We know that several of the previous pontiffs have personally opposed the death penalty. Pope Saint John Paul II was one. He wrote about it in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae. However, he acknowledged that the state still had the right to legitimate use of the death penalty. He never tried to abolish it outright. He couldn't, for the legitimacy of the death penalty has been established Church teaching for the past 2,000 years. I will link to two blogging colleagues who wrote pieces in response to the erroneous efforts by a number of Catholic press outlets. One is by From Rome and the other from One Peter Five. In my post two weeks ago I also presented some Catholic truth on the matter. I think all this supports From Rome's premise, that it is a heresy to claim that capital punishment is wrong.
That makes the pope's words, released this morning by Vatican news outlets, to be quite troubling.
He stated today that the death penalty is "inadmissible, however serious the crime". Ladies and gentlemen, that is not Catholic doctrine - and thus not the teaching of Jesus Christ. Will this pope declare that his predecessors and many Doctors of the Church to be in error? He rails against "punishing one murder with another". His statement does not do justice to the definition of "murder" according to Catholic moral theology, as I explained in my March 6th post.
No pope can contradict the perennial teaching of Holy Mother Church - but that is precisely what Pope Francis did this morning! St Thomas Aquinas defines heresy as "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith in Christ, corrupt its dogmas."
So does this blanket condemnation of capital punishment constitute heresy?