One of the strangest stories I have heard is that of a man in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb was dropped, 6th August 1945, the day of the Transfiguration.
The man took a train to Nagasaki the following day (the trains were still running!) and was thus in Nagasaki when the second atomic bomb was dropped a few days later. He survived again.
He came to mind when Pope Francis visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki on his recent visit to Japan. The horror of the memories of what happened has led the Pope to condemn the possession of nuclear weapons as immoral. Does that make it the teaching of the Church? You must consider that question: does a pope’s personal opinion or conviction become the teaching of the Church?
When Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI drew up the Catholic Catechism in the 1990’s they allowed for capital punishment in certain extreme cases. Pope Francis has changed that. In the new edition of the Catechism capital punishment is condemned. The new wording has been printed in the Catholic press. The Church condemns capital punishment in any circumstances as an affront to human dignity. A good Catholic, then, shouldn’t be an executioner in any society which still allows for capital punishment in its penal system. No more Giovanni Bugati, therefore, who was the Pope’s executioner in Rome for many years (from the age of seventeen!) and put to death by a variety of gory methods nearly 600 criminals condemned under the law of the popes ruling over Rome.
It is a dark chapter in the story of the Papal Roman States, brought to an end, thankfully, in 1870, with the unification of Italy and Rome’s becoming the capital city of the new nation.
The Church changes its teaching whenever it sees the truth more clearly or thinks that it does. Pope Francis has now declared, beyond previous popes who condemned the use of nuclear weapons, that even to possess them is immoral. You and I have to decide whether this is Pope Francis’ personal opinion or a change in Church teaching. The Scottish bishops have already spoken about Trident and nuclear weapons in the way that Pope Francis has. Where do we/you stand?
God bless us,
Rev Fr John
(8th December 2019)