I was thinking about [the amendments to the Catholic Church's teaching on the death penalty](Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes):

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.

and it seems like this is a much less universal teaching. It works where "more effective systems of detention have been developed". My wife's cousin and her husband were missionaries in Malawi, a fairly Christianized African country unencumbered with the prison industrial complex of modern nations, where they witnessed an mob execution over a presumed goat theft.

Now, that doesn't seem like justice, and isn't the standard to compare a western system of retributive or restorative justice against, but it does make me wonder if social teachings like the recent change to the death penalty (which prior to it had been understood to only accept the death penalty where society couldn't otherwise protect itself from the reckless mayhem of the criminal) and the ones Pope Francis issued in Laudato Si concerning fake news and internet trolls are really only applicable to a subset of Catholics or are they really universal principles?

Does the Catholic Church ever specifically say that some principles apply to people in certain situations (i.e. stable Western Democracies) or are all the teachings meant to be universal?

  • the idea that some catholic teachings and words of the pontiff only apply to certain people may not mesh well with papal infalibility, this question on the sole interpretive authority of the catholic magisterium and its answers look like it may have relevance here: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/90933/… Commented May 26, 2022 at 17:31
  • The Church has been extremely influential in the West for a very long time, hence cultural differences between the West and other cultures may exist because of Christian or Catholic teaching and not the other way around. I do not know whether it is so in this case, but it is something to keep in mind
    – user52135
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 15:07

1 Answer 1


It should be well note that Christianity teaching is on social impact and not on political impact. Jesus teaches us to love, for all good intention originated from love, such as

  • the capable peoples help the poor, the widows and the kids
  • the stronger minds humble themselves amongst people of weak conscience

In general understanding, the people with dominant power must not use their advantage to suppress the weak, instead, they should participate actively to help the weak.

The principle above, is theoretically applicable to all kinds of political system. Practically, only democratic system allow a peaceful transfer of power in most of the time.

The democratic system is developing more steadily in Christian society, more or less is Christianity suppress personal ambition on top of social need. Though democratic system had been developed prior to Christianity, but we can see the Greek and Rome, their national council didn't last, and eventually be overturned by powerful militaries.

Therefore, although Christianity teaching does not aim on political impact, yet it forms a key function in the western democratic system. The social welfare, tax redistribution are all based on it.

However, we must be aware of the merging of social teaching of Christianity and western democracies is never a perfect. Humankind is in general weak to withstand the temptation of holding their power, once they own it. And therefore putting social need in priority of personal ambition is far from perfect. However, democracy is still the best of the worst if we admitted human are weak and we don't want to see bloodshed in our lifetime.

  • Welcome to C.SE. As in BH.SE, the answer needs to address the question. In this case, the final paragraph: "Does the Catholic Church ever specifically say ...", which your answer doesn't include. Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 22:34
  • @GratefulDisciple - I don't want to speculate "does the Catholic Church ever say" and if the Church does, it is a big mistake. For Jesus teaching is for humanity and not for any people to find a support of their political ambition. Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 3:47
  • So, you are asserting that Catholic/Christian principles are foundational to western democracies rather than directed towards them? Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 2:37
  • 1
    @mikeborden - correct. The Christian principles did not cause the beginning of present western democracies but its principles have helped to stabilise the democratic system, by minimize the social injustice and promotion of humanity. Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 4:51

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