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The Pope, the Bible and the death penalty

SIR – Greg Whelan (Letter, September 14) claims to be “mystified” by the widespread concern about Pope Francis’s reversal of the teaching of the Church on the subject of the death penalty.

He reminds us that the Church has “changed its mind” about the best punishment for various offences. However this is hardly the matter at issue. The crimes he mentions, such as fornication, are still condemned by the Church as grave sins. What Pope Francis appears to be claiming is the discovery of a new grave sin, that of using the death penalty, even when it might be considered most appropriate.

The penal code found in the Old Testament was in force only for a specific group of people for a specific period of time. Other times and circumstances require other legal solutions. It is preserved for us in Scripture, however, because it teaches us about the seriousness of the crimes it condemns and the importance of the search for justice. Among other things, as St Paul reiterates (Romans 13:4), it makes clear that the death penalty can rightly be used.

Perhaps we live in such a blessed age that it is no longer necessary. If so, we should be glad, but not imagine God erred when he included the death penalty in the Bible’s judicial system.

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