Archive for September, 2018

The Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D., a Novus Ordo priest of the Society of the Oblates of Wisdom, is a retired Associate Professor of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, P.R. He’s an author of several books and contributor to magazines such as the Latin Mass Magazine and This Rock of Catholic Answers.

On Sept. 15, I received an open email from a (sedevacantist) friend on the death penalty change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The email was sent to many influential members of the Vatican 2 sect such as: Brian Harrison, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, Karl Keating; Jimmy Akin, Tim Staples, E. Michael Jones, Mark Brumley, Dave Armstrong, Robert Sungenis; Professor Mike Sirilla, MItchell Pacwa, Al Kresta, and members of the Diocese of Lexington, KY such as Bishop Stowe and several of his priests.

The (sede) friend erroneously called the catechism change the universal and ordinary magisterium bound to the assent of faith by the church.

Rev. Brian Harrison responded the next day with:

This is theologically untenable, Mr. [name withheld].  Putting a doctrinal assertion into the Catechism does not upgrade it to the status of “universal ordinary magisterium” that requires from all Catholics “the intellectual assent of faith”. (That’s something due only to infallible teachings.)

According to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, chief architect of the CCC, statements in the Catechism have no more or less doctrinal authority than they had previously:  in this case, that’s the authority  of one single papal speech (addressed to a limited audience, not the universal Church) in October 2017.  Papal speeches, as such, have quite low magisterial authority, and none at all if they contradict 2,000 years of previous teaching from the ordinary and universal magisterium.  In the event of such contradiction, this indisputably non-infallible papal assertion about capital punishment should be considered a papal error, not as authentic magisterium requiring the “religious assent of mind and will” of Catholics.  “Non-infallble” means by definition that it’s not guaranteed to be true. Therefore, logically, it could be false.

Scroll down to see the relevant excerpt from my recent LifeSiteNews posting on this subject. The full text can be accessed at:

https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/can-pope-francis-death-penalty-teaching-be-harmonized -with-scripture-and-tr. (It was republished in The Wanderer, August 30, 2018, p. 7B.)

Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S.

Not a few commentators have opined that adding a citation from Pope Francis’ 2017 speech to the Catechism gives the cited statement greater magisterial weight than it had previously. But according to the original chief architect of the CCC, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, this is not the case. In his little book Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), Ratzinger, who was then Prefect of the CDF, considered the question of the CCC’s doctrinal authority and pointed out that, as an essentially pastoral document � a compendium of already-existing Catholic doctrine  �  it does not have  the inherent authority to hand down new magisterial judgments: �The individual doctrines which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess� (p. 26).

In that case, the present contentious amendment to the Catechism still has no more authority than that of the 2017 papal allocution which it cites as its one and only magisterial source. And allocutions are not high up in the �pecking order� of papal interventions; they fall well below the level of Encyclical Letters and Apostolic Exhortations, Epistles and Constitutions in which the popes express their major doctrinal judgments. If, as seems very likely, Pope Francis means to teach in the new version of CCC #2267 that capital punishment is �in itself contrary to the Gospel,� then with all due respect, Catholics cannot be expected to give their assent to a teaching so flagrantly contrary to the clear teaching of Sacred Scripture as interpreted  by all previous popes and their approved catechisms.

On the 18th, I responded to Harrison and the whole group with the following:

Dear Rev. Harrison,

You are right, of course, that the catechism is not universal ordinary magisterium. However, that doesn’t mean a Catholic catechism can provide, “a teaching so flagrantly contrary to the clear teaching of Sacred Scripture as interpreted  by all previous popes and their approved catechisms” because such a teaching would be heretical!

The Catholic Church can’t promulgate heresy in any form, whether by law, letter, or catechism. If it could it would be no different from any other Protestant religion. A religion that promulgates heresy is a false religion. Period!<

Even St. Robert Bellarmine taught in De Laicis that the unlawfulness of capital punishment was a “chief heretical belief” of the Anabaptists.

That being said, the new catechism teaching implies:

  1. The Church in the past was wrong for thinking the dignity of the person is lost for serious crimes.
  2. The Church was wrong for thinking it was an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes.
  3. The Church was ignorant of the fact that the dignity is still present after serious crimes.
  4. The Church immorally attacked the inviolability and dignity of the person when such an attack is inadmissible because of the inviolability and dignity of the person.

I’ve read the numerous so-called experts explain that Francis was not saying the death penalty is intrinsically evil. However, the footnote points to Francis’ address in 2017 where he stated that the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel” and “is an inhuman measure.” That means the death penalty is intrinsically evil according to “Pope” Francis, not to mention, the change blasphemes the Catholic Church by implication.

That Catholic Church can’t promulgate what Francis teaches. It’s that simple!

Steven Speray

Less than an hour later, Harrison replied:

The sedevacantist Mr. Speray says, “The Catholic Church can’t promulgate heresy in any form, whether by law, letter, or catechism”.

In other words, he is saying all papal letters and papally approved catechisms are infallible in the sense of enjoying an absolute guarantee of freedom from heresy.

That is not, and never has been, Catholic teaching. There is (at least, thus far in church history and the development of doctrine up till now) no absolute doctrinal guarantee that any individual statement of the Church’s teaching office other than an ex cathedra definition of a pope, or a similar definition of an ecumenical council, will not be heretical.

This is my last contribution to this exchange.

Fr. Harrison

An hour and a half later, I submitted my final reply:

You say the Catholic Church can be heretical.

Thank you for proving that you’re not Catholic, Mr. Harrison, because that is a heresy!

I did not imply that papal letters and catechisms are infallible. When infallibility is not applied, that doesn’t mean such Church teachings can be contrary to dogmas proposed by the same Church. That would make the Catholic Church contradictory. People who teach heresy are heretics and religions that teach heresy are heretical and false religions.

You won’t find the Catholic Church ever teaching heresy!

To address your last paragraph, the Catholic Church has numerous teachings on the issue. Take a look at Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople. He just preached heresy and Pope St. Celestine I declared that Nestorius defected from the faith and Pope Pius VI called him an imposter. Yet, you claim the Pope and the Catholic Church could do what Nestorius did for he just preached where infallibility is absent.

Now I know why you’re in your heretical Vatican 2 religion where heresy abounds and blasphemy is commonplace from your pope downward.

Steven Speray

The most astounding aspect of this exchange is the fact that a theologian doesn’t understand infallibility and how and why it works. There’s this false understanding held by so many people, including some sedevacantists, that when infalliblity is absent, the pope and Catholic Church can promulgate heresy.

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