I was recently reminded of a 2013 article at Crisis by Fr. George Rutler about capital punishment” “Hanging Concentrates The Mind”.
Among other things in his piece, Rutler writes of the guy I wrote about yesterday, Mastro Titta, the official Papal Executioner in the 19th c. Rutler has more details. He provides, in addition, quite a few papal anecdotes about the death penalty. He also mentions the great little Roman church dedicated for my favorite onomastico, San Giovanni Decollato. However, it was a quote of Venerable Pius XII that really caught my attention. Mind you, Rutler has, by this point, mentioned Pius’ distinctions of medicinal and vindictive aims for punishment:
“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).
I looked it up in AAS 47 (1955) and there it is. … “Facevamo anche notare che la Chiesa in teoria e in pratica ha mantenuto la doppia specie di pene coercitivo della legitima autorità umana. Non si dà a questa asserzione una risposta sufficiente, osservando che le fonti anzidette contengono soltanto pensieri corrispondenti alle circostanze storiche e alla coltura del tempo, e che quindi non si può attibuire loro un valore generale e sempre durevolve. Poiché le parole delle fonti e del magistero vivente non si riferiscono al contentuo concreto di singole prescrizioni giuridiche o regole di azione, ma al fondamento stesso essenziale della potestà penale e della sua immanente finalità. Questa poi e tanto poco determinata alle condizioni del tempo e della coltura, come la natura dell’uomo e la società umana voluta dalla natura medesima. – Ma qualunque atteggiamento del diritto positivo umano su questo problema, per il Nostro presente scopo basta di mettere in chiaro che in una totale o parziale remissione delle pena anche le pene vindicative (non meno medicinali) possono od anche debbono essere prese in considerazione.”
There’s a great deal to be mined in this second part of Pius’ considerations about crime and punishment.
I cannot fathom that anyone who worked on the CCC change looked at this important contribution by a Roman Pontiff. The second part of the address is HERE. The online PDF of AAS has some OCR typos, but it is readable. There is a lot to consider in there.