In Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II betrayed his personal distaste for capital punishment, but he respected Sacred Tradition enough to acknowledge that it trumped his personal proclivities. In other words, he understood that as the Successor of Peter, his role was to safeguard and promulgate the Deposit of Faith in its entirety.
Today we heard from several sources that Pope Francis thinks the catechism should be updated to reject the death penalty. See here and here.
Ponder these considerations:
- The pope is the guardian of Church teaching, not its judge. He cannot alter it to his personal liking.
- The Teaching of the Church is immutable for it stems from God's word, which is as immutable as He is. To pretend that God's word can change is to insinuate that God is subject to change. That is impossible. Such notions strike at the very nature of God Himself - a supreme blasphemy.
- "Heresy" is defined as by St Thomas Aquinas as being "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas". The morality of capital punishment has been promulgated by the Church for hundreds of years. It will not change. The attempt to change it is inherently heretical.
If God's teaching can be held to be subject to change in this matter of capital punishment, then all topics of doctrine and morality can be seen as subject to change. I believe this is the main goal of this latest papal move. This proposed change to declare capital punishment to be anathema is a trial balloon. If this "balloon" appears to be flying free, we'll see the heresies ensconced in Amoralis Lamentia being promulgated without nuance or apology within our Churches.
Thus far Pope Francis has opposed capital punishment as a matter of public opinion. For canon lawyers and moral theologians out there, if the pope does attempt to alter the catechism, will that constitute an act of material and formal heresy that might render his papacy invalid? I don't know, but it seems to me to be a reasonable question.