Friday, August 16, 2019

Erasing Catholic teaching

The teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (here after CCC) has undergone substantive since its initial publication. I wonder how many Catholics compare different editions to register the changes. In addition, there's a distinction between print editions and electronic revisions. Nowadays the CCC can be revised or updated without formally issuing or announcing a third edition, fourth edition, &c.. 

The official edition is at the Vatican website. While it's convenient to be able to read the CCC online, a downside of the electronic version is that whenever it's revised, that erases the prior history of the CCC's teaching. 

It's also becoming harder to check the online version against print editions because libraries are eliminating print books. They take up space and fewer borrowers check them out. 

Another complication is that the "canonical" text is in Latin, so the wording of English translations may vary a bit. Likewise, when the Latin text is revised, there might be lag time to revise translations. All these factors make it harder to compare different editions of the CCC back-to-back. Unless you happen to own a print copies of the first and second editions, it's hard to make a direct comparison from the primary sources. Sometimes you can get the text from secondary sources that discuss changes to the CCC. 

I see some Catholic apologists offer the face-saving explanation that the first edition was "provisional". But the first edition wasn't a draft copy. It was approved for publication by Pope John-Paul II and Cardinal Ratziger, then Prefect for the CDF and chairman of the CCC committee. It contains the foreword ("Apostolic Constitution") by John-Paul II, where he declares is "declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith":

Let's compare two examples where the teaching of the CCC has undergone substantive alteration. 

1. Lying

Original edition

2483 To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has a right to know the truth. 


2483 To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.

2. Capital Punishment

Original edition:

2266 Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty. 

First revision (John-Paul II)

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. 

Second revision (Pope Francis)

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. 

3. Taking stock

In the case of lying, the revision eliminates the proviso: someone who has a right to know the truth

In the case of capital punishment, the first revision eliminates the proviso: not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty. 

While the second revision rules out capital punishment in principle. 

These are fundamental issues in Catholic moral theology, so it's striking to see the teaching of the CCC undergo substantive change or reversal in the course of a few years. 

4. For further reference:

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1995 print edition)

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