EWTN Catholic Q&A
Re: Capital Punishment
Question from ann on 08-03-2018:

How can any Pope change the Catechism if he wishes? I thought the Catechism was a summary of Church doctrine and doctrine can't be changed. So how can the Pope change the Catechism?

Plus the Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals so would this not be a moral teaching? So how can we disagree?

This whole thing doesn't make sense. Can you explain? Thanks and God Bless.

Answer by Judie Brown on 08-08-2018:

According to experts, it is the prerogative of the Pope to change the Catechism; so says Father Zed among others. he also points out the difference in what Francis said and what doctrine teaches:

"Note well that word: “inadmissible”. The Italian says: “inammissibile”. The French says: “une mesure inhumaine”. The German says: “unzulässig”. The rest of the languages are along this line. French is not. We don’t know what the official text is. However, we can be pretty sure that it won’t go farther than “inadmissible”.

It does not and will not say in Latin that the death penalty is “intrinsically evil”.

Back in October 2017, Francis talked about changing the Catechism. At that time he said that the death penalty is “per se contrary to the Gospel” and it was “dictated by a mentality more legalistic than Christian.” Hence, the death penalty is “inadmissible.”

How do we square that with innumerable sources which affirm that the Church has always taught, from Apostles times through the Pontificate of John Paul II in Evangelium vitae, that the death penalty – though highly cautiously – admissible?

Christ Himself upholds Pilate’s authority to kill Him (John 19:11). St. Augustine, writing to the prefect of Africa Macedonius, begged for clemency for a man condemned to death, but he upheld the rights of the state (epp. 152-155). St. Thomas Aquinas, though his teaching is not coterminous with the Church’s, taught in the Summa Theologiae and in the Summa Contra Gentiles in support of the death penalty. Thomas’s arguments are subtle and in no way “dictated by a mentality more legalistic than Christian.” Neither did John Paul’s. Numerous examples are found between Christ and modern pontificates."

So, while the pope fiddled with words, he has not fundamentally changed doctrine because if he did he would have to change the words of Christ Himself.