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Update of the Catechism: (capital punishment and homosexuality).

Vatican - At a ceremony on September 8, Pope John Paul II promulgated the definitive Latin edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It contains 103 changes to the original text. From now on, this Latin text, which incorporates amendments suggested by Catholics around the world, will be the authoritative one. "I now entrust this definitive and normative text to the whole Church," the Holy Father declared.

The most important changes were to the paragraphs concerning capital punishment and homosexuality.

Capital punishment

The alterations reflect the Pope's arguments against the death penalty in his encyclical Evangelium vitae (1995). The 1992 Catechism said that the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged the right of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by penalties commensurate with the crime, including the death penalty in cases of extreme gravity. At the same time, it said that "bloodless means" should be used wherever possible.

The new edition says that Catholic tradition allows for the use of the death penalty only when the identity and responsibility of the condemned are certain and capital punishment is the only way to protect the lives of others. It adds the Pope's judgment that with the resources and possibilities available today "the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare if not practically nonexistent."

Cardinal Ratzinger commented that the catechism invokes "principles which do not exclude absolutely capital punishment, but give very severe criteria for its moral use." He also said, "It seems to me it would be very difficult to meet the conditions today."

Homosexuality: a "loophole" closed

Readers may recall the article "Is anyone predestined to homosexuality?" in our issue of last May, in which Dr. John Shea called for a clarification of article 2358 in the Catechism. This said that homosexuals "do not choose their homosexual condition."

This description has recently been used by two U.S. bishops, Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit and Matthew Clark of Rochester to call into question the Church's teaching on homosexuality. They and others argue that this is a loophole which can be used to defend homosexual acts: it excuses homosexuals for giving in to sexual temptation.

As Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out, seven words changed in the section dealing with homosexuality removed a statement many found objectionable, namely that homosexuals "do not choose their homosexual condition. . . ."

The substituted sentence now reads, "This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial." The Cardinal said that the origin of a homosexual tendency is presently under discussion, and the catechism must not presume to have the answer. "We have left room for all the hypotheses on the origin of the homosexual tendency -whether it is innate or developed under certain circumstances."

The section clarifies the Church's teaching that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered," because "they do not correspond to the fundamental tendency of sexuality which between a man and a woman is ordered toward the birth of children."
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Nov 1, 1997
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