Pope Francis is reversing the teachings of the Catholic Church in saying that capital punishment is inadmissible.
One of the significant differences between Catholics and Protestants is the approach to scripture and tradition. Tradition is weighted more heavily in Catholic than Protestant theology. Tradition is significant to dogma and interpreting the Bible.
However this reversal of Catholic teaching by Pope Francis is not in line with scripture OR tradition.
There have been 266 Popes, and none of them ever publicly opposed capital punishment, categorically. Pope Francis’ interpretation runs counter to almost 2,000 years of Catholic teaching.
But more importantly, it runs contrary to the Bible.
Pope Francis says that the death penalty attacks the inherent dignity of all persons.
It attacks the inherent dignity of persons?! The Bible permits it!
There can be disagreement about whether or not the practice should be permitted outside of an Old Testament context (I believe that it is permitted), but given the numerable texts which allow for capital punishment in the Bible, it clearly is not seen as being something that is universally impermissible. And people in older times had just as much dignity as we do today.
I’m never a fan of the argument against the death penalty that “it undermines their dignity.”
It’s just as logical to order that the death penalty affirms the dignity of the victim.
For generations, faithful Catholics would have been in step with the teachings of the Catholic Church to favor the death penalty, at least in certain situations. But now, the head of their church has decreed something new.
A few weeks ago, one view was fine. And now, that same view contradicts the Church.
This could have ramifications on republican Catholics in congress, among state legislatures, and on the courts. Undoubtedly, opponents of capital punishment will utilize this new teaching as a club to bash proponents of capital punishment with.
Even before the Law was given to Moses, the Bible warranted capital punishment for murder: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6).
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.