American Death Penalty Advocates: Behold Your Moral Kinsmen Abroad

They have a problem:

Saudi Arabia may stop beheadings over shortage of swordsmen

Saudi Arabia is considering halting beheadings in favor of firing squads, as officials report the government is running out of swordsmen to carry out executions.

A joint Saudi committee made up of representatives from the interior, justice and health departments is deliberating the idea, according to Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, citing Saudi newspaper Al-Youm.

“This solution seems practical, especially in light of shortages in official swordsmen or their belated arrival to execution yards in some incidents; the aim is to avoid interruption of the regularly-taken security arrangements,” the committee said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch said Saudi Arabia beheaded 69 people in 2012.

In Saudi Arabia, rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are among the crimes punishable by death under Shariah Law, Al-Ahram reports.

Speaking over a smuggled cellphone from his prison cell, one of seven Saudis set to be put to death Tuesday by crucifixion and firing squad for armed robbery appealed for help to stop the executions.

One of the many problems facing American Catholic death penalty advocates (in addition to the “Don’t stand so close to me” fact that they are in the not-at-all-brutal-Bronze-Age-and-murderous company of such enlightened regimes as Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, and China) is that those trying to make the argument that they know better than the Magisterium what “God’s will” is here seem to offer extremely selective readings of the Bible when they invoke it to support the death penalty. It’s always and only for murder (and sometimes rape) that the apostles of the death penalty plead. Not for theft, blasphemy, apostasy, or adultery. Somehow the dedication to BIBLICAL TRVTH never seems to extend to a wish to put Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich or the numerous conservatives burning through their second or third wives to death.

Similarly, though some actually have the chutzpah to appeal to the Good Thief’s “We are receiving the just punishment for our sins” as biblical “support” for the death penalty, none of them seem super eager to say, “Therefore crucifixion is just punishment for theft”. They want death, but they want to keep it neat, clean, and above all private. At least the Saudis have the courage of their savage, backward, Bronze Age convictions.

Me: I think the obvious thing to do is listen to the Church here and part company with Commies and Bronze Age savages:

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 more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

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

Abolish the Death Penalty. It’s what Benedict wanted. And, as Pope Francis makes clear, opposition to the death penalty and the prolife position are obvious corollaries.

  • Jonathan Waldburger

    I think the reason for the popes’ opposition to the death penalty has its roots in the flaws of liberal democracy and the accompanying tyranny of relativism, rather than in any inherent problems with putting people to death. In my country a murderer who leaves prison a better man and doesn’t repeat his crime is very, very rare. But I am still against the death penalty because there is no chance I would trust our corrupt government with that kind of power of its citizens.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    I’m sticking to my guns: avoid capital punishment unless there is no other way to protect the innocent. Just like the Church taught me to do when I became Catholic. As for the guilt by association argument, it doesn’t help that the majority of countries that oppose the death penalty are pushing gay marriage, abortion, and secular moral relativism. Which is why the ‘look who’s on your side’ argument doesn’t really fly.

    If we just say abolish the death penalty period, we must say we no longer care about protecting the innocent no matter what, which was always a problem I had when I used to oppose the death penalty flat out (something pointed out to me time and again by friends and former colleagues who supported capital punishment). That’s why I loved the Church’s balanced approach: mercy if at all possible, but not at the expense of the innocent. I know, the Catechism says our state can now prevent crime by rendering one who has been convicted incapable of doing harm (since 1981 apparently), but tell that to the inmate killed in Ohio a couple weeks ago – the second in a year.

    Still, those countries that push to abolish capital punishment outright don’t seem to sweat that side of it. Which is pretty consistent and why those countries that scream against war and capital punishment are now the ones so likely to embrace abortion and euthanasia (it is noteworthy that our country was abolishing the DP at the very time period that Roe v. Wade was becoming the law of the land). I think there’s a connection there stronger than ‘support for the DP is being in the camp of a bronze age thug’.

    • Subsistent

      “If we just say abolish the death penalty period, we must say we no longer care about protecting the innocent no matter what, ….” Then the Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain must no longer so care, for he states flatly — admittedly in disagreement with Aquinas’s writings — in note 19 of Chap. XIII of his book *On the Church of Christ*: “In my opinion … capital punishment is in itself such a sin [i.e, 'a sin of homicide'] committed by society.” Note Maritain’s phrase “in itself” (French “de soi”), equivalent here to “intrinsically”: thus, intrinsically a sin of homicide.
      I do admit, however, that protecting the innocent from bodily harm occasionally requires use of force which sometimes results in an aggressor’s death. As long as that death (even if it’s foreseen) is not directly intended as an end or a means, it is sometimes justified. (Cf. Aquinas, ST II-II, 64, 7.) But the death penalty indeed directly intends, as least as a means, the executed person’s death. Therefore it’s an intrinsically evil sin of homicide, objectively speaking (altho it’s not imputable as sin subjectively if the executioners are in good faith). This opinion admittedly goes BEYOND the Church’s present Magisterium; but it does not go AGAINST it.

      • Stu

        To be clear, are you saying that capital punishment is intrinsically evil?

        • Mark Shea

          No. Does something have to be intriniscally evil for me (and, by the way, the Church) to oppose it?

          • Stu

            Thanks for your comments, Mark.

            But I was looking for clarity from the poster above regarding his remarks in order to better understand his assertion.

            • Mark Shea

              Ah! Okay.

            • Subsistent

              Yes, Sir, I am saying that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. So is Jacques Maritain: “A mon avis … la peine de mort est de soi un tel péché [i.e, 'péché d'homicide'] commis par la société.”) Note Maritain’s phrase “in itself” (French “de soi”), equivalent here to “intrinsically”.
              However, neither he nor I impute subjective guilt to anyone who in good faith disagrees.

              • Stu

                So, then you would be asserting the the Church approves in principle to an act that is intrinsically evil?

                • Subsistent

                  From the fact — which I admit — that the Church does not (at present) condemn the death penalty in principle, it does not follow that she approves the death penalty in prenciple. For she (at present) neither condemns nor approves the death penalty in principle; the Magisterium (at present) PRESCINDS from the question, “Is the death penalty intrinsically evil?”

                  • Stu

                    Well, we disagree in substance. Indeed, the question specifically has not been asked to my knowledge, but I think the “answer” is absolutely implied in Scripture, Tradition, writings of the Church Fathers and saints and current formal teaching as well that Capital Punishment is not intrinsically evil. Even Cardinal Bernardian remarked in discussing the seamless garment, “Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the State has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime.” I can’t fathom any person or entity having the “right” to do something intrinsically evil. That State gains this authority because it is acting as an agent of God. Now this of course doesn’t mean every act of the state is legitimate, but the power is there.

                    Maritain seemed to be hung up on the proximity and urgency of the issue and couldn’t understand how in some case putting a criminal to death after the face was an act of self-defense.

                    • Stu

                      My apologies for some sloppiness. I thought I had grabbed words from Cardinal Bernardin. They were from the USCCB.

      • Subsistent

        Point of order here: Some — not all — English versions of CCC2267 MISTRANSLATE its original Latin clause “… si haec una sit possibilis via ad vitas humanas ab iniusto aggressore efficaciter defendendas.” The mistranslated version reads: “… when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.” Other English versions correctly translate the Latin hypothetical conjunction *si* with the hypothetical *if*, not with *when*: “IF this [penalty] be the only possible way …”, not “… WHEN this is the only practicable way ….” Thus the Catechism neither asserts nor denies that the death penalty is ever really a practicable or possible way to defend human lives.

        • Stu

          I don’t think you have made your case here. The use of “if” isn’t speaking in general theory but rather in terms of specific instances that the State may encounter.

    • Mark Shea

      Dave: It’s not “guilty by association”. It’s “making the same bad arguments for death as these people who are also making bad arguments for death.” If you want to claim that the Church is “pushing gay marriage, abortion and secular moral relativism” you are hampered by the fact that they, you know, aren’t doing that. But death penalty advocates here *are* making the same bad arguments for death that these other repressive and backward regimes are.

      If we just say abolish the death penalty period, we must say we no longer care about protecting the innocent no matter what.

      No we don’t.

      • http://agapas.me Bob LeBlanc

        What are the bad arguments which the Saudis are making that are the same as the bad arguments made here?

        Sorry to ask you to be explicit, but I don’t see the arguments being made.

      • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

        Of course the Church isn’t arguing that Mark, I didn’t imagine it is. Nor do I believe you are. But here’s the thing: I don’t think everyone arguing for the Church’s historic position is singing in four part harmony with Mao and bin Laden. I think it is quite possible to argue for the Church’s historic position on the death penalty without being put in the same pen as Bronze Age Thugs or Murderous Commies. Just like it’s entirely possible to argue against the death penalty without being put in the same pen as moral relativists and hedonistic narcissists. I would rather you pick “Jim Smith, a reasonable and serious Catholic who has some wonderful, heartfelt defenses for the Church’s historic teaching on Capital Punishment, and why he’s still wrong” than “if you support the Church’s historic position on Capital Punishment then say hello to your barbaric friends.”

        As for the Church not saying it isn’t concerned with protecting the innocent, that’s the problem. That’s my problem with the entire topic. If only it said from now on we’re done worrying about Ozzie and Harriet, it’s Bonnie and Clyde we care for, I could accept it. But it still acts as if protecting the innocent from would be murderers is an important thing, and there’s where the wheels come off, IMHO.

        • Mark Shea

          Um, no. Actually, it’s not possible to do what you say.. Because when you argue *against* the teaching of the Magisterium, you are siding with the Church’s enemies against what she teaches, whereas when you argue *for* the teaching of the Magisterium, you are siding with *what the Church teaches*. It’s not all that complicated, unless you want it to be.

          • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

            If the Magisterium says squares are round, we have a problem don’t we. Right now, the Church has said “of course we kept the possibility of capital punishment as a last resort to protect the innocent. But now the State can protect us from criminals.” I think that’s when you say Whiskey Tango Foxtrot if I’m not mistaken. Since when is that true? It’s no more capable of protecting us than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Just ask the family of the inmate killed in a central Ohio prison last week. Ask the family of the other inmate killed in the same prison less than a year ago. Ask the family of a mom and wife who was killed by an escaped convict about a half hour south of my house a couple years ago. The list goes on.

            The Church is asking me to accept the change in a 2000 year old teaching based on something that is demonstrably false. Hasn’t that ever troubled you Mark? I could see it if they said, “Hey, the State sucks, there’s no freaking way we can trust such a worthless and inept institution as the state to protect the innocent and not slay the guiltless.” Instead, it says that the state can now render one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm, so now we don’t need the death penalty. It might as well say the state can now stop crime by putting elves and fairies in the traffic lights. It’s so obviously false, and that’s a massive problem.

            If you are of the mind that if the Church declares squares round then you’re a round-square guy all the way, my hat’s off. I don’t have that level of non skeptical faith. Never had. Which is ironic, since that’s part of what helped me come into the Church in the first place, not just cowering when told by colleagues and friends, “you just have to believe the Bible is the Word of God to see Catholicism is wrong Dave, it’s not all that complicated.” ;)

            • Mark Shea

              If the Magisterium says squares are round, we have a problem don’t we.

              Yes, but since the Magisterium is not doing that, we don’t have a problem.

              • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

                Sure we do, because that’s what it’s doing. It’s saying we can jettison the death penalty because the state can now render one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm, which is just as demonstrably false as declaring that we can abolish the death penalty because the state can make square circles.

                • Stu

                  I don’t think that is a mandated line of thought. As Cardinal Ratzinger said in 2004:

                  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.

                  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

                    Of course. That’s what I was told when I entered the Church and totally opposed the DP. It was OK, and I could disagree in this case. I’m not saying the Church is mandating so much as it is basing its argument on something so easily shown to be false. It’s saying that we used to need the DP as a last resort to protect the innocent, but now the State can protect us just fine without it, so we can now ditch the DP. Of course, if it’s still a matter allowed for disagreement, then it does lighten the load. But if it becomes a matter of obey or sin, then we have a problem.

                • Mark Shea

                  No. It’s not doing that. Making a different moral judgment in light of a developed understanding of the human person and changes in prison technology is *not* saying squares are round. http://www.mark-shea.com/dpmvlar.html Your argument, at the end of the day, is that the Church’s Magisterial guidance can be ignored because you don’t like it.

                  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

                    Mark, yes, I don’t like it if the Church says that now since the State can protect us we don’t need the DP when it’s painfully obvious that the State can’t protect us any more than it ever could. This isn’t some abstract concept for the scholar and sage, this is something you can see by picking up the paper and reading. Perhaps I”m not getting my point across. But if the Church says because of X we no longer need the DP and it is easily shown that X is not true, then to me that’s a problem.

      • Rosemarie

        +J.M.J+

        >>>It’s not “guilty by association”. It’s “making the same bad arguments for death as these people who are also making bad arguments for death.”

        Actually, that *is* a form of the guilt by association fallacy – with an ad hominem tossed in:

        Person A makes Argument X.
        Group B (which is viewed negatively) also makes Argument X.
        Therefore, Person A is somehow associated with Group B (“moral kinsmen”) and so inherits how negatively Group B is viewed.

        …that’s guilt by association as an ad hominem, and it’s a logical fallacy. Even if Argument X is a bad argument, that doesn’t mean that Person A should be associated with Group B and tarred with the same brush.

        The Church does *not* say that capital punishment should be opposed *because* baddies like China and Saudi Arabia employ it. If we go beyond what the Church says, it could give others the wrong impression of Magisterial teaching. I really don’t think this argument is profitable.

    • A Philosopher

      If we just say abolish the death penalty period, we must say we no longer care about protecting the innocent no matter what

      But surely we said that (and said it correctly) long ago. There are many things that can’t morally be done to protect the innocent, such as killing other innocents, or torturing the guilty.

      • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

        Sure, it’s just that historically the Church drew the line at letting the innocent die to save the guilty no matter what. And if it did that today I think I could handle it, if it followed the ‘it’s intrinsically evil and you can’t ever do it, period, innocent dead be damned’ I could handle it more than its current reasoning.

  • http://Www.SaintLouisAcupuncture.com Dr. Eric

    http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/hanging-concentrates-the-mind

    Fr. Rutler’s take on the death penalty.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      In. Sane. Rutler is promoting the death penalty for the conversion and salvation of the accused.

      Hell, why wait until a crime is committed? Why not just put a gun to anybody’s head and demand that they confess their sins to a priest? Don’t you care about their salvation?

      • Rosemarie

        +J.M.J+

        Because it’s wrong to murder an innocent person. But as long as a condemned criminal is already slated to die as punishment for his crimes, get him ready to meet his Maker out of a charitable desire for his eternal salvation.

        And, no, I’m not a death penalty enthusiast. I accept the Church’s teaching that it should be a last resort in extreme cases and is not appropriate in a culture of death, such as exists in many modern Western countries. Back when these countries were more Christian, they saw capital punishment as an opportunity for repentance for the criminal out of concern for his soul. That’s what Fr. Rutler is saying. In a culture of death, OTOH, capital punishment would be treated as just another way, along with abortion and euthanasia, that killing people can be a “solution” to social problems.

        • A Philosopher

          But it’s wrong to kill the guilty, too. None of the reasons that it’s wrong to kill people change, when you change the person from innocent to guilty.

          • Rosemarie

            +J.M.J+

            Killing in self-defense or to protect the innocent is considered permissible, at least as a last resort. Capital punishment is society acting in self-defense against an individual that threatens the stability of the society, and also protecting innocent citizens from that murderer. Thus it is permissible, again, as a last resort. The Church’s current argument is that, in modern societies, conditions are such that we may not need to resort to the death penalty. For instance, we have the means to safely imprison criminals for life. This is why the Church now says that it is not necessary in most cases.

            • Subsistent

              Even “killing in self-defense or to protect the innocent” is not permissible, even as a last resort, if the aggressor’s death is directly intended, either as an end or as a means. (Cf. Aquinas, ST II-II, 64, 7.)

              • Rosemarie

                +J.M.J+

                And yet, just a few articles above that, St. Thomas argues that capital punishment is lawful:

                ‘Now every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part is naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we observe that if the health of the whole body demands the excision of a member, through its being decayed or infectious to the other members, it will be both praiseworthy and advantageous to have it cut away. Now every individual person is compared to the whole community, as part to whole. Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since “a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump”‘ (Article 2)

                -and-

                ‘As stated above (Article 2), it is lawful to kill an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of the community’s welfare. Thus it belongs to a physician to cut off a decayed limb, when he has been entrusted with the care of the health of the whole body. Now the care of the common good is entrusted to persons of rank having public authority: wherefore they alone, and not private individuals, can lawfully put evildoers to death.’ (ARticle 3)

                See: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article2

              • Subsistent

                No doubt: Aquinas supported even direct killing of “guilty” persons by “legitimate” public authority. But the Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain disagrees here with his mentor, as I’ve referenced above on this thread: “A mon avis … la peine de mort est de soi un tel péché [i.e, 'péché d'homicide'] commis par la société.”

                • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

                  By the way, is there a reason to appeal to anyone other than Jacques Maritain in this discussion? Is there anyone else who can be appealed to?

                  • Subsistent

                    As Aquinas supported the death penalty (under “appropriate” circumstances) at large, so he supported the death penalty in particular for public heresy. But in disagreement with Aquinas here, St. Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church, had written: “Drive the heretics out of the Church: but do not kill them at all; for they are made as we are [*or* 'as you are'] in the image of God.” (Cited by Jacques Maritain in note 2 to Chap. XIII in his book *On the Church of Christ*.)
                    Also, I remember that National Review’s W. F. Buckley, appealing to LOCAL (not general) Church Councils, editorially tut-tutted Pope Paul VI for the latter’s unqualified opposition to the death penalty.

                    • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

                      Sure there have been people saying that there should be no DP, but until just about recently, the Church allowed that while also allowing the DP in cases to protect the innocent: just like just war or self defense. I just thought it odd I was seeing the one name brought up over and over.

                    • Subsistent

                      Indeed, the Church still theoretically “allows the D[eath] P[enalty]” in the sense that the Magisterium does not explicitly reprobate it in principle at present, as I’ve conceded above. But this is not strictly “just like just war or self defense”. For in a justly waged war or in self-defense, for a proportionate reason even an innocent person can be killed in fact “in actu exercito”, IMO, as long as that person is not killed directly and expressly, “in actu signato”. Example: a madman with a great deal of ammunition, shooting right and left into an enclosed crowd of ordinary people, keeps injuring and killing people. A strong guy, he holds me as an innocent human shield securely between himself and the crowd. An armed man in that crowd, in order to STOP the madman’s atrocities, not expressly in order to kill anyone, shoots thru me at him, killing in fact both the madman and me. My death and the madman’s are both justified killings, IMO, since neither death was intended either as an end or a means.

    • Stu

      Thought provoking article by Father Rutler that reasonable men of good faith can discuss. Capital punishment in this era is a complex topic and one that should be discerned.

  • Stu

    Mark said…”“Therefore crucifixion is just punishment for theft”. They want death, but they want to keep it neat, clean, and above all private. At least the Saudis have the courage of their savage, backward, Bronze Age convictions.”
    —————————-
    This is a bit unfair.

    In the mid-1990′s I was flying out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for an extended period. Once a week, I can’t remember which day of the week any longer, there were public executions and the cutting off of hands. This was off-limits for US personnel because it always became a frenzied blood-bath of a spectacle. In fact, the rule came about after some US personnel, who didn’t think thing through, decided it would be “fun” to go watch. What they didn’t know is that whenever foreigners show up to the event, the crowd pushes them up to the very front where the crowd is really out of control.

    So I think our way of carrying out executions is really an attempt to avoid making something that should be solemn and sad, into a circus. That being said, I will agree that in doing so, we have made it easy for people to not have to think about what it really going on. Father Rutler’s thought-provoking piece touches on this as well.

    FTR, I agree with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (and I assume Pope Francis) that the death penalty should only be enacted when absolutely necessary.

  • Liam

    I’m on the fence. I’m turned off by most defenders of the death penalty because it seems like their main motivation is retribution. On the other hand, a coworker of mine used to be a prison guard and he murderers keep murdering in prison, so we’re only kidding ourselves when we pretend they can no longer harm anyone behind bars.

    • Liam

      He SAYS murderers keep murdering.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      I would argue that this is one of the only conceivable reasons that the death penalty recourse would need to be taken: if it is impossible to keep other inmates safe. If even imprisonment does not stop a murderer, the death penalty may need to be that last resort.

    • http://Www.SaintLouisAcupuncture.com Dr. Eric

      I grew up in a town whose main source of employment is the maximum security prison. Inmates escape all the time, they riot, they make shivs and then smear feces on them and stab guards, the ones with AIDS try to infect the guards, and so in and so forth. The American prison system is not rehabbing these people, it is concentrating their numbers in one small space.

      • rmichaelj

        Worked in a prison hospital. You are correct. What was the saddest to me were the young men who had to live in perpetual fear of what could (and did) happen to them. These were men that may have been able to be rehabilitated but had to turn to violence inside the prison in order to protect themselves. Perhaps a more just situation would be to only impose the death penalty for capital offenses which occur within the prison system.

  • Ed the Roman

    Here we have a tricky situation. The means required to keep other prisoners and the guards safe are pretty stringent, depending on who you’re talking about. While Hannibal Lecter is fiction, some people are very very bad and very very dangerous.

  • Dave P.

    I’m more in line with the Talmudic statement: “A Sanhedrin which passes the death sentence once every seven years is too hotheaded.”

    I’m somewhat ambivalent about capital punishment. I can think of three punishments more severe than that, and only the first one might be justifiable (the other two are cruel and unjust): 1) Supermaxed for life, 2) Supermaxed until one is old, and then released with no means of support, 3) ostensibly sentenced to death, and then subjected to mock executions until the prisoner goes insane.

    If you must have the death penalty, these conditions must apply:

    1) The defense lawyers must be competently trained. The State “stacks the deck” when it hires an attorney whose specialty is real estate or divorce to defend a man whose life is on the line.

    2) The prosecution must hold to Blackstone’s principle that his job is not to obtain conviction, but to see that justice is done. That means not withholding evidence, going for a lesser sentence or charge if justified, and even asking for charges to be dropped if it is clear that there is insufficient evidence to prove guilty a defendent. Remember that Michael Nifong prosecuted capital cases – a frightening thought.

    3) If a “mistake has been made” (the execution of an innocent man), let it be fully investigated, have the courage to admit it, and make sure it doesn’t happen ever again. Right now, the State of Texas has refused to look into the cases of Carlos deLuna and Cameron Willingham, two men who were likely innocent of the crimes for which they were executed. I’ve been told that “You can’t make omelets without breaking eggs.” ; IOW, a few innocents must be sacrificed so that the ones who deserve it don’t get away. Hard luck for those who died…

  • J. Cabaniss

    The problem with all these arguments against the death penalty in principle is that they apply equally to 2000 years of church teaching. It is one thing to say capital punishment is wrong now because it is unnecessary but opponents of its use never stop there, instead they extend the argument to chastise its supporters, which becomes a repudiation of church Tradition. If capital punishment is wrong then the first 260-odd popes, a half dozen catechisms, and virtually all of the Doctors and Fathers of the church were wrong as well. Either that or applying capital punishment is merely unwise in our current society.

    • Mark Shea

      No. It’s not a repudiation of Church tradition. It’s a rebuke of those who belittle and ignore the Magisterium and its authority to develop doctrine.

  • Fr. SMC

    I just came across this article on your blog. Once again, you prove to be way off. But that’s what happens when a Catholic neglects Tradition and embraces novelty. The following was stated by Pope Pius XII: “Most modern theories of penal law explain punishment and justify it in
    the last resort as a protective measure, that is, a defense of the
    community against crimes being attempted; and, at the same time, as an
    effort to lead the culprit back to observance of the law. In these
    theories, punishment may indeed include sanctions in the form of a
    reduction of certain advantages guaranteed by the law, in order to teach
    the culprit to live honestly; but they fail to consider expiation of
    the crime committed, which itself is a sanction on the violation of the
    law as the most important function of the punishment….”

    Bl. John Paul II spoke of the need to protect society and the importance of rehabilitation, but he failed to cover the two other aspects of punishment, namely, expiation and deterrence. The modern errors mentioned by Pope Pius XII are the very errors that modern ecclesiastics have fallen into. When Bl John Paul II made that outrageous statement in St. Louis suggesting that the death penalty was “always cruel and unusual,” I realized that I could easily ignore his faulty teachings in this area of morality. Bishops have said foolish things like the death penalty is “incompatible with the Gospel” or “against human dignity” or “inconsistent with a pro-life ethic.” But the Church has always defended capital punishment and its proper use. In fact, the Council of Trent stated that it was an act of paramount obedience to the 5th Commandment.

    In short, statements by modern Churchmen on this matter are ridiculous and untenable. It truly makes me question the present state of the Magisterium since it dismisses Tradition so easily.


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