The Pope, Capital Punishment and Contraception

Robert Greving’s recent article in Crisis (July 28th, 2022) requires some clarification. Distinctions are essential, and in these confusing times, where even the elect may be led astray, we must, at all costs, keep our wits about us, and avoid at all costs being scandalized out of the Church!

Mr. Greving argues the Pope has effectively changed the traditional teaching of the Church, now permitting those in a state of grave sin – particularly those in ‘irregular unions’ and having conjugal relations outside of marriage – to receive Holy Communion. He brushes off those who retort that, behind the verbiage, traditional teaching still stands, comparing the necessary mental gymnastics to mythical monks discussing angels on heads of pins.

But in this Magisterium, such mental exercises are the order of the day. It should not be so – theology’s hallmarks are clarity and precision, not ambiguity and obfuscation. Whatever his intent, the Pope did not change the teaching, as much as he may have liked to.  You may go through chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia with a fine-tooth comb – and I have – and there is nothing there explicitly heretical or contrary to Church doctrine, even if some of the tendentious and puzzling statements may be propaedeutic to such, even interpreted so.

The fact that the Pope gave his verbal, and rather informal, approbation to the erroneous ‘interpretation’ of the Argentinian bishops is not an act of his definitive Magisterium.

I’m not saying this isn’t deeply problematical – it is, and a scandal to many. But for those with ears to hear, the traditional teaching and practice of the Church still stands.

The same goes for the death penalty. We should keep in mind that the nature of punishment – especially by the state – is a matter of prudence and practical application. The term ‘inadmissible’ is more legal than moral, and, as such, may be modified. Again, it is still doctrine that under the principle of self-defence, lethal harm may be inflicted upon an aggressor, with due regard for proportion.

Again, behind the convoluted words (and, I agree, that is a problem with this Magisterium), the Pope has simply judged that the death penalty, as a retributive penalty, is ‘inadmissible’ as things now stand. That paragraph may be clarified in the future. For now, I have some sympathy with not putting the death penalty into the totalitarian toolbox of our current raft of leaders. What might Trudeau, Biden or Macron do with such?

Mr. Greving also frets about the possible change in the teaching on contraception. What the Pope plans to do here is anyone’s guess. Will he use his pro forma ambiguous and obfuscatory language, as in the previous two examples, or go full bore, and try to change the teaching?

We say ‘try’, for, as was pointed out in a recent post, the prohibition on contraception is infallible and irreformable, going back to the very earliest days of the Church: As Humanae Vitae put it, the marital act, by its very nature, in each and every use, must signify both its ‘procreative and unitive’ dimensions. To deliberately impede either of the ends or purposes of sex is objectively disordered.

Pope Francis has said that theology cannot begin with a ‘no’. Hmm. How about, Thou shalt have no other gods before me? Some things are just prohibited, period. And the Church has always taught that there is no, nay, never any justification for intrinsic evil, which is what contraception is, and always will be. I plan to have some further thoughts on this in a podcast, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I hope the rumours are false, and that the trial balloon book of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which presents arguments that attempt to justify contraception and IVF, bursts in mid-air. I even hope against hope that the Pope further enforces and clarifies the perennial teaching on life, sex and marriage. One never can quite predict what the Holy Spirit might do.

If not, well, it has happened in history that God has intervened – Deus ex machina! – in a dramatic way before a Pope could explicitly teach heresy, either in the doctrinal or moral spheres. Asteroids, metaphorical and otherwise, and under the Almighty’s guiding hand. Yes, the storm is rough, and waves are lapping into the barque of Peter. But recall Christ’s admonition to His Apostles. As Pope Saint John XXIII quipped, it’s His Church, and he will take care of it, or should I say, her.

Persevere, et semper fidelis. +