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Pope Francis has revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to read, “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” This statement has been understood by many, both inside and outside the Church, to teach that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral and thus is always illicit, even in principle.

Though no Catholic is obliged to support the use of the death penalty in practice (and not all of the undersigned do support its use), to teach that capital punishment is always and intrinsically evil would contradict Scripture. That the death penalty can be a legitimate means of securing retributive justice is affirmed in Genesis 9:6 and many other biblical texts, and the Church holds that Scripture cannot teach moral error. The legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is also the consistent teaching of the magisterium for two millennia. To contradict Scripture and tradition on this point would cast doubt on the credibility of the magisterium in general.

Concerned by this gravely scandalous situation, we wish to exercise the right affirmed by the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which at Canon 212 states:

The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

We are guided also by the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who states:

If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” (Summa Theologiae, Part II-II, Question 33, Article 4, ad 2)

Hence we, the undersigned, issue the following appeal:

To their Most Reverend Eminences, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church,

Since it is a truth contained in the Word of God, and taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Catholic Church, that criminals may lawfully be put to death by the civil power when this is necessary to preserve just order in civil society, and since the present Roman pontiff has now more than once publicly manifested his refusal to teach this doctrine, and 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, we call upon Your Eminences to advise His Holiness 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.

Sincerely,

Hadley Arkes
Edward N. Ney Professor in American Institutions Emeritus
Amherst College

Joseph Bessette
Alice Tweed Tuohy Professor of Government and Ethics
Claremont McKenna College

Patrick Brennan
John F. Scarpa Chair in Catholic Legal Studies
Villanova University

J. Budziszewski
Professor of Government and Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin

Isobel Camp
Professor of Philosophy
Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas

Richard Cipolla
Priest
Diocese of Bridgeport

Eric Claeys
Professor of Law
Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University

Travis Cook
Associate Professor of Government
Belmont Abbey College

S. A. Cortright
Professor of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s College

Cyrille Dounot
Professor of Legal History
Université Clermont Auvergne

Patrick Downey
Professor of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s College

Eduardo Echeverria
Professor of Philosophy and Theology
Sacred Heart Major Seminary

Edward Feser
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Pasadena City College

Alan Fimister
Assistant Professor of Theology
St. John Vianney Theological Seminary

Luca Gili
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Université du Québec à Montréal

Brian Harrison
Scholar in Residence
Oblates of Wisdom Study Center

L. Joseph Hebert
Professor of Political Science
St. Ambrose University

Rafael Hüntelmann
Lecturer in Philosophy
International Seminary of St. Peter

John Hunwicke
Priest
Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham

Robert C. Koons
Professor of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin

Peter Koritansky
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Prince Edward Island

Peter Kwasniewski
Independent Scholar
Wausau, Wisconsin

John Lamont
Author
Divine Faith

Roberto de Mattei
Author
The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story

Robert T. Miller
Professor of Law
University of Iowa

Gerald Murray
Priest
Archdiocese of New York

Lukas Novak
Lecturer in Philosophy
University of South Bohemia

Thomas Osborne
Professor of Philosophy
University of St. Thomas

Michael Pakaluk
Professor of Ethics
Catholic University of America

Claudio Pierantoni
Professor of Medieval Philosophy
University of Chile

Thomas Pink
Professor of Philosophy
King’s College London

Andrew Pinsent
Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre
University of Oxford

Alyssa Pitstick
Independent Scholar
Spokane, Washington

Donald S. Prudlo
Professor of Ancient and Medieval History
Jacksonville State University

Anselm Ramelow
Chair of the Department of Philosophy
Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

George W. Rutler
Priest
Archdiocese of New York

Matthew Schmitz
Senior Editor
First Things

Josef Seifert
Founding Rector
International Academy of Philosophy

Joseph Shaw
Fellow of St Benet’s Hall
University of Oxford

Anna Silvas
Adjunct Senior Research Fellow
University of New England

Michael Sirilla
Professor of Dogmatic and Systematic Theology
Franciscan University of Steubenville

Joseph G. Trabbic
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Ave Maria University

Giovanni Turco
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Udine

Michael Uhlmann
Professor of Government
Claremont Graduate University

John Zuhlsdorf
Priest
Diocese of Velletri-Segni

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