There’s been a protracted discussion going on over at my Register blog about the Death penalty, sparked by Bp. Finn’s letter on same. As I predicted, any mention of actual Church teaching about the DP (Summary: It’s not morally equivalent to abortion. The State retains the right to inflict it under certain circumstances. Those circumstances are vanishingly rare in the modern world. It is legitimate, if you like, to oppose the death penalty entirely.) drew the Usual Fire from the Usual Suspects. One guy is quite open in claiming Evangelium Vitae is in error and says this teaching should be excised from the Catechism. Another lady defends him and declares anybody who repeats the clear teaching of the Catechism to be a “liberal”. The usual fun and games.
What interests me is twofold. First, the lady manages to assert that there is some sort of contradiction between opposing the death penalty completely and opposing abortion. I deal with that here. Short answer: Opposition to the DP and abortion not the same because abortion and the death penalty aren’t morally equivalent. But the fact remains that “don’t execute” is the Church’s default position and so it’s not particularly hard to believe (as the Catechism authors clearly do) that there is no real reason to inflict it these days. It’s not “extreme” to oppose the death penalty as a matter of practical implementation. It’s basically what the Church does. Don’t believe me?:
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.”
What also interests me is the strange zeal some readers retain for resisting this call for minimization of the death penalty with bellicose demands for maximizing it instead. Their zeal is for finding as many excuses as possible to kill, rather than agreeing with the obvious teaching of the Church that the burden of justification is on the one demanding death. One reader in particular writes this amazing theological rationale/rant against the Church’s teaching:
Don’t any of you self-righteous death penalty opponents ever read the Bible? As he was hanging on the cross Jesus promised Paradise to the felon who confessed the justice of the death penalty (cf. Luke 23: 39-43)
Um, no. Jesus promises paradise to the one who placed his faith in Him. However, it is interesting to know that my reader thinks crucifixion is a just form of capital punishment and that he thinks believing this is grounds for salvation. The mystery is why he is keeping this insight in a combox and not informing the bishops and the Pope that we need to get back to crucifying criminals as a legitimate form of Justice *and* that confessing this theory of criminal justice, not faith in Jesus Christ, is the key to redemption and salvation. If he does ever bestir himself to instruct the bishops and the Holy Father on this startling new theory, I hope he get back to me on how that goes.