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  • Death Penalty: Magisterium vs. Left and Right

    by Mark P. Shea

    When it comes to the death penalty, the Church teaches:

    Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

    If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

    Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm — without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself — the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent. (2267)

    Now, among the sundry subcultures of the Church there are certain “universes of discourse” where one can say this and receive varying replies. When citing the above passage, one will (depending on the subculture you are addressing) receive anything ranging from a shrug, a nod of affirmation, a plea to equate abortion and the death penalty, or a passionate denunciation (as, for instance, from folks like these guys). What interests me is how these universes of discourse work: what is and is not permissible, how the red flags go up and down, and who gets marked as “in” and “out” when discussing some square peg of Catholic teaching that does not fit in the round hole of ideological and tribal commitment.

    And so, whenever the death penalty gets mentioned here and there at St. Blogs, two basic sorts of people come out of the woodwork to argue with each other and the Church.

    The first sort of person one often hears from is the guy who assumes that the death penalty, war, and abortion are morally equivalent issues. Mention the death penalty and these folks show up faster than you can say “pro-life hypocrite” (a favor term of theirs). The problem is that it is not, strictly speaking, hypocrisy to be “pro-war” or “pro-death penalty” (depending on the circumstances) while always opposing abortion. If one favors an unjust war or an unjust application of capital punishment while still claiming to be pro-life, then the epithet “hypocrite” is accurate. But if one truly believes a war is just (meaning, among other things, that one is reluctant to prosecute it but has no other choice), then one is no more a hypocrite than a surgeon who reluctantly cuts into living flesh to save a patient is the moral equivalent of Jack the Ripper.

    Likewise, with the death penalty, as the Catechism makes clear, the Church has always recognized that Caesar may use the sword to punish serious crime (Rom 13). In contrast, abortion is always the taking of innocent human life, which can never be justified for any reason. So the notion that a pro-lifer who backs a particular application of the death penalty is ipso facto a hypocrite is likewise bunk. Pope John Paul II was as pro-life as they come, but he never declared that the death penalty was intrinsically immoral.

     

    Having cleared that elementary point out of the way, however, we then run into a second sort of difficulty: what I call “death penalty maximalism.” This is a species of reactionary dissent from magisterial teaching that seeks to pick, cafeteria style, from the Church’s teaching and listen to the Church only insofar as her teaching is useful for upholding the proposition that the maximum number of people possible (including minors) should be subjected to capital punishment.

    The reason I use the term “death penalty maximalist” is that such a position stands at the far end of the scale from the clear and obvious teaching of the Church articulated in the Catechism’s passage above. It is a difference of emphasis from the Church’s position, rather than two polar opposites or a Manichean division of black and white. That’s because the Church does not and cannot say that the death penalty is intrinsically immoral, nor can the maximalist insist that it is absolutely immoral not to apply the death penalty.

    The reasons for this are found in Scripture itself. Just as Romans 13 places the sword in the hand of Caesar to execute judgment on capital criminals under certain circumstances, so it also clearly shows us instances where criminals guilty of capital crimes (e.g., the adulterous murderer King David in the Old Testament and the woman taken in the very act of adultery in the New Testament) have been spared the extreme penalty. In short, despite the fundamentalist readings of Genesis 9:6 (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image”), constantly provided by enthusiasts for capital punishment, the Catholic tradition has always regarded the death penalty with flexibility. The Church has never said that merely because the death penalty may be inflicted, it must be inflicted. It cannot be otherwise, since God Himself has never inflicted the death penalty with rigidity. God’s mercy does not always inflict, even on the richly deserving capital criminal, the punishment he or she deserves. Paul, who was accessory to the lynch murder of a completely innocent man, was not only not given his just desserts as a blasphemer and a violent man, he was shown such great mercy that he became an apostle of Christ. So while the Church has never fallen into the foolish game of making the death penalty the moral equivalent of abortion, she also tells us that, wherever possible, clemency is preferable to death.

    This development of magisterial teaching seen in the Catechism above (for development it is, and not John Paul’s dismissible personal opinion) means that, on the spectrum of possible applications of the death penalty, the Church’s basic posture is that the onus is on Caesar to show that execution is necessary, not on the human person to show why his dignity makes him worthy of not being killed. The point is that the dignity of the human person derives not from his works, whether good or ill, but from the God who made him in His image and likeness. The Church does not deny that Caesar, for the sake of the common good, may execute a capital criminal. But the Church does suggest that if the common good is not threatened by a criminal behind bars, then mercy rather than strict vengeance for the crime is the better course. And in the First World, including here in the United States, that means that the practical result is that Catholics should work for the abolition of the death penalty.

     

    This seems reasonable to me, and I am therefore, following the Magisterium, a death penalty minimalist. That is, while I do not concede that the death penalty is the moral equivalent of abortion, I still think its application should be restricted to absolute necessity and do not see any real necessity for it when we have the technology to keep the offender from harming again. Indeed, it seems a fortiori reasonable with a penitent brother or sister who not only is no longer a threat to others but who now seeks to serve Christ. So, with the Church, I think the best course is life in prison and, in particular, for penitents of capital offenses to serve a life sentence rather than be put to death. That’s the minimalist position in a nutshell.

    For the maximalist, the Catechism (2267) is wrong, not merely in saying that “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (which is a practical judgment based on things like prison safety). No, for the maximalist it is wrong in principle: The death penalty is not merely applied to protect the community but to serve (allegedly) justice! And since it is a matter of principle (allegedly), then it follows that we must execute as many capital criminals as possible so that justice may be served as completely as possible. For the maximalist, the onus is on the Church to show why a capital criminal should be spared, not on Caesar to show why he should be killed. And so, for the maximalist, the Church has allegedly both betrayed the Tradition and has overstepped into Caesar’s realm.

    On a Catholic site, then, when this matter gets raised there will inevitably arise those maximalists who show up to do a number of things at once:

    1. denounce the developed Magisterial teaching as actually contradictory of the Tradition;
    2. cite sundry theological authorities pre-dating the development of the Tradition in order to show that the Magisterium has no right to opinions St. Thomas does not share (being sure to spam every discussion of the death penalty anywhere, from Buddhist to Catholic to Anglican to sundry political blogs to foreign and domestic. The whole world needs to hear the good news of death). Such arguments tend to ignore the fact that St. Thomas would be horrified at being pitted against the teaching of the Church, and that Thomas is not infallible;
    3. quote Scripture like a fundamentalist (especially Genesis 9:6) and oppose it to Evangelium Vitae, declaring things like, “JP2′s humanist personal opinions do not equal magisterial teaching even if they’re printed in a Catechism. The Pope has no power to redefine Catholic Moral Doctrine in a way that contradicts the constant teaching of the Church. Read your Vatican I”;
    4. denounce death penalty minimalists or abolitionists, not merely as Catholics who are making a different prudential judgment from a different part of the spectrum of possible applications of the death penalty, but as heretics, cowards, weaklings, moral posturers, heartless fiends who mock the suffering of victims, etc.; or
    5. occasionally, throw in non sequiturs like, “Opposition to the death penalty is really just an attempt to divert our attention from abortion,” or, “Not that many people get executed and they are mostly probably guilty, so it’s no big deal.” This sometimes happens when overheated people make the “abortion=war=death penalty” moral equivalences.

    Bottom line: For the dedicated death penalty maximalist, if you aren’t in favor of maximum death for the maximum number of criminals, you are a Bad Catholic. To quote one Catholic who recently warmly applauded the death of the penitent Teresa Lewis and rebuked those who were not eager to slay her:

    In more balanced ages, men did not so easily arrogate to themselves the right to spare murderers, et. al. They knew, both as Christians and as members of true cultures, that such reprobates were to be offered the assistance and gifts of the Church, and then to be sent out of this world forthwith, to seek mercy from God. It is, I often think, an insidious side effect of the creeping disease of Modernism (which is far from defeated) that some of us Catholics fear death so much that we dare not trust even the likes of this Teresa scoundrel to it.

    The notion that Christian piety is best demonstrated by “trusting” somebody else to death is a curious one and is echoed by other opinions one encounters with alarming frequency in the conservative Catholic blogosphere:

    Don’t any of you self-righteous death penalty opponents ever read the Bible? As he was hanging on the cross Jesus promised Paradise to the felon who confessed the justice of the death penalty (cf. Luke 23: 39-43).

    The strange conflation of dogmatic death penalty maximalism with some sort of core doctrine of Catholic faith is a classic illustration of how a tribal shibboleth can get fuddled with the heart of the faith. For, of course, the actual biblical teaching is that Jesus promises paradise to the one who placed his faith in Him, not to those who place their faith in the death penalty. Indeed, Jesus Himself, presented with an open-and-shut case of capital guilt under the law of Moses — a woman taken in the very act of adultery — did not inflict the death penalty when, according to legal rigorism, He should have. Instead, He, like the Church that followed Him, saw that the extreme penalty did not have to be inflicted and chose mercy instead.

    Those who denounce the Magisterium’s death penalty minimalism as “modernism” never seem to realize that, if we are to hold to their fundamentalist take on the death penalty, then we need to be consistent. The Good Thief regards not merely capital punishment but crucifixion as just. Do those who have just asserted the novel theory of “salvation by faith in the death penalty” therefore assert that crucifixion is a just form of capital punishment? If not, why not? If so, then why don’t those basing their demand for capital punishment on Scripture likewise demand that we re-institute crucifixion in these United States as just punishment for thieves or terrorists?

    Nor do flat-footed appeals to biblical fundamentalism stop there. For if the Magisterium’s teaching is heretical when it comes to the capital punishment Scripture supposedly demands for murder, then what about all the other capital crimes in Scripture besides murder? Why such a consistent failure by maximalists to mention them?

    For, of course, most death penalty maximalists do indeed neglect to demand that we put homosexuals, adulterers, cross-dressers, and sassy teenagers to death. You also don’t hear too much about the need for America to get back to witch burning or pressing idolaters, blasphemers, or atheists to death. Yet all these crimes are likewise seen as offenses against the Ten Commandments in the Church’s tradition and were, at one time, as subject to the death penalty as murder. Yet death penalty maximalists almost never go there.

     

    The reason they don’t is simple: The Church is right. Mercy is preferable to mercilessness, and our culture suffers from a major case of bad conscience that demonstrates that maximalists are haunted by this fact every day. That is why even most maximalists do not want to be really so maximal as all that.

    A death penalty maximalist is consistent when he simply points out that those who regard abortion and the death penalty as morally equivalent do not know what they are talking about. Maximalists have the backing of the Catholic tradition insofar as they make that point. But, unfortunately for maximalists, they then go further and try to dissent from the Church’s guidance by denouncing the bishops and John Paul as “wrong” for their minimalism, while being unable to account for the radical inconsistencies in their own maximalist position. They want to have the maximalist cake and eat it.

    So they call for the death penalty as a deterrent, but not so loudly that somebody might reinstitute public guillotines and hangings with blood spurting, heads leaping from the block, and women, teenagers, and a disproportionate number of poor people kicking and struggling at the end of a rope. They labor to maintain the status quo of our present insane system that yaks about “deterrence” while keeping the whole thing private, sterile, and utterly out of the public eye. They appeal to the Good Thief’s views on the acceptability of capital punishment, yet do not appeal to his views of the acceptability of crucifixion. Indeed, maximalists studiously avoid talk of stoning adulterers while denouncing, say, Iranians as barbarous for imposing such penalties. They appeal to the Bible to demand the death of (some) capital criminals, yet seem none too eager to call for the deaths of the many in our culture who would have been executed in ancient Israel.

    Some might call that hypocrisy. I call it the recognition that this is not ancient Israel, and that the leaven of mercy in the Church leavens culture as well. I also call it a sort of residual prudence that seems to know, somewhere in the back of its heart or mind, that urging the power to kill undesirables into the hand of a rapidly de-Christianizing and increasingly barbarous culture is rather like a delegation of ancient Christians going to Diocletian and demanding that he do something to crack down on all those weird new religions infesting the Empire. We Christians may get a lot more than we bargained for. The death penalty is not dogmatically defined by the Church as intrinsically immoral. So what? Neither is playing in traffic. It’s still a bad idea, and the Church still urges us to oppose it. I, for one, agree.

    The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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    • Marthe L

      Thank you warmly, Mark, for this clear discussion of the various points of view. It puts things in perspective and has helped me to understand the arguments from both sides and where they are coming from. Now I can return in peace to my Canadian and Catholic way of thinking about this matter and turn my attention to other subjects of discussion.

    • Bender

      The two camps are not the death penalty maximalist and the death penalty minimalist. Rather, they are the death penaly maximalist and the death penalty abolitionist, which dishonestly tries to assert that that “very rare, if not practically nonexistent” provision means “never permissible.” But the abolitionist is as wrong as the maximalist.

      While it is true that 99.99 percent of the time, life in prison will be sufficient, sadly, there are occasions where locking an offender in a maximum security prison is not enough to ensure the public safety. Such prisoners have, in fact, injured, maimed, and killed fellow prisoners and guards notwithstanding what should be airtight security. And then there is the possibility of them, maybe not directly killing themselves while in prison, but arranging for someone else to kill, as in the case of a mob boss.

      For example, would Saddam Hussein have remained an on-going threat to public safety in Iraq had he not been executed? Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe it wasn’t worth the risk to find out.

      Should we capture Osama bin Laden alive, would he remain a danger if we were to lock him in a prison for the rest of his life, would he continue to wage war against the United States from inside his prison cell? Or would he pose more of a danger to execute him?

      The minimalist approach is the right approach, and the one most consistent with Church teaching. But too many people are not minimalists — they are either maximalists or abolitionists.

    • Michael PS

      I think that Bender is asking the right questions and agree with his approach.

      What appears to be at the heart of the tradition is that the civil magistrate is bound and entitled to protect the public against unjust aggressors, by necessary and proportionate means. What those are, is a matter of prudential judgment and depends on the resources available to him.

      I can well see how the death penelty may be necessary and justified to forestall or repress a Coup d

    • Brennan

      I fail to see how the paragraph from the Catechism is really any sort of development. To be a development, it would have to deal with the other reasons (not just protection of society) the Church has allowed capital punishment, such as restoration of the moral order, retributive justice, and a chance for the criminal to expiate his sins. This has nothing to do with wanting the maximum number of people executed or the manner in which they are executed. Rather, one aspect seems to be a one-sided understanding of mercy, as if the only way to show a murderer mercy is to not execute him.

      God’s mercy is not in conflict with His justice. If a criminal has murdered deliberately, it certainly can be a mercy to set an execution date to let him know he will die on that day and that he ought to prepare himself to meet his Maker. Knowing the day of your death is actually a good thing. Further, if he accepts his penalty, as the thief on the cross did, it is an opportunity for him to expiate his sins. Further, the death penalty does restore the moral order rent asunder by the offender, and can bring closure and justice to the victim’s family as well as to society.

    • PNP, OP

      What do you mean “Thomas isn’t infallible”!? Someone gather the kindling while I prep the stake!

      Seriously, great article. When I work with pro-life groups I always ask about their anti-death penalty activities. Usually, their focus is on anti-abortion work–naturally–but I rarely find significant resistance to adding in some work against the death penalty.

      Just a little autobiography here: before I came into the Church, I was pro-choice and anti-death penalty. It was my opposition to capital punishment that eventually changed my mind about abortion. Ah, consistency! Of course, as you mention, the two are not morally equivalent. . .but recognizing that death is not a viable solution to our problems was a first step.

      God bless, Fr. Philip Neri, OP

    • Ender

      Let’s start with your dismissive comment about the “fundamentalist readings of Genesis 9:6″ by which I assume you mean “accepting the plain meaning of the words.” That’s not a complicated sentence and, whatever may be true about other passages, I’m not sure how else to understand this one other than “it means what it says.” This, along with Gn 9:5, are directly referenced in the Roman Catechism and have always been the basis of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment.

      What you have done by focusing solely on 2267 is not only to ignore everything else the Church has taught on the subject but to dismiss it all as irrelevant, but 2267 is not even consistent with other passages within that same section of the Catechism. How, for example, do you explain 2260, which quotes Gn 9:5-6, adds the helpful explanation that “blood” was a sign of life, and concludes by saying “This teaching remains necessary for all time.”?

      Declaring that Gn 9:6 means something other than what it says is surely necessary if you’re going to oppose capital punishment, but there is no indication that the Church ever understood it as you imply, and in the Catechism of Trent she shows that she took it to mean exactly what it says.

    • bill bannon

      The current de facto death penalty position which even contradicts ccc #2267 …actually is the position that calls the death penalty “cruel” for the media to hear….JPII 1999/Benedict-Autumn’s Kentucky intervention. This “cruel” dp position is the product of two Popes neither of whom believes that God gave in the First person imperative the violence directives that Scripture says He did give in the First person imperative. Keep in mind, on John Paul II’s watch, Fr. Raymond Brown served on the Pontifical Biblical Commission and Brown likewise did not believe that Mary ever really said the Magnificat. That is why they are calling “cruel” something God repeatedly gave…even as Mark points out in Romans 13:4. Mark calls all changes by Popes….”development” by the Church. He forgets that Pope Nicholas I condemned torture anf Pope Innocent IV reinstituted it and therefore….there are “developments” in the Church and there are “regressions”. All change is not “development” by definition. Negative changes whether of a hard type (burning heretics) or of a soft type (hedging in the dp inordinately) are regressions not development.

      As Cardinal Avery Dulles once noted, God gave about 36 death penalties in Scripture…. John Paul II from an opposite position said such death penalties were an as yet unrefined sense of the value of life…ie they really came from man not God. But then he notes that is superceded by the sermon on the mount while JPII never cites Romans 13:4…anywhere in EV.

      John Paul in Evangelium Vitae…section 40:

      Of course we must recognize that in the Old Testament this sense of the value of life, though already quite marked, does not yet reach the refinement found in the Sermon on the Mount. This is apparent in some aspects of the current penal legislation, which provided for severe forms of corporal punishment and even the death penalty.”

      Benedict who has literally repeated John Paul II’s wording “cruel” twice now (which again logically contradicts ccc #2267) also has this absolutely brand new hermeneutic regarding whether God in this case really gave the dooms of the Canaanites..

      ..section 42 Verbum Domini by Pope Benedict XVI:

      . ” Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things.”

      So for Benedict’s hermeneutic that perhaps he ingested from Fr. Raymond Brown of the PBC, God didn’t order the massacres…..they were immoral like cheating and violence. Pardon me folks but if God did not command the massacres of the Canaanites then large swathes of the Old Testament are not inspired and should be removed from the canon by the Church…..e.g. the entire 12th chapter of Wisdom which says that God first punished the Canaanites “bit by bit that they may have space for repentance” and then when they continued to ignore God and to sacrifice their children to Baal in ” cannibal feasts”, then God commanded the Jews to doom them which was simultaneously to protect the Jews from their sinful culture. The Jews were later exiled by God precisely because of their continued adultery with Baal worship.

      Two Popes….John Paul II and Benedict…..both call the death penalty “cruel” despite Cardinal Dulles point that God gave the dp 36 times. Both Popes have a brand new hermeneutic that deletes the first person imperative from the Bible when God orders the violent. And both Popes by the use of the word “cruel” are contradicting the more traditional idea they both affirmed in ccc # 2267.

    • Ender

      Regarding 2267 you stated: “for development it is, and not John Paul’s dismissible personal opinion.” You also wrote, however: “…the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (which is a practical judgment based on things like prison safety).” I can’t tell if this is your opinion or something you are attributing to “maximalists”, but the claim made in the third part of 2267 is undeniably an opinion, and opinions, even of popes, are not doctrine and do not require our assent.

      As for the first part of 2267, it is simply incorrect: the traditional teaching of the Church never made the use of capital punishment dependent on whether or not it was needed for protection; there is nothing to support this claim.

      The second part of 2267, which is really the heart of the matter, claims that non-lethal means are “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.” As you pointed out, the dignity of man derives “from the God who made him in His image and likeness.” (Apparently only the second part of Gn 9:6 is to be taken literally.) In basing the argument for non-lethal means of punishment on the dignity of the individual, however, the meaning of Gn 9:6 has been reversed. What it actually says is that the life of the murderer is forfeit because the life of the victim was sacred; the “dignity” argument turns this around to say the life of the murderer is protected because his life is sacred.

      2267 is a complete muddle. Fortunately there is every reason to believe it is also prudential and not doctrine.

    • Michael PS

      I find the extent to which discussion of this subject focuses on the death penalty for murder shifts attention from the public utility of the dp to questions of personal culpability and dessert.

      Many cowards and deserters might well prefer the comparative safety of the stockade to the risks of combat, especially, if they hope for a post-war amnesty. Likewise, spies and saboteurs have little to fear from imprisonment, if they expect their victorious forces to liberate them. That was why the UK passed the Treachery Act in 1940, under which enemy sympathizers were executed, without appeal or delay; something I believe that, with the threat of imminent invasion, was eminently justified.

      Any application of the dp should focus, not on the past, which is beyond remedy, but on the present and the future.

    • bill bannon

      you are correct. JPII reversed what God actually said in Gen.9:6. God gave the death penalty there because murder was like sacrilege in that a person, an image of God, was murdered. JPII never mentions that in all of EV….because it would be the death knell for his theory.

    • Brian English

      ” Such arguments tend to ignore the fact that St. Thomas would be horrified at being pitted against the teaching of the Church, and that Thomas is not infallible;”

      But why was St. Thomas, and many other saints before and after him, wrong? Punishment was always part of the Church’s sanctioning of the death penalty. To just focus exclusively on protection of society, without even addressing the punishment aspect, is intellectually dishonest.

      This theory of “development by omission” is a dangerous one. Progressive Catholics love the idea of dispensing with Church teachings without having to justify their new and improved teachings.

    • Nick Palmer

      I’m a dyed-in-the-wool conservative — Catholically and politically. I’ve been on the other side from Mark on a number of topics including so-called torture. Here, however, I feel Mark has done a great job of both framing the dp discussion, and staking out his “minimalist” position. Quite a few years ago I strode into the anti-dp camp and put up my tent. I knew in my heart of hearts that if, God forbid, someone I loved were heinously murdered I might be incapable of remaining in the tent. But hard cases can make bad law.

      Unfortunately for my complacency, both Bender and Michael PS pose legitimate challenges to my smug position. A live, imprisoned Saddam as a rallying point for his followers? Could well be. Deserters, spies and saboteurs? We might need a more muscular form of deterrence than the stockade.

      I’m not yet ready to decamp from the antis, but appreciate the kicks to my system. As for the theological and philosophical posts contra Mark, they just don’t seem to hold much water. Mark’s article largely anticipated the objections, and the subsequent posts seem to me to be trying to win by shouting louder and with highbrow sarcasm. Not convincing at all.

      Mark, I sometimes feel that you contort yourself to be able to claim some imagined middle ground — neither Rep nor Dem, con nor lib, etc. — in this piece, however, you nicely take a stand in the clear light of the opposing arguments. Or, perhaps I only feel that because I largely agree…

    • Ender

      What was the traditional teaching of the Church on this topic? Prior to at least 1969 the Church had never objected to it in principle or conditioned its use on anything other than reasonableness:

    • Ender

      Michael PS wrote: “Any application of the dp should focus, not on the past, which is beyond remedy, but on the present and the future.” This is not what the Church teaches, although based on 2267 it is understandable why someone would believe this.

      “The purposes of criminal punishment are rather unanimously delineated in the Catholic tradition. Punishment is held to have a variety of ends that may conveniently be reduced to the following four: rehabilitation, defense against the criminal, deterrence, and retribution.” (Cdl Dulles)

      Of these four, three look to the future and one to the past: which is most important? The Church teaches that retribution is the primary objective of punishment: “The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.” (CCC 2266) That is, it is precisely the repair of the disorder of the past that punishment must seek to accomplish, and the only way this can be done is by retributive justice, which obliges the State “to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime.” (CCC 2266)

      By focusing solely on the protection of society 2267 focuses on a secondary objective of punishment while ignoring its primary purpose, leading to confusion about the very nature of punishment itself.

    • sd

      Bill Bannon wrote:

      “As Cardinal Avery Dulles once noted, God gave about 36 death penalties in Scripture”

      Yes indeed. And its a free ice cream Sunday for the first person who can articulate what differences (if any) there are between the authority of Almighty God and the authority of a random circuit court judge in Texas.

    • bill bannon

      Have you read Romans 13:4 at all wherein God gives the executioner role to precisely the state….and did so during the Roman Empire which was non Christian and which had life sentences in the damnata ad metallum….alternate bloodless means?

    • bill bannon

      that Latin means damned to the mine…..they worked for life sentences in the mines.

    • c matt

      36 times in what, 3,000 years? I dare say our rates are a little higher.

      My understanding in Texas is that only a jury (not a circuit/trial court judge, appellate justice or Court of Criminal Appeals justice) can impose the death penalty. In fact, a judge can only overturn a jury’s imposition of it, he cannot overturn a jury’s not imposing it.

    • bill bannon

      The 36 times is the number of individual death penalty laws given by God……not executions. The papal territories for the 1st half of the 19th century had over 500 executions (see wiki for papal executioner, Buggati). Texas in that same time frame had less.

    • Mark

      During 2008, there were 16,442 murders in the U.S. and 37 who were executed. Now, if we take into account that some of the murderers actually killed more than one person, it would probably be safe to assume that there were at least 10,000 individual murderers during that year. If “minimalist” can not be defined as accepting that fewer than 1/2 of 1% of murderers finding their way to the business end of a lethal injection, how should “minimalist” be defined? The only answer is abolitionist — as Bender suggested.

      For those who contemplate why so many pro-lifers don’t spend more time focusing on the 37 guilty rapists and murderers, and less time on the more than 3700 innocent babies murdered every day — that would be because we didn’t fail math, ehtics and logic.

    • Mark Shea

      When I speak of Fundamentalist readings of Genesis 9:6, I mean the kneejerk assumption that, when the Church’s reading of a text differs from one’s own, why then the Bible obviously means what *I* take it to mean and the Magisterium is wrong. Bill Bannon, for instance, indulges in this when he declares, pronounces and defines that “JPII reversed what God actually said in Gen.9:6.”

      In fact, of course, the Pope did nothing of the kind. What Bill assumes is that Genesis 9:6 is a command. What JPII understands is that Genesis 9:6 is a permission, a concession to human weakness, just as the Moses’ “command” permitting divorce was not a benediction on divorce but a concession due to our hardness of heart. “From the beginning it was not so.” That is why the murderers Cain and Lamech are not subjected to death not matter how much combox theorists lecture God on how wrong he was to neglect his duty to Justice.

      Fundamentalist scriptural interpretation does not mean “accepting the plain sense of Scripture”. It means “spitting on the Magisterium’s understanding of Scripture and exalting one’s own ‘plain reading’ despite the Church’s warning that you don’t know what you are talking about”. The breezy way in which several commenters here dismiss two Popes as heretics and modernists (not to mention the overwhelming majority of the world’s bishops) as they develop the Church’s teaching makes it clear that contempt for the Magisterium is not found just on the Left side of the Cafeteria. One can argue that there are prudential reasons not to abolish the death penalty. Maybe prisons aren’t as safe as the bishops suppose, etc. But when you move from there to arguing that the popes are heretics and perverts of the Tradition (which is what claims like “The Pope reverses the teaching of Holy Scripture” mean), then there’s a word for that: “Protestant”.

      Been there. Don’t that. I prefer to remain Catholic.

    • Andy

      For those who contemplate why so many pro-lifers don’t spend more time focusing on the 37 guilty rapists and murderers, and less time on the more than 3700 innocent babies murdered every day — that would be because we didn’t fail math, ehtics and logic.

      Since you didn’t fail logic, surely you know that this is a red herring fallacy — throwing out an irrelevant point in the hope that the argument will steer there instead of the actual subject.

      Surely the death penalty isn’t given the same consideration by many pro-lifers, and priorities may steer attention towards abortion more often. We’re not talking about “not attacking the established death penalty,” though. We’re talking about actively defending its maximum possible use, as many conservatives do.

    • Marc

      So in other words, Mark, you completely ignore the just reasons that others have brought up here for the Death Penalty, and only focus on public safety?

      Once again you have succeeded in painting Catholics who are legitimately confused by the development of the Church’s treatment of this subject as “Protestants.” Congratulations, you have once again used your famous “reductio ad Traditionalist”.

    • Erin Manning

      If we take Genesis 9:6 to be an authoritative order to put murderers to death, why don’t we take Matthew 26:52 as a similar command to execute armed combatants?

      Both of these passages seem to me to be more of a warning: if you spill man’s blood, you’re likely going to be put to death; if you live by the sword, it stands to reason that you’re going to die by it; and so forth.

      I’m a death penalty minimalist, too–most of the time I think justice is satisfied by a life sentence, provided it really means a life in prison and not a couple of decades, and further provided that the inmate isn’t killing his fellow prisoners, who also deserve to be protected. So while I might not be willing to work actively for the total abolition of the death penalty, I think it’s used too indiscriminately to be just at present, and would have no problem with more legal restrictions as to when it can even be considered.

      The death penalty, not being intrinsically evil, should be safe, legal, and rare to the point of virtual nonexistence. Keep it on the books in case an evil homicidal genius thwarts all attempts to keep him safely incarcerated and actively threatens his fellow prisoners with murder, if we must, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking of the act of putting someone to death as something innocuous, or worse, worthy of celebration.

    • Mark Shea

      “Once again you have succeeded in painting Catholics who are legitimately confused by the development of the Church’s treatment of this subject as “Protestants.”"

      No. I have said that Catholics who deliver themselves of cocksure dogmatic statements that the Magisterium is heretical are Protestants. Bill Bannon’s dogmatic statement that JPII “reverses” the teaching of inspired Scripture is not an expression of confusion. It is an expression of cocksure certitude that he is right and the Magisterium is heretical. I wish people who are confused *would* express confusion. You know: “Lead kindly light” or “I believe. Help my unbelief”. That would be humble. But simply sweeping away the teaching of the Magisterium with flat declarations of “The Church is wrong and I am right” is arrogant, not a humble expression of confusion.

    • Mark Shea

      I said nothing in this piece about “Traditionalists” for a very good reason: contempt for the Church’s teaching on this point is not confined to Traditionalists but is also popular with neoconservatives who attend the Paul VI rite.

    • Ender

      Your assertion that JPII interpreted Gn 9:6 as permission to employ capital punishment is not supported by any evidence, and given that the passage is in fact written as a command and not a suggestion, such an interpretation is pretty weak. To further suggest that this permission is merely a concession given because of our “hardness of heart” trivializes the reason God himself provided: “Because man is made in the image of God.”

      As far as the charge that by disagreeing with 2267 we are therefore “spitting on the Magisterium’s understanding of scripture”, this is a bit extreme as well. 2267 is almost surely prudential, which is relevant given that: “…prudential judgment, while it is to be respected, is not a matter of binding Catholic doctrine. To differ from such a judgment, therefore, is not to dissent from Church teaching” (Dulles).

      Cardinal Dulles also explained his understanding of 2267: “The Pope and the bishops, using their prudential judgment, have concluded that in contemporary society, at least in countries like our own, the death penalty ought not to be invoked, because, on balance, it does more harm than good.” Agreeing with Cardinal Dulles ought to be considered a bit more respectable than “spitting on the Magisterium’s understanding.”

    • Ender

      The question was asked: “If we take Genesis 9:6 to be an authoritative order to put murderers to death, why don’t we take Matthew 26:52 as a similar command to execute armed combatants?” and I think the answer is fairly simple: that is how the Church understands the passage in Genesis and not how she understands that passage in Matthew. It is the Church herself who references Gn 9:6, but I am unaware of any reference to Mt 26:52 in this context. It is not that I or any other individual has singled out a particular passage to support our position: this is the passage the Church uses.

      If the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millennia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture (notably in Genesis 9:5-6 and Romans 13:1-4). (Dulles)

    • bill bannon

      Nimrod …”the first potentate” in Gen. 10:8 when and only when there could be the government stewardship of execution given in Gen. 9:6…even if those governments watched over a personal avenger and denoted cities he could not kill in. John Paul conflated the family period with the nation period….not a heresy….a mistake.

      I never used the word heretic….you did….there can be no heresy unless a topic is clearly infallibly settled
      which hermeneutics is not ( positions on that topic are not clearly infallible so as to satisfy canon 749-3) and there cannot be heresy as Aquinas and Augustine held until there is fraternal correction by Rome as a first stage which is how Rome deals with all such cases.
      Material error as Karl Rahner noted in an essay is something different and widespread but is not the same thing as heresy if an area is undefined. Hence Trent’s catechism posited delayed ensoulement in the section on the Incarnation….an area that is still not of Divine and Catholic Faith…needed for real heresy.
      But you yourself know that Popes have had material error. Most Popes from 1253 til 1816 affirmed torture and John Paul II condemned it…either he or they are wrong. Cultural context is irrelevant since John Paul said it was intrinsically evil. If this were 1520 AD right after Exsurge Domine, the Pope and virtually the entire Church held against Luther that heretics could be burned at the stake. If you as a Catholic writer at that time publically talked then as you talk now, you would be the unfortunate subject of an involuntary barbeque. Unless Mark….you are so Magisterium oriented that you would have believed in torture then because they said so…..and had God given you Methusaleh’s life span, you later agreed with the Pope in 1816 who stopped it….and then later still under John Paul II with your expanded lifetime, you become a firebrand against the thing you affirmed in 1520. Is that being “faithful” to the Magisterium or is it self preservation?

      On to your apples and oranges: divorce was permitted in the Old Testament to non baptized people then overturned by
      Christ in the New Testament….in Petrine cases, the OT permission perdures for the
      unbaptized party whose consent must be obtained.

      death penalty commanded and later affirmed both in the Old Testament and the New….see
      the difference? Never overturned….reaffirmed in Rom.13:4 as you pointed out.

      On image of God use by JPII, read entirely EV sections 39,40,53.

    • Brian English

      “Keep it on the books in case an evil homicidal genius thwarts all attempts to keep him safely incarcerated and actively threatens his fellow prisoners with murder, if we must, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking of the act of putting someone to death as something innocuous, or worse, worthy of celebration.”

      But this approach ignores the retributive justice aspect of the death penalty that Ender cites Cardinal Dulles for above.

      In addition to the situation you describe, where society is still in danger, I think the death penalty can be imposed in especially heinous crimes in which there is not a scintilla of doubt about the defendant’s guilt.

      If you are going to abolish the use of the death penalty for the purposes of punishment, I think there has to be some explanation of why the Church and some of its greatest thinkers were wrong for 2,000 years.

    • Mark Shea

      The question was asked: “If we take Genesis 9:6 to be an authoritative order to put murderers to death, why don’t we take Matthew 26:52 as a similar command to execute armed combatants?” and I think the answer is fairly simple: that is how the Church understands the passage in Genesis and not how she understands that passage in Matthew.

      Um. The reason we are having this little chat at all is because the Church does *not* understand Gen 9:6 to be an *order* to put murderers to death, but a *concession* that they may be put to death if absolutely necessary. Bender, Ender, Bill Bannon and even Cardinal Dulles (who would *never*, unlike some voice in cyberspace, have called the Magisterium heretical) are not “the Church” but private individuals. If we want to discover that the Church has to say, we should apply to the Magisterium and its teaching instrument, the Catechism. It says not that we are ordered by God to execute every murderer we can get our hands on, but “If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

      So it is false to say that “the Church” calls Genesis 9:6 an “order” to execute murderers. That is what some dissenting sectarians within the Catholic communion say in order to characterize the Church’s teaching as heretical and exalt their private opinion as the Will of God.

    • A Nomad

      Dear Mr. Shea,

      I read this piece with interest. I

    • bill bannon

      when from 1253 til Pius XII, Popes used or affirmed it. Here is Pius XII in 1952:

      Pope Pius XII, Sept. 14, 1952: “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.”

      Pius had modern penology. In fact he probably had less murders by lifers than we now do.

    • Maxime

      “They labor to maintain the status quo of our present insane system that yaks about “deterrence” while keeping the whole thing private, sterile, and utterly out of the public eye.”

      Sounds just like those who say abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”. Excellent article.

      My one caveat: What do we do with criminals who continue to murder behind bars? I contend that right now there is no crime that merits the death penalty, but if one continues to murder behind bars (even if the original crime was not murder), maybe the society should be able to execute this person as well. After all prisoners ideally return into society, murdering one deprives society of someone who has done there time. A murder could also kill a guard, someone who even more truly represents the average citizen, and killing them directly harms society.

      Your thoughts?

    • bill bannon

      Maxine, the NY Times some years ago noted that prison ordered murders out on the streets of California numbered in the hundreds for a ten year period largely by gangs within prison. John Paul II no where seems aware if such things because some Euro prisons are nothing like the Americas. There was a Serb prison on public TV wherein prisoners were allowed knives for eating to be kept in their rooms because Serbs are one nationality and in prison act more like family. Great and yet impossible in the US.

    • Roland Menhker

      Does it really matter? Ted Kennedy voted pro-choice for decades and was given a grand catholic funeral by Cardinal Sean O’malley.

      I don’t think the church is really serious about life issues any longer.

    • Michele Szekely

      Very good article! Loved it.

      I’ll say right upfront that I am both pro-life and anti-death penalty and, besides the very good reasons mentioned by Mark above, I have one more and it has to do with the soul of the person in prison: it looks to me that what God wants is our conversion, he wants us to know him and love him and a life sentence opens the door to that conversion much more than a lethal injection.

      The conversion of one soul – especially a sinner – will bring much rejoicing into heaven.

      Plus, let’s be practical too, a true repentant Christian who is serving his life sentence within the walls of the prison will do much good to all around him. So really, it’s a win-win situation!

      That’s my 2 cents.

    • Ryan Haber

      where you wrote:

      And in the First World, including here in the United States, that means that the practical result is that Catholics should work for the abolition of the death penalty.

      I don’t see how that follows from the requirement that we use the death penalty sparingly. There are in fact cases even in very modern times in which society cannot be kept safe by nonlethal means. Prisoners who murder in prison are not a terribly rare breed; haven’t prisoners a right to live free of harm? I for one have other duties and responsibilities to carry out, causes to promote, and precious few tears to shed for serial killers. That said, I’d like to share a few observations about the nuttiness of the “death penalty maximalist” position (and oh, does it exist!):

      (1) The death penalty is an excellent agent of self-righteousness; I mean, we never want the death penalty imposed for sins and crimes that we ourselves commit. There was a time, after all (and I mean in modern history), in which what we would call petty (or grand, if it matters) thefts were rewarded with hanging – I mean even as recently as Victorian England or the post-Civil War U.S.

      (2) Until JPII, the Church never batted an eye at the death penalty, but she never viewed it as an unqualified good. It has been always a sometimes necessary remedy. That was all fine while governments were basically Christian (or, well, let’s settle for sane and human). But now as we move into an era in which governments are increasingly anti-Christian, insane, and inhuman, we face a new dilemma. One could argue that hanging for a loaf of bread is a bit much, but at least it was punishing a real crime. Since the advent of the modern period – and especially in the last 70 years as modernism and its promises crumble into postmodern nihilism, we have increasingly seen governments punish goodness. The Hitlerian, Stalist, and Maoist regimes provide obvious examples, but so shall soon our own country if once doctors are required to perform abortions and priests to perform gay marriages. In such days will we want to have trained and coaxed Caesar into the art of hangings and firing squads again? Or will we perhaps be grateful that we disarmed him in this way? Remember that our late Holy Father, John Paul II of blessed memory, endured first the Hitlerian regime and then the Stalinist. We can all imagine the death penalty used abusively against the guilty; he lived through days in which it was used vindictively against the innocent. We should be careful in advocating such things. While I commented above that I have better things to do then defend the causes of Timothy McVeigh and Ted Bundy, I will not gloat over their deaths, nor call for more of the same.

      As a last word, I believe that the cost to provide a livelihood for prisoners should be mitigated through the simplification of their living conditions and their own hard labor. While in seminary I had a weekly field education in a maximum security penitentiary, where funny as it sounds, I met many fine violent criminals in the choir, catechism classes, and RCIA. The degree of their conversion could be marked by their acceptance of responsibility for their crimes, their willingness to make amends, and their eagerness to learn useful skills and to work. Others were serving out life sentences while insisting they only deserved ten or twenty years but that their lawyer was incompetent and they were innocent anyway. Penitentiaries should not be to “re-educate” but to give occasion for penance. (Coincidentally, I wouldn’t be caught dead living in the place where I worked. They did not, suffice it to say, have cable TV, air conditioning, or conjugal visits. And work they did.)

      Random rant concluded. Back to work.

    • bill bannon

      and if a lifer joins a gang for self protection in prison and is ordered to do stabbings in prison….or commits solitary lust sins for decades? In short conversion may happen or deeper sin may happen. That area then is two sided in the possibilities. The good thief actually converted perfectly under a death penalty. If any of us knew the exact hour of our death, boy would we be motivated for the confession of our lives.

    • Ender

      “If we want to discover that the Church has to say, we should apply to the Magisterium and its teaching instrument, the Catechism.”

      Which catechism? The 1997 version does not agree with the catechisms of Baltimore, Pius X, Trent, or St. Thomas, nor does it agree with what was said by all the popes (who spoke on this issue) prior to at least John XXXIII. It is not supported by anything the Doctors or Fathers of the Church have written, and as I pointed out before, it doesn’t even agree with itself. How does it make more sense to accept 2267 and ignore everything else than to accept everything else and to understand 2267 as a prudential recommendation rather than as the repudiation of a 2000 year tradition?

    • bill bannon

      The 1992 catechism said, “The traditional teaching of the church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.”
      Then a five year “development” abrupted and the catechism was changed for multiple reasons……or a regression in this one area more likely…..which regressions happened even according to Newman in the 4th century.

    • Ender

      You’re right; I should have added the 1992 version to the list of catechisms that weren’t in agreement with the current position. It is pertinent to point out that not only did the 1992 version acknowledge the right and duty of States to inflict punishment “not excluding” the death penalty, but that such a right was “well-founded.”

      Just so. That’s the point I’ve been making: the traditional teaching of the Church recognized the validity of such punishment – and its validity was not based on protection.

    • Justin

      Like Ryan, I also don’t see how abolition of the dp is either practical or prudent. I liken it to a golfer saying “throw away my wedge, I never hit into the sandtraps.”

    • bill bannon

      Section 1. First Note of a Genuine Development

    • Mark

      “Since you didn’t fail logic, surely you know that this is a red herring fallacy — throwing out an irrelevant point in the hope that the argument will steer there instead of the actual subject.” – Andy

      Andy, I was responding to a comment made earlier in this thread (and anticipating those that inevitably pop up during this discussion) but I did not mention the person by name, just as you did not mention me by name. Sorry if that was confusing, but not a red herring.

      Just curious, do you agree with me that seeing fewer than 1/2 of 1% of murderers being executed rises to the definition of “minimalist” and those who continue to obsess on the issue are merely using it as a political football?

      I would also like to point out that when we throw a human being in a cage like an animal until his heart stops beating, we are in fact “taking” a life — we just aren’t ending it. Sometimes the self-righteous stylings of those who rail against the death penalty seem to lose sight of this and the fact that prison itself is a form of torture. The essence of being human is to possess and exercise our free will which is a gift from God. To forcibly remove a man’s free will is to injure his dignity.

    • Bender

      How did I get lumped in with the pro-death guys?

      ————

      And while we are at it, for all of those who argue so vociferously in favor of the death “penalty,” and capital “punishment,” do not confuse the criminal’s wrongful conduct as somehow giving us license. The morality of the matter is not a one-way street — one must consider both sides of the death transaction.

      Even if, as some would say, a murderer has forfeited his right to life, that does not necessarily give us a right to kill. Even if justice requires that a murderer die, that does not mean that it is just for us to make him die.

    • BenK

      Here I confess to being a protestant. So, I guess I’m outside windows to begin with, which, due to accidents of birth and difficulties with obedience, makes me less than the target audience here.
      However, if I may; I believe that mercy only stands out against a background of justice. Further, I believe the scriptures, when they say that this and that person ‘take their [own] blood’ – that is, they have not only forfeited their lives by acts of murder, rape, adultery, etc, but they have taken their own lives. The state is merely empowered to incarnate the death that is the wages of sin. The Jewish state was under special instructions in this regard, later states have been granted a degree of discretion for various reasons.

      Mercy is definitely part of this picture. In some cases, mercy, unearned, unjustified, can be poured out – but with the acknowledgement that someone is taking the pain and suffering for this. Even God couldn’t just ‘waive’ the punishment. When crimes go unpunished – or insufficiently punished – the ground, the land, itself cries out for justice, for blood (so it says in the prophets, over and over).
      There are consequences for the community. Justice demands payment. Mercy has a price. To force it on innocents is fundamentally unjust; for people to take it on themselves can be loving.

      I appreciate the Roman Church’s attempts to encourage caring and love through its teachings about justice and mercy; I also wish that capital punishment were rare. And that imprisonment, also horrible, were rare. And that fines were rare. And war. And every crime and sin and violent act and disgusting act that leads properly to war, fines, imprisonment and capital punishment.

      But this will only occur when lions and lambs lie down together. I am not a ‘maximalist.’ I mourn for what needs to be done, and am dismayed that it fails to be done.

    • tim

      “Jesus Himself, presented with an open-and-shut case of capital guilt under the law of Moses — a woman taken in the very act of adultery — did not inflict the death penalty when, according to legal rigorism, He should have.”

      swing and a miss. Jesus, being the only brother of ours to ever keep the law perfectly, would indeed have blessed her being stoned to death, had her situation actually met the criteria in the torah. ie; two accusers, present to testify against her.
      He did not say “hey don’t worry about getting caught, I have you covered”. He said “where are your accusers?” as in; one cannot under the law be put to death for adultery without two accusers.

      luckily, as usual, your article stands firm without this piece and is not affected in the least by the error.

      God bless and keep it coming.

    • Carl

      If only torture and capital punishment were the hard issues of both the Catholic and the secular culture at large. In fact, these two issues really for the most part, because they are demagogued, provide cover for the left.

    • bill bannon

      man is made in his image. God gives no nice reason when allowing divorce.

    • I’m not Obama

      What about the fact that blacks account for 42% of death row inmates but only 13.5% of the US population? Why is that? What might it mean?

    • Bender

      Tim — do you really believe that fundamental moral precepts hinge on such technicalities?

      Everyone else — do you really believe that the same God who stands ready to say “I forgive you” to a murderer and welcome him into eternal life is saying to the rest of us “kill him!”? Does that not seem rather incongruous?

      And if you happen to see some guys from death row walking around in heaven when you get to its gates, will you refuse to go in?

      God delights not in death. He desires death for no one. That is what that whole Cross thing was about, in case you missed it. It is only to save life, that one might licitly engage in deadly force. That is fundamental Catholic teaching, as confirmed by the authority of the Magisterium. You are, of course, free to reject it.

    • Ender

      “Even if, as some would say, a murderer has forfeited his right to life, that does not necessarily give us a right to kill. Even if justice requires that a murderer die, that does not mean that it is just for us to make him die.” (Bender)

      It is surely not left to the individual to execute anyone but the Church has always taught that the State has been granted this authority. “It must be remembered that power was granted by God [to the magistrates], and to avenge crime by the sword was permitted. He who carries out this vengeance is God

    • Bender

      Who is “the state”?

      You agree that it would be morally wrong for an individual to execute someone. Perhaps you would even agree that it would be morally wrong for a group of individuals to execute someone.

      But if that same group of individuals takes a vote and takes an organized form, suddenly they are possessed with the power to kill? Suddenly, because they are now “the state,” they get to do what they could not do without such electoral formality?

      That sounds like the state is merely a lynch mob by another name.

    • Meg

      Oh dear Tim, I don’t think so. Think you might have misread that story.

      It is Jesus’ mercy and his unveiling of the hypocricy of her accusers that saves the woman – not the legal niceties of the Torah.

      Jesus only asks where her accusers have gone after they have all left. Not when they show up demanding he pronounce judgment. By your interpretation, his actions are not ones of mercy and wisdom, but just some clever way of getting around the rules.

      You are indeed right, he didn’t say “hey don’t worry about getting caught, I have you covered”. But I just can’t see how you could jump from that to the idea he would have blessed her being stoned.

      What he does say is “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”. Jesus doesn’t condemn, he shows his boundless mercy. But in that mercy he doesn’t approve of her sins, instead he calls the woman to good.

      And to link back to the topic at hand – I am very much a death penalty minimalist, partly as I do believe that giving Jesus’ mercy the chance to change a hardened heart can literally take a lifetime, perhaps a lifetime spent in prison. And ultimately that is what God wants – to save us, not to condemn us.

    • Mark Shea

      with criminals who continue to murder behind bars?

      Execute them. Or make prisons more secure.

    • Mark Shea

      The first statement seems to imply that a capital criminal can deserve capital punishment. The second passage quoted, however, says that a person

    • Michael PS

      Bender asks why the state can execute individuals, but private citizens cannot.
      “Outside of civil society, let an inveterate enemy attempt to take my life, or, twenty times repulsed, let him again return to devastate the field my hands have cultivated. Inasmuch as I can only oppose my individual strength to his, I must perish or I must kill him, and the law of natural defence justifies and approves me. But in society, when the strength of all is armed against one single individual, what principle of justice can authorize it to put him to death? What necessity can there be to absolve it? A conqueror who causes the death of his captive enemies is called a barbarian! A man who causes a child that he can disarm and punish, to be strangled, appears to us a monster! A prisoner that society convicts is at the utmost to that society but a vanquished, powerless, and harmless enemy. He is before it weaker than a child before a full-grown man.”

      From an address tot he Constituant Assembly, during the French Revolution by – Maximillian Robespierre!

    • John

      In the comments above, and elsewhere in Catholic discussions of the death penalty, some have criticized the passage on the death penalty in the current Catechism as inconsistent with past Church teaching on the underlying rationale for the death penalty. Church tradition, so the critique goes, has justified the death penalty as a form of retributive justice that punishes criminals for their offenses. The current Catechism justifies the death penalty as a means of protecting society from offenders (and therefore argues against using it if less violent alternatives are available). The current Catechism departs from Church tradition in this way, neglecting the central justification for the death penalty, a justification which is presumably not directly affected by the availability of nonviolent alternatives.

      I hope I have correctly described the critique of the current Catechism passage (I welcome correction from any advocates of this critique). If so, I must admit I am skeptical of this argument. I think that the division implied–Church tradition justifies the death penalty as retribution; contemporary Catechism justifies it as protection of society–might be more apparent the real. My (perhaps rather scattershot) reasons for thinking this are as follows:

      i) Accounts of Church teaching prior to the current Catechism do invoke protection of society as an important justification of the death penalty. The Council of Trent catechism, in its passage on the Fifth Commandment, reads

      “Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent…The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to [the Fifth Commandment] which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment

    • Mark Shea

      My sincere apologies for confusing you with the pro-death guys. I’ve been writing on the fly.

    • Mr. Martin Savage

      Dear Mark,

      In the UK I grew up thinking, “how can a judge condemn a man to death? Does he not condemn himself therefore, after all, Thou shall not kill.”

      But of course no one person hands down death in UK justice, the guilt-as-charged offender brings upon himself capital punishment: “It is not I who condemn you,

    • Andy

      Bender gets it (and once again, expounds on it far more clearly than I ever could).

      Thank you. This thread was starting to make me crazy. Maybe fewer internets are necessary for me.

    • bill bannon

      in the first half of the 19th century. Two Popes call the death penalty “cruel” in 1999 and in 2010. That is not development. That is a U turn.
      None of you now follow the three early 19th century encyclicals against freedom of conscience….they are over thanks to Vatican II. Mark never reads them either. Let’s stop the myth of pan importance of every nook and cranny of encyclicals. The 1992 catechism was normal on the death penalty but was changed in 1997 to include inter alia a data mistake and prudential judgement of one Pope from a faulty part of a good encyclical.
      John Paul II wrote EV in 1995 implying that life sentences were brand new and saved men from the death penalty BECAUSE these brand new life sentences were sufficiently protecting society….despite liberal MSNBC showing us weekly that life sentences can be a free pass to shanking others with makeshift knives in prison with the state not being able to do anything about it except expensive solitary….which some prisoners want.
      Trouble is…life sentences were not new and existed in Rome (damnata ad metallum) while Romans 13:4 was being written. They existed in the Avignon papacy. They existed wherever governments were affluent. Did anyone correct John Paul II the way Paul corrected Peter in Galatians? Not to our knowledge. Did anyone correct him when he called the death penalty “cruel”? Not to our knowledge? Does that mean the Catholic excessive conformism that kept religious use of torture alive for centuries is still alive and well. You bet your bibby it does.
      The data error that life sentences are new and the prudential error that they are sufficiently protecting society was stuffed into a catechism article where prudential and data judgements do not belong……and you men are describing that process as Church teaching….when in fact it is a data error rolled in a prudential judgement and stuffed in a catechism article where both have no place.
      Strangely more than half the Catholic world probably has the 1992 version of the catechism and not this new article at all.
      That’s another oddity.
      Catholic predominant countries without death penalties are nearly half of the top twenty worst murder rate countries in the world according to the list at wiki. Almost thoroughly non Christian Japan with a death penalty is the 4th safest country in the world and is safer than every Catholic country in the world except affluent Lichtenstein. Those facts are not definitive but they should have caused John Paul II to do years of research on criminology prior to writing about criminology in a toe in the water fashion.

    • Brian English

      “And to link back to the topic at hand – I am very much a death penalty minimalist, partly as I do believe that giving Jesus’ mercy the chance to change a hardened heart can literally take a lifetime, perhaps a lifetime spent in prison. And ultimately that is what God wants – to save us, not to condemn us.”

      What about the chance for redemption extinguished by the murderer? Certainly every murder victim is not in a state of grace.

    • Thomist

      Here is a link found at the end of the comments section in the post at Catholic Champion.

      http://www.thomist.org/jour/1999/994aLong.htm

      Dr. Steven Long is a friend of Kevin O’Brien, who is a friend of Mark Shea.

      You’ll find that this article is a thorough scholarly critique of those who hold the position Shea espouses. I believe that prior to calling anyone who holds the position Dr. Long (professor of moral theology at Ave Maria Univ.) does a death penalty maximalist, and therefore in dissent of Church teaching, one should interact with the actual arguments first.

    • Brian English

      “But the Church appears to regard the retributive aspect of the death penalty as an insufficient reason to kill the offender if other forms of retribution can be found.”

      The “appears to regard” creates the problem here. If the Church intends to discard the retributive aspect of the death penalty, it should state that clearly and explain why it is taking that action.

      Our faith is based upon reason, so changes in the faith should be accompanied by a statement of the reasoning behind the change.

    • Thomist

      A book written by E. Christian Brugger (an adherent of the New Natural Law theory), Capital Punishment and Moral Catholic Tradition argues more along the line of Mark Shea, that there is a development in Church teaching here, but he goes further in this position’s logic by stating that the death penalty should eventually be abolished. One sees after reading both Long’s work and Brugger’s that the novel view Shea is espousing (even Brugger admits that it is novel) can only lead to abolishing the death penalty.

    • Thomist

      Let me be clear, that means abolishing the death penalty completely as being against the dignity of the human person. The simple point is that by accepting the novel arguments presented by Mark Shea, and accepting the grounds for which this so-called development is being made, it would be illogical to continue to accept the legitimacy even in theory of the death penalty. Pretending to have a balanced view between the two schools of thought is naive at best.

    • Thomist

      For further reading on how the proper appraisal of moral action in a thoroughly Thomistic sense, please read Dr. Long’s short but very insightful book “The Teleological Grammar of the Moral Act.”

    • Brian English

      “Is it not that the degree to which a nation should be merciful in justice in direct proportion to the prevailing culture of the nation:

    • Michael PS

      What crimes should be deemed worthy of death?

    • tim

      when discussing an “open and shut case” under the torah, yes. i didn’t write it, He did. mind you that i am merely correcting a small part of mr. shea’s argument, while i whole heartedly agree with it.

    • tubbins

      I wonder what would have happened to him had no-one shown him Mercy?

      St. Maria Goretti pray for us!

    • tubbins

      From the wikipedia article:

      ….He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini visited him in jail……

      This was the key – a Shepard calling home the lost sheep.

      After his release, Alessandro Serenelli visited Maria’s still-living mother, Assunta, and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed then she couldn’t do less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti and referred to her as “my little saint.” He attended her canonization in 1950.

      How beautiful is the Faith when its actually lived out. Why settle for drab sterile idealogies?

    • Ender

      The argument that that the State is too amorphous a term to have meaning, or is just a collection of individuals, and therefore has no right to execute criminals is without merit. The Church has consistently taught from Augustine through JPII that “as regards political power, the Church rightly teaches that it comes from God” (Leo XIII) and does indeed have the moral authority to impose capital punishment. This issue is not open to doubt.

      The question was raised about which crimes deserve death, with the implication being that since there is disagreement about this and as it had been improperly applied in the past this somehow invalidates its use now. It may be valid to ask this at some point but it has no bearing on the central question: is it a just punishment for the crime of murder? Just because it has been inappropriately applied in some cases says nothing whatever about whether all of its uses were invalid.

      The issue of mercy has been raised with the claim made that “mercy is above justice.” (Savage) This claim is without foundation: “Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it” (JPII) Nor is it ever appropriate to show mercy at the cost of justice: “this movement of the mind” (viz. mercy) “obeys the reason, when mercy is vouchsafed in such a way that justice is safeguarded” (Augustine). Inasmuch as 2267 ignores justice altogether it is not surprising that others have begun to dismiss its importance as well, but if any virtue can be called preeminent it would be justice, not mercy: If we speak of legal justice, it is evident that it stands foremost among all the moral virtues, for as much as the common good transcends the individual good of one person. (Aquinas)

    • bill bannon

      Unforetunately the other night a TV news magazine show detailed the release of a murderer who served about 23 years and on his release proceeded in the coming months to murder a man who helped him with his car…and he murdered an older woman who lived alone and there was a third but I forget the details. Arrested again, he told of the murders in such a way that each victim in his mind was responsible for what he did.
      The lesson for you: anecdotes can go in either direction in this area and for overall safety of all people, whose anecdote is safer to go with as a guide to policy…yours or mine? The papal executioner executed over 500 criminals between 1800 and 1869…..now two Popes call that cruel. Isn’t the hermeneutic of continuity fun.

    • Mark Shea

      If the Church intends to discard the retributive aspect of the death penalty

      If the Church intended to do that, she would demand the criminal not be imprisoned. “Not imposing the death penalty” =/= “no retribution”.

    • Mark Shea

      …about why Maximalists are discussing the idea of abolishing the death penalty as though it were a dirty secret my piece was avoiding discussing when I made clear that “the Church does suggest that if the common good is not threatened by a criminal behind bars, then mercy rather than strict vengeance for the crime is the better course. And in the First World, including here in the United States, that means that the practical result is that Catholics should work for the abolition of the death penalty”.

      I even provided a link to the numerous and long-standing calls of the American bishops to do just that. Yes, death penalty minimalism, in the First World, is practically expressed by saying, “There’s not a really a good reason for this if you have the technology to keep people from harming society.” As I say, those with technical expertise in the technology of incarceration may have insights here which the bishops lack and may say, “Not so fast! We can’t deal with murders committed behind bars or criminals running crime syndicates from the slammer and ordering the deaths of enemies.” That’s a real objection that can impinge on the discussion. But if such phenomena are rare enough, there is also a real case to be made that the US would be more sensible joining the rest of the civilized world and abolishing the death penalty rather than stubbornly remaining on the side of Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and China in this matter. Personally, I think the guidance of the Magisterium is sounder here than models provided by Islamic despotism and Commies.

    • Mark Shea

      I won’t quibble with you about the woman taken in adultery (“in the very act” according to the inspired author). But I will note that your argument basically turns on the fact that Jesus, knowing her guilt, basically gets her off on a technicality, not because she is innocent of the crime. His approach is not “You are innocent as the daylight” but “Neither do I condemn you”. The point of the story is that the judges so eager for death are guilty of sins as bad as hers while he who is without sin is not eager to kill her. If we are to apply the argument of the story to the present day, then an obvious question to ask those eager to apply the death penalty for murder to others is, “Have you ever hated or been angry with your brother? Because Jesus says, “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” In short, if you have ever hated somebody from the heart, you are already guilty of murder in all but deed. If we say to a modern jury or judge, “Let him who is without sin be the first to execute” then I don’t see the verdict being any different than it was with the adulterous woman.

      Thanks for your kind words, Tim! Blessings!

    • Bender

      So, what you are saying, Ender, is that Herr Hitler ruled by divine right? Thus, he was acting well within divine sanction when he executed so many “criminals.”

      You read these sources, but you obviously do not understand. Not one bit.

      Political power does indeed come from God. But that power can be, and usually has been throughout human history, usurped and abused.

      That political power comes from God does NOT ipso facto mean that every government comes from God or that every government rules with His approval. Rather, what it means is that political power comes from God and is conferred upon . . . wait for it . . . the individual person, who then organizes into civil society and, from there, into government. Even a deist like Thomas Jefferson could understand that —

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,[72] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

      But, these individual men are enjoined, “Thou shall not kill.” The purpose of this injunction is to preserve human life, such that deadly force may be resorted to only in order to protect life. That injunction carries forward to the associations that individuals might enter into, such as civil government. So that the political power of the state to execute is licit only when utilized to protect life. As the Catechism of Trent states, THAT is the primary foundation for the death “penalty” — to preserve life. And that was true for all of the centuries of human history before there were large, secure prisons, and prison guards, to protect society from murderers and other dangerous wrongdoers, as there are today.

    • Bender

      That should read —

      “Rather, what it means is that political power comes from God and is conferred upon … wait for it … the individual person, who then organizes into civil society and, from there, into government.”

    • Ender

      The heart of the argument against the death penalty in 2267 is that other means are “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.” (CCC 2267) Obviously, executions are not completely contrary to that dignity or they could never be allowed under any circumstances, but why would we consider that executing someone is an affront to his dignity?

      Fining someone is a recognition that money is a good and being forced to forfeit a good is a valid punishment. Imprisoning someone isn’t considered an affront to someone’s dignity and even less does it diminish the value of freedom. Rather it is by only recognizing the intrinsic value of freedom that its loss makes sense as punishment. Why would the loss of life be considered anything other than the loss of the greatest good? Not only does capital punishment not diminish a person’s dignity, it recognizes it – and this is the key point – for if it wasn’t intrinsically valuable it would not serve as expiation for the crime of murder.

      It is profoundly ironic that the very passage that explains the source of man’s dignity is dismissed as not being in conformity with that dignity. It is because man’s life is sacred that the person who wantonly takes that life forfeits his own; it is only because the life of the murderer is also sacred that his punishment can expiate his crime.

      The Catechism of Trent noted that even animals who killed a human were to be destroyed and it may be in this sense that executing a man could be seen as lowering him to the level of an animal, which is “destroyed” rather than “executed”. The loss of the sense of the sacredness of all human life might explain JPII’s aversion to the death penalty in modern societies, but, as I have argued, this has to be seen as a prudential nod to existent conditions and not as a change to Church doctrine, which has always recognized the justness of capital punishment.

    • Brian English

      “If the Church intends to discard the retributive aspect of the death penalty

      If the Church intended to do that, she would demand the criminal not be imprisoned. “Not imposing the death penalty” =/= “no retribution”.

      No, we are talking about the retributive aspect of the DEATH PENALTY. If I was claiming the Church was discarding the retributive aspect of IMPRISONMENT, then you would have a valid point.

    • Cord Hamrick

      It seems to me that just as a puzzle is more easily assembled by connecting the edge pieces together first, so too it is easier to make true statements about the death penalty by first finding the limits within which it must fall.

      There may be others, but I am aware of at least five items which circumscribe my view on Capital Punishment, forcing my views to fall within the region they demarcate:

      1. God Does Not Command Evil
      2. An Infallible Teaching May Not Err
      3. Government May Only Justly Do That Which Government May Justly Do
      4. The Punishment Must Fit The Crime
      5. Mercy Must Be Mercy, Not Systemic Indifference To Evil

      1. God Does Not Command Evil

      No Catholic may hold a position on the death penalty which would logically require the conclusion that God commanded objective evil in the Old Testament;

      2. An Infallible Teaching May Not Err

      No Catholic may hold a position on the death penalty which would logically require the conclusion that the Church’s infallible Magisterium taught error in faith and morals. Related to this, development in doctrine (following John Henry Newman’s thoughts on the topic) must be development; it must be a refinement, not a reversal. Bill Bannon’s earlier post on this topic must not be ignored, and merits further exploration.

      3. Government May Only Justly Do That Which Government May Justly Do

      We cannot require government to exercise a power it does not legitimately have. If (as I believe) government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, and if the governed can only delegate to the government just powers which they already had by virtue of their intrinsic human dignity, then the government may not utilize a given form of punishment unless (a.) individuals are in some (however rare) circumstances justified in utilizing the same punishment, and (b.) “We The People” have delegated the power to do so to the relevant part of government.

      Item (b.) is non-controversial, I think; but Item (a.) is something to think about. If individuals are not permitted to torture other individuals for information, why then neither is the government (can I get an amen, Mark Shea?). But if the government is ever (ever!) authorized to use the death penalty, that implies that under some (however rare) circumstances, an individual alone (in, say, a lawless region) has just authority to kill another individual not as an act of self-defense but in order to enact just punishment for an evil deed, even if self-defense is not an issue.

      That requires some serious thought. But I bring it up because government must derive its just authority somehow, but the source of its authority ultimately implies limits on that authority (the river cannot rise above its source). Government has certain things it cannot justly do. We must determine whether enacting the death penalty is among these things, or not, and our answer must be consistent with our understanding of how a government obtains authority/legitimacy.

      4. The Punishment Must Fit The Crime

      Punishment serves various useful functions…

      – Protection of society
      – Deterrence of the same crime being committed by others
      – Prevention of recidivism through deterrence
      – Prevention of recidivism through inmate reformation
      – Satisfaction of the social need for justice, which satisfaction serves to edify society
      – That justice be done (apart from whether society knows about it or not)

      …but of these, the most important one, which must not be sacrificed at any cost, is the requirement that justice be done. This logically requires that the punishment be proportionate to the crime.

      The need for the punishment to be proportionate to the crime is a two edged sword. On the one hand, it probably represents an absolute moral requirement that the death penalty be imposed in some particularly brutal cases.

      …continued…

    • Cord Hamrick

      …continuing…

      On the other hand, as C.S.Lewis portrays in That Hideous Strength, the need for the punishment to be proportionate to the crime also puts a limit on punishment. In That Hideous Strength the forces of evil have taken hold of government powers through selective use of propaganda. Among the powers they exercise is the power to hold a criminal indefinitely, no matter what his crime, and subject him to various psychological assaults to “recondition” him through “remedial treatment”; in effect, to “cure” him of being a criminal and remake him into a well-behaved cog in the engine of society. The propagandists call this enlightened approach “the end of the cruel and barbaric notion of retributive punishment.”

      So the requirement of proportionate retribution is a kind of protection of the free will, and thus the human dignity, of the criminal. He has the choice to commit a crime and that choice — the bundle of things which he is choosing through his wrongful act — includes not only the act but all just consequences of the act.

      By the way, there may be crimes so horrific, so heinous, that the only just punishment for them is simply hell. For such a crime, I suppose the closest a civic authority could get to approximating just punishment would be prolonged torture of some kind. However, this would be an instance where Rule 4, “The Punishment Must Fit The Crime,” must be subordinated to Rule 3, “Government May Only Justly Do That Which Government May Justly Do.” I hold in an unqualified way that such a punishment is not among the powers delegated to our government; I hold with only slight qualification that such a punishment is not within the just authority of the individuals who did the delegating to begin with.

      Thus, in such instances, we cannot perfectly match the punishment to the crime; we must approximate just punishment as closely as the moral law allows us.

      5. Mercy Must Be Mercy, Not Systemic Indifference To Evil

      I am sensitive to Mark’s very well-stated argument for a role for mercy, and I agree with that need for mercy as a general principle.

      This sounds like it contradicts my previous point, where I argued strongly that the punishment must fit the crime.

      There is a tension here, but I think we can reconcile it by noting that when reduced sentences become automatic, they are no longer “reduced” sentences; they are simply the new “normal” sentences.

      If you execute 99 men for torture-killing children, and grant life in prison to the hundredth, you can plausibly argue that you have shown mercy to the hundredth man. But if you give them all life in prison? If that is, in fact, what the law prescribes for that crime? Then that will be what they expected to get, if caught, from the get-go. That will be what all observers expected. Who will perceive any mercy in that?

      So I think mercy is never, in that sense, normative: It is not “by the book.” It must be extraordinary, or it is not mercy. When we assign lesser penalties for a given crime as a matter of the statute, we are not in fact being merciful. We are instead stating an opinion that the crime is not so bad as we had previously thought, and that a lesser punishment is a better fit for the crime.

      So I think we are mistaken if we try to write mercy into the statutory punishment. That is the place for proportionate justice.

      If mercy is formalized within the criminal justice system, it must be somehow optional, perhaps even rare.

      I suspect the proper place for mercy is when, after the sentence has been already determined, the victim of the crime (or his next-of-kin) appeals to the judge for leniency, and the judge amends the sentence in response. This, I think, has the effect of making mercy mercy, rather than (as statutory leniency does) merely teaching society the lesson that evil deeds really don’t matter much after all.

      Systemic indifference to evil is not merciful. It is especially not merciful to the poor beleaguered innocent persons who must live in the society such policies produce.

      Conclusion

      It seems to me that “the truth” about Capital Punishment must fall within the boundaries created by those five observations.

      But perhaps I have left something out? Or am in error in one of my observations? I’m willing to be corrected. Let me know.

    • bill bannon

      People generally…..the Jews only had from God death penalties for personal sin prior to sanctifying grace. Lacking sanctifying grace and with the demon world not yet reduced by Christ in power (few possession cases after Him), the Jews needed great threats just to avoid adultery etc whereas we do not….having sanctifying grace. Christ by bringing grace and by reducing the demon’s power was making the Jewish death penalties for personal sin unnecessary. Aquinas said they remain only as to their symbolic meaning…they symbolize those mortal sins that kill sanctifying grace in the soul.

      Entirely on a separate track from those Jews only dp’s was Gen.9:6 the death penalty for murder given to Gentiles and Jews….in the persons of Shem (Jews) and Ham and Japhet (Gentiles). It is reaffirmed in the New Testament in Romans 13:4 which John Paul never mentions in EV where he also repeatedly quotes the Genesis 9 passage but he never once shows or deals with the death penalty part of it. Apparently Mark thought he did….he did not because he keeps it out of view all throughout EV. So in an encyclical that partly deals with the death penalty, John Paul shows neither traditional text on the death penalty….neither the Gen. one nor Romans. When the day comes that Popes allow themselves to face hard ball reporters, such “techniques” will cease.

    • Ender

      So, what you are saying, Ender, is that Herr Hitler ruled by divine right? Thus, he was acting well within divine sanction when he executed so many “criminals.” – Bender

      Well, kinda yes to the first question and obviously no to the second one. Hitler, like Pilate, was the head of a government and it was Christ who noted that civil authority was from God. Having said that governments have authority, however, certainly doesn’t mean that whatever they do is therefore justified. You and I are authorized to protect ourselves and our families but that doesn’t give us carte blanche to shoot the paper boy for cutting across our front yard.

      So that the political power of the state to execute is licit only when utilized to protect life. As the Catechism of Trent states, THAT is the primary foundation for the death “penalty” — to preserve life.

      This one is easier: no to all of it. You misinterpret what Trent said. It does say: “The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life.” Nor do I disagree with this, but that is the end of the Fifth Commandment; it is not the primary end of punishment, which is what we are discussing. The relevant position of Trent is better captured by this statement on the use of capital punishment: “The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder.”

      That is, capital punishment (justly used – which excludes Hitler) is not merely obedience but paramount obedience to the commandment banning murder. If it was an act of paramount obedience to use it before, how can it be immoral to use it now?

    • Brian English

      “What crimes should be deemed worthy of death?”

      How about Charles Roberts, the guy who shot, execution style, 10 Amish schoolgirls, killing five of them, in 2006? If he had not been able to kill himself, should he have been sentenced to death?

    • Brian English

      ” But if such phenomena are rare enough, there is also a real case to be made that the US would be more sensible joining the rest of the civilized world and abolishing the death penalty rather than stubbornly remaining on the side of Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and China in this matter.”

      (1) You keep avoiding the main question raised by the “death penalty maximalists”– What was the basis for the repudiation of the punishment aspect of the death penalty after 2,000 years?

      (2) By the “civilized world” you mean secularized European countries like The Netherlands, where they kill “defective” infants but not cold-blooded murderers?

      (3) Thirty-seven executions last year hardly puts the US in the same category as the regimes you list.

    • Brian English

      “What crimes should be deemed worthy of death?”

      Major Hassan, the Ft. Hood Shooter.

    • bill bannon

      and is safer in terms of murder than 99% of Catholic predominant countries….3 of which are foremost in the world for cocaine trafficking.

    • Don Schenk

      In November Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, wrote to the US bishops to remind them that “there may be a legitimaste diversity of opinion, even among Catholics, about war and the death p3enalty, but not however in regard to abortion and euthanasia.” Why are so many people trying to depose Benedict XVI?
      Incidently, condemned murderers continue to terrorize and murder their fellow inmates, including the pederast priest John Geogan.

    • David Elton

      Great article! I would call myself a death penalty minimalist, but I will not be working for abolition. I believe that the death penalty should be retained for certain terrible crimes, for example the Oklahoma City bombing. I disagree with your comment about “mercy or strict vengeance.” Vengeance is not the issue; justice is the issue, and perhaps justifiable anger at the perpetrator of horrible crimes. Some crimes are so terrible that the only just punishment is the death penalty.

    • bill bannon

      What if your niece or daughter were raped and murdered? Catholic Gov. Jindal of Louisiana is open to extending the dp just for the rape of your daughter despite being petitioned by US Bishops to abolish it.

    • Ender

      Regarding the question of whether the incident of the woman caught in adultery is a statement about capital punishment, the answer has to be no for the simple reason that the Church has never interpreted this incident that way. I am not aware of a single example of this story being used by any significant Church figure to oppose capital punishment.

      On the subject of what the Church teaches, it is interesting to note that there are no references either in (the relevant portion of) Evangelium Vitae or 2267 to … anything at all – unless you count the fact that each of them references the other. If this new position is a development of some kind there is no clue as to what it developed from.

      There is no argument based on Church teaching that supports the position drawn up in 2267. We may try to infer from other examples (e.g. the adulterous woman) why this new position is valid, but we will find no direct support for it in all of Church history. Those who criticize the “pro-death penalty side” for ignoring the teaching of the Church should carefully consider that fact.

      I think Cord’s comments on mercy were helpful. Even if the argument could be made that mercy obliges that all the repentant should be spared there is no argument that the unrepentant should be spared as well (a point Augustine made).

    • NCSue

      While I can see both sides of the issue, I have been opposed to the death penalty for many years now. And no, I don’t consider the death penalty to be equivalent in some way to abortion or euthanasia. On the other hand, in the one instance where Jesus was asked how to handle a situation in which the law of his day would have condemned a woman to death by stoning, he urged her accusers to throw the first stone. I find that compelling.

      Recently I ran a week-long series on my blog, which starts here: http://acts17verse28.blogspot….-bars.html. I tried to present the topic from a variety of angles and hope you’ll stop by.

    • bill bannon

      it’s the untoward appearance in a catechism article of a datum mistake (life sentences are modern) and a prudential judgement
      (they are protecting society).
      George Weigel in his first biography of John Paul II stated that John Paul II never read newspapers yet was the “most informed man on earth.” But according to Weigel’s second and recent book on John Paul, John Paul was shocked in 2002 about the sex abuse data. Hell…..it was in the newspapers since the big 1985 case in the Southern US. and 500 cases happened in the ten years prior to his accession. Is it possible he also had no clue in 1995 (EV) of relative murder rates in Catholic countries with no death penalties? Possible??…it’s probable. Do you think Benedict is aware that half the 20 highest murder rate countries are Catholic predominant? My bet is that he does not. And these men are teaching about security.

    • Bender

      So, what you are saying, Ender, is that Herr Hitler ruled by divine right?
      Well, kinda yes . . . Hitler, like Pilate, was the head of a government and it was Christ who noted that civil authority was from God.

      I think this tells us all we need to know about the merits of your arguments. Thank you for being so clear.

      And for the record, the Catechism of Trent states, in the section on the Fifth Commandment,

      Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. (emphasis added)

      Notice that this does not say punish the guilty or protect the innocent. Rather, it says punish the guilty AND protect the innocent. Then it goes on to say that a just use of power when it is in obedience to the Fifth Commandment, the end of which is the preservation and security of human life. That is, the execution of a criminal is “just” only when it is to preserve and secure human life. If it is not oriented toward this end, if it is for reasons other than to protect life, then it is not in obedience to the Fifth Commandment, in which case such use of the death penalty is a violation of the Commandment.

    • Ender

      I think this tells us all we need to know about the merits of your arguments. Thank you for being so clear. – Bender

      It isn’t my argument, it is the Church’s. All of my comments are based on what the Church has said; have you not noticed all the citations? Here are some more:
      - 1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it.
      - 1899 The authority required by the moral order derives from God
      - 1902 Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner

      That is, governing authorities, even the bad ones, derive their authority from God. They do not, however, derive moral legitimacy simply from being in authority.

      Notice that this does not say punish the guilty or protect the innocent. Rather, it says punish the guilty AND protect the innocent.

      Yes, well executing someone certainly does protect society from them but we have already established that, while protection is a valid objective, it is a secondary one; the primary objective of all punishment is retribution. Again, not my argument but the Church’s.
      - The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. CCC 2266

      That is, the execution of a criminal is “just” only when it is to preserve and secure human life. If it is not oriented toward this end, if it is for reasons other than to protect life, then it is not in obedience to the Fifth Commandment, in which case such use of the death penalty is a violation of the Commandment.

      No, this cannot be true. A punishment is just when it satisfies the requirements of the primary objective, which is retribution. If this were not so we could easily justify the preemptive execution of someone who was a clear threat to society but in fact one can only justify executing someone if he has committed a crime for which his execution is a just punishment as determined by the obligation of justice, not protection.

      I am surely not the only person to be struck by the fact that 2267 permits us to execute a person based on a realistic expectation that he will kill in the future even though, should he in fact succeed in killing, it would prohibit his being executed for having done so. That is, we may execute him for threatening the act but not for committing the act.

      What is lost in all of this is a proper conception of the gravity of the sin of murder, which a focus on preventing future crimes encourages. It was the sense of horror at the crime that Trent was concerned about: Of these remedies {for the disease of murder} the most efficacious is to form a just conception of the wickedness of murder. But how are we to form such a conception of wickedness when murderers are merely quarantined like dangerous animals? Where the focus is only on our safety and not on their evil?

      We have so completely lost any sense of the “wickedness of murder” that we consider that many murders don’t qualify for the death penalty even in those states that still allow it, only those with “special circumstances.” It’s as if a garden variety murder of only one person is just not a big deal and we need cases of extreme barbarity to cause a revulsion to the evil that has been committed.

    • bill bannon

      Keep these in your quote collection to your point that God gives power to nasty rulers as long as they use it justly:

      Jn. 19:10. Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”
      Jhn 19:11Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.”

      That is Christ acknowledging that Pilate did have the power….but from above as Gen.9:6 stated.

    • bill bannon

      The death penalty always protects at minimum other prisoners and guards. Jeffrey Dahmer and Fr. Geoghan were both killed by lifers….in states who could not punish the murderers any further because they were non death penalty states.

    • Carl

      Law has five effects (so does the death penalty):
      -Protection
      -Deterrence
      -Prevention (education)
      -Punishment
      -Redemption

      Redemption seems to be always forgotten.

    • Martin

      “No, this cannot be true. A punishment is just when it satisfies the requirements of the primary objective, which is retribution.”

      But CCC2264 states: “If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful…”

      The same surely applies to the state which men consent to be governed by.

      Furthermore, CCC2266 states: “Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.”

      But how does executing a person serve to correct him?

      CCC2267 leaves no doubt: “2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.

      Of course, earlier you had already expressed your disapproval of CCC2267. You only approve of the Catechism selectively.

    • Thomist

      Well done Ender, keep up the good work!

    • Michael PS

      There appears to be no corrolation, at all, between murder rates and the dp.

      Taking the number of murders per 100,000 of population, Saudi Arabia (which has the dp) has .92, exactly the smae as the Netherlands (which soes not). Other non-dp countires, Luxembourg (.87), Germany (.86), Austria (.73) are all lower.

      Norway, a non-dp country has .6, exactly one-thenth of the USA with 6

      The lowest rates are in two non-dp countries, Iceland with .31 and Liechtenstein with zero

      The conclusion I draw is that so many other factors, social and economic, are at work that no conclusion, as to the effecftiveness of the dp in preventing murder can be derived from the statistics,

    • David Elton

      “What if your neice or daughter were raped or murdered?” At this time, I don’t see why the DP should be extended to rape. But yes, the DP should be an available punishment for the murder of anybody’s neice or daughter. Let me give an example from my state, which does not have the DP: A man who was on trial for murder killed the main witness in the case, a 19 year old girl, two days before the trial was to start. The man was convicted of both murders, and he sits in jail for life. This would be an appropriate case for the DP, both to provide justice for the victims and to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system. In all the comments on this blog, I haven’t heard much about JUSTICE. I believe that the purpose of legal punishments is justice, or retribution, if you prefer. Most people of common sense understand this – that a terrible wrong needs to be righted, and that the victims need to be made whole. A society that prohibits the DP is a society that has given up on the concept of justice, and replaced it with a mindless compassion.

    • Brian English

      Dr. Gosnell.

    • bill bannon

      You did several things that confuse. You compared the private realm of personal self defense with the state. God separated those two realms. The private person cannot execute ergo God saves Cain since the only people alive were family members. God shortly later gives the death penalty for murder despite saving Cain because at this later point we find first king and government in Nimrod in Genesis 10:8. Early governments being very non formal, governments allowed avengers of blood but created cities if sanctuary where those fleeing were safe temporarily. Later in Leviticus in a still nomadic or undeveloped world God makes the witnesses….not the personally offended…the first stoners of a person who committed a stoning offense. So the punisher now has moved away from
      the avenger of blood….to the first witnesses. At the end of the Bible in Romans 13:4, it has moved to the state.
      On 2267 in the catechism, you left out the prudential judgement whereby John Paul II says that life sentences (the code is “modern penology”) are protecting all over the world…..while in fact, he was guessing. MSNBC each week shows stabbing in prisons in their prison series. John Paul might be familiar with small euro prisons of cohesive nationalities like Serbia where there really is no inmate on inmate violence and murder. But John Paul certainly did no research on the rest of the world because his prudential judgement is simply not true once the small cohesive nationality countries are left behind and we had in Mexico (no death penalty) prisoners being allowed out to do murders and returning…..a white supremacist in the US stabbing a black inmate 17 times to death while the swat team watched until he dropped his knife, then they entered……Fr. Geoghan murdered by a lifer….Jeffrey Dahmer murdered by a lifer.

    • Michael PS

      The purpose of the criminal law, at least as it has developed in the West, is not to provide “justice” for the victim, but to protect the public by repressing crime and disorder, with the alarm and insecurity that crime produces.

      This is obvious from the factt that it is the public prosecutor, an official of the Ministry of Justice, who decides who shall be prosecuted and on what charges, who can restict the pains of law, grant immunity and, even after conviction, decline to move for sentence. Not only that, but, in all cases, the President of the Republic enjoys an untrammelled power of pardon.

      In none of these cases, can the vitim bring any legal complaint that he has been denied “justice.”

    • Michael PS

      I intended to write
      “with the alarm and insecurity that crime produces”

    • bill bannon

      But in countries where guards and inmates are murdered by lifers who cannot be executed in their no death penalty states, we can say that execution saves lives…guard and inmate lives. US states that have the death penalty rarely use it with a speed that deters. California has an average 20 year appeals process for death row inmates. Oddly Japan with the death penalty and being 4th safest as to murders not happening according to wiki….executes either suddenly or after great delay but does not inform the criminal. Lichtenstein is the only Catholic country safer than almost totally non Christian Japan. That affects evangelisation I would think. Why would Japan want to convert if most of predominant Catholic countries ( most having no death penalty) are places where people are less safe than they are in Japan.

    • David Elton

      You’re making my point for me. Once you deny that the law has anything to do with justice, anything is possible — compassion for murderers, contempt for victims and for society, anything.

    • Mark Shea

      Unfortunately for my complacency, both Bender and Michael PS pose legitimate challenges to my smug position. A live, imprisoned Saddam as a rallying point for his followers? Could well be. Deserters, spies and saboteurs? We might need a more muscular form of deterrence than the stockade.

      I don’t think you are disagreeing with the Church, Nick:

      Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

      If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

      So yeah, if Saddam or an imprisoned Hitler poses some sort of ongoing threat to human life, then prudence may dictate execution.

      This is a far cry, however, from the sort of vengeful delectation of the “I’ve got a little list” thinking of Mr. English, for instance, who is simply fantasizing about people he’d like to see rubbed out, whether or not they pose an ongoing threat. The tendency of death penalty maximalism to encourage people in indulging 007 fantasies about people that we’d get to kill with relish is one of the most morally corrosive aspects of the thing. People waving frying pans and holding tailgate parties to whoop it up outside the prison where Ted Bundy was executed (and, by the way, Ted Bundy nearly butchered my cousin, which is a whole ‘nother story) do not offer a very convincing argument that the chief effect of the death penalty is to fill the hearts of saints with a cool commitment to abstract Thomistic Justice. In general, death penalty maximalism tends to encourage vengeance fantasies and Little Lists of people we could do without, who never would be missed, just as Mr. English is indulging in. As with the notion that Just War theory exists, not to make war as hard as possible, but to “give us a greenlight” so that we “get” to go to war, so death penalty maximalism trains men’s minds to think in terms of “Surely, it would be great to smoke *this* guy! What a piece of vermin! I could feel really good watching *him* sizzle. I mean *look* at what a piece of excrement *he* is. It would be good to watch him die.”

      Hard to square that sort of fantasizing with the mind of Christ. So I’m glad you are in the minimalist camp.

    • Brian English

      “This is a far cry, however, from the sort of vengeful delectation of the “I’ve got a little list” thinking of Mr. English, for instance, who is simply fantasizing about people he’d like to see rubbed out, whether or not they pose an ongoing threat.”

      If you had bothered to read the earlier comments, I was responding to a question asking under what circumstances I think the death penalty could be imposed. I know it doesn’t conform to your childish labeling of all who disagree with you as “death penalty maximalists,” but I was making the point that the death penalty should only be imposed for the most horrific murders, and only when there is no question about the identity of the murderer.

      ” The tendency of death penalty maximalism to encourage people in indulging 007 fantasies about people that we’d get to kill with relish is one of the most morally corrosive aspects of the thing.”

      So now that “24″ is off the air you have settled on 007 as your new go-to-guy for trying to portray those who disagree with you as delusional?

      “People waving frying pans and holding tailgate parties to whoop it up outside the prison where Ted Bundy was executed (and, by the way, Ted Bundy nearly butchered my cousin, which is a whole ‘nother story) do not offer a very convincing argument that the chief effect of the death penalty is to fill the hearts of saints with a cool commitment to abstract Thomistic Justice.”

      Nor does it prove that you are correct in your position. Wouldn’t you consider it unfair for me to evaluate your position based upon the actions of anti-death penalty extremists?

      ” In general, death penalty maximalism tends to encourage vengeance fantasies and Little Lists of people we could do without, who never would be missed, just as Mr. English is indulging in.”

      I realize your standard procedure is to try to villify those who disagree with you, but don’t you think it might be a refreshing change to actually try to engage some of the points raised by your opponents?

      “Hard to square that sort of fantasizing with the mind of Christ.”

      It certainly is.

    • Martin

      “You did several things that confuse. You compared the private realm of personal self defense with the state. God separated those two realms.”

      Please understand that I meant that people cannot legitimately consent for another (i.e. a government) to do what would be immoral for any human being to do.

      “God shortly later gives the death penalty for murder despite saving Cain…”

      You are attributing to God the actions of men. Further, you neglect that the Old Testament contains “imperfect and provisional” matters. CCC122

    • Mark Shea

      They are opponents of the rather clear and obvious teaching of the Catholic Church as articulated in Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism. My purpose was to show why maximalism in incoherent, particularly in comparison with the sensible teaching of the Catechism. Nothing that has been said here so far overturns that case. Much that is being said simply illustrates the desperation of those who continue to lobby for maximalism despite the incoherence of their case. Others are answering those incoherent arguments well, so I devote my energies to other projects. You devote your energies to imagining putting Dr. Gosnell in the electric chair, despite the fact that, once behind bars, he can do no more harm to human life.

    • Brian English

      “They are opponents of the rather clear and obvious teaching of the Catholic Church as articulated in Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism.”

      Simply asserting something is “clear and obvious” does not make it so.

      You seem very content to believe that a few sentences from an encyclical letter that are incorporated into the Catechism are sufficient to overturn centuries of Church teachings. Others do not take the long-standing teachings of the Church so lightly.

      You also appear to be oblivious to the dangers inherent in such an arbitrary approach to determining Church doctrine.

      “You devote your energies to imagining putting Dr. Gosnell in the electric chair, despite the fact that, once behind bars, he can do no more harm to human life.”

      I don’t think I will have to exert much energy for that to end up happening (and in Pennsylvania it would be lethal injection, not the chair). Most people can look at the atrocities the man allegedly committed and recognize them for what they are — pure evil.

      You, on the other hand, are going to have to exert some real effort in order to keep the poor doctor from being executed. I think a man of your stature appearing outside the courtroom with a sign saying “Spare Dr. Gosnell, He Can’t Hurt Anyone Else” could have a tremendous impact.

      But you might want to think about whether by focusing soley on the human dignity of Dr. Gosnell, you are disregarding the human dignity of the woman and the seven new-born infants he allegedly murdered.

    • bill bannon

      Pius XI’s Mit Brennender Sorge. So you must go to that for its meaning. The encyclical is fighting Nazi criticism of the Old Testament and in doing so admits to faulty behaviour in the OT not faulty laws and mentions your “imperfect” as the sins of the Jews whenever they were turning aside from God. It does not mention the “provisional” but Aquinas goes into the greatest depth on that issue of all Catholic writers: all ritual laws and juridical punishments like stoning given by God to the Jews are void with the New Tedtament….but not moral laws given to the Jews The death penalty for murder was not a Jewish law but was given to all nations and is reaffirmed in Romans 13:4 as even Mark Shea states.

      For you to say that God cannot give states the right to execute in Gen. 9:6 and in Romans 13:4 because reason or the catechism forbids it to private persons is of course to believe in an inerrant catechism and a haplessly dysfunctional Bible. You’ve changed horses as it were….and that is very pop internet Catholic. But your new found inerrant catechism refutes you in ccc 123 which you did not cite:
      123 Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void (Marcionism).

    • Ender

      Martin: Just as excessive force cannot be used in self defense, so excessive punishment cannot be used against criminals. Neither, however, is it just to apply an inadequate penalty. The severity of the punishment must be determined by, and be commensurate with, the severity of the crime.

      As for the corrective purpose of punishment, it, along with protection, and deterrence, are all valid objectives which the Church recognizes, and sentencing should as much as possible attempt to achieve those valid goals. None of these objectives, however, determines the severity of the punishment which must be determined by the primary objective, which is retributive justice.

      As for my “selective approval” of the Catechism, I suppose that charge is true, but then it is true for all of us since it is not possible to simultaneously accept 2267 along with 2266 and especially 2260. It is not my fault that the Catechism is inconsistent and requires us to pick and choose among contradictory sections.

      Michael PS: “The purpose of the criminal law, at least as it has developed in the West, is not to provide “justice” for the victim, but to protect the public by repressing crime and disorder, with the alarm and insecurity that crime produces.”

      I’m not sure where you came up with this idea but (a) it doesn’t seem to be correct and (b) even if it was true is not relevant to what the Church teaches.

      I commented before on the low regard in which justice is held today, which is completely at odds with, contrary to your assertion, the way it used to be regarded. “Regarding criminal punishment, retribution is a demand of justice whereby the criminal is compelled to render his proper due in satisfaction of the order violated by his actions.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1317, 6th Ed 1990)

      Justice, “the mother of all virtues” (Leo XIII) has lost a great deal of her reputation. This is perhaps not surprising in that 2267 simply ignores it so it was perhaps inevitable that those who oppose capital punishment would diminish its importance as well.

    • bill bannon

      your step that since execution is forbidden to private persons, it cannot therefore be given to states is actually refuted even by the badly written ccc #2267….. which is bad only in 2 points: it implies that life sentences are modern and they are not; and secondly it indulges in sociology without research by saying that life sentences are in fact protecting society worldwide and Mexico only has life sentences for murderers and Mexico has had in northern areas over 28,000 murders in 4 years.
      But 2267 admits that states have the right to execute….it just uses one man’s unresearched sociology to conclude that it is rarely necessary.
      The Church tortured for several centuries and executed many as late as 1869…..you are watching the inverse pendulum swing to that.

    • Mark

      This really is a more complex issue than many would like to admit. One of the first Christians tried to prevent the execution of an innocent man and was told “get behind me Satan!” From the cross, Jesus had the opportunity to speak out against the death penalty (if not for Himself, surely for the men next to Him and to set a precedent for the future) and He remained silent.

      For those bustin’ their buttons over choosing the “safe for society” route of life-in-prison terms, please know that the average time served is twenty-something years, which puts murderers back on the streets at a relatively young age and these “repentant” souls are 200 more likely than the general population to murder again — within three years.

      Yes, reality is a bit more complex than the self-righteous lectures from liberal college classrooms would (mis)lead us to believe.

    • Mark Shea

      Mark: I think appealing to the Crucifixion of the Son of God as an argument for the glories of the death penalty is one that won’t persuade anybody but the most ardent death penalty maximalist. Normal people don’t look at what we did to Jesus and think with satisfaction, “There! You see? The system works!”

      Brian: You write, “I don’t think I will have to exert much energy for that to end up happening (and in Pennsylvania it would be lethal injection, not the chair). Most people can look at the atrocities the man allegedly committed and recognize them for what they are — pure evil.

      You, on the other hand, are going to have to exert some real effort in order to keep the poor doctor from being executed. I think a man of your stature appearing outside the courtroom with a sign saying “Spare Dr. Gosnell, He Can’t Hurt Anyone Else” could have a tremendous impact. ”

      Nobody’s arguing he didn’t commit grave evil. What I’m arguing is that your words can be translated as, “Surely, it would be great to smoke *this* guy! What a piece of vermin! I could feel really good watching *him* sizzle. I mean *look* at what a piece of excrement *he* is. It would be good to watch him die.”

      Because that is what you are saying. And, in response to the Church’s (not my) counsel that the undeserving Gosnell should be shown mercy and not executed, you are responding with vengeful contempt. It is, as I note, a frame of mind not easy to reconcile with the mind of Christ and is one of the reasons the Church says, “If you don’t *have* to execute, then don’t.” The death penalty kills the prisoner’s body. The Maximalist’s unconcealed contempt for the Church’s counsel of mercy (as well as Gosnell) kills his own soul.

    • Martin

      The maximalist fundamentally wants to be God by killing someone, not in self defense or to protect society, but as vengeful punishment. Only God has that right over life.

    • Brian English

      “What I’m arguing is that your words can be translated as, “Surely, it would be great to smoke *this* guy! What a piece of vermin! I could feel really good watching *him* sizzle. I mean *look* at what a piece of excrement *he* is. It would be good to watch him die.”

      Well, if you insist on ascribing wicked motives to those you disagree with, then yes, I suppose you could translate my words in that fashion.

      “And, in response to the Church’s (not my) counsel that the undeserving Gosnell should be shown mercy and not executed, you are responding with vengeful contempt. It is, as I note, a frame of mind not easy to reconcile with the mind of Christ and is one of the reasons the Church says, “If you don’t *have* to execute, then don’t.”

      No, I am responding with 2,000 years of Church doctrine that always regarded achieving justice through punishment as being part of the criteria for imposing the death penalty. Over the centuries the circumstances that were regarded as sufficient for imposing the ultimate penalty have been dramatically reduced, often at the request of the Church, but an argument that punishment was not part of the equation is untenable.

      I simply do not agree that the sole criteria for imposing the death penalty is the protection of society from additional attacks. To look at it through Newman’s explanation that the development of Church doctrine resembled the development of a human body, the removal of punishment from the death penalty issue does not represent a development, but an amputation.

      “The Maximalist’s unconcealed contempt for the Church’s counsel of mercy (as well as Gosnell) kills his own soul.”

      So Augustine, Aquinas, More and Pius V, among others, all had dead souls?

    • bill bannon

      Not a maximalist….most murders are domestic and probably involve less than full consent of the will or sufficient reflection. Gang murders and home invader crimes etc do probably involve full consent and sufficient reflection.
      God actually twice gives governments the right to execute criminals as His “minister” no less…Gen.9:6 and Romans 13:4. You may not have seen either because John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae sequesters both passages from viewing….even while quoting fragments from Genesis 9.
      But nothing prevents you from reading them and accessing Aquinas’ commentary thereon. On the topic of violence, Benedict in section 42 of Verbum Domini states that ” the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual…”
      You like that quote don’t you? The problem is that it does not match the Old Testament unless you edit to the exilic and pre/post exilic prophets who were in no position to be talking about warfare etc. They had lost…some were prisoners.
      When you go to the prophet who alone will prepare the way for the Second Coming of Christ…Elijah…..you are faced with a man who slit the throats of 450 prophets of Baal.
      And he….Elijah….not John the beloved disciple, not Mother Teresa, not St. Francis of Assisi…Elijah who killed more men than probably any US sniper in Iraq…Elijah will prepare the way for Christ to return not in weakness this time but in power.
      Eliseus a prophet who twice raised people from the dead….also cursed children who did not honor him as prophet and called him names and 42 of them were killed by two she bears who quickly appeared. Samuel, another prophet, ” hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal” because Saul had not killed Agag as God had ordered and actually the kingship was taken from Saul because of not doing the killing that God had ordered.
      Why don’t you know these things? Because we are in a time zone in history when Popes are trying to compensate for Church violence of a bygone era. The Amish were always pacifist and so they never have an image problem. Not so Catholicism. These last two Popes are partially image creators. That is why Benedict has literally copied the word “cruel” said of the death penalty by John Paul II in 1999….and Benedict has said it twice now about the death penalty….something God affirmed numerous times in the Bible. I think right after death. John Paul had that insult burned out of him in minutes that seemed like years. And the same will happen to Benedict. I think purgatory is technically quick but really long at the seeming level.

    • Mark Shea

      So Augustine, Aquinas, More and Pius V, among others, all had dead souls?

      If you can show me a place where these gents wrote sneeringly of the teaching of a papal encyclical and the Catechism, then you’ll have made a devastating point.

    • Mark

      “I think appealing to the Crucifixion of the Son of God as an argument for the glories of the death penalty…”

      Except that wasn’t my point. Could you possibly be more childish if you tried? As usual, you insist on portraying those who don’t walk lock-step with your opinions as cartoonish immoral lunatics.

      I’ve actually been agnostic on the death penalty issue for many years now. As far as I’m concerned, locking a human being in a cage like an animal is in some ways worse than death.

      My main point is to expose the left for using 37 executions / year as a political football. If executing fewer than 1/2 of 1% of murderers isn’t evidence that we as a society have reached the “minimalist” standard, what % this side of zero would?

    • Martin

      God actually twice gives governments the right to execute criminals as His “minister” no less…Gen.9:6 and Romans 13:4.

      That’s your interpretation but it contradicts the general direction of the OT which becomes evident in the thrust of the NT, and that is to not kill and to love the other as one’s self. It also obviously contradicts God’s church’s teaching as has already been explained.

      Genesis 9:6 really applies to you. Interpreted retrospectively from the NT it means that if you don’t want to die by the sword, you shouldn’t live by it. It does not mean that you have the right to kill others for revenge, but rather that some other murderer may murder you if you take it upon yourself to murder others. Jesus said as much when he ordered Peter to put away his sword.
      Regarding your Romans 13:4 quote, just read a little further to Romans 13:8 where Paul writes: “…the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…” Note thatin Romans 12:12 Paul, following Jesus, had already set the context writing: “Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them.” That’s what the Jews didn’t understand.

      And he….Elijah….not John the beloved disciple, not Mother Teresa, not St. Francis of Assisi…Elijah who killed more men than probably any US sniper in Iraq…Elijah will prepare the way for Christ to return not in weakness this time but in power. Eliseus a prophet who twice raised people from the dead….also cursed children who did not honor him as prophet and called him names and 42 of them were killed by two she bears who quickly appeared.

      You manifest an exclusively Jewish discourse and its blindness to Jesus Christ, The Truth. It is ignorance to argue, as you have, that Jesus came in “weakness” but that next time he will come in power. You don’t understand that Jesus is God and that the weakness of God is greater than any power.

      Psalm 20:7 tells us not to rely on Chariots and horses, but on the name of God which is also the name Jesus. Muscles and armies don’t mean much to God. Nor do kings. Indeed, He didn’t want the Jews to have human kings! He wanted them to want and accept Him as their King, but they wanted a human one like other tribes.

      The Jews came to believe in Him because they won wars without doing much themselves. But it was God who won those wars, not them or any human “power”. Afterwards they betrayed Him again and again. But then God came to them, still His Chosen People, Incarnate. He told them and us:“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ Mathew 5: 43-45 is consistent: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

    • bill bannon

      your thoughts are just scrambled. Romans 13:4 is used multiple times by Aquinas just as I have used it. All thomists from 1266 til now did also. All you do is find antilogies and contrast them. It’s a game you’ll have to play alone. To live by the sword is to go through life solving critical points of life by power…which is what Peter was doing in a context that was inevitable as to Christ’s arrest.
      Plenty of great military men did not live by the sword even though they carried them. And they died peacefully. You might try noticing that Christ said that the centurion had more ” faith than I have found in all Israel”. Centurions carried a sword and managed 100 other men who carried the sword. And the one whom Christ met had more faith than anyone else in Israel. You simply use God’s word in one quote to nullify God’s word in another quote. I doubt that He is proud of you gaming the Word. I pray all the time now for a criminal who robbed my house and whom I caught and defeated in a streetfight just weeks ago.. If you think violence rules out love, you’ve led a sheltered life. Do not post the gaming of quotes to me. It’s facile and almost troll level.

    • Ender

      If you can show me a place where these gents wrote sneeringly of the teaching of a papal encyclical and the Catechism, then you’ll have made a devastating point.

      Mark, calling out problems with the Catechism is not quite the same as sneering at it, and the devastating points have been made: 2267 is a major change to Church teaching on punishment in general as well as capital punishment in particular, and it does not appear to be supported by anything the Church has ever written on the subject. Rather, it is contradicted by what the Church has taught for nearly two millennia.

      Most of the arguments written in support of 2267 involve individual interpretation of some piece of scripture or personal attacks on the motivation of those who oppose it, while the strongest arguments against it are documents of the Church herself. There really is only one argument in favor of the new teaching: JPII said so and it is in the Catechism. Beyond that there is nothing.

      There are serious problems with this section, some are painfully obvious. Of the three parts of 2267, the first, which discusses the traditional teaching of the Church is simply wrong. The Church never had the restriction this sentence claimed. The third part is obviously an opinion and surely no one can reasonably claim that we are bound to assent to it. The middle sentence implies a new interpretation of the Scripture passage on which Catholic teaching about the death penalty has always been based, but there is nothing given to support this position; it is simply presented without explanation. Worse, it makes section 2260 simply inexplicable. Beyond that (if more was needed) 2267 gives a distorted impression not only about the necessity of justice but even about its place as a virtue at all. These problems are recognized by more than just a few of us. Let us hope that they are addressed before too long.

      Catholic teaching on capital punishment is in a state of dangerous ambiguity. The discussion of the death penalty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is so difficult to interpret that conscientious members of the faithful scarcely know what their Church obliges them to believe. (R. Michael Dunnigan – J.D. J.C.L.)

    • bill bannon

      ” There really is only one argument in favor of the new teaching: JPII said so and it is in the Catechism”

      You have touched on the heart of the emperor’s new clothes approach to Catholicism. Had Paul had emperor’s new clothes syndrome, he would never have “withstood Peter to his face” in Galatians. That is why God arranged for Paul to be the central epistle writer….not Peter who indeed was the first Pope. God picked two violent men in each Testament to lead the people of God…Moses and Peter….both violent. God pruned and punished both for their inordinate violence….but God saw in their violence…the protectiveness of fatherhood which he needed in the papacy. Neither man would have permitted boy abuse to last
      one month under them.

    • Michael PS

      The argument of strict proportionality of punishment proves too much. If death is the proportionate punishment for murder, how are we to punish more grieveious crimes, like treason and l

    • Dudley Sharp

      The death penalty is not given based up the race or ethnicity of the murderer but based upon the commission of capital murder.

      “Death Penalty Sentencing: No Systemic Bias”
      http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/07/death-penalty-sentencing-no-systemic.html

    • Dudley Sharp

      With both EV and the revised CC there was no consideration of reality, with regard to protection or defense of society.

      Those death penalty considerations excluded the vast record of errors and affirmative actions that put more innocents at risk, such as not confining violent offenders, allowing incarcerated offenders to harm and kill, again in prison and/or by use of proxies outside of prison, either by managing free world criminal enterprises from prison, by use of direct contact or cell phones, etc., the early release of known violent offenders or the accidental release of violent prisoners or their escapes, from all jurisdictions, inclusive of the US.

      Cases of severe harm/murder occur every day throughout the world, under these circumstances, something that PJPII and the Church seem to be completely oblivious to, completely undermining the humanist/secular foundation for this revised and highly flawed death penalty limitation/exclusion.

      Currently, ever US state is reviewing its Life without parole sentences, as well as all sentencing schemes, in an effort to safe monies by releasing prisoners early, based upon finances – efforts that will result in more innocents harmed/murdered.

      IN addition:

      The Death Penalty: Saving Innocent Lives
      Dudley Sharp, contact info below

      Innocence

      Of all human endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

      1) “The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx

      2) Opponents in capital punishment have blood on their hands, Dennis Prager, 11/29/05, http://townhall.com/columnists…heir_hands

      The false innocence claims by anti death penalty activists are legendary. Some examples:

      3) “The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2…draft.aspx

      4) The 130 (now 13smilies/cool.gif death row “innocents” scam
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx

      5) “A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection”, Lester Jackson Ph.D.,
      http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=102909A

      6) Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean–the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx

      7) “At the Death House Door” Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/01/30/fact-checking-is-very-welcome.aspx

      smilies/cool.gif “Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown”, A Collection of Articles
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Cameron Todd Willingham.aspx

      Deterrence

      Of course the death penalty deters.

      All prospects of a negative outcome deter some. It is a truism. The death penalty, the most severe of criminal sanctions, is the least likely of all criminal sanctions to violate that truism.

      1) 27 recent studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation
      http://www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPDeterrence.htm

      2) “Deterrence & the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/02/deterrence-and-the-death-penalty-a-reply-to-radelet-and-lacock.aspx

      3) “Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let’s be clear”
      http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/03/death-penalty-deterrence-murder-rates.html

      4) This is out of date, but corrects a number of the misconceptions about deterrence.

      “Death Penalty and Deterrence”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2…61204.aspx

      5) “The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx

      WHY SUPPORT THE DEATH PENALY? JUSTICE.

      It appears that the majority populations of all countries support the death penalty for some crimes. (1)

      They find the death penalty moral and just, the foundation of support for all sanctions.

      The foundation for the moral/ethical support of the death penalty is much more convincing than for its opposition.

      “Moral/ethical Death Penalty Support: Christian and secular Scholars”
      http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/07/death-penalty-support-modern-catholic.html

      OTHER MORAL CONSIDERATIONS

      “Killing equals Killing: The Amoral Confusion of Death Penalty Opponents”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/02/01/murder-and-execution–very-distinct-moral-differences–new-mexico.aspx

      “The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/20/the-death-penalty-neither-hatred-nor-revenge.aspx

      “The Death Penalty: Not a Human Rights Violation”
      http://homicidesurvivors.com/2006/03/20/the-death-penalty-not-a-human-rights-violation.aspx

      “Physicians & The State Execution of Murderers: No Ethical/Medical Dilemma”
      http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/10/physicians-state-execution-of-murderers.html

      FOOTNOTE

      1) “Death Penalty Support Remains Very High: USA & The World”
      http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/07/death-penalty-polls-support-remains.html

    • Dudley Sharp

      PJPII & CC: aversion to facts, re: defense/safety of society

      http://www.insidecatholic.com/feature/death-penalty-magisterium-vs-left-and-right.html

      With both EV and the revised CC there was no consideration of reality, with regard to protection or defense of society.

      Those death penalty considerations excluded the vast record of errors and affirmative actions that put more innocents at risk, such as not confining violent offenders, allowing incarcerated offenders to harm and kill, again in prison and/or by use of proxies outside of prison, either by managing free world criminal enterprises from prison, by use of direct contact or cell phones, etc., the early release of known violent offenders or the accidental release of violent prisoners or their escapes, from all jurisdictions, inclusive of the US.

      Cases of severe harm/murder occur every day throughout the world, under these circumstances, something that PJPII and the Church seem to be completely oblivious to, completely undermining the humanist/secular foundation for this revised and highly flawed death penalty limitation/exclusion.

      Currently, ever US state is reviewing its life without parole sentences, as well as all sentencing schemes, in an effort to save monies by releasing prisoners early, based upon finances – efforts that will result in more innocents harmed/murdered.

      contd

    • Dudley Sharp

      The Death Penalty: Saving Innocent Lives

      Innocence

      Of all human endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

      Innocence

      1) “The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents”
      http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx

      2) Opponents in capital punishment have blood on their hands, Dennis Prager, 11/29/05, http(COLON)//townhall(DOT)com/columnists/DennisPrager/2005/11/29/ opponents_in_capital_punishment_have_blood_on_their_han
      ds

      The false innocence claims by anti death penalty activists are legendary. Some examples:

      3) “The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents”
      http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2009/10/08/the-innocent-executed-deception–death-penalty-opponents–draft.aspx

      4) The 130 (now 13smilies/cool.gif death row “innocents” scam
      http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx

      5) “A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection”, Lester Jackson Ph.D.,
      www(DOT)tcsdaily.com/article(DOT)aspx?id=102909A

      6) Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review”
      http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean–the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx

      7) “At the Death House Door” Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?”
      http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2009/01/30/fact-checking-is-very-welcome.aspx

      smilies/cool.gif “Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown”, A Collection of Articles
      http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/categories/Cameron Todd Willingham.aspx

      Deterrence

      Of course the death penalty deters.

      All prospects of a negative outcome deter some. It is a truism. The death penalty, the most severe of criminal sanctions, is the least likely of all criminal sanctions to violate that truism.

      1) 27 recent studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation,
      www(DOT)cjlf(DOT)org/deathpenalty/DPDeterrence.htm

      2) “Deterrence & the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock”
      http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2009/07/02/deterrence-and-the-death-penalty-a-reply-to-radelet-and-lacock.aspx

      3) “Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let’s be clear”
      http(COLON)//prodpinnc.blogspo(DOT)com/2009/03/death-penalty-deterrence-murder-rates.html

      4) This is out of date, but corrects a number of the misconceptions about deterrence.

      “Death Penalty and Deterrence”
      http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2006/03/20/the-death-penalty-as-a-deterrent–confirmed–seven-recent-studies-updated-61204.aspx

      5) “The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents”
      http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx

    • David Elton

      “Quartering or breaking on the wheel”? Are you kidding? Silly comment.

    • Michael PS

      In the still-Catholic Byzantine empire, in 726, the Ecloga of Leo III the Isaurian, abolished the death penalty for almost all crimes, including murder and brigandage and substituted blinding and ham-stringing. The law itself referred to the

    • Dudley Sharp

      It is very difficult for me to say I agree with Mark Shea on anything. He becomes too nasty and personal when things don’t turn his way, which occurs often in the death penalty discussion.

      However, I think that those pro death penalty folks who justify the secular death penalty based upon God/Jesus chosing execution as a just method of sanction for the guilty are missing some not so subtle issues.

      Those who knew precisely what they were doing in the Passion of Christ in presenting false charges against Jesus were guilty of sins and crimes in their false witness against Him.

      This was a secular/religious wrongful execution, based upon sin, the outcome of which was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man, providing an eternal path of salvation for those who wish to accept it.

      Yes, Jesus was the willing sacrificial Lamb, but that cannot, I believe, be used as a foundation for justifying the death penalty as God sanctioned, as this execution was a unique, once in eternity sacrifice based upon sin, perfection and salvation.

      I do understand why some people look at the crucifixion and say that God has told us that the death penalty is the proper sanction for criminals/sinners, as Jesus was crucified for taking on the sims/crimes of the world, He took all of the guilt upon Himself.

      However, I think they overlook that He was executed as a result of the hatred and lies of others and that the taking on of sins/crimes was done, voluntarily by a Perfect Entity, who had no sin.

      I don’t think it can be used in the context of any earthly justification for executions. Some may disagree.

      There are more than enough examples of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and Magesterial/scholarly support providing a firm foundation for death penalty support, without wronging using the Passion.

    • Brian English

      “If you can show me a place where these gents wrote sneeringly of the teaching of a papal encyclical and the Catechism, then you’ll have made a devastating point.”

      The only sneering I see being done here is by you.

      And the point I was making is that under your interpretation of the Church’s position on the death penalty, those giants of the Church would certainly be considered maximalists. That should make you think about the validity of your claim that death penalty maximalists (which apparently includes anyone in a First World country who supports even a single execution) are vengeful monsters.

    • Tom McKenna

      Lots of heat from Mark as usual on this topic, name-calling and pulling quotations from the straw men in the fever swamp and bravely knocking them down.

      Here’s the thing: I and many others are in fact death penalty minimalists. That is, we believe the prudent, limited use of the DP in this country is consistent with the post- VII teaching (whether it’s a “development” or a “distortion” of prior teaching is another matter). As Mark knows, but never gets around to addressing (because it would undercut his whole demonization of pro-DP Catholics), in this country we execute about one-tenth of one percent of convicted murderers. In the vast majority of these cases, these are repeat serious offender who cannot be “rendered harmless” by some means other than death. If there is some way to render violent felons who escape, who kill their fellow inmates or assault prison guards, please, Mark and the rest of the abolitionists, tell us now what they are. I won’t hold my breath, because neither Mark, nor the bishops, are in possession of the facts and expertise to make such practical judgments.

      So, just to shed some light: regardless of your view of the current state of the Church’s teaching, be assured that in this country we abide by it. We execute the slenderest fraction of the worst offenders only, after exhaustively fair trials and years of appellate review. That is, we execute “rarely” only those who cannot be “rendered harmless,” to use the new lingo.

      If people want to go more minimalist than that and abolish the DP, fine, or if there is some particular case that appears to be unjust, fine, shout from the rooftops and we shall “reason together” about it: but don’t pretend that there is some epidemic of reckless use of the DP that flies in the face of Catholic morality, because it just ain’t so.

    • Michael PS

      Obviously, the provisions of the Ecloga (blinding and ham-stringing) would greatly reduce the threat imposed by a violent offender, unless he were a former head of state, or leader of a wide-spread popular uprising with dangerous supposrters outside and the loyalty of those detaining him in question, for whom I do support the death penalty.

    • Martin

      your thoughts are just scrambled.

      Absent truth in your arguments, I’m not surprised you now claim this.

      Romans 13:4 is used multiple times by Aquinas just as I have used it. All thomists from 1266 til now did also.

      Submit your evidence.

      All you do is find antilogies and contrast them. It’s a game you’ll have to play alone.

      I’m not playing games but I admit I can’t make you be reasonable; that’s up to you. Generally you fail by not interpreting the OT through the NT, by not letting love for God and the other guide your reasoning.

      To live by the sword is to go through life solving critical points of life by power…which is what Peter was doing in a context that was inevitable as to Christ’s arrest.

      To live by the sword is to use violence or its threat to solve problems for which they can’t be the solution. That’s what Christ stopped Peter from doing.

      Plenty of great military men did not live by the sword even though they carried them. And they died peacefully.

      We are not debating military use of violence for defense purposes but as revenge on a murderer who we are perfectly able to protect society from. It’s hard to believe you haven’t understood that this is what we are debating.

      You might try noticing that Christ said that the centurion had more ” faith than I have found in all Israel”. Centurions carried a sword and managed 100 other men who carried the sword. And the one whom Christ met had more faith than anyone else in Israel.

      Jesus was commenting on the centurion’s faith, not his sword. Almost everyone then had swords. Note how the centurion’s faith became evident only when he confessed being unworthy to receive Jesus Christ in his home.

      You simply use God’s word in one quote to nullify God’s word in another quote.

      No, I’m trying to show that the OT must be fundamentally interpreted through the NT. Holy Scripture is a form of pedagogy, not definitive or final until the NT. A textbook may incompletely introduce some concepts early because students may be unable to understand more and yet need to understand certain concepts at least partially, in order to understand others partially, and thereby become able them to advance to a more complex expression of a concept. Yet students may misinterpret and live in varying degrees of error until further understanding takes place. Thus, the introduction to concepts and how it’s recorded is ‘temporary and imperfect’.

      I doubt that He is proud of you gaming the Word.

      That’s a calumny.

      I pray all the time now for a criminal who robbed my house and whom I caught and defeated in a streetfight just weeks ago..

      Since you caught him after the fact, it appears that you did not use violence in self defense but apparently as revenge. You should have called the police. What a country and world this would be if everyone acted like you.

      If you think violence rules out love, you’ve led a sheltered life. Do not post the gaming of quotes to me. It’s facile and almost troll level.

      Revenge rules out love and even if you are Christian you are very misguided and need help.

    • Tom McKenna

      For illustrative examples of why “rendering offenders harmless” cannot possibly mean “life imprisonment” see: http://seeking4justice.blogspo…/Rendering Offenders Harmless

      Since the DP abolitionists have never explained exactly how they believe violent offenders can be “rendered harmless” without violating morality (e.g., by means such as lifetime solitary confinement, which our abolitionist friends would undoubtedly find to be akin to torture), we are left with the conclusion that in the absence of such means, the death penalty remains a viable option for certain offenders.

    • Martin

      Your link “rendering offenders harmless” takes one to a message that reads: “No posts with label Rendering”.

      Please send the correct link.

    • bill bannon

      Heckler and Koch MP5′s…..remember that next time he gives the “violence accomplishes nothing” speech…….look up epikeia as to the observance not of natural law but of positive law. Aquinas held that it is sinful when epikeia is due….to not use it. I had to chase the man in question because my house contains 3 weapons (1 gun) ( NY harbor) which he would have employed on the street in a murder himself or thru sale of it. I was correct. He had found one and placed it in the bag. Ergo…epikeia…a part of prudence commanded action. I called the police who took 10 minutes to arrive after the fact.
      I informed them exactly what I did in detail and they remarked….” you did what you had to do.”. Discretion about lethal matters is used by police more times in one week than you will use in a lifetime. Perhaps I should send them to you or Pope Benedict for security advice. Oh that’s right, the Swiss Guard right now have H&K MP5 submachine guns…public info….incapable of penetrating thick body armor which their only potential foe at that level …Al Qaeda… now knows from the internet.
      H&K has to replace it in Nato countries with the MP7 which can penetrate body armor. Ergo…should Al Qaeda one day attack St. Peter’s, they will know to wear body armor. But I’ll go to the pacifist Catholic wing for security advice.

      On the Bible, basically you’ll never read the complete Bible because half of it makes you hurl. I read the whole thing. Mark my words….by the time you leave this earth you will have read only a fraction of the Bible. Most of it makes you hurl. It makes the last two Popes hurl in the violent passages…see Evangelium Vitae section 40 and Verbum Domini section 42. Do I think John Paul or Benedict read it completely? No. Parts of it make them hurl.

    • Tom McKenna

      Correct link:

      http://goo.gl/l6wTC

      If it doesn’t take you directly there, cut and paste into your browser search field. For some reason this site doesn’t uplink this correctly.

    • Mark

      “There are more than enough examples of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and Magesterial/scholarly support providing a firm foundation for death penalty support, without wronging using the Passion.” – Dudley Sharp

      If this was in response to my comment, please let me clarify. I am noncommittal vis a vis the death penalty (though after reading this article and the subsequent comments, I am leaning more toward its implementation being prudent in some circumstances) therefore, I was in no way trying to “use the Passion” to support it.

      My objcective was to expose the self-satisfied / better-than style of the left as falling short of being completely accurate.

      - Merely claiming to oppose the DP in all cases can not make one impervious to error because History, the Bible and our Faith teach us that Peter was called Satan when he did this. This cannot be denied.

      - Regardless of how loudly liberals scream that eliminating the DP has always been high on the list of Christian priorities, we can see that this is obviously not the case when we read the Gospels and see that Jesus was silent on the issue from the Cross. That is NOT to say that Christ therefore, gave tacit support for the DP — it just illustrates that our Lord did not voice that executing “thieves” was unjust. This cannot be denied.

      1- “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
      2- “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
      3- “Jesus said to his mother: “Woman, this is your son”.
      Then he said to the disciple: “This is your mother.”
      4- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
      5- “I thirst”
      6- “It is finished”
      7- “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”

      I sincerely apologize if my ambition to expose liberal errors and arrogance was inferred as sacrilegious — that was certainly not my intent. The Passion is sacrosanct, however, modern liberalism is not.

    • Ender

      The question was raised as to how this passage is understood by the Church. I can help with that. Aquinas references it a half dozen times in his Summa Theologica but this explanation is surely clear:

      II/II 64,4 Objection 2: Now the secular power as “God’s minister” lawfully puts evil-doers to death, according to Romans 13:4. Much more therefore may clerics, who are God’s ministers and have spiritual power, put evil-doers to death.

      This is an argument that Aquinas refutes but it is in this context that he gives this reply to the next objection:

      Ibid 4 ad 3: Ecclesiastical prelates accept the office of earthly princes, not that they may inflict capital punishment themselves, but that this may be carried into effect by others in virtue of their authority.

      Reference to this passage goes back at least to Innocent I in 405 (responding the question of the validity of capital punishment):

      He who carries out this vengeance is God

    • Martin

      Quote who you want but the bottom line is that God did not kill Cain. Not even in revenge.

      Evangelium vitae
      http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae_en.html

      ‘High Justice’ and the Death Penalty
      http://adlimina.blogspot.com/2005/12/high-justice-and-death-penalty.html

    • Michael PS

      As to the description by Benedict XVI of capital punishment as

    • bill bannon

      inter alia (also the 42 children that mocked Eliseus) and in the New Testament….God killed through the first Pope: Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and through an angel, Herod (Acts 12). But in everyone of those cases, sacrilege was involved ( Onan e.g. risked the non appearance of Christ who was to come from the house of Judah which was only 4 men at that time).

      God never intimately killed a murderer but willed that the human community to do it (Gen.9:6) as soon as the governments appear in Genesis 10:8 wherein Nimrod is the first king.

    • bill bannon

      When John Paul II stated that the death penalty was cruel (it’s not), he stated in St. Louis knowing full well how it would be taken in America in 1999. And frankly I doubt he looked up what you did prior to saying it. Benedict likewise. They erred….Popes are not pan infallible. We have no obligation to do contortions to make them look pan infallible through scholarship. They know how their words are taken by a 99.99999% non scholarly world. They erred. Paul: ” I resisted Peter to his face for he was deserving of blame.”

    • bill bannon

      you want to say that they were deceiving the present world with a medieval acceptation of the word “cruel”. Either they erred or they were playing a philology trick on the whole world. But Benedict’s early praising of the Phillipines president for abolishing the death penalty means he really does think it cruel and he wills something other than ccc#2267 implies…ie that a state may have to use it rarely. The Bishops too have lobbied lawmakers for abolishment which is likewise against the catechism article’s implication.

    • Michael PS

      The word was used in the same sense (and in the same context) by that eminent canonist, Prospero Lambertini, later Benedict XIV in the mid-18th century, by which time, it seems to have been a sort of term of art to describe the scope of the irregularity.

      But the point is about more than language; the self-same canonists, who would unanimously have defended the power of the state to employ the death penalty, regarded pretty well any involvement with its infliction, as rendering a person ineligible for the priesthood, on the grounds of “defect of mildness,” which wrgues they did not regard it as an unmixed good

    • bill bannon

      I know but it was oddly scrupulous since after 1253 and Exsurge Domine art.?24 I believe, they had no problem handing over heretics to the state who were commanded by canon law to enforce the then penlties which under Frederick II was burning at the stake.

    • bill bannon

      Exsurge Domine was Leo X in 1520 affirming burning at the stake almost 300 years after Ad Extirpanda.
      I hold that to burning of heretics to have been negative…..Gn.9:6 was about Gentiles and murder not error…..but Aquinas argued heretics murder the soul. But I’d add…..only if you let them. It takes two to tango.

    • bill bannon

      You may well have hit on what Jung would have called a pre-conscious piece on their overall temptation to overule the death penalty. They could be trying to eliminate the collective association of the Catholic clergy with the Inquisitors who handed people over to torture or death. But with TV and movies and the History station, one can never overcome past facts….in fact, knowledge of the past will reach those who are not inclined to read.

    • Michael PS

      No convict was ever relaxed to the Secular Arm, without the intercession, which can be found in Leo XII’s edition of the Pontificale Romanum, that the bishop was to make “effectually, from the heart and with all insistance” (efficaciter, et ex corde, et omni instantia) to the temporal judge to moderate his sentence, avoiding the peril of death or mutilation.

      That the Imperial Constitutions alllowed the judge no discretion, in the case of heresy or some other offences was no concern of the bishop, who thereby avoided irregularity from the discharge of his sacred functions. The Church could not interfere with the course of secular justice, except by an urgent, but respectful, petition. It might even, in the general case, urge a rigourous application of the laws against heresy – for a bishop in Parliament might vote for a statute prescribng capital punishment and, similarly, the pope could, and did, employ an executioner and lay judges, who imposed the death penalty in criminal cases; irregularity was only incurred by participation in a particular application of it. On this, all canonists agree.

    • bill bannon

      no one since it was theatrics. The root moment is described in New Advent’s piece on what happened in 1253 within the Inquisition essay where what the
      Imperial Constitutions had been doing (burning heretics) was made permanent by Innocent IV in 1253…..Leo XII was 18th into 19th century. Here is the apposite section:

      ” Frederick II was of the same opinion; in his Constitution of 1224; he says that heretics convicted by an ecclesiastical court shall, on imperial authority, suffer death by fire (auctoritate nostra ignis iudicio concremandos), and similarly in 1233 “praesentis nostrae legis edicto damnatos mortem pati decernimus.” In this way Gregory IX may be regarded as having had no share either directly or indirectly in the death of condemned heretics. Not so the succeeding popes. In the Bull “Ad exstirpanda” (1252) Innocent IV says:

      When those adjudged guilty of heresy have been given up to the civil power by the bishop or his representative, or the Inquisition, the podest

    • bill bannon

      above.

    • Michael PS

      Surely, I dealt with billBannon’s last post int he last paragraph of mine.

      “It [the Church] might even, in the general case, urge a rigourous application of the laws against heresy – for a bishop in Parliament might vote for a statute prescribng capital punishment and, similarly, the pope could, and did, employ an executioner and lay judges, who imposed the death penalty in criminal cases; irregularity was only incurred by participation in a particular application of it. On this, all canonists agree.”

      The words “Rogamus ut citra &c” appear so often in the records of the Inquisition, that the clerks did not feel it necessary to enter the request in full on the record, but used an &c.

      Similarly, in ordinary criminal cases, the Prince and Elector Bishops of Germany never signed a death warrant, merely a letter to the magistrates that they saw no reason to intervene and to let the law take its course. In such a case, no irregularity was incurred.

    • bill bannon

      Did Peter contract irregularity when he verbally participated with God in the killing of Ananias and Saphhira in Acts 5? Or no…because he did it hands free…..exactly the way Moses did it in the cases of Dathan and Abiram and their families? The pharisee side of the Church will be cleansed away by the end of history ergo Lumen Gentium held that only then will the Church be perfect in behaviours. The sacraments are always perfect. The behaviours are not.

    • bill bannon

      No Pope will return to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming despite their regularity. Elijah who slit 450 throats of the prophets of Baal will return to prepare the way for Christ who on earth whipped men out of the temple Himself.

    • bill bannon

      out of the temple…..but Pope Innocent IV who verbally killed heretics was regular.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope

      This article is well written and makes proper distinctions. I too am a death penalty minimalists and like your terminology here. The only concern I struggle with is that, when I lived in a crime ridden section of town in my last parish it was obvious to me that many violent criminals walked the streets who had no business being out of jail. Our culture has a hard time keeping serious criminals locked up. Thus, while I am a death penalty minimalist, I also think we need to be far more sober in how we deal with repeat felons who harm and endanger the common good by their violence. No death penalty means that it is more critical to keep violent offenders locked up.

    • paul

      I find it interesting that the author insists upon partitioning all Catholics into 2 camps. Please. Being a “minimalist” does not necessitate total abolition, as we cannot possibly anticipate all situations.

    • David Elton

      Those who favor abolition are typical liberals. Justice doesn’t matter. The common good doesn’t matter. Common sense doesn’t matter. What matters is “me” and “my feelings”. Taking the abolitionist position allows me to feel good about myself. It places me with those “enlightened” and “successful” people who really matter to me — particularly those “enlightened” people in the media. And it distances me from . . . those people . . . you know, the people who are not really very smart, the ones who don’t get it. As I said before, a society that prohibits the death penalty is a society that has given up on the concept of justice and replaced it with a mindless compassion.

    • Nick

      I prefer a more “traditionalist” approach to the whole subject of the death penalty: St Therese of Lisieux – The Little Flower!

      St Therese teaches us mercy is the answer for men on death row. A quote from her autobiography, A Story of a Soul (Ch 5) explains her feelings:

      “In order still further to enkindle my ardour, Our Divine Master soon proved to me how pleasing to him was my desire. Just then I heard much talk of a notorious criminal, Pranzini, who was sentenced to death for several shocking murders, and, as he was quite impenitent, everyone feared he would be eternally lost. How I longed to avert this irreparable calamity! In order to do so I employed all the spiritual means I could think of, and, knowing that my own efforts were unavailing, I offered for his pardon the infinite merits of Our Saviour and the treasures of Holy Church.

      …I said in all simplicity: “My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me.” My prayer was granted to the letter.

      The day after his execution I hastily opened the paper, La Croix, and what did I see? Tears betrayed my emotion; I was obliged to run out of the room. Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing or receiving absolution, and the executioners were already dragging him towards the fatal block, when all at once, apparently in answer to a sudden inspiration, he turned round, seized the crucifix which the Priest was offering to him, and kissed Our Lord’s Sacred Wounds three times. . . . I had obtained the sign I asked for, and to me it was especially sweet.”

      Look at this beautiful act of Love and Mercy that brought true Peace to all parties involved! This “little giant” of a Saint sure knew how to put things in perspective and bring justice and peace to society!

    • Manny

      What a great discussion. After reading a good deal of it, and going over the the biblical passages, I would have to say that Gn 9:6 establishes that the death penalty carries out justice. Now we can supercede justice with mercy, but I do not believe that Church can justify saying it can only to be used to protect society. Now i am not a “maximalist” but I do think there are many occaisions where it is the just punishment. Let us be merciful, but a jury can certainly determine where justice serves society best. The church Magisterium should return to the Catholic traditional teaching.