PopeWatch: Ed Feser

Ed Feser, who has recently written a book on the traditional Catholic teaching on the death penalty, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed:  A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, looks at the current attempt by Pope Francis to reverse Church teaching:


“The Church teaches that scripture is divinely inspired, that it cannot teach error where matters of faith and morals are concerned, and that it must always be interpreted in the way the Church traditionally has understood it. But many passages of scripture clearly teach that capital punishment is legitimate, and have always been interpreted by the Church as teaching this,” he said. 

Both the Old and New Testaments indicate that the death penalty can be legitimate. For instance, Genesis 9:6 states: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” Or again, St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans teaches that the state “does not bear the sword in vain (but) is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Feser said previous popes have “consistently” reaffirmed the legitimacy of capital punishment and have “insisted that accepting its legitimacy is a requirement of Catholic orthodoxy.”

One such pope would be Pius XII, who in 1955 defended the authority of the State to punish crimes, even with the death penalty. He argued that capital punishment is morally defensible in every age and culture because “the coercive power of legitimate human authority” is based on “the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine.”  

“Even Pope St. John Paul II taught that capital punishment is not always and absolutely wrong,” said Feser. 

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his classic defense of capital punishment in the Summa Theologica, argued that “if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good.” 

The Catholic professor said the Church also has “always taught that popes are obligated to preserve traditional teaching and never to contradict it.” 

“When Pope Francis says that capital punishment is ‘in itself contrary to the Gospel,’ and ‘inadmissible … no matter how serious the crime,’ he seems to be contradicting traditional teaching,” he said.

“If that is what he is doing, then he is flirting with doctrinal error, which is possible when a pope is not speaking ex cathedra, even though it is extremely rare. There are only a handful of cases in Church history of popes who are possibly guilty of this, the best known cases being those of Pope Honorius and Pope John XXII,” he added.

Feser said that if Pope Francis is reversing past teaching on capital punishment, then he is “implicitly saying that every previous pope and scripture itself were wrong.”

“This would completely undermine the authority of the Church, and of Pope Francis himself. For if the Church could be that wrong for that long about something that serious, why trust anything else she says? And if all previous popes have been so badly mistaken, why should we think Pope Francis is right?” he said. 

Go here to read the rest.  This completely feckless Pope has little but contempt for traditional Catholic teaching in many areas.  His clear goal is to take the Church down the same path that most Protestant main line churches have trod, and replace the Christian faith with codified fashionable Leftism.  That such a transformation destroys the essence of Christianity, and puts the denominations that embrace it on the path of swift extinction, seems not to bother our Pope one whit.

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  1. Well, it fits, doesn’t it? Francis is all about Mercy, hardly about Doctrine and Truth. That unfortunately is ultimately merciless.

  2. Society of Judas is fitting for the Holy Father, so increased prayers is a must.

    For some insane reason we have him.

    Now we must ask and beg God to remedy this situation. Prayers are our Hope. Trusting in God is key. Convert our Protestant Pope!

  3. Let’s not get into the rights and wrongs of capital punishment. It is trite, but this is an issue on which reasonable minds can disagree, as I do with my bruin friend on this issue. No, what I am concerned about is a flat reversal of Church teaching on this issue, and that is what the Pope is attempting to pull off.

  4. I agree completely, Donald. I was just posting links for the reader to see an alternate point of view. I got mixed feelings on this whole thing. But you are 100% correct. Jorge Bergoglio is upending all Church teaching out of misbegotten sentimentality. Perhaps I may end of disagreeing with our Ursine friend. But at least he has logic and reason and facts to support what he thinks, not useless worthless sentimentality that is anything but merciful.

  5. Don raises the key point of the issue. If one traditional teaching can be turned around 180 degrees, they all can…and probably most will be attempted.

  6. Injustice to the victim of homicide in the first degree is not mercy. Inflicting injustice on all humanity is not mercy.The murderer will agree from his place in hell.

  7. Feser’s collection of authoritative citations from Scripture and Tradition echo earlier work done by Thomas Williams, LC, and in my view demonstrate beyond reasonable dispute that the moral licitness of capital punishment is part of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, and cannot be denied without slipping into error, such as the pacifism of Pope Francis, condemned by the Church centuries ago when the Waldenses claimed that the state had no authority to shed blood.
    Now in what circumstances, and for what crimes the state should resort to this penalty is all subject to reasonable debate and governed by the virtue of Prudence. But to claim that capital punishment is per se contrary to the moral law is at best proximate to heresy.
    Up until now, the post-Vatican II popes have been careful to couch their opposition to the death penalty in conditional terms; Papa Frank has really thrown down the gauntlet.

  8. Let’s not get into the rights and wrongs of capital punishment.

    There’s a distinction between ‘capital punishment’ and ‘capital punishment as administered by the court system to be found in locus x, y, or z’. Capital punishment may be ‘right’ in an abstract sense but rendered unworkable by nonsense case law or inadvisable by the corrupted quality of the legal system in select states.

  9. Up until now, the post-Vatican II popes have been careful to couch their opposition to the death penalty in conditional terms; Papa Frank has really thrown down the gauntlet.

    Let’s see if our bishops can manage to be non-disappointing.

  10. How does he propose to enforce this, excommunication (bell, book and candle)? I mean: the fakers refuse to teach that it’s a sin to vote for 53,000,000 abortions.

    I imagine Papa Foxtrot disapproves me coveting that Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver.

  11. That such a transformation destroys the essence of Christianity, and puts the denominations that embrace it on the path of swift extinction, seems not to bother our Pope one whit.

    Perhaps he intends it as a feature, not a bug?

  12. There’s another blogpost on this subject at William (Matt) Briggs, “Statistician to the Stars”. See
    It also cites Feser’s book. It does not address, as the OIP (Don) does, the issue of PFI subverting Catholic Teaching, but the justice (theological and moral) of capital punishment.

  13. As Rhett Butler got the Hayes Commission to go along with, since it was such a great line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Meaning, I agree that reasonable persons may disagree, and most emphatically, do not disagree that the Old Testament and the Catholic Church have both approved and pursued it with vigor in the centuries of their greatest influence with great vigor. I so stipulate.

    Do I have an opinion? Yeah. That’s clear from my writing. But when I write, I’m more sharing a slice of the topic that few have the experience to. My experience brought me down firmly on the “dignity of man / Imago Dei” side of the equation. If that’s interesting to anyone, fine, as with any topic I pick. I call ’em like I see ’em, which has apparently come as a shock to some readers sending mail made out of cut-out magazine letters.

    The fact is, everybody dies. DP you’re dead. LWOP you’re dead. Clients feared DP more than LWOP. (Always a harder argument to get the defendant to accept LWOP than prosecutor to offer it. Always. Freaking Patrick Henry’s every last one of ’em.)

    Pope Francis (a) cannot logically be for LWOP AND DP at the same time; (b) does not address CCC (St. Pope JPII) concession to third-world countries without developed penal systems; and (c) should pick a different vehicle than taking his Infallible Blue Pencil and start editing the CCC. In other words (shockers!) I agree 100% with the CCC and have 3 specific reservations about Pope Francis’ decree, although I am abolitionist where the West is concerned.

    When I sent someone as a prosecutor to death row, I felt great. When I saved someone from death row, I felt great. I think I learned something. I know (and confess) I got a rush from playing with all of somebody else’s chips. Any good trial lawyer is a natural competitor. But I am not all that interested in it is a theoretical topic, being a very practical lawyer who did his bit to help to destroy the will to live of the dp in his state. The reality is, I doubt many in the know would disagree that love it or hate it, you’re gonna need to learn Arabic or Farsi for it to be a part of your life, because it is a dinosaur in the West.

    Do I have one curiosity? Yes. Why of all topics, such a tiny relic holds such a huge psychological hold over so many. I’m not trying to be provocative. It is a legitimate question I have. Do people just not understand what a tiny % of murderers will ever face it in the U.S.? Or is it seen as a kind of last-ditch defense, a symbol of a certain understanding of justice without which the world lacks moral balance?

  14. Important Correction: LWOP was always feared more than the DP. Clients’ default position was, “Man, just get it over with,” Bear had to be very persuasive. Should he have bothered? Saving the life was the ethos in the dp defense community. Plus, Bear was a client control freak for good reason, and no doubt that bled over.

  15. “The death penalty is an inhumane measure that humiliates, in any way it is pursued, human dignity,” said Pope Francis.
    But can’t the same be argued about other punishments? Caging someone up for the rest of their life dignifies them? I wouldn’t want to be responsible for allowing a criminal to be released at some point in the future and have them commit a new violent crime-this is just another way of violating human dignity.

  16. LWOP was always feared more than the DP. Clients’ default position was, “Man, just get it over with,”

    As CS Lewis pointed out, the first question should always be: is it just?

    As the defendants remind us, there might be fates worse than death. Until that question is settled, the DP argument is just so much shouting past each other.

  17. Observations:
    —Pope Francis poses himself as more holy than God.
    —The death penalty is small potatoes compared with abortion and any discussion about it ends to diminish the focus and severity of the latter, i.e., seamless garment argument.

  18. From the linked article, he is also against maximum security prisons:

    “He said maximum security prisons can be a form of torture, since their ‘principal characteristic is none other than external isolation,’ which can lead to ‘psychic and physical sufferings such as paranoia, anxiety, depression and weight loss and significantly increase the chance of suicide.'”

  19. “paranoia, anxiety, depression and weight loss and significantly increase the chance of suicide.’

    All of which is part and parcel of imprisonment. I must repress the desire to see the Pope sharing his apartment with a dangerous criminal, who, based on the Pope’s statements, has been placed released on house arrest at the Vatican under the custody of the Pope!

  20. His remarks on penology persuade me that he is a fundamentally silly and self-centered individual.

    Camille Paglia a while back offered an account of having some car trouble on the freeway. She noted that every individual involved in rescuing her and getting her back on the road was male, a social reality the purveyors of contemporary feminism are dead to. A comfortable majority of the people making your world livable – the HVAC tech, the plumber, the mechanic, the police officer, the firefighter, the deliveryman are drawn almost entirely from social segments Dr. Paglia’s targets hardly notice much less appreciate.

    That’s Francis. All sorts of people are making his world livable, and here he is striking attitudes and rebuking them. Francis hasn’t many excuses. He’s had 81 years to figure it out, but evidently residing in the Mad Max world of Argentina as it was in 1975 did not get the message to him.

  21. From the AP: “A Texas inmate convicted of murdering a prison guard in 1999 was executed by lethal injection Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court denied last-minute appeals from his lawyers.
    Robert Pruett had been in prison since he was a teenager, after being convicted as an accomplice to a murder committed by his father.”
    Double jeopardy of life suffered by the prison guard ended with his murder.”
    “The innocent suffer when the guilty are not punished.” Self-defense is an unalienable human right.

  22. Of course, the neo-Cath alternative to the death penalty, and which they assert renders it unnecessary, is precisely LWOP. But they haven’t even finished doing away with capital punishment before declaiming LWOP “contrary to human dignity and mercy” or some such. The ACLU and anti-DP crowd in the secular arena are masters of this incrementalism. They’d have us be like Europe, where a premeditated murderer can be back on the streets in 10 years.

  23. The ACLU and anti-DP crowd in the secular arena are masters of this incrementalism.

    When George Bush hung the ACLU rubber chicken around Michael Dukakis’ neck, the Republican county chairman offered a response to the upset among partisan Democrats this caused by penning an op-ed delineating the content of some of the ACLU’s position papers at that time. Among their stated views was that imprisonment should be limited to those with murder convictions. Also, convicts should be transported to the polls to vote. The ACLU, cretins like Jerome Miller, and, in an attenuated way, Dukakis himself, had a certain mentality. Francis has that same mentality. You unpack it and what you see is really ugly.

  24. Hang on. I am FOR LWOP. It is the ONLY way you can sensibly advance the abolition of the death penalty. I know that Pope Francis is against both, which is a non-starter. Otherwise, you are releasing convicted killers into the community. His thinking is unserious on the topic, and he seems to be saying whatever makes him look the most merciful, no matter how inconsistent.

    A maximimum security prison is a dangerous workplace. I don’t know that being a guard is statistically more dangerous than a police officer or a tuna fisherman. I will say that protecting guards and fellow inmates is an excellent argument for executing all violent criminals. I would have to do research on the % of convicted murderers who kill guards, and % of other cons who kill guards and the overall likelihood of death for guards. I saw one near miss during my career, and my neck of the woods included Menard max, Tamms ultra-max, then Shawnee, Ina, and the Fed prison in Marion, which replaced Alcatraz. Mostly inmates threw a lot of feces on guards. Saw a lot of that out of Tamms until the judge got tired of traipsing out there and for once the defense was the fair haired child until everybody got the message that they needed to handle that problem outside the crim justice system

  25. Last I checked, the number of prison and jail guards killed by inmates in a typical year is in the single digits, and not all of them are killed by inmates there on murder charges. I haven’t research the number of inmates. The New York State Statistical Yearbook has some data on inmate mortality, but I’m not sure it’s broken down by cause.

    A discussion of guard safety (if not inmate safety) is a talking point, not a reason. The reason has to be that that’s the appropriate penalty. The complaint re errors and corruption in police and prosecutor’s offices does not quite cut it because the apposite response is to ask why you do not repair your bloody court system and police departments. (Or is it your contention that all police departments and court systems are this bad).

    The number of bloc homicides you have in a typical year runs to 100-odd If you manage to clear 60% of these cases, you have 60 defendants who’ve provably gone into a convenience store and wasted the clerk and the clientele (or something similar). Law enforcement coast-to-coast identifies a number of serial killers each year, typically a half-dozen or so.

  26. High double-digits for security guards killed on the job. (obviously the BLS can’t catch ones murdered because they’re prison guards away from home)
    More relevantly, it’s over 9 in 100k.

    Homicide rate behind bars for prisoners is 3 per 100k.

    General homicide rate is about 4 per 100k.

    This of course doesn’t capture the beaten half to death type issues.

  27. A discussion of guard safety (if not inmate safety) is a talking point, not a reason. The reason has to be that that’s the appropriate penalty.

    Guard safety comes up because the justification for life in prison, rather than the death penalty, is because of the theory that imprisonment is sufficient to protect society from the attacker– it’s a matter of expressing mercy.

    It is just for me to kill someone who is trying to kill me– but my goal needs to be stopping them, and if I can do it short of death, that’s relevant. If stopping short of death makes them only slightly less dangerous, it’s a bad idea and might even be factually unjust because it puts innocents at risk.

  28. Got curious because most of the articles that popped up about Pruitt were oddly lacking in details about why he was sentenced if his father did a stabbing, or even what year he was arrested, sentenced, etc.


    Got in a fight with a neighbor, got his father and brother to help beat him up, kicked him while down and then held the guy while his father stabbed him to death.

    That is a far cry from “was on the scene” when his father committed a homicide, as a couple of the higher ranked articles popped up.

  29. The “new” teaching is that we can effectively protect society by (presumably, it’s never actually stated) LWOP or max security or some other penal development. Problem is, we demonstrably *can’t* keep violent criminals from committing acts of violence against prison staff, and we can’t keep them from escaping (ironically, Pope Frank recently invited inmates to lunch, who promptly escaped. https://www.metro.us/news/pope-francis-invites-lunch-prisoners-escape-bologna).
    Now if Pope Frank is right and we can’t even have max security or LWOP, society is even less protected than it would be with those tools.
    The whole exercise of trying to upend the Church’s magisterial teaching on capital punishment is absurd. Experience, common sense, and hard data tell us that there is a class of offenders who will never cease violent behavior. These are the ones that ought to be subject to capital punishment even under the diluted post Vat II teaching (although justice for the crime of murder rightly would see all deliberate killers executed).

  30. Problem is, we demonstrably *can’t* keep violent criminals from committing acts of violence against prison staff, a

    There’s an irriducible quantum of risk in human action generally. Building a bridge incorporates a risk that a construction worker will be killed in the course of completing it. There are trade-offs involved. Again,the risk to prison guards from violent men who have nothing to lose is real. In practice, it is very small, and cannot carry the case for capital sentences. It’s not worth bringing up except in the footnotes.

  31. I always knew this would happen. The Catholic conservative traditionalists always proclaimed a perfect loyalty to the Pope, who they claimed was nothing less than God’s representative on Earth. We were continually lectured that we MUST do the same, or face an eternity in hell ect.

    That is, until we got a Pope who isn’t a fully conservative traditionalist. And then the insults start to roll in the Pope’s direction.

  32. “And then the insults start to roll in the Pope’s direction.”

    It is never insulting to point out when a Pope has fallen into error. That is a service both to the Pope and the Church. You understand Catholic Conservatives as poorly as you do the doctrines of the Church.

  33. Catholics (“traditionalist” is saying the same thing) believe in a given Deposit, and when it is supported and defended, we applaud. When it’s not, we object.
    Art Deco– I disagree that the risk to prison personnel (and to fellow inmates) is so insignificant as to not be relevant to the position that the DP should not be used because we have some (never specified) “means” to render offenders harmless. Burden is on the proponents of the novel teaching to demonstrate that such means exist and are effectual.

  34. “It is never insulting to point out when a Pope has fallen into error. ”

    Ah, I see, you know more than the Pope, which only recently the traditionalists were proclaiming to be God’s voice on Earth. Not any more I guess, now you are God’s voice on Earth. I’m gonna write this down so I can keep track.

  35. “Ah, I see, you know more than the Pope,”

    On some subjects certainly, just as I assume that the Pope’s knowledge of Argentinian soccer is far superior to mine. Catholics have never regarded the Pope as God’s Voice on Earth. You completely misunderstand the office of the Pope.

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