Catholic Scholars Call on Cardinals to Correct Pope Francis on Death Penalty

Pope Francis (C) leaves the Basilica of SantAnselmo in a procession to the Basilica of Santa Sabina before Ash Wednesday mass which opens Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter, on February 14, 2018 in Rome. / AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE …

A group of 75 Catholic scholars have written an open letter to the cardinals of the Church asking them to intervene to put an end to the “scandal” of Pope Francis’ recent teaching against the death penalty.

On August 2, the Vatican press office announced that Pope Francis had amended the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding capital punishment, declaring it “inadmissible” and saying the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

In their letter published on August 15 in the journal First Things, the scholars—who include professors of philosophy, theology, law, and history from Catholic institutions around the world—state that God’s Word and the universal magisterium of the Catholic Church have always taught that “criminals may lawfully be put to death by the civil power when this is necessary to preserve just order in civil society.”

To teach that capital punishment is always and intrinsically evil would contradict Scripture, the scholars assert, since “Genesis 9:6 and many other biblical texts” affirm that the death penalty can be a legitimate means of securing retributive justice. The legitimacy of capital punishment “is also the consistent teaching of the magisterium for two millennia,” they add.

The present Roman pontiff has “more than once publicly manifested his refusal to teach this doctrine,” the authors note, and he has rather “brought great confusion upon the Church by seeming to contradict it, and by inserting into the Catechism of the Catholic Church a paragraph which will cause and is already causing many people, both believers and non-believers, to suppose that the Church considers, contrary to the Word of God, that capital punishment is intrinsically evil.”

The scholars then call upon the cardinals in their role as counselors to the pope to advise him “that it is his duty to put an end to this scandal, to withdraw this paragraph from the Catechism, and to teach the word of God unadulterated; and we state our conviction that this is a duty seriously binding upon yourselves, before God and before the Church.”

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