My eyes rolled when I read that the pope has reversed church teaching on capital punishment, maintaining that “in the light of the Gospel,” it constitutes an attack on human dignity (Sun Journal, Aug. 3). His action has been decried by conservative Catholic critics who argue that the pope has no right to change divine revelation and centuries-old teaching.

They have a solid case. As far as church teaching is concerned, I know that any doctrine that has been taught consistently over centuries is held to be infallible and is irreversible; it need not be solemnly defined (declared as dogma) by pope or ecumenical council. What the church regards as the “intrinsic evil” of abortion and homosexuality are two cases in point.

Amusing to recall that in 1520 Pope Leo X issued an edict titled “Arise, O Lord” in which he condemned the idea that burning at the stake is contrary to God’s will. Mind you, centuries ago a pope declares that such hideous punishment enjoys divine approval, whereas Pope Francis denounces all capital punishment as being anti-Gospel.

This gargantuan contradiction from the church that proclaimed itself “the expert in humanity” in 1965 — when capital punishment was certainly not viewed, “in the light of the Gospel,” as being an attack on human dignity.

If asked, could conservative Catholic critics of Pope Francis bring themselves to affirm, without a string of ifs, ands, and buts, that Leo X was right? Do bears wear ponchos?

William LaRochelle, Lewiston

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