NCFishwrap getting it wrong about abortion and capital punishment.

Over at the National catholic Fishwrap, Jamie Manson has flung herself headlong into another error.

I won’t torment you with a fisking of the whole article.  Suffice it to say that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is said to have defended, as Jamie puts it, a “pro-death penalty position” during a speech at Duquesne University’s Law School.  What Scalia said was,

“If I thought that Catholic doctrine held the death penalty to be immoral, I would resign. … I could not be a part of a system that imposes it.”

There are many and good reasons to argue against capital punishment.  Jamie found a bad one: defense of abortion.

Jamie tries to argue – obviously thinking that she is getting in a good dig at conservatives and Catholics – that if we are supposed to deny Communion to supporters of abortion then we have to deny Communion to supporters of capital punishment.  Get it?  Huh?  Get it?  Turn the sock inside out. Admitting supporters of capital punishment to Communion means that we have to admit supporters of abortion.  She is, in effect, defending pro-abortion politicians.

Jamie and, therefore, Fishwrap paint Justice Scalia as – and I am not making this up – a “cafeteria Catholic”.  Think about that for a moment.  If that isn’t ironic, I don’t know what is.

Nice try.

Keep in mind I am not herein so much defending Justice Scalia as I am showing how bad Manson’s argument is.

First, you cannot label Scalia’s position as “pro-death penalty” from that quote. Keep in mind that Supreme Court Justices make distinctions.  Justice Scalia is surely not unaware of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment.  Surely, Justice Scalia knows that there is a general moral norm against capital punishment.  But when we begin to make distinctions, we see that there are exceptions to this moral norm.  Second, abortion and capital punishment are not equivalent.  Again, the Church’s moral norm against capital punishment is not an exception-less norm.

Jamie could spend some useful hours with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Shall we have a look?

CCC 2267 was revised after the release of John Paul II’s Evangelium vitae 56.

2267 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, non-lethal 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 non-existent.

So, Holy Church takes a strong position against capital punishment.  However, the Magisterium does NOT exclude the possibility of capital punishment.  There is a general moral norm is against capital punishment, but the Church foresees contingencies which could permit it.  The Church does not, indeed cannot, list what those exceptions could be.  Under certain circumstances the Church does not describe, capital punishment is not immoral, as Scalia suggested.

Thus, the Church’s opposition to capital punishment is not as iron clad as its opposition to abortion, for the moral norm against capital punishment is not an exceptionless norm.  Even Card. Bernardin, beloved of liberals, correctly affirmed that capital punishment was not as iron clad as abortion and euthanasia.  He upheld the state’s right to impose it.

You have to work your imagination pretty hard to come up with, in the USA at least, an exception to the Catholic Church’s moral norm against capital punishment.  Let’s give it a try.

Let’s imagine for a moment that someone commits 1st degree murder and is sentenced to life, not the death penalty.  While in prison he kills another prisoner.  He is determined not to be insane.  His freedom of movement is restricted even more.  Then he kills a guard.  He goes into maximum security.  He manages to kill another guard.  Despite the many precautions taken, he is dangerous to anyone he is near.  Can the state not execute him?  Should the murderer be kept alive at state expense chained at six points points to a wall and fed through a straw in a Hannibal Lector style mask?  This mind exercise is way out there, but the Church says that the exceptions to the moral norm “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

In any event, the Catholic Church foresees that there could be exceptions to the moral norm against capital punishment.  Justice Scalia was right.  The Church doesn’t forbid capital punishment.  Jamie was wrong us use his words as a way to defend Catholics who promote immoral acts.

We must bring in also the important issue of scandal given by Catholics who openly deny and defy the Church’s teachings.  For example, pro-abortion Catholic VP Biden and Rep. Pelosi – and many more – give public scandal to the point that they should not receive or be given Communion.  The teaching about abortion is exceptionless.  NY Gov. Cuomo is living in open concubinage and is therefore clearly acting against undeniable Catholic teaching.  He should not receive or be given Communion.  Justice Scalia correctly indicated that capital punishment is “not immoral”, provided, I – I – hasten to add, the right circumstances apply.  We can argue, based on CCC 2267 and EV 56, that most instances of capital punishment are immoral, but  at the end of the day the Church teaches that there are exceptions.  To say that capital punishment is not immoral is, when we make necessary distinctions, not at the degree of scandal that would preclude reception of Communion.

On the other hand, active, open, public advocacy of other immoral acts, say for an example, homosexual acts or “lifestyle”, would be grounds for exclusion from Holy Communion.

Who, again, is the cafeteria Catholic?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Stu says:

    For someone like Miss Manson, with all of her education, I’m surprised she can’t get this right. While I will give her the benefit of the doubt, I find it hard to believe that she simply is ignorant on this.

  2. John V says:

    Justice Scalia wrote an essay for First Things a number of years ago titled God’s Justice and Ours. Comments by the likes of Avery Cardinal Dulles, Robert H. Bork, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, and others, and Justice Scalia’s responses to them, were published several months later under the title Antonin Scalia and His Critics: The Church, the Courts, and the Death Penalty Well worth taking the time to read.

    [Thanks for the link.]

  3. Luvadoxi says:

    Based upon Justice Scalia’s quote….how can he be a part of a system that says abortion is legal? Shouldn’t he resign? Just wondering.

  4. picayunelayman says:

    Lemuel Smith (see wikipedia article) is kept in isolation without human contact. Since ~1983. In his cell 23 hours per day, 1 hour outside. All without human contact. His meals are through a double locked door mechanism.

  5. mike cliffson says:

    “2267 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 ”
    ……guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined…unjust aggressor
    These past four decades has this attack been made, has the following been pointed out, Catholic journalists don’t research:
    Have Mz(?)Jamie Manson’s, or anybody’s, proabortion politicians put legal mechanisms in place to so fully determine in the case of each and every unborn child whose murder, oh sorry, capital punishment, they facilitate? Being innocently in the way is a capital crime in the statute books.

  6. Jack007 says:

    The Church’s “position” on the death penalty is one that has progressed.
    Today’s stance is one born out of the VII mentality.

    The main problem with capital punishment in the USA today, is that it is used too infrequently. I have maintained for years that it is “cruel & unusual” punishment in the way it is administered. Specifically, having the condemned sit for 20+ years in a 6×9 cell with an uncertain fate is barbaric. Executions should be carried out in a timely fashion; within a year or two at most. The only reason for delay is to insure a final and fair appeal.

    Life sentences are completely immoral in my opinion. Any Catholic should be opposed to such medieval practices. Before I will engage others in such debate, I ask if they have spent any time in such a facility. Until then, their arguments ring hollow. I have visited more than one “unit” and I can assure you, it is inhumane. There can be no moral justification for confining another human being for decades in those conditions.

    Jack in KC

  7. tcreek says:

    Pope Pius XII in 1952
    “Even when there is question of the execution of a condemned man, the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life … by his crime, he has already dispossessed himself of his right to life.”

    Capital punishment has a strong claim to being morally obligatory for those who wish to protect life. Recent studies suggests that capital punishment may have a significant deterrent effect, preventing several murders for each execution. This evidence indicates that a refusal to impose that penalty condemns numerous innocent people to death.

    “The reversal of a doctrine as well established as the legitimacy of capital punishment would raise serious problems regarding the credibility of the magisterium. Consistency with scripture and long-standing Catholic tradition is important for the grounding of many current teachings of the Catholic Church; for example, those regarding abortion, contraception, and the permanence of marriage. If the tradition on capital punishment had been reversed, serious questions would be raised regarding other doctrines.” Avery Cardinal Dulles, “Catholic Teaching on the Death Penalty”, in Owens, Carlson & Elshtain, op. cit., p. 26. 2004

    “As the Church’s teaching on contraception cannot “develop” in a way that would declare its intrinsic evil to be good, so the right of a state to execute criminals cannot “develop” so that its intrinsic good becomes evil.” – Father George Rutler, pastor of the Church of our Savior in New York. He has a weekly program on EWTN.

    In thinking about what it means to be pro–life, Christians must, to begin with, distinguish between protecting innocent life and protecting society against those who destroy life. People incapable of making so elementary a distinction have no place in determining where the argument should go from here.

    Our Catholic faith did not begin with the JPII Generation.

  8. Scott W. says:

    For someone like Miss Manson, with all of her education, I’m surprised she can’t get this right.

    Depends on the education. If it was the usual secular-progressive nonsense you get in most universities (sadly including Catholic ones), then it isn’t surprising at all–you go there not to foster and improve critical thinking, but to get Official Language installed. “You are not really pro-life if you support the death penalty” is a mindless official platitude so hoary it needs to be put in the fossil record. “Pro-lifers don’t care about the child after she is born.” is another one that even a brilliant mind like Walker Percy fell for.

  9. Luvadoxi says: Based upon Justice Scalia’s quote….how can he be a part of a system that says abortion is legal? Shouldn’t he resign? Just wondering.

    I assume that you really are “just wondering” rather than hoping to get in a cheap shot (which is how the term is usually used).

    There is nothing inconsistent in the Justice’s position. The state actively inflicts capital punishment. It merely permits abortion. To be part of a system that not only permits, but also performs directly or though an agent an objective evil, is to be complicit in the evil and morally culpable. To be involved in a system that merely permits an evil is not necessarily evil.

    For example there are all sorts of evils the state would best not penalize since the result would be worse than the evil itself. St. Thomas, perhaps wrongly, put outlawing of prostitution in that category. This is a question of prudence. In the case of mere permission, on the other hand, a member of the government who sought to encourage or further enable the permitted evil, might also be culpable of it. But I see no evidence whatsoever that the Justice has done anything to enable or encourage abortion.

  10. tcreek says:

    Few people are aware of this:
    In the Prologue to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul writes:
    (page 5) “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved June 25th last (1992) and the publication of which I today (October 11, 1992) order by my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magesterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.”
    English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America copyright 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc. Latin text copyright 1994 Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Citta del Vaticano.

    Then after the first new general catechism in 450 years we get a revised edition in just 5 years.
    See below what was added to the section on capital punishment.

    #2267. (added) 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 definitively 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 non-existent.”

    Maybe previous catechisms including Trent were not “A sure norm” after all???

    This one ambiguous sentence, added five years after the first edition, is used by opponents in their attempt to overthrow 2,000 years of Church support for the necessity of the death penalty. They will say, “Well, yes that used to be the teaching but in this enlightened modern age we have gotten past the necessity for capital punishment”, as if traditional Church teaching has deceived Catholics for 2,000 years. This is the attitude of very many catholic who desire to change or ignore traditional Church teachings. They want teachings to reflect their own personal “feelings” and those of our modern culture. A culture which has abandoned the idea of evil, sin and punishment.

  11. Captain Peabody says:

    There has been no change in teaching. The Catholic Church has always taught that it is legitimate and proper for the state to kill criminals guilty of certain serious crimes for the sake of the common good. It has also taught that the soul even of a condemned criminal is of inestimable value, and so every reasonable opportunity should be given to the criminal to repent of his sins and be saved. In addition, the state and the individual also have a strong moral obligation to protect innocent life, in whatever form.
    These are three principles which are exactly the same now as they were 2000 years ago. They have not in the least changed, nor can they ever do so.

    What has changed is the power and reach of technology and the modern state. The modern state has recourse to methods of secure, long-term imprisonment not available at any other time throughout history; it can thus seemingly protect the innocent without removing all option of the guilty for repentance. In addition, the justice system is such that we have discovered with certainty that some people have been executed who were, in fact, innocent; and we also, have strong reasons to doubt the guilt of many others as well. Thus, the absolute moral duty to defend and not harm innocent life applies here, as well.

    Given these reasons and in light of the exact same principles considered by 2000 years of Catholic tradition, the modern ordinary Magisterium has changed the normative prudential application of these principles from one favoring the general application of the death penalty to one favoring no application of the death penalty in lieu of better alternatives.

    This judgment of the ordinary magisterium is as such binding on the faithful; but because it is a prudential judgment on a general application of fixed principles, this judgment can be challenged on prudential grounds, without the person objecting thus being disobedient to the magisterium.

    However, the principles behind this judgment are established by 2000 years of Catholic tradition and magisterial pronouncements, and so cannot be challenged in the same way by the faithful. If the faithful wish to argue against the judgment of the Magisterium, they can do so on no other grounds than these.

    Basically, this issue thus has very little to do with modernism, and framing the issue in terms of “Bad Vatican II stuff” vs “good traditional stuff” is neither here nor there. Prudential judgments based on fixed principles are always and of necessity decided in relation to the specific circumstances, time, and place in which the judgment is made; that is the entire point of the phrase “prudential judgment.” This is true for past judgments on this issue as much as present ones.

    Thus, it seems to me, arguments based merely on past judgments of the magisterium without references to modern realities illume little in regards to this issue.

  12. benedetta says:

    To Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., I believe when Justice Scalia says that he “would resign” I believe that he may be referring to the fact that there is no national (federal law) imposition of the death penalty. The offenses punishable by death (many states still have these on the books but do not have the death penalty) and the punishment by death itself is codified by state legislatures. So in fact, his statement I think shows that he personally opposes the death penalty as moral in this context, and does so as a practicing Catholic. In other words, this article is worse than calling Justice Scalia a cafeteria Catholic or brandishing all who support the dignity of human life but have read through the authentic teaching as hypocrites, because it seems that she has chosen to call him a pro death penalty Catholic from that short sentence alone (amazing you get a column from a handful of words in an entire talk) when she has not taken the time to know him, interview him, or confirm that this is the case. His statement reads that he as a Catholic could not support a nationally imposed death penalty.

    Interestingly, were women to be forced to undergo sterilizations and abortions by the national government as is the case in some places of the world I should think that as a federal employee he would similarly want to re-evaluate whether to continue his position, as a Catholic.

    As to abortion, the fact remains that there was not at the time of Roe nor is there still overwhelming support. Roe was handed down by a handful of male justices using the scientific and technological knowledge available in its day. The trimester framework in light of the knowledge we have now is an arbitrary one imposed by justices. Given the movement for more humane medicine, holistic health, use of science and technology, and the abhorrence to torture we intuitively feel whether it has to do with prisoners of war or prisoners on death row it is pretty barbaric that a nation relies on abortion so heavily. Also pretty sad that a publication that proudly and triumphantly proclaims itself Catholic would waste time, energy of readership and column space indicting a public figure for something he didn’t say instead of just coming out with the truth and the reality of the situation we in America find ourselves in.

  13. Jack007 says:

    When Paul VI tried to convince General Franco in Spain not to execute some Basque terrorists he famously responded, “With all due respect to the Holy Father; He can take care of Rome and I will take care of Spain.” Bravo!

    It is very embarrassing to me as a Catholic when the Pope tries to interfere with executions here in the USA. I say to him, Holy Father we love you, but in these things, BUTT OUT!

    Jack in KC

  14. AnAmericanMother says:

    Captain Peabody,
    Speaking from the other end of the problem (the legal/correctional end), I can tell you that the assumptions that are made by the newspapers (and by many in the Church) aren’t particularly accurate.
    First, the supposedly secure long-term imprisonment is generally not all that secure (short of federal SuperMax and a few high-tech prisons). The sort of complete isolation applied to a few high-profile criminals such as Smith (mentioned upthread) is generally not feasible and is also challenged as cruel and unusual. Prison employees and other prisoners are at risk from the incorrigible killer, and without the potential of a death penalty the “lifer” has little to lose. What you’re doing is confining the risk of death to a smaller pool, but the risk is surprisingly high. By sparing a killer through motives of mercy, many innocent people are put at risk.
    And there is always the potential for escape. The notorious killer Carl Isaacs almost succeeded in escaping three times before he was executed (once actually getting out of the prison concealed in a garbage truck) and in fact had escaped from a Maryland prison at the time he committed what is still the most brutal case of mass torture-rape-murder in Georgia.
    Second, the supposed vast number of “innocent convicted” is, frankly, a lie. There are some, because all human systems are imperfect, but the safeguards in a death case are substantial and convictions of the truly innocent are rare. Most overturned convictions are not because of innocence, but because of repeated retrials and resulting technicalities such as suppressed evidence or dying/disappearing witnesses. And there are plenty of cases in which the anti-death penalty campaigners and their accomplices in the press are simply lying.
    The Troy Davis case that has made such a stir is a good example. You have to read the actual trial transcript or the order on the habeas petition to discover that a dozen witnesses saw Davis shoot the police officer after Davis had attracted everybody’s attention (including the officer’s) by pistol-whipping a homeless man in the middle of a restaurant parking lot. The officer described Davis over the police radio right before Davis shot him. Most of the witnesses independently identified Davis as the perpetrator; at least one knew him by his street name. All the descriptions tallied. The supposed ‘recantations’ were by affidavit (prepared by counsel for Davis), so that the witnesses could not be cross-examined. And they were not actually recantations but simply statements that it was all 20 years ago and the witnesses said they couldn’t really remember much of anything anymore.
    Davis had shot somebody else in the face earlier that evening; pistol shells from that crime scene matched the shells found at the murder scene. And when the police searched his mother’s house, they found Davis’s discarded clothing, soaked with the police officer’s blood. That fact was not admitted in evidence because his mama said she didn’t give the police permission to search. So the supposedly hideously unjust system excluded damning evidence . . . but the jury took less than two hours to convict Davis anyhow. Shooting a police officer under his vest and then shooting him execution-style twice in the head because he knew the officer could identify him is the sort of crime that cries out to heaven.
    The newspapers know this; the lawyers know this. But they at best conceal the facts from the public, which then has the luxury of feeling all noble and holy in decrying ‘the execution of an innocent man’.
    It does, in fact, make me feel sick.

  15. Dan says:

    Federal law does provide for the imposition of the death penalty. While it is not used as often as it is in the states, Federal death sentences are carried out at the Federal Penitentary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Since 1976, there have been 3 such executions (all since 2001).

    So, since federal law does allow the death penalty, Justice Scalia clearly believes that Catholic moral teaching justifies its imposition under certain circumstances. In this regard, his beliefs are consistent with then Cardinal Ratzinger’s explanation of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment:

    “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”
    (from a memorandum sent to the US Bishops titled, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion- General Principles” by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)

    Scalia’s judicial philosophy is pretty clear on these issues. If a practice like capital punishment is mentioned in the Constitution, that text controls. In this case, the Constitution specifically assumes its legality. While the text of the Constitution does not mandate that the death penalty must be imposed, it certaintly provides that it may be imposed. Consistent with this presumption, the Federal Government and the states are free to either impose the death penalty or abolish it. What Scalia is against is its mandated abolition by the Supreme Court, since such a ruling would be inconsistent with the text of the Constitution.

    On the other hand, Scalia would say that if an issue (like abortion) is not mentioned by the constitution, it should be left to the people to decide, per the 10th Amendment.

    While this democratic process may not always come out on the side of the Church’s moral teaching, it is certaintly preferable to a pannel of 9 lawyers telling us how to live.

  16. Athanasius says:

    This is so nuts, since the classical theology of the Church has always granted the right of the state to put someone to death for capital crimes. St. Thomas argues those guilty of rape or witchcraft should be put to death. You’d think in the case of the former the Fishwrap would support the death penalty. Maybe the question should be put to them, do you oppose the death penalty for those who violate the integrity of women?

  17. Bender says:

    If the Church understood and taught ALL capital punishment to be morally wrong, the father of Father Paul Scalia would resign from the Court because the United States Constitution clearly allows for it, and he would be obligated to rule that the Constitution permits it, thereby creating a conflict between law and faith.

    With respect to abortion, the Church rightly understands and teaches that the intentionally killing of innocent human beings in the womb is wrong, but Justice Scalia need not resign in that case because it is NOT a right under the United States Constitution, as he has rightly ruled on multiple occasions. The truth is — Church teaching on human life is entirely consistent with the true reading of the Constitution.

    Now, abortion might be a fundamental right under the peculiar tyranny of Justice Anthony Kennedy, Catholic, or of late Justice William Brennan, Catholic, but instead of falsely ruling that it is a right under the Constitution, it is THEY who should have resigned first.

  18. tcreek says:

    Captain Peabody says: “This judgment of the ordinary magisterium is as such binding on the faithful; but because it is a prudential judgment on a general application of fixed principles, this judgment can be challenged on prudential grounds, without the person objecting thus being disobedient to the magisterium.”

    Sad to say, but many judgements of the ordinary magisterium have been disobediently challenged on so called prudential grounds over the last 40 years. The church teaches that the prudential judgement for the application of capital punishment is reserved only to legitimate public authority, not to priests, poets, patriots or popes who have neither the competence nor responsibility on how best to protect the citizenry.

    “…The modern state has recourse to methods of secure, long-term imprisonment not available at any other time throughout history.”

    Which states? Rwanda? Texas? Sudan? Norway? or only the modern ones? Which methods? More secure than the Tower of London? Are we to have a bunch of relativistic magisteriums or one shoe fits them all. That Judeo/Christianity teaching has worked for the last 3,000 years.

    “In addition, the justice system is such that we have discovered with certainty that some people have been executed who were, in fact, innocent”.

    Like other human institutions, courts and juries are not perfect. One cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly. That is a truism, not a revelation. But with regard to the punishment of death in the current American system, that possibility has been reduced to an insignificant minimum. This explains why those ideologically driven to ferret out and proclaim a mistaken modern execution have not a single verifiable case to point to, whereas it is easy as pie to identify plainly guilty murderers who have been set free. —Pro Life Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in Kansas v. March

  19. benedetta says:

    Dan, Thanks, that is very interesting. I did know that there have been statutes on the books as federal capital offenses but had not known that Indiana carries them out and recently.

    What is extremely sad in this article as well is the fact that it refuses to acknowledge the basis for the reasoning behind Catholic teaching, which is, good, verifiable, rational, and, not meaningless whereas her assumptions are all about how it is one big nothing and an invitation to a cafeteria which it is not at all.

    Further if there is going to be an acknowledgment that the death penalty is a barbaric practice given our enlightened culture (?), then it is even more hypocritical than the standard cafe cath swipe to then refuse to permit children to live who have not even lived one day to contemplate whether to commit a vicious and horrible crime as AnAmericanMother describes and then have the benefit of a fair trial with all of the protections toward an accused conceivable. If you can empathize with the prisoner then what is stopping you from empathizing with a totally (and we do mean, totally) innocent (not just criminally but of minor ‘infractions’, sins, whatever it may be) child. And, on the scale of crimes against humanity is it not far worse to execute, the poorest, the lowliest, those without voice or power or resources, no advocate, no representation, just, wanted or unwanted thumbs up or down. Essentially she is saying, we treat the unborn baby worse than we do prisoners sentenced to death and that is just ok by her? For this reason I trust in the Church’s magisterium (mockery of it and eye rolling and all). The Church’s voice on this far from amounting to a cafeteria actually is the one which is reasoned and worth following. The Church’s teaching is that the death penalty could be arguably employed in certain circumstances. If a person feels it is immoral they are free to pursue that. Why does the Church even care about prisoners on death row, one may rightly ask…It is because morality is informed by the dignity of all human life, and the right to it. In order to get to the trial before one’s peers one must first be permitted the opportunity, to live.

    What is kind of odd is this rationing of value towards particular lives but not others. In this envisioning it is perfectly fine to decide that an entire lifetime of another person is worthless but that a murderer who has been determined through fair trial to have committed an atrocity with intent and in cold blood is comparatively more worth the investment of organized lobbying and support. Why this harassment and attack towards prolifers anyway? Why does the same not befall animal rights advocates or anti-death penalty or others? What is behind the obsession with making people who support prolife out to be so many things (innumerable now). One would think that with the plethora of causes that we may all enlist in (and we do this socially though in many cases as social as we think ourselves we in fact still lack manners), sign petitions, go out wearing our colors, represent, write, speak out and encourage others to do the same, that to be prolife would not be such a big deal. Still there are lots of people around who expect Catholics to be Catholic. The Church is prolife. What else could the Church be?

  20. Eric says:

    without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself

    It would seem to me that a person that knows the time of his execution would make it a priority to “redeem himself.” I’m not sure what giving someone indefinite time to sit idle and watch MTV does to motivate him to “redeem himself.” It seems to me more souls would be saved with an active capital punishment system than a stalled one.

    Of course I’m just a high school graduate from rural Indiana and JPII was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.

  21. nmoerbeek says:

    America no longer (nor western Europe) can claim to have the stability necessary to see a life sentence carried out. We are bankrupt, with declining populations, and countries full of weaklings who are easy prey for the wicked.

  22. Joe Magarac says:

    Are Evangelium Vitae and the revised CCC2267 binding? I would argue that they are not. Catholic tradition held for some 2000 years that capital punishment was lawful in many circumstances, not just those rare cases in which it was an absolute necessity for safety. Nobody can unilaterally change that tradition – not even the Pope.

    I know that Catholic teaching occasionally evolves over time – St. Paul thought slavery was permissible, but we do not. Perhaps Catholic teaching on capital punishment is evolving, and the Pope’s voice in Evangelium Vitae was part of a trend that will ultimately severely limit or even ban the practice, as slavery is now banned. I am opposed to capital punishment, so I hope that the Church moves toward opposing it too.

    But it hasn’t moved that far, not yet. The decision to unilaterally revise CCC2267 simply because JPII made an offhand statement in Evangelium Vitae was more shocking than the decision to abandon the 1962 Roman Missal in favor of the 1970 Roman Missal because an ecumenical council had made some vague statements about revision in Summorum Pontificum. In both cases, we should – must – remember BXVI’s statements that the Pope cannot do whatever he likes, that the best changes are those that happen slowly and organically, and that sharp ruptures are never part of the life of the Church.

    In short, I oppose the death penalty and I agree with Evangelium Vitae. But I recognize that this is a new position, radically counter to Tradition prior to this point, and as a result it isn’t binding yet and may never be. I wish the editors of CCC2267 realized that. The Church needs Tradition as much as She needs the Magisterium.

  23. tcreek says:

    Eric, you are in company with Thomas Aquinas. He maintains that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer:
    “…”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.”

    Or who could refute the truth of this gallows humor from Samuel Johnson?
    “When a man knows he is to be hanged…it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

    I wonder how many people opposed to capital punishment consider the soul of the murderer.

  24. “benedetta,”

    I don’t think you have understood my post. Please reread it. And I don’t think that your reading of the Justice’s quote (0r his many comments on this topic previously) reflects his position. This is my last on this since combox’s debates are usually an endless dialogue of the deaf.

  25. Bender says:

    Joe — Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict would say and have said that EV did NOT change Catholic tradition, much less unilaterally change it, as countless others would say as well, even if others fail to understand how that teaching in consistent with and in continuity with the teaching of the last 2000 years.

  26. MikeM says:

    The revision of CCC2267 puzzles me. In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II specifically said that the original text of 2267 was correct and still stood… and then the paragraph was revised to take into account EV? I don’t get it.

    On a different note, I wonder about the relative humanity of locking someone in solitary in a supermax facility. It seems to me that those living conditions are so far from natural human living that they denigrate the dignity of man. Humans are naturally social and free, at least to some degree. To prevent someone from having interactions with others and from contributing to broader society, and to so restrict their freedom, and giving them no chance at ever moving beyond that life seems pretty cruel to me. I sometimes wonder if capital punishment isn’t the comparatively humane option.

  27. jflare says:

    “I have visited more than one “unit” and I can assure you, it is inhumane. There can be no moral justification for confining another human being for decades in those conditions.”

    A few questions come to mind:
    1. On what grounds do you define conditions as “inhumane”?
    2. Do you understand that a person on death row is there as a punishment?

    Inmates on death row or serving life sentences..are doing just that: Preparing to die or SERVING a life sentence for their crime. We call the place a “penitentiary” for a reason. It’s a place ultimately and/or originally intended for a person to separated from society, that they may be better enabled to repent of their errors and seek to redeem themselves.

    Yes, the concept has been badly warped over the years; it’s very difficult to believe that a man will repent of his sins when he’s surrounded by a fairly comfortable, if confined, life. Not to take too hard a shot at, liberal..intentions, but the current prison system came about in part because of great intentions that needed strong re-direction.

    As to whether it’s as greater mercy to execute someone, I don’t know Aquinas’ argument all that well, but I do know one thing: If a man has been executed, he’s dead for good. There’s no bringing him back.
    He can’t repent of his sins, so if he hasn’t done so before execution..his soul may be at grave risk of hell.
    Even if 9 men out of 10, no, actually, even if 19 out of 20 men are guilty as sin and have no intent to repent, can we honestly execute them in good conscience?
    Seems to me that we’re taking some nasty chances with our own souls if we insist we can.

  28. Jack007 says:

    Mike, did you read my post? :-)

    I sometimes wonder if capital punishment isn’t the comparatively humane option.
    That was the obvious conclusion I was hoping the readers would ultimately reach.

    Jack in KC

  29. benedetta says:

    Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., yes I re-read your comments as you have asked and I do agree with the distinctions you make.

    Again I think the crux of the misunderstanding is with the very basis for all social justice, the dignity of human life. The Church’s position is requires reasoning and understanding. The Church’s teaching is informed first by the dignity of human life. If it were not so then the teaching would simply have, no position on it, or might even endorse without limitation or consideration. It is the same with respect to euthanasia. All considerations are premised in the first place on the dignity of human life. It is the prochoice but opposed to the death penalty which yields the far greater the hypocrisy or the inconsistency compared with the prolife but cognizant of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. If a life is worthy of ethical or moral considerations at the end, why should it be deemed less so by a citizen and therefore less worthy of advocacy or representation in the public square or in the private one, merely because he or she is at the very beginning and not the end of life? It is arbitrary and irrational, premised on convenience, consumerism, disparagement toward women and parenthood. The Church’s teaching is consistent and reflects reason as well as respect for human life.

    As to my ‘deafness’, Father I do apologize. I did not intend to misread your words. I am undergoing a trial at present which brings on fatigue. The combox on this board, is actually helpful toward enduring it for various reasons. I am grateful that for your presence and comments here. I am unable for several reasons to comment using my birth name but my comment name here has an ancestral link. I gathered you were wondering as you put it in quotations. I will pray for your work.

  30. benedetta says:

    If this publication which labels itself Catholic would actually openly discuss why Catholic politicians who fail to support the dignity of human life by expanding the number of purely innocent lives taken through abortion should themselves consider not receiving communion as a public statement, that would be more intellectually credible than targeting a Catholic public figure for the hypocrisy diatribe merely because he is publicly supportive of prolife. Their issue is with their “we are Democrat” first and Catholics only so far as it can be engineered by them to serve that interest…inevitably it will create dissonance. The reason why Catholic politicians who give support to increasing the number of innocent lives lost should themselves refrain from a big public reception of communion is not to advance the interest of a political party but rather has to do with the unity of the faithful. Whereas here a so-called Catholic publication is targeting a fellow Catholic who merely publicly states he accepts the Church’s teaching. What is up with that.

  31. The Papal States always had the death penalty. Public executions too. They had a very extensive appeals facility, but the Pope signed execution orders in his temporal capacity.

  32. Oh, and they had public defenders.

  33. benedetta says:

    The question arises of why this publication thinks it so essential that politicians who state they are Catholic receive the Eucharist publicly as Catholics and be applauded for it while at the same time publicly rejecting actual communion with the faithful and supporting something which destroys communion and human beings. The premise is that the Eucharist is only meaningful as a photo opp and to engineer a cause, and apart from the significance on any given campaign season the politician assigns the reception of it, is meaningless. The total reality is that it is very far from meaningless and it is also not something one may define only for one’s self alone. But this columnist herself objects to Catholicism in general, isn’t that true — she has studied it at secular university but she herself is not a Catholic. So her premises, her starting point, that communion is nothing or just a symbol or emblem is already not at all a Catholic comprehension. What would happen if prochoice politicians were to attend a Mass where the faithful prayed for the intentions of an end to abortion? Would they receive communion then or would they reject being in communion with the Catholic faithful? If it is only what they make it and nothing more then logically they would refrain then from receiving since their authentic selves which inform their consciences above and beyond or holier than the teachings say would not wish to be shown to support the intention that the children still be able to live.

  34. Claudio says:

    I think the Magesterium needs to clarify what are the binding teachings in regards to capital punishment. I have no problem accepting the argument that the modern penal system has improved to make the need for capital punishment a very rare event. However the key question for me is not defense but punishment. Is it the teaching of the Church that capital punishment can only be used for defensive purposes only? I have yet to see anyone discuss this point. If its true that capital punishment can only be used for defensive purposes than that raises the question as to whether to Church has changed it’s doctrine given that past teachings would give the impression that punishing the guilty person was part of the penalty being imposed. If on the other hand, punishing a murderer with the death penalty is still a legitimate use of state power than the Church needs to clarify what that teaching is because the recent pronoucements have all been focused on the point of view of whether capital punishment is needed to defend society.

  35. robtbrown says:

    1. I recommend the article penned by Scalia with the link provided by John V. In it he says that his participation in the administration of the death penalty is not simply because he works for the federal govt but that as a judge involved in appeals and requests for stays, he is at times an active participant in the CP mechanism.

    2. Benedetta’s point is excellent and is often heard in private discussions among theologians: In no. 2266 the point is made that punishment is not only a defense of society but also medicinal for the one punished–but no. 2267 makes no mention of the medicinal effect of CP.

    IMHO, the revision did little except create confusion, not only about CP but also obligation to all moral doctrine.

    3. It is significant that Cardinal Ratzinger had very little to say about the revision, other than that good Catholics can be for or against CP.

  36. benedetta says:

    The difficulty is in the premises that communion is not what it is. What this columnist and others seem not to comprehend is that it isn’t about favoring a political party or punishing another and further not really about politics at all. It’s about communion. As to that, what the Holy Father said while on his visit to Berlin last week is significant — it’s about faith.

    To someone without faith and who doesn’t get up to say, week after (sometimes very tiring) week “I believe in the communion of saints…in the one, holy…catholic…church” they are satisfied with saying it is about something they immediately perceive or grasp, which is politics. But we are not Catholic because of our politics. Is it, we are this or that, therefore, we are Catholic? No, it is that we have faith…this is what informs our choices. She doesn’t profess the faith. All well and good, no one is required to. But then when one pursues painting someone of another faith as so many things that seems to be disrespectful, and then to continue persistently, that is an agenda.

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