Hanging Concentrates the Mind

richard-bridgens-an-execution-in-rome-for-murder-1820

Capital punishment does not inspire roaring humor in healthy minds, so wit on the subject tends to be sardonic.  Two of the most famous examples, of course, are: “In this country it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others,”  and “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

The first, “pour encourager les autres,”  is in “Candide” where Voltaire alludes to the death by firing squad of Admiral John Byng in 1757 for having let Mincorca fall to the French.  The second was Samuel Johnson’s response to the hanging of an Anglican clergyman and royal chaplain William Dodd for a loan scam.  Byng’s death was the last instance of shooting an officer for incompetence, while Dodd’s was the last hanging at Tyburn for forgery. Dodd’s unsuccessful appeal for clemency was ghostwritten by Dr. Johnson.

It is not my concern here to take a position on capital punishment which the Catechism (# 2266) acknowledges is not an intrinsic evil and is rightly part of the state’s authority. This is nuanced by the same Catechism’s proposition that its use  today would be “rare, if not practically non-existent. (#2267)”  As a highly unusual insertion of a prudential opinion in a catechetical formula, this would seem to be more mercurial in application than the doctrine of the legitimacy of the death penalty.  What is oddly lacking, however, is reference to capital punishment as medicinal as well as punitive. Tradition has understood that the spiritual aspect of the death penalty is to “concentrate the mind” so that the victim dies in a state of grace.  Simply put, the less I believe heartily in eternal life, the more disheartened I shall be about entering “a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

That finale to “A Tale of Two Cities” appeared thirteen years after “Pictures from Italy” in which Dickens described an execution he watched in Rome during the pontificate of Gregory XVI with its chaotic judicial system: “It was an ugly, filthy, careless, sickening spectacle, meaning nothing but butchery,” But Dickens noted the presence of monks accompanied by trumpets  holding a crucifix draped in black before the twenty-six year old highwayman who had killed a Bavarian countess making a pilgrimage to Rome.   The execution was delayed until murderer’s wife was brought to him and he at last received absolution.  Back in London three years after writing that account, he witnessed in  Southwark the hanging of Fredrick and Marie Manning, the last husband and wife jointly to be executed in England. His reaction was similar to that in Rome save that he thought the crowd of 30,000 more unruly and there was no mention of a religious tone.

In Rome in 1817, Pius VII reigning, Lord Byron saw three robbers beheaded in the Piazza del Popolo, and he  also noted the priests attending those about to die, with banners and prayers in procession. The swift fall of the guillotine was preferable to the “vulgar and ungentlemanly” gallows in England.  Although Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin had promoted the use of the “Guillotine,” first called the “Louisson,” for its relative painlessness, a precursor was in use in Edinburgh in the mid sixteenth century. Regarded as a humane improvement, it was common in many European countries and was used in the Papal States for 369 executions from 1814 to 1870. Giovanni Battista Bugatti was the official papal executioner from 1796 to 1865, having used an axe before the French introduced the guillotine during their occupation of Rome. Under papal rule, there were three normal sites for executions: the Piazza di Ponte Angelo, Piazzo del Popolo, and Via del Cerchi.  Shooting was a common form of punishment in the brief Austrian receivership of Rome under the Hapsburg Queen Maria Carolina.  Thus we have the firing squad scene in the last act of  “Tosca.”  While the harshest punishment, hanging and drawing and quartering, is often thought of as peculiar to England, it was more common in the Papal States. The last to be killed that way in England were some Jacobite officers in 1745. The sentence was imposed  on several Chartist rioters in 1839 but they were given the option of transportation to Australia, which they accepted.  When the pope regained possession of the Papal States in 1814, hanging, drawing and quartering was imposed eleven times until it ended in 1817.  For particularly heinous crimes, crushing the head with a mallet, the “mazzatello” continued until 1870.

The nickname of the papal executioner Bugatti was Mastro Titta,  a slang for Master of Justice (Maestro di Giustizia.)  He wore a red cloak and showed ceremonial deference to his victims. Pope Pius IX let him retire at the age of 85 with a considerable pension. This pope, beatified by John Paul II in 2000, was unflinching in the importance with which he invested public executions as an “encouragement” to others. On June 12, 1855 a deranged hat maker and political subversive  named Anotonio De Felici chased the Cardinal Secretary of State with a large fork. Cardinal Antonelli escaped unscathed and appealed to the Pope to commute the sentence from beheading to life imprisonment on the grounds of the man’s mental imbalance but was refused. Mastro Titta had been retired four years and replaced by his apprentice Antonio Balducci when the final executions in Rome took place on November 24, 1868.  Giuseppe Monti and Gaetano Tognetti had been convicted to killing twenty-five Zouave soldiers in the Borgo. The executions ceased, not out of any policy of penal reform, but because of the loss of the Papal States.  Agatino Bellomo was the last to be executed in the Papal States, in Palestrina, on July 9, 1870.  When Blessed Pius IX was asked to grant a stay of execution for those condemned in 1868, the Pope firmly replied, “I cannot, and I do not want to.”  He certainly could have by law, which he embodied as state sovereign with ”plenitudo potestatis,”  but by enigmatically saying that he could not, he probably was declaring this a high matter of conscience in the interest of Augustinian tranquility of order as explained by such as Bellarmine, Liguori, Thomas More and Suarez.

When a papal butler was recently arrested, many were surprised that the Vatican City even had a jail. The Lateran treaty of 1929 provided for the execution of anyone attempting to assassinate  the Pope within the Vatican.  In 1969 capital punishment was quietly removed from the “fundamental law” of the Vatican, without comment and only in Latin,  and did not come to public attention until 1971.

The grandson of St. Elizabeth Anne Seton,  Archbishop Robert Seton, long-lived but less loved, wrote that during the course of a holiday in France as a boy, the ceremonious spectacle of a man being beheaded inspired him greatly to think of the dignity of life.  He was especially close to Leo XIII and St. Pius X who in 1905 reiterated the Roman Catechism of St. Pius V with reference to capital punishment:  “Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment (to do no murder) such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life.”

The medicinal reason for inflicting punishment, goes beyond preventing the criminal from repeating his crime and protecting society, to encouraging the guilty to repent and die in a state of grace. The vindictive reasoning also has this interest in mind: for by expiating the disorder caused by the crime, the moral debt of the guilty is lessened. In the early years of the nineteenth century, St. Vincent Pallotti frequently assisted the condemned to the scaffold, as St. Catherine had done in Siena. He was edified by the many holy deaths he saw, while helping the Archfraternity of San Giovanni, under the patronage of his friend the English Cardinal Acton.  Headquartered in the Church of San Giovanni Decollato (St. John the Beheaded),  their rule  was to urge the condemned to a good confession, followed by an exhortation and Holy Communion followed by the grant of a plenary indulgence.  The whole population of Rome was instructed to fast and pray for the intention of the criminal’s soul.

All other considerations of the machinery of death aside, this paramount regard for the human soul is quaint only if belief in eternal life is vague. Pope Pius XII was so eager for vindictive penalties that he lent the help of a Jesuit archivist to assist the prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials. He personally told the chief United States prosecutor, Robert Jackson:  “Not only do we approve of the trial, but we desire that the guilty be punished as quickly as possible.”  This was not in spite of, but issuing from, his understanding of the dual role of healing and vindication.  All this should not be remaindered as historical curiosities, for, as Pope Pius XII said, “the coercive power of legitimate human authority” has its roots in “the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine” and so it must not be said “that these sources only contain ideas which are conditioned by historical circumstances” for they have “a general and abiding validity.” (Acta Apostolica Sedis, 1955, pp.81-82).

Editor’s note: The image above is a painting by Richard Bridgens entitled “An Execution in Rome for Murder, 1820.”

Rev. George W. Rutler

By

The Rev. George W. Rutler is the new pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. His latest book is Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press.)

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    “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.”

    So argued Maximilien Robespierre, a man who agreed with the Catechism that capital punishment was rarely justified, but also recognised that there were cases where the public safety demanded it. “We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish, in this situation; the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people’s enemies by terror.”

    • dudleysharp

      Robespierre avoids the most important topic – Justice, the foundation of moral support for all sanctions.

      1) Immanuel Kant: “If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.”. “A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

      2) Pope Pius XII; “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.” 9/14/52.

      3) Theodore Roosevelt: ” . . . among the very rare occasions when anything governmental or official caused me to lose sleep were times when I had to listen to some poor mother making a plea for a criminal so wicked, so utterly brutal and depraved, that it would have been a crime on my part to remit his punishment.”.

      4) John Murray: “Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life.” “… it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty.” “It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit.” (Page 122 of Principles of Conduct).

      5) John Locke: “A criminal who, having renounced reason… hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or tyger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security.” And upon this is grounded the great law of Nature, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Second Treatise of Civil Government.

      6) Billy Graham: “God will not tolerate sin. He condemns it and demands payment for it. God could not remain a righteous God and compromise with sin. His holiness and His justice demand the death penalty.” ( “The Power of the Cross,” published in the Apr. 2007 issue of Decision magazine ).

      7) Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “In killing the criminal, we destroy not so much a citizen as an enemy. The trial and judgments are proofs that he has broken the Social Contract, and so is no longer a member of the State.” (The Social Contract).

      8) Saint (& Pope) Pius V: “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        On the contrary, Robespierre expressly asks, “what principle of justice can authorize it to put him to death? “

        • dudleysharp

          It is the principle OF or IN justice.
          The death penalty has the same foundation of moral support as do the sanctions of fines, comunity service,and incarceration, that being a sanction which is, in some fashion, a reflection of the sewriousness of the crimes.

  • lifeknight

    This is a remarkable article to enhance discussion regarding the use of the death penalty as just. It should be required reading for all Catholics in order to defend its use in modern society. My understanding is that one of the crimes it was used to punish in the Papal States in times past was for the crime of pederasty.

    • RyanStrotkamp

      It would be great if pederasts that infiltrate the priesthood were executed in St. Peter’s Square in an Auto de Fe.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        The clergy were exempt from the jurisdiction of the criminal courts and could only be tried in an ecclesiastical court that did not employ capital punishment. Relegation to a monastery was the most sever sentence inflicted, but, usually, the ecclesiastical judge contented himself with unfrocking the offender

    • dudleysharp

      LK:

      The contradictory problems within the CCC on this topic are so glaring.

      The CCC agrees that justice is primary, but wrongly attempts to greatly limit its appli

  • Bono95

    To be sure this isn’t common, but sometimes the death penalty can inspire humor that is not sardonic in healthy minds. When St. Thomas More was led to the chopping block, he asked the guards to help him climb up the scaffhold but said to let him shift for himself coming down. Once on the scaffhold, he gave the nervous executioner a generous tip with what money he had left, and told him cheerfully to do his job well but to be careful because he (St. Thomas) had a short neck. Then More got into position, put on his own blindfold, and got his beard out of the way of the ax because he said it was innocent of treason and did not deserve to be cut off. After that, he bid the crowd to pray for him and offered up a silent prayer of his own before the blade fell.

  • hombre111

    Three hundred plus executions with the permission of the Vicar of Christ? Enough said.

    • cestusdei

      Doctors used to bleed patients, so I guess they were evil right?

      • RyanStrotkamp

        I don’t think he’s condemning the Papacy. He’s pointing out that those who are trying to parlay John Paul II’s personal preferences into Catholic doctine are wrong.

      • hombre111

        Not evil. Just operating out of a lack of understanding of the real nature of sickness and its cure.

        • RyanStrotkamp

          The perp is the sickness. The hangman is the cure.

    • Axilleus

      Or should they have just locked them in a small room and let them get raped by their cellmate for the rest of their lives, or until they got shanked?

      • hombre111

        The Vicar of Christ, mercy killer?

        • RyanStrotkamp

          Vicar of Christ, man of justice.

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  • Harry

    It doesn’t make me more receptive to the pro-death penalty people to see you quote approvingly the example of a Pope who had a mentally ill man executed for a fairly minor infraction. Still less the apparent popularity of hanging, drawing and quartering as well as the “mallet method” in the Papal States up until 1870. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  • crakpot

    My favorite bit of humor on capital punishment was Benjamin Franklin, after the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

    “Let us all hang together, or surely we shall all hang separately.”

    • RyanStrotkamp

      I like these lines from Blazing Saddles:

      CHARLIE: They said you was hung!

      BART: And they was right!

  • andHarry

    The endtime scenario described by the evangelist John refers to decapitation of Christians by the world ruler to come; in deference to Islamic sensibilities perhaps?

    • Axilleus

      Never forget that, even though it wasn’t noticed at the time and has not been commented on much sense, that Our Lady appeared in 1917 outside of a town called Fatima. That name has great significance in the Islamic religion.

      • Howard

        … OK. And … what? To the best of my knowledge, the Blessed Virgin never said or even hinted that the name “Fatima” and what it means to Mohammedans was relevant. This is something that goes beyond even private revelation, because it is not revelation at all; it is private guesswork. If you insist that there is importance not in what Our Lady said, or even in where She actually appeared, but in the significance of a place not that far from where She actually appeared to a people who lived their centuries before, you’re opening up an endless can of worms. I doubt that any of Her apparitions have been very far from some spot that was once a pagan shrine, or where some atrocity has happened sometime in history.

  • Howard

    We also have this excellent example, where Chesterton (in The Crimes of England) refers to a passage by Cobbett.

    No one who has read “The History of the Reformation” will ever forget the passage (I forget the precise words) in which he says the mere thought of such a person as Cranmer makes the brain reel, and, for an instant, doubt the goodness of God; but that peace and faith flow back into the soul when we remember that he was burned alive.

  • Axilleus

    What Father Rutler stated about the condemned and the concern for their soul is quite correct. However, there are no civil authorities who conduct executions anymore who are even remotely informed by either Catholic teaching or a Catholic worldview.

    • dudleysharp

      The prison systems are full of spriritual advisors, readily available to those on death row, should they so avail themsleves of them.

  • RichardC

    “All other considerations of the machinery of death aside, this paramount regard for the human soul is quaint only if belief in eternal life is vague. “–well said.

    Hangman: “Do you have any last words.” Man about to be hanged: “Not at this time.”

    According to the History Channel, when Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, learned that he was about to be guillotined, he decided to perform an one last experiment and blink as many times as he could, if he could, after he was beheaded. I recall the show saying that he blinked about 30 times.

    • RyanStrotkamp

      Cool!

  • Rosemary

    I am not sure of what Fr. Rutler’s point is here. Is it that we have had some barbaric popes? Or that public executions are messy? Or that the pope allowed the executions out of concern for the perpetrator’s soul? Or that executioners used to have nicknames? Or that Pope Pius XII was vindictive? A very odd piece.

    • RyanStrotkamp

      I think the point is that the Church didn’t begin at Vatican II as some would have us believe, and that it doesn’t forbid capital punishment.

    • dudleysharp

      His most important point is quite clear. Please, read it, again:

      “What is oddly lacking, however, is reference to capital punishment as medicinal as well as punitive. Tradition has understood that the spiritual aspect of the death penalty is to “concentrate the mind” so that the victim dies in a state of grace. Simply put, the less I believe heartily in eternal life, the more disheartened I shall be about entering “a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

      and

      ?But Dickens noted the presence of monks accompanied by trumpets holding a crucifix draped in black before the twenty-six year old highwayman who had killed a Bavarian countess making a pilgrimage to Rome. The execution was delayed until murderer’s wife was brought to him and he at last received absolution.”

      • wineinthewater

        I know this is a very old thread, but there is a point to add:

        Most Church teaching around the death penalty historically presumed something that is not true today: a Christian state. The medicinal quality of the death penalty is not automatic, it is one that is engendered by the process. The modern secular state may give the condemned access to spiritual advisers, but that is a far cry from surrounding them with clergy and religious and having the nation pray for their souls.

        And while impending, certain death does offer clarity, our modern secular society has not equipped most people with a foundation for meaningful reflection. In a Catholic state, even the meanest of men was submerged in the faith. The modern man is submerged in secularism, narcissism and nihilism, his mind is numbed by a constant onslaught of the senses and pleasure, and much of the Christian society is a heretical Christian society. Considering the state of modern man, modern society and the modern state, we need as much time as possible with the condemned if we hope to bring them to true contrition and absolution.

        So, I don’t think the contemporary approach to the death penalty is out of step with Tradition. The core of the “medicinal” teaching was the salvation of the soul. If modern man is not likely to respond to a confrontation with impending death with contrition and a turning toward the Lord, then the death penalty loses much of its medicinal value.

  • francis

    In the movie, “Dead Man Walking,” it was only at the point of death that the man admitted his guilt and took responsibility for his actions.

    • dudleysharp

      Yep, possibly salvation, based upon that sanctions effect, as Prejean works against capital punishment.

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  • Vladyk

    Father Rutler,
    Could you explain how what you say above is consistent with Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae:
    “the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal
    system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

    In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic
    Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives
    against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons,
    public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond
    to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the
    dignity of the human person”.48″

    • RyanStrotkamp

      Why don’t you explain how JPII’s treatise is consistent with traditional Catholic teaching, which was consistent for 2000 years? Maybe bloodless means aren’t always sufficient.

      • Vladyk

        You should read Joseph Ratzinger on doctrinal development and how it permits discontinuities between periods in the church’s history. I’m not going to debate this with you because that’s the topic of this post. The issue here is about what the church teaches currently on the death penalty as part of its ordinary magisterium, which Father Rutler as a holder of an ecclesiastical office has sworn to uphold.

        • RyanStrotkamp

          So, the Church taught erroneously regarding the morality of capital punishment until JPII led us out of the darkness? He didn’t condemn the death penalty outright because he couldn’t. The most he could do was suggest that it not be used when “bloodless means” were sufficient. His opinion of how often those “bloodless means” were sufficient was only his opinion.

          • Vladyk

            The catechism makes the claim about ‘bloodless means’ and calls it a ‘principle’, it’s not the pope’s opinion. Papal encyclicals belong to the ordinary magisterium of the church and are not merely reflections of the pope’s opinion, the same goes for the catechism. I’m not going to school you in theology, it’s obvious you don’t grasp the nature of doctrinal authority and development.

            • RyanStrotkamp

              Both Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism of the Catholic Church allow for capital punishment. Somebody still has to decide when “it would not be possible otherwise to defend society” or when “bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons”. How rare is rare?

              • Vladyk

                I never denied that the catechism and evangelium vitae allow for capital punishment, my point is that they teach that it is only justified if there is no other way to defend society, Fr. Rutler’s article appears to conflict with this.

                • dudleysharp

                  and Rutler should.
                  The death penalty is, theologically, based in justice and supported by 2000 years of Catholic teaching.
                  EV and CCC base it upon defense of society, a human based concern, which varyinhg levels of security around the world.
                  Which has an eternal foundation?

                  • Vladyk

                    If that’s the case, then why doesn’t Fr. Rutler man up and say that he dissents from the magisterium on this matter?

                    • dudleysharp

                      That is for him to answer.

                      But, as an almost universal rule, that sin’t done. Nor should it be. I suspect there are many internal discussions on this matter, quite often, as the problems are quite obvious and have been since EV.

                    • Vladyk

                      In what world is the following phrase just a prudential judgment: “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 you knew basic logic then you’d know that it implies that if it is not the case that the death penalty is the only possible way of defending human lives then the death penalty is excluded.

                      So which is it? Does the catechism teach error here? Or is it not teaching anything at all? Or is that we don’t know what the catechism is really saying here because it is so vague? You seem to say all of the above, and so if you think the magisterium is in error then we really have nothing to talk about.

                    • dudleysharp

                      Vladyk:

                      Read it, again:

                      “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.”

                      There is no such “the traditional teaching of the Church”.

                      It doesn’t exist. That should bother you.

                      As noted by many Catholic scholars, quoted, herein, the traditonal teaching of the Church is fully supportive of the death penalty, from Jesus until today, with the bizarre exceptions that we are, now, dealing with.

                    • Vladyk

                      It doesn’t bother me anymore than the condemnation of slavery as intrinsically evil (in contradiction to scripture and the Fathers) bothers me. Doctrine develops, unlike this conversation. If church teaching can develop on slavery, it can develop on the death penalty.

                    • dudleysharp

                      Vladyk:

                      Quite sad that not everyone cares that the CCC can say somethng is traditonal teaching when it is not.

                      Slavery is based upon punishing innocent people, intentionally, and forcing them into labors, often unspeakable, solely for the selfishness and cruelty of a few, who “benefit” from it.

                      Slavery is based in injustice.

                      The death penalty is based in justice.

                      A guilty party, often a murderer who has savaged the innocent, who brought upon themsleves their own sanction, a sanction with which, when accepted, can provide the great gift of expiation for that murderer.

                      Very, very different.
                      The Church has developed, quite poorly, on the death penalty.

                    • Vladyk

                      Yet the church for most of her history taught that slavery can be just in certain circumsances such as people captured in war, children born to slaves, children sold into slavery by their parents(these conditions were in canon law ). Aquinas even taught that to help a slave escape was to commit theft. Jesus never said anythign about slavery, and it was approved in the Old Testament. If church teaching can develop on slavery, it can develop on the death penalty.

                    • dudleysharp

                      The problem is that you avoid the critical biblical, theological and factual differences between slavery and the death penalty.

                      They are not in anyway similar. But, you blatantly avoid those factual discussions, because you must. You can improve.

                      Slavery is based upon punishing innocent people, intentionally, and forcing them into labors, often unspeakable, solely for the selfishness and cruelty of a few, who “benefit” from it.

                      Slavery is based in injustice.

                      The death penalty is based in justice.

                      A guilty party, often a murderer who has savaged the innocent, who brought upon themsleves their own sanction, a sanction with which, when accepted, can provide the great gift of expiation for that murderer.

                      Very, very different.

                      As detailed, the Church has developed, quite poorly, on the death penalty.

                    • Vladyk

                      So are you denying that both Sacred Scripture and the church taught for most of its history that slavery is just in certain circumstances?

                    • dudleysharp

                      I was making a most obvious moral clarity between the two.

                      I will defer to your expertise on slavery and stick to the topic of these, as opposed to you

                    • Vladyk

                      A 100 year old encyclopedia document is the best you can do? Here is what Cardinal Levada the retired prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith has said about slavery: “In the Bible as a whole there is no explicit moral challenge to slavery as an existing cultural system. It’s simply a given reality. St. Paul returns Onesimus to his master and tells Philemon to treat him as an equal, but Paul does not make this a moral obligation. There is a long tradition in the church of accepting the institution of slavery. John Noonan points this out effectivelybut in the light of the repeated teachings of modern popes and the Second Vatican Council on the dignity of the human person, church teaching has evolved from acceptance of slavery as part of the human condition to its eventual condemnation. Slave labor is now rightly regarded as evil and a moral outrage.” http://americamagazine.org/issue/612/article/promoting-faith

                      Pope Pius IX approved this instruction from the Holy Office in 1866 on slavery:

                      “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons. It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given.”

                      Pope John Paul II declared slavery to be intrinsically evil in Veritatis Splendor.

                      My comparison between slavery and the death penalty is simply that the fact that a certain practice was once approved by the church and by scripture doesn’t mean that this teaching cannot develop to the point of being reversed.”

                      Thus, the fact that the death penalty was approved of in the history of the church and in scripture does not mean that this position cannot be developed.

                    • dudleysharp

                      Vladyk:

                      No it is not the best I could do. I just did a quick search.

                      I am most grateful that you had more information which I could learn from.

                      I am always grateful to those who choose to share their knoweldge with me.

                      Thank you. It is one of the great gifts of being able to have these
                      conversations.

                      blessings your way.

                      The development of death penalty thought and teaching has been extreme and well documented since the time of Jesus, within Christianity, and prior to that with Genesis.

                    • Vladyk

                      So why is it that teachings concerning slavery can change but not those concerning the death penalty?

                    • dudleysharp

                      Eternal teachings, which are part of the Majesterium, do not change with time or historical circumstance, that is why they are known as eternal teachings. The death penalty teachings are such. That has been detailed within my postings.

                      The recent EV and CCC death penalty writings are solely based upon historical circumstances, as well as the temporal and ever changing leveles of prison security.

                      Slavery, as I understand it, is not such a topic.

                    • Vladyk

                      I’m sorry, given the news about the Holy Father I don’t have the energy to continue this. I’m sorry for being a bit harsh at times. Blessings your way.

                    • dudleysharp

                      That’s OK, blessings to you as well.

                    • Craig

                      You are confusing slavery of the biblical past to the current mindset, eg, blacks in America. This is different.

                    • Vladyk

                      The church has always distinguished between just and unjust slavery. Just slavery includes for reasons of crime, capture in war, being born to a slave, being sold into slavery by your father or husband. This was placed into the code of canon law by Pope Gregory IX.

                    • dudleysharp

                      thank you.

                    • dudleysharp

                      You may find this of interest.

                      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14036a.htm

                      ” to say that the Fathers of the Church did not feel “the horror of slavery”, is to display either strange ignorance or singular unfairness. In St. Gregory
                      of Nyssa (In Ecclesiastem, hom. iv) the most energetic and absolute reprobation of slavery may be found; and again in numerous passages of St. John Chrysostom’s discourse we have the picture of a society without
                      slaves – a society composed only of free workers, an ideal portrait of which he traces with the most eloquent insistence (see the texts cited in Allard,
                      ”Les esclaves chrétiens”, p. 416-23).”

                    • Craig

                      Huh? You present yourself as someone with Church knowledge, but this statement shows ignorance. Sacred Scripture at times states the history of the time period in which the author is writing; history includes slavery, child sacrifice to Moloch (demon), Jews leaving God for pagan sacrifice (Maccabeus/rebellion), etc.

                      God did not endorse these activities, but inspired through the Holy Ghost the authors to report them.

                    • Vladyk

                      See the links and quotes that I posted below.

            • dudleysharp

              Vladuk:

              Is it, somehow, invisible, that this new Church principle conflicts with God’s command, within the same CCC?

              2260: “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning…. Whoever
              sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” “This teaching remains necessary for all time.”

            • Craig

              This all sounds very enlightened. Where would we be without the infiltration of the early 1900’s and the subsequent effects in the 1960’s? Oh-Real Catholicism. The Pope should be reinforcing Catholic Truths, not tearing down Tradition. Please do not defend this.

              • Vladyk

                Oh-Real Catholicism, is that Irish?

                I’m only the messenger, take your complaints to the pope, or at the very least, the nuncio.

                • Craig

                  I do not wish to hurt the messenger, as the saying goes. I meant that your comments appear to me-and others?-to be going against Tradition.

            • dudleysharp

              Vladyk:

              No need to be so condescending. Mature up.

              When the “bloodless means” “principle”, which IS a prudential judgement, is in complete contradiction to God’s command, which is an eternal teaching, I think all Catholics should be, rightly, concerned.

              You, on the other hand, seem to blindly accept, even though it may very well result in error.

              Please review:

              2267: “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

              Consider this newest recommendation:

              (a) “If bloodless means are sufficient” (2267) in this eternal context:

              (b) “If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” (1) “This teaching remains necessary for all time.” (2260)

              and (a)’s obvious conflict with Genesis also has additional conflicts within its own document, just as one section above

              (c) the “common good” “requires” an unjust aggressor be rendered “unable to inflict harm”. (2265) as well as within 2267, itself, as rendering the aggressor “INCAPABLE OF DOING HARM”.

              The Catechism is stating that “The common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm” (2265) except that we should rarely, if ever, render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. There is a contradiction.

              This Catechism decides that an eternal biblical mandate should be overruled by a poorly considered dependence on current penal security. Astounding. The Church has knowingly done this.

              Now, Vladyk, comment please.

              • Vladyk

                We could be having the same conversation about slavery, religious liberty, ecumenism, no salvation outside of the church, etc etc.

                If I’m so immature, maybe you should stop bothering with me…

                • dudleysharp

                  We are all less than we could be. We have a duty to help each other to rise up.
                  It is immature not to address the topic addressed, as I commented earlier and you have done it again.
                  It is not the convenient questions which we must answer, but the inconvenient ones.
                  As we both know, you will not respond because my point is a very good one and you will not acknowledge it. Unfortunate. But, your style, which you should reevaluate.
                  Best to address the topic and no evade it.

                  • Vladyk

                    Wow, thank you for taking the time to teach me the error of my ways, and to lecture me, even though I never asked for your help nor addressed my original post to you. That’s so nice of you.

                    Speaking of inconvenient questions, see what I wrote about slavery below.

        • dudleysharp

          Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., considered one of the most prominent Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century.

          “There are certain moral norms that have always and everywhere been held by the successors of the Apostles in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Although never formally defined, they are irreversibly binding on the followers of Christ until the end of the world.” “Such moral truths are the grave sinfulness of contraception and direct abortion. Such, too, is the Catholic doctrine which defends the imposition of the death penalty.” (2)

          “Most of the Church’s teaching, especially in the moral order, is infallible doctrine because it belongs to what we call her ordinary universal magisterium.” (2)

          “Equally important is the Pope’s (Pius XII) insistence that capital punishment is morally defensible in every age and culture of Christianity.” ” . . . the Church’s teaching on ‘the coercive power of legitimate human authority’ is based on ‘the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine.’ It is wrong, therefore ‘to say that these sources only contain ideas which are conditioned by historical circumstances.’ On the contrary, they have ‘a general and abiding validity.’ (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1955, pp 81-2).” (2)

    • dudleysharp

      Vladuk:

      I think you, wrongly, presume the CCC point is valid, when the CCC, itself, appears to disagree.

      2267: “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

      Consider this newest recommendation:

      (a) “If bloodless means are sufficient” (2267) in this eternal context:

      (b) “If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” (1) “This teaching remains necessary for all time.” (2260)

      and (a)’s obvious conflict with Genesis also has additional conflicts within its own document, just as one section above

      (c) the “common good” “requires” an unjust aggressor be rendered “unable to inflict harm”. (2265) as well as within 2267, itself, as rendering the aggressor “INCAPABLE OF DOING HARM”.

      The Catechism is stating that “The common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm” (2265) except that we should rarely, if ever, render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. There is a contradiction.

      This Catechism decides that an eternal biblical mandate should be overruled by a poorly considered dependence on current penal security. Astounding. The Church has knowingly done this.

      Does the absence of death penalty better correspond with “the common good and with the dignity of the human person”?

      In the first part of this Catechism, the document makes the opposite argument.

      Commensurate punishments, by definition, better correspond to the common good and human dignity and the absence of a commensurate punishment injure both the common good as well as human dignity.

      With Numbers 35:31 there is: “You shall not accept indemnity in place of the life of a murderer who deserves the death penalty; he must be put to death.”

      Deserves as in justice, retribution.

      When it comes to commensurate or proportional sanctions, of course we can disagree on what that may mean, prudentially. However, with murder and its proper sanction, I think we are instructed with Genesis, Numbers and traditional Church teachings that the proper sanction for murder is death.

      In addition, had EV been properly thought through, it would have concluded that innocents were better protected with the death penalty and, therefore, it is a greater defender of society and, as such EV would have not created the errors which were then wrongly put into the Catechism.

      • Vladyk

        So Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism contain errors, and thus we may simply dismiss them? If you want to be a protestant why don’t you just say?

        • dudleysharp

          Do you see anyone dismissing them?

          I don’t. I see people discussing them.

          I think we are all devoted to the truth. Neglecting contradiciton and error is not a good way

          • Vladyk

            You sound just like a fundamentalist protestant saying we can’t call priests ‘father’ because it’s forbidden in scripture. Or a Levfebrist waving the syllabus of errors and saying that they negate Vatican II.

            • dudleysharp

              Vladyk:

              The discussion in more producitve when you address the precise points which the writer has written, as opposed to an immature personal conjecture, which is most inacurrate.

              I will presume that you have no credible response to my detailed posts, as that is the normal reason for such a worthless reply.

              Do better.

              • Vladyk

                I’ll answer your points if you answer mine. The issue of error being taught by the magisterium trumps any issue concerning capital punishment for me. Both the catechism and the Evangelium Vitae present moral criteria that should govern prudential judgments concerning the death penalty. The criteria themselves are not part of the prudential judgments but present moral teachings.

              • Vladyk

                You’re the one responding to my post, which if I recall correctly was addressed to Father Rutler, so I don’t see any obligation to respond to you.

                The magisterium teaching error is more serious of an issue than the death penalty. You imply that above when you wrote: ,”had EV been properly thought through, it would have concluded that innocents were better protected with the death penalty and, therefore, it is a greater defender of society and, as such EV would have not created the errors which were then wrongly put into the Catechism. ” I’m not interested in talking to you if you say that EV and the Catechism teach error.

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  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Consider the conditions in the Papal States in the period 1814 to 1870.

    We have a ruler whose moral authority was completely discredited by the Revolution and the rise of Italian nationalism, wholly dependent on foreign troops, Austrian or French, to keep his subjects in check, with anarchy in the countryside and many of his officials of dubious loyalty. Of course, capital punishment was needed to keep some semblance of order and Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism would sanction it.

    Following the establishment of a constitutional national government, conditions allowed the abolition of capital punishment by the General Pardon of 1877 and its removal from the Penal Code in 1889

  • dudleysharp

    Much Medicinal support:

    “The most irreligious aspect of this argument against capital punishment is that it denies its expiatory value which, from a religious point of view, is of the highest importance because it can include a final consent to give up the greatest of all worldly goods. This fits exactly with St. Thomas’s opinion that as well as canceling out any debt that the criminal owes to civil society, capital punishment can cancel all punishment due in the life to come. His thought is . . . Summa, ‘Even death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment due for those crimes in the next life, or a least part of that punishment, according to the quantities of guilt, resignation and contrition; but a natural death does not.’ The moral importance of wanting to make expiation also explains the indefatigable efforts of the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist Beheaded, the members of which used to accompany men to their deaths, all the while suggesting, begging and providing help to get them to repent and accept their deaths, so ensuring that they would die in the grace of God, as the saying went.” (3)

    Some opposing capital punishment ” . . . go on to assert that a life should not be ended because that would remove the possibility of making expiation, is to ignore the great truth that capital punishment is itself expiatory. In a humanistic religion expiation would of course be primarily the converting of a man to other men. On that view, time is needed to effect a reformation, and the time available should not be shortened. In God’s religion, on the other hand, expiation is primarily a recognition of the divine majesty and lordship, which can be and should be recognized at every moment, in accordance with the principle of the concentration of one’s moral life.” (3)

    Some death penalty opponents “deny the expiatory value of death; death which has the highest expiatory value possible among natural things, precisely because life is the highest good among the relative goods of this world; and it is by consenting to sacrifice that life, that the fullest expiation can be made. And again, the expiation that the innocent Christ made for the sins of mankind was itself effected through his being condemned to death.” (3)

    Romano Amerio, a faithful Catholic Vatican insider, scholar, professor at the Academy of Lugano, consultant to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, and a peritus (expert theologian) at the Council.

  • poetcomic1

    “If you wish, through hatred, the legal punishment of men who have done
    you an injury you commit mortal sin.” Says Guy de Roye in his book
    on penance. Indeed,now that the crucified Christ no longer hangs in our courtrooms as an
    admonishment to mercy, it is difficult to imagine that such sanctity
    was at one time commonplace.
    – Digby, Mores Catholici Vol. 3, Pg. 219

  • dudleysharp

    More medicinal support:

    1) Saint Augustine: ” . . . inflicting capital punishment . . . protects those who are undergoing capital punishment from the harm they may suffer . . . through increased sinning which might continue if their life went on.” (On the Lord’s Sermon, 1.20.63-64.)

    2) Saint Thomas Aquinas: . . . the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprived of the power to sin anymore.” Summa Theologica, II-II, 25, 6, 2

    as with:

    3) Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey: “. . . a secondary measure of the love of
    God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” synopsis: “A Bible Study”, from Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992. Dr. Carey was a Professor of Bible and past President of
    George Fox College.

  • dudleysharp

    More medicinal support:

    5) The Catechism of The Roman Catholic Church (2005) states: “The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.” “When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation.” 2266

    This is a specific reference to justice, just retribution, just deserts and the like, all of which redress the disorder.

    We must first recognize the guilt/sin/crime/disorder of the aggressor and hold them accountable for it by way of penalty, meaning the penalty should be just and appropriate for the guilt/sin/crime/disorder and should represent justice/just retribution/just deserts and their like which “redress the disorder caused by the offence” or to correct an imbalance, as defined within the example of 2260:

    “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning…. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” “This teaching remains necessary for all time.”

    as with:

    6) Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey: ” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” “A Bible Study” (p. 111-113) Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.

  • dudleysharp

    More medicinal support

    9) Reconciliation has to be built with full recognition and accountability for the wrong. –Martha Kilpatrick

    10) George MacDonald: God will give absolute justice, which is the only good thing. He will spare nothing to bring his children back to himself, their sole well-being, whether he achieve it here—or there. http://www.george-macdonald.com/

    11) William Law : “To say, therefore, as some have said, if God is all love toward fallen man, how can he threaten or chastise sinners is no better that saying, if God is all goodness in Himself and toward man, how can He do that in and to man which is for his good? As absurd is to say, if the able physician is all love, goodness and good will toward his patients, how can he blister, purge, or scarify them, how can he order one to be trepanned and another to have a limb cut off? Nay, so absurd is this reasoning that if it could be proved that God had no chastisement for sinners, the very want of their chastisement would be the greatest of all proofs that God was not all love and goodness toward man.”

    “And, therefore, the pure, mere love of God is that alone from which sinners are
    justly to expect that no sin will pass unpunished, but that His love will visit
    them with every calamity and distress that can help to break and purify the
    bestial heart of man and awaken in him true repentance and conversion to God. It
    is love alone in the holy Deity that will allow no peace to the wicked, nor ever
    cease its judgments till ever sinner is forced to confess that it is good for
    him that he has been in trouble, and thankfully own that not the wrath but the
    love of God has plucked out that right eye, cut off that right band, which he
    ought to have done but would not do for himself and his own salvation.” A
    Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, http://www.answers.com/topic/william-law

    12) Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you
    not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”

    Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Jesus)
    replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43

    Mercy, salvation and redemption will not be measured by the method of our earthly death , but by our state of grace in the context of the eternal.

  • Bill Russell

    The argument that only a civil government informed by a Christian
    understanding has the right to pass capital judgment is false. The
    Pauline principle of the “two swords” – divine and temporal (cf. Romans 13) – was
    articulated in a pagan society. And Our Lord told Pontius Pilate, who
    certainly was not among the baptized: “You would have no power over me
    were it not given you from above…(John 19:11).” The state’s authority
    here pertains to natural law and does not depend on any credal formula.

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  • Richard M. Sawicki

    Great fan of Fr. Rutler that I am nonetheless…

    If ONE innocent person is put to death by society, all arguments in favor of capital punishment become, to me, “So much straw”!

    You can free an unjustly imprisoned person, but you can’t “unexecute” a wrongfully executed one.

    Gaudete in Domino Semper!

    • dudleysharp

      The evidence is that innocents are much more at risk without the death penalty, as I have detailed, herein.

      • Richard M. Sawicki

        All these arguments avoid the issue I raised.

        Gaudete in Domino Semper!

        • dudleysharp

          No, I addressed it, as just above.

  • WBC

    Exceptionally edifying.

  • Matthew Ogden

    This brings up just how backwards modern society has it by allowing abortion and outlawing capital punishment: kill those who deserve to live and let live those who deserve to die.

  • Bill Russell

    Society is indeed backwards, allowing abortion but banning capital punishment. There are places where “same-sex marriage” is legal while smoking is banned, so that sodomy is a criminal offense only if done while smoking a cigar.

    If capital punishment should be stopped because of the risk of falsely condemning the innocent, consider that DNA has made conviction far more reliable than the judgment of a fallible priest in the interior forum of the confessional, but should we then ban the Sacrament of Reconciliation which affects the immortal soul?

    It is hard to distinguish opposition to the death penalty from pacifism. Sentimentality is love without justice, and such sentimentality can be crueler than any execution.

    Among his many appeals for clemency, Pope John Paul II made five appeals to the state of California, which has notoriously lenient sentences as was seen in 1979 when Lawrence Singleton was found guilty of raping a young woman and chopping off her arms with an axe. He was paroled in 1987 after only eight years and went to Florida where he raped and murdered another woman. During his 1999 visit to St.Louis, Missouri, Pope John Paul II personally asked Governor Mel Carnahan to commute the death sentence of Darrell Mease who had killed his drug partner, his own wife, and his 19-year old paraplegic grandson. Cardinal Sodano met with Carnahan as well to support the request. Carnahan, strongly pro-abortion, was running for the senate seat of the strongly pro-life Senator Ashcroft. Previously, when Aschcroft was governor, he had turned down the Pope’s request to commute the sentence of Glennon Paul Sweet who had killed a state police officer. Carnahan flamboyantly granted the Pope’s request and, by general opinion, thus swayed Catholic voters to his side. He won the election (posthumously, after an accident, though he was still on the ballot.) and deprived the Senate of one of the most eloquent defenders of the unborn. Carnahan’s wife replaced him and became one of the most outspoken pro-abortion senators.

    Pope John Paul II also asked clemency for the Oklahoma Bomber, Timothy McVeigh, even though he had killed 168 people including 16 children. McVeigh was executed despite the Pope’s request, and seems to have inherited the medicinal benefits of capital punishment and died with the sacraments. According to the Catholic News Service, Father Charles Smith, the priest attending him, said: “I went to him and he threw
    his feces on me and called me all types of names and said, ‘You can’t
    be a priest because I’ve never seen a you-know-what as a priest,'” Father Smith persevered. “He did a lot of things, but in the end we
    had confession, reconciliation. In the end he asked me a question a lot
    of people ask me. He asked, ‘Father Charles, can I still get to
    heaven?'” The priest said he responded, “I am not your judge,”
    but reminded McVeigh that he had told him, “You must submit your will
    and ask God for true forgiveness. … You knew there were a lot of
    innocent people and children in that building.” McVeigh asked
    Father Smith to walk with him to his June 11, 2001, execution. “And the
    tears came running down. He was crying, I was crying because he did
    something that changed my life, too.

    There are a lot of holes in the “seamless garment. “

  • MaryBWinfield

    Your post has many scholarly details to it and I am glad that you referenced Catechism. But do you have any commentary as why the USCCB has taken a stand against capital punishment? See link from USCCB website http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/death-penalty-capital-punishment/

  • Nicolas Bellord

    The Portuguese post office, some years ago, published a history of the “Misericordias” in Portugal. They are the national charity which can be seen in every town and city. In the middle ages executions were very brutal and bodies left unburied. In about 1498 Queen Leonore of Lencastre (Portuguese for Lancaster – being related to John of Gaunt) founded a brotherhood whose job amongst others was to accompany the condemned to the scaffold, comforting him with prayers etc, ensuring that there was no undue cruelty and subsequently giving the condemned a proper burial. This gives a rather different view to the pictures of religious being present at executions.

    There is a rather curious episode when the Trinitarian fathers claimed that they rather than Queen Leonore were responsible for this as one of them was her confessor. The history I mention says that the said confessor who appears in many paintings never actually existed!

    The idea behind the Misericordias apparently came from Florence. Nowadays the Misericordias are into all kinds of good works – hospitals, education etc.

    It is notable that the great Portuguese Apostle of the Englightenment the Marquis of Pombal was particularly found of staging very gruesome executions of several people at a time. This gave rise to such public disgust that Portugal was the first European country to abolish the death penalty and the last execution was in 1846.

  • http://www.facebook.com/luis.pintodesa Luís Pinto de Sá

    Excellent article. Torquemada himself couldn’t have put it better…

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  • Bill Russell

    “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.” — Avery Cardinal Dulles

    R.Michael Dunnigan (in “Catholic Culture”) comments:

    Dulles and Rutler draw a
    crucial distinction between actual Church teachings and the prudential
    judgments of the pope. Both Evangelium vitae and the Catechism rely
    heavily on an evaluation of contemporary penal systems. This evaluation might
    be correct as applied to some penal systems, but incorrect as applied to
    others. In addition, it might be correct today, but might become incorrect in
    the future as a result of a decline in penal systems. Finally, it is a matter
    about which people — even orthodox Catholics — legitimately might disagree.

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  • C Adams

    If the death penalty is so ok, why then didn’t Jesus or his disciples at anytime during the crucifixion or after the resurrection demand retribution? Why then on the cross was Jesus praying for his muderers,”Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” This article is as far from the Gospel as it can possibly be. The Gospel, Jesus are about forgiveness, first, last and always.

  • Karl

    Just wondering, has the Catholic Church actually admitted that the earth goes around the sun?

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