasing of this adage to stack the deck in favor of a wrong answer. It should read, “kill guilty people who kill innocent people to show that killing innocent people is wrong.” And, yes, that can be done by civil authorities with God’s approval, as has been taught correctly since Old Testament times, the personal opinions of John Paul II and Francis notwithstanding.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    Thomas Patrick, you and the Catholics who think like you are deluding yourselves. JPII’s arbitrary revisionism regarding capital punishment changes the fundamental criterion as expressed in Scripture (Genesis 9:5-6) from the ultimate desecration of the divine image in humanity to the state’s ability to incarcerate capital felons. If that is not effectively changing doctrine, then what is?

  • Shawn Marshall

    Would he let Charles Manson out of jail? Better he should live like a monk in prison. Many psychopathic killers and rapists should be kept from harming others. The pope is a sloppy thinker. This and his errant climatology and his simplistic economics are unfortunate examples of his poorly formed intellect. I do oppose capital punishment but for the reason that it is dangerous to empower the state to execute citizens.

  • Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Pope Francis is re-educating us all in the already existing teachings of the Church.

  • k.lang

    I agree with the idea that the church is constantly evolving and therefore must continue to evolve. The church must “develop” ideas consistent with its people because after all isn’t that what the church is about. Even if specific doctrines haven’t changed, a change in the tone of the papacy is a sign of progress.