Barbaric Execution Fails to Kill Man…

in a neat, clean and tidy way though it does eventually kill him. Nobody cares that it kills him. Everybody upset that it was not neat, clean and tidy since that’s the sort of thing our barbaric culture of death cares about.

Getting to the Heart of Francis
End Human Sacrifice
Good Morning! It’s Day 3 of the Tin Cup Rattle
The Death Penalty as Assisted Suicide
  • everyman

    what did this guy do as a crime?

    • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

      Is that something that should be part of the discussion of the morality of capital punishment in a 1st world country?

      Don’t get me wrong, what he did do was horrific, but the trap of relativism is one many folks are tempted into when discussing the death penalty: the worse the crime is, the more appealing the death penalty seems. Hard cases make for bad law, particularly when discussing moral law.

      • The Deuce

        Of course moral guilt should be part of a discussion on the morality of execution. Perhaps capital punishment should be done away with in a 1st world country altogether, but at the very least there’s no intrinsic evil in executing someone for a capital crime (and raping, shooting, and burying a teenage girl alive definitely qualifies as a capital crime, as does raping an 11-month-old baby girl to death), so it most certainly is relevant.

        • Joejoe

          There is an intrinsic evil when alternatives to execution are available. It is difficult to argue that this is not the case in the United States at present.

          • The Deuce

            No, that would be a situational evil. If it were an intrinsic evil, it couldn’t be justified under any circumstances.

        • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

          Hi Deuce,

          In discussing the use of the death penalty, bringing up the crimes of any particular case is exactly what we must avoid; the morality of applying the death penalty has absolutely nothing to do with the severity of the crime committed. Stick with me, I’ll explain:

          The Catechism is very specific in when it may be applied: “….if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” (CCC 2267)

          Not only is the crime committed not relevant to the application of the death penalty, but bringing it into the discussion tempts those involved to try to weigh the punishment against the crime…..as if the death penalty is meant to be a punishment.

          The death penalty, though often termed ‘capital punishment’ (I’m sorry for using that term myself in my previous comment), is not permitted as a means of punishment – it is simply & solely a last resort in the defense of the innocent.

          This is often the problem with discussions around the death penalty: that people see it as a means of enacting justice in the name of victims. This misunderstanding is further fueled by the hurt & anger that is felt by those left behind. Those feelings are legitimate and should be acknowledged & treated with compassion, but they shouldn’t be allowed to push us away from the teaching of the Church.

          • Brennan

            Punishment, or “Retributive Justice” has always been one of the reasons the Church has taught that the death penalty may be employed. The fact that the paragraph you mentioned in the catechism doesn’t mention it doesn’t mean it no longer holds as one of the primary purposes for the use of capital punishment.

            • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

              The absence of any mention of retributive justice in relation to the death penalty in the Catechism is telling. We would need authoritative Church teaching found elsewhere to justify bringing that aspect into the conversation.

              It seems to me that a debate over retributive justice would only be a distraction from what the Church has clearly laid out.

              • Brennan

                Hi Father,

                There is plenty of evidence that retributive justice has always been one reason (among others) why the Church has officially taught throughout the centuries that the state has a right to execute criminals.

                It’s too long to paste in here, but Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote a good overview of the death penalty in First Things magazine where after a few paragraphs he starts going into the historical evidence of what the Church has always taught in regards to the death penalty (and which includes retributive justice). Here is the link if you would like to take a look:

                http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/08/catholicism-amp-capital-punishment

                God bless you.

                • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

                  Hi Brennan,

                  Thanks for the link. I’m a big fan of Cardinal Dulles & his writing.

                  I think we can avoid debating on the general right of the state to use the death penalty: we’re in agreement that the state has that right in principle. The question that seems to be unresolved here is whether a state is morally permitted to exercise that right when they have the means to protect human life without recourse to to the death penalty. I don’t see Church teaching supporting that proposition.

                  The problem as I see it with bringing retributive justice into the conversation of the death penalty’s use today is that it isn’t part of the Magisterium’s teaching on the use of the death penalty in modern society. Cardinal Dulles seems to acknowledge this himself.

                  “The Pope and the bishops, using their prudential judgment, have concluded that in contemporary society, at least in countries like our own, the death penalty ought not to be invoked, because, on balance, it does more harm than good. I personally support this position.”

                  In the end, I think we’re back where we started: the death penalty may not be utilized except in cases where it is necessary to protect human life.

                  • Brennan

                    Hi Father,

                    I would say that Cardinal Dulles does recognize that retributive justice as part of the perennial teaching on the death penalty as evidenced here:

                    “. . . I should like to propose, as a final summary, ten theses that encapsulate the Church’s doctrine, as I understand it.

                    1) The purpose of punishment in secular courts is fourfold: the rehabilitation of the criminal, the protection of society from the criminal, the deterrence of other potential criminals, and retributive justice.

                    2) Just retribution, which seeks to establish the right order of things, should not be confused with vindictiveness, which is reprehensible.

                    3) Punishment may and should be administered with respect and love for the person punished.

                    4) The person who does evil may deserve death. According to the biblical accounts, God sometimes administers the penalty himself and sometimes directs others to do so.”

                    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/08/catholicism-amp-capital-punishment

                    Doctrine can potentially be developed, of course, but that doesn’t mean previous doctrine is simply dropped or reversed.

                    Cardinal Dulles also uses the phrase “prudential judgment” which I would say is precisely why Cardinal Ratzinger, in a letter to Bishops, noted:

                    “3. 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. . . . 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://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm

                    • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

                      Hi Brennan,

                      Here’s the problem as I see it: regardless of the history of teaching on retributive justice or considerations of prudential judgment, the Catechism clearly speaks to the Church’s teaching on when the death penalty may be licitly administered in modern society.

                      The Church doesn’t bring retributive justice into the conversation – and She actually limits the criteria for the particular use of the death penalty to one thing: the last resort in defense of human life against an unjust aggressor.

                      Unless a teaching of equal or greater weight to the Catechism brings more to us for consideration, this is the beginning and the end of how we are to judge licit use of the death penalty in modern society.

                    • Brennan

                      Hi Father,

                      I would note, as Jimmy Akin does, quoting Cardinal Ratzinger, that:

                      “The individual doctrine which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess. The weight of the Catechism itself lies in the whole.”

                      And as Jimmy elaborates:

                      “Thus the Catechism presents the teaching of the Church without elevating the doctrinal status of those teachings beyond what they otherwise have. Consequently, one must look to other documents and to the tradition of the Church to establish the doctrinal weight of any particular point in the Catechism. Since the Catechism treats many things that not only have not been taught infallibly but which also have been proposed in the most tentative of fashions (esp. in the area of social teaching), there remains due liberty for theologians (and others) when they encounter something that has been proposed only tentatively.

                      This was what allowed Cardinal Ratzinger to say, in his 2004 memorandum, that “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://jimmyakin.com/2005/02/ratzinger_on_th.html

                      As Dr. Jeffrey Mirus notes:

                      “Of course, the Catechism is intended as a basic compendium of Catholic doctrine, assembled with due ecclesiastical care, and not as a collection of definitive infallible pronouncements permanently settling every question on every topic it covers.”

                      http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/is-lying-ever-right

                      Thus if, as Cardinal Dulles asserted, Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the application of the death penalty is a “prudential judgment” which Cardinal Ratzinger said there could be a “diversity of opinion” about, this status does not change merely because it was included in the 2nd Edition of the Catechism.

                      And it certainly doesn’t erase what had been previously taught by the Church for centuries. Otherwise, if the Catechism, say, didn’t mention the hypostatic union in its discussion of the Nature of Christ this certainly wouldn’t mean the hypostatic union was effectively no longer a part of Church teaching and it was now verboten for Catholics to consider it.

                    • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

                      Hi Brennan,

                      Too often conversations about the Catechism boil down to this quote from Cardinal Ratzinger as a means of dismissing the Catechism as authoritative teaching of the Church – or picking & choosing what teachings therein we are obliged to follow. That’s contrary to the stated purpose of the Catechism, and certainly not how Cardinal Ratzinger would have intended his comments to be utilized.

                      Similarly using descriptions of teachings (prudential judgment, in this case) as a way of minimizing them is surely not how the Church or Her clergy intend their words to be used. The most important thing is that they are the Church’s teachings, which lays a moral obligation on our conscience.

                      In the introduction to the Catechism, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved June 25th last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of 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 Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” (http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/OEBPS/7-apost2.xhtml#apost2).

                      If we can’t agree that the Catechism is a norm for Catholic teaching, then we are in a lot of trouble.

                    • Brennan

                      Father,

                      I am in no way, shape or form intending to “dismiss the Catechism” which would be ludicrous since the Catechism in a number of places reiterates infallible dogma (such as on the divinity of Christ). To extend the quote by Cardinal Ratzinger I cited previously above:

                      “The individual doctrine which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess. The weight of the Catechism itself lies in the whole. Since it transmits what the Church teaches, whoever rejects it as a whole separates himself beyond question from the faith and teaching of the Church.”

                      This quote is actually from Cardinal Ratzinger’s book “Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church”. I think it safe to say that if this is the approach to the Catechism the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith takes, then it certainly isn’t out of bounds for regular lay people to take the same approach to the Catechism as well (not to mention that what he’s saying is true).

                      http://jimmyakin.com/2005/02/ratzinger_on_th.html

                      Thus the Catechism cannot be rejected in its entirety as to do so would be to reject the Catholic Faith. However, to recognize that not everything in the Catechism is an infallible teaching is not to reject the Catechism whole and entire, it is simply to recognize a fact which pertains to the nature of a Catechism, and one which Cardinal Ratzinger himself recognized.

                      Further, to recognize that Pope John Paul II’s statement on the application of the death penalty is a “prudential judgment”, as Cardinal Dulles did, does not mean we as Catholics simply “blow it off.” We listen attentively.

                      However, since the grace of infallibility does not attach to prudential judgments Catholics in good faith can entertain a diversity of opinion on it and still be Catholics in good standing, as Cardinal Ratzinger noted.

                      I wish to quote Cardinal Dulles once again:

                      “Following the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. [2266]), I interpret the defense of society as including not only physical defense against the criminal but also the vindication of the moral order. This interpretation agrees with the principle that the primary purpose of the punishment that society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offense” (Evangelium Vitae, No. 56).

                      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 (notably in Genesis 9:5-6 and Romans 13:1-4).

                      I doubt whether the tradition is reversible at all, but even if it were, the reversal could hardly be accomplished by an incidental section in a long encyclical focused primarily on the defense of innocent human life. If the Pope were contradicting the tradition, one could legitimately question whether his statement outweighed the established teaching of so many past centuries.

                      I believe that the Pope, without contradicting the tradition, is exercising his prudential judgment that in our time adequate punishment, including the moral and physical defense of society, can generally be accomplished by bloodless means, which are always to be preferred.”

                      And to quote another prelate, Fr. George Rutler, certainly no lightweight himself in the theology department, says:

                      “Since popes are preserved from essential error by “grace of state,” none has wrongly claimed authority to call capital punishment morally evil.

                      “Development of doctrine” does not apply here.

                      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. For Cardinal John Henry Newman, development of doctrine involves “preservation of type.” Changes in the way a doctrine is expressed and applied cannot alter its essence.

                      . . . By definition, the development of doctrine cannot happen overnight. The new edition of the Catechism revises the section on capital punishment. This was not a development of doctrine.”

                      http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/pope_john_pauls_teaching_on_capital_punishment/

                      So I certainly recognize the freedom of Catholics to agree with, and likewise argue, for the Pope’s prudential judgment on the application of the death penalty. Cardinal Dulles himself does in the above link. My main point of contention is that not every statement in the New Catechism is infallible dogma that every Catholic must adhere to otherwise they are heretics or “Cafeteria Catholics.”

                      If a statement is a prudential judgment prior to being in the Catechism, it doesn’t suddenly become elevated to the level of binding dogma when it’s inserted into the Catechism. Certainly Cardinals Ratzinger, Dulles, and Fr. George Rutler have written to this effect, and I’m sure I’m not exhausting the list.

                      This is common sense of course since one can certainly find other individual sections in the Catechism which are not binding dogma and do not suddenly become binding dogma merely by their insertion into the Catechism. Nor does perennial Church teaching, such as that regarding retributive justice, suddenly become irrelevant or non-existent merely because it’s not included in the Catechism (ironically, however, it is included in paragraph 2266).

                    • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

                      Brennan,

                      Whether infallibly declared or not, we are obliged to follow the Church’s teachings, of which the Catechism is an authoritative source.

                      If one wants to assert as morally permissible the expansion of the death penalty’s particular use in modern society beyond the scope laid out in the Catechism, then it will be necessary to find authoritative Church teaching that supports that claim.

                    • Brennan

                      Ok, quoting Cardinal Dulles:

                      “Some Catholics, going beyond the bishops and the Pope, maintain that the death penalty, like abortion and euthanasia, is a violation of the right to life and an unauthorized usurpation by human beings of God’s sole lordship over life and death. Did not the Declaration of Independence, they ask, describe the right to life as “unalienable”?

                      While sociological and legal questions inevitably impinge upon any such reflection, I am here addressing the subject as a theologian. At this level the question has to be answered primarily in terms of revelation, as it comes to us through Scripture and tradition, interpreted with the guidance of the ecclesiastical magisterium.

                      In the Old Testament the Mosaic Law specifies no less than thirty-six capital offenses calling for execution by stoning, burning, decapitation, or strangulation. Included in the list are idolatry, magic, blasphemy, violation of the sabbath, murder, adultery, bestiality, pederasty, and incest. The death penalty was considered especially fitting as a punishment for murder since in his covenant with Noah God had laid down the principle, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6). In many cases God is portrayed as deservedly punishing culprits with death, as happened to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16). In other cases individuals such as Daniel and Mordecai are God’s agents in bringing a just death upon guilty persons.

                      In the New Testament the right of the State to put criminals to death seems to be taken for granted. Jesus himself refrains from using violence. He rebukes his disciples for wishing to call down fire from heaven to punish the Samaritans for their lack of hospitality (Luke 9:55). Later he admonishes Peter to put his sword in the scabbard rather than resist arrest (Matthew 26:52). At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die” (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, referring to Exodus 2l:17; cf. Leviticus 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate’s power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (John 19:11). Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Luke 23:41).

                      The early Christians evidently had nothing against the death penalty. They approve of the divine punishment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira when they are rebuked by Peter for their fraudulent action (Acts 5:1-11). The Letter to the Hebrews makes an argument from the fact that “a man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses” (10:28). Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans, with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.

                      Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to pronounce capital sentences or serve as executioners. To answer the objection that the first commandment forbids killing, St. Augustine writes inThe City of God :

                      The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.

                      In the Middle Ages a number of canonists teach that ecclesiastical courts should refrain from the death penalty and that civil courts should impose it only for major crimes. But leading canonists and theologians assert the right of civil courts to pronounce the death penalty for very grave offenses such as murder and treason. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus invoke the authority of Scripture and patristic tradition, and give arguments from reason.

                      Giving magisterial authority to the death penalty, Pope Innocent III required disciples of Peter Waldo seeking reconciliation with the Church to accept the proposition: “The secular power can, without mortal sin, exercise judgment of blood, provided that it punishes with justice, not out of hatred, with prudence, not precipitation.” In the high Middle Ages and early modern times the Holy See authorized the Inquisition to turn over heretics to the secular arm for execution. In the Papal States the death penalty was imposed for a variety of offenses. The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment.

                      In modern times Doctors of the Church such as Robert Bellarmine and Alphonsus Liguori held that certain criminals should be punished by death. Venerable authorities such as Francisco de Vitoria, Thomas More, and Francisco Suárez agreed. John Henry Newman, in a letter to a friend, maintained that the magistrate had the right to bear the sword, and that the Church should sanction its use, in the sense that Moses, Joshua, and Samuel used it against abominable crimes.

                      Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the consensus of Catholic theologians in favor of capital punishment in extreme cases remained solid, as may be seen from approved textbooks and encyclopedia articles of the day. The Vatican City State from 1929 until 1969 had a penal code that included the death penalty for anyone who might attempt to assassinate the pope. Pope Pius XII, in an important allocution to medical experts, declared that it was reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life in expiation of their crimes.

                      Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.

                      http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/08/catholicism-amp-capital-punishment

                      And as Fr. John Hardon notes also after giving a history of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment:

                      “In the 16th century, the Council of Trent mandated the publication of the Roman Catechism, promulgated by Pope St. Pius V in 1566, it has been confirmed by one sovereign pontiff after another. Thus in 1905, when Pope St. Pius X decreed the catechetical instruction to be given in the Catholic world, he mandated that the basis of this instruction should be the Roman Catechism. In dealing with the Fifth commandment of the Decalogue, this fundamental catechism of Catholic doctrine declares.

                      There are some exceptions to the extent of this prohibition to killing. The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment, 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. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the state is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent life (The Fifth Commandment, 4).

                      In the 20th century, Pope Pius XII provided a full doctrinal defense of capital punishment. Speaking to Catholic jurists, he explained what the Church teaches about the authority of the State to punish crimes, even with the death penalty.

                      The Church holds that there are two reasons for inflicting punishment, namely “medicinal” and “vindictive.” The medicinal purpose is to prevent the criminal from repeating his crime and to protect society from his criminal behavior. The vindictive is to expiate for the wrong-doing perpetrated by the criminal. Thus, reparation is made to an offended God, and the disorder caused by the crime is expiated.

                      Equally important is the Pope’s insistence that capital punishment is morally defensible in every age and culture of Christianity. Why? Because 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).

                      Behind this declaration of the Vicar of Christ is a principle of our Catholic faith. 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. 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 imposition of the death penalty.”

                      http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Faith_and_Morals/Faith_and_Morals_006.htm

                      So it is pretty clear, based on Scripture and Church teaching, including the Catechism of the Council of Trent and previous Popes that the Church grants the use of capital punishment and that retributive justice is a primary reason for this (which is reaffirmed in CCC 2266).

                      Fr. Hardon affirms that this teaching belongs to the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium which means it can’t be overturned by a later Pope. Popes are not like Mormon prophets who can simply erase or contradict previous infallible doctrine according to circumstance.

                      Thus, it is not at all surprising when Cardinal Dulles notes:

                      “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 (notably in Genesis 9:5-6 and Romans 13:1-4).

                      I doubt whether the tradition is reversible at all, but even if it were, the reversal could hardly be accomplished by an incidental section in a long encyclical focused primarily on the defense of innocent human life. If the Pope were contradicting the tradition, one could legitimately question whether his statement outweighed the established teaching of so many past centuries.”

                      http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/pope_john_pauls_teaching_on_capital_punishment/

                      And as Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers noted:

                      “I’d take exception to a few of the ways that you’ve characterized JP2′s statements on the death penalty. He didn’t consistently condemn it. He certainly didn’t condemn it when he promulgated the original edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which took a more positive line regarding the use of capital punishment than the later edition.

                      He also didn’t condemn it in the strongest possible terms. He never said that it is intrinsically evil, as he did with abortion and euthanasia. His statements on the matter frequently include qualifiers and nuances and reservations, because he knew that it is a settled part of Catholic moral teaching (and biblical teaching) that capital punishment is legitimate in principle. It’s only a question of when it should be used (i.e., under what conditions and do they exist today), not whether it is legitimate to use it at all.

                      Also, while JP2 was a man of enormous intellect and thoughtfulness, he was still a man, and thus could speak unconsidered words (particularly when reading the text of a speech prepared for him by someone else–there are examples of things that had to be corrected in the official editions of speeches he gave that weren’t delivered orally in the way the official edition shows; the most likely explanation here is that he ordered the official edition changed to add or remove a nuance that was in the draft presented for him to read).

                      Even if he superhumanly never said an unconsidered word, though, and even if he had consistently condemned the death penalty and even if he had done so in strong, unnuanced terms, this would not amount to a ex cathedra statement.

                      There is no “creeping infallibilism” in the teaching of a single pontiff. If the pope wants to make an ex cathedra statement, he has to make one. One cannot point to a long series of fallible statements by a pope–even one with a twenty six year reign–and say that they add up to an infallible one.

                      None of the things JP2 said on the dealth penalty used anything like the language popes traditionally use when making ex cathedra statements (the giveaway language for that is “I/we define . . . ,” usually buttressed by a direct appeal to his authority as the successor of Peter).

                      The most authoritative thing JP2 wrote on the death penalty was the brief discussion he gave of it in Evangelium Vitae 56, and there he loaded up what he said with qualifiers and with an acknowledgement of the death penalty in principle.

                      While he expressed great reserve about the use of the death penalty in this passage, it is (a) a fallible statement and (b) expresses elements of the pope’s prudential judgment rather than matters that belong properly to the deposit of faith given to the Church by Christ and the apostles.

                      Thus, as Pre-16 noted: “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://jimmyakin.com/2006/04/the_death_penal.html

                      As Fr. George Rutler also notes:

                      Some Catholics, who once pointed out the flaws in the “seamless garment” argument, now rush to put on that garment as though there has been a sudden development. By definition, the development of doctrine cannot happen overnight. The new edition of the Catechism revises the section on capital punishment. This was not a development of doctrine. It was, however, problematic for placing a prudential judgment in a catechetical text, more problematically so than in an encyclical like Evangelium Vitae. Paragraph 2266 of the Catechism names the primary consideration of retribution, but No. 2267 ignores it.”

                      http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/pope_john_pauls_teaching_on_capital_punishment/

                      I won’t go over again the arguments already made that individual teachings in the New Catechism only enjoy the weight that they already had previous to the publishing of the Catechism.

                      Thus retributive justice is still a part of the ordinary universal magisterium, which is obviously authoritative, as it has been for centuries. The placing of Pope John Paul II’s prudential judgment in the New Catechism simply can’t erase that as if all previous teaching of the Church can now safely be ignored or dropped.

                      The entire New Catechism and every statement in it cannot be treated de facto as if it is all infallible doctrine. Prudential judgments such as when capital punishment can be applied cannot therefore be binding on all the faithful as if, practically speaking, it is an infallible statement. By their very nature prudential judgments are not in that sense “authoritative.” That’s why they are called “prudential judgments” and not doctrine.

                      The teaching of the ordinary universal magisterium on capital punishment has always held that retributive justice is a primary reason for imposing capital punishment, and not whether or not the state has the facilities to imprison someone for life.

                    • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

                      Hi Brennan,

                      I appreciate the amount of research you put into that answer – thank you for that.

                      Yet for all that, the Catechism is the Church’s teaching. Infallible, fallible, prudential judgment – whatever – we are obliged to follow the Church’s teaching. Therein we find that the morality of the death penalty’s particular use in modern society don’t include considerations of retributive justice.

                    • Brennan

                      God bless you Father, I wish you the best.

                    • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

                      Likewise! Thanks for a good conversation. Blessed Eastertide.

      • everyman

        Thank you Fr. Maurer for joining the discussion. Your response and reasoning follow the teaching of the Church. It is the teaching of our Mother whose commission it is to protect all life. I’m under obligation to follow it, even if I may disagree. The decision to take Lockett’s miserable life from him was made by the State which follows its own legal procedure to protect the public and yes, to punish the perpetrator. We would not be discussing capital punishment were it not for the severity of this crime. Our Heavenly Father and Mother Church are extremely merciful to their children, the guard standing at the gate is much less so. We pray that God will have mercy on his wayward soul, but pro publico bono, good riddance to bad actors.

        • http://www.acts24.com/blog Father Maurer

          Thanks Everyman – it’s my pleasure to jump into these things. I can’t participate as often as I would like, but when I do I usually come away better for it.

          While I’m also grateful that Clayton can’t harm anyone further, I worry about what this circumstance (and those like it) reveal about our faith & reliance on mercy.

          I have long thought that our entry into Heaven will be our conversion to love – not abstractly but as close friends – those people with whom we have so much difficulty here on earth. I sometimes imagine who I might be seated next to in Purgatory, given how many people in my own life I love imperfectly!

          To my mind, the death penalty stands as a prime example of how far we have to go towards that final end – and how much we have to embrace both mercy for own failure to love and advocate it for others.

    • jroberts548

      Nothing for which the sentence is being tortured to death.

    • D.T. McCameron

      “A four-time felon, Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman with a sawed-off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999 after Neiman and a friend arrived at a home the men were robbing.”
      Emphasis mine. Lest we put too much stock in how safe our modern prisons keep us.

      A nice way to go? Certainly not. A just thing to do? Probably not.

      *sardonically* But it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

      His rather gruesome end did manage to extend the life of a Charles Warner who, “was convicted of raping and killing his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter in 1997.”

  • Julia

    Reminds me very much. Of the horror some pro-choice acquaintances expressed at the idea of Kermit Gosnell snipping the spinal cords of just born babies. He should have made sure to decapitate them 10 minutes sooner

  • Chris Rademacher

    You have no fricking sympathy for the victim in this case, do you? Only for the murderer. You are a jackass!

    • http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com/ Beadgirl

      It is possible to be sympathetic to both. And sympathy for someone in no way requires condoning all his actions.

    • chezami

      I have a cousin who came within seconds of being murdered by Ted Bundy. Take your mind-reading elsewhere.

      • The Next to Last Samurai

        Yipe! I read about Bundy. Few people escaped him. Thank God your cousin did.

  • The Next to Last Samurai

    I have an idea about executions. In the U.S. there are several hundred men who are serious students of the Japanese sword. Historical accounts seem unanimous that being beheaded by a good swordsman with a katana is a quick, apparently painless way to go. Why can’t capital-punishment states see if any of these men would be willing to help? At least some would, to spare the condemned the suffering of a botched execution. The body would be presentable for the funeral (decapitations happen fairly often in car accidents, the undertaker just sews the head back on and dresses the deceased in a high collar, or scarf or ascot). Wouldn’t this be better than all these botched chemical executions?

    • Richard Bell

      The best chemical execution form is anoxia. While a hypobaric chamber is expensive, there is always the option of using a standard gas chamber and pumping out the air while pumping in pure nitrogen. The condemned criminal experiences the euphoria associated with anoxia, falls unconscious and dies.

      Anoxia is a good form of execution, because the pumps do all the work at the press of a button, so it takes no skill, and the passing of the condemned is unaccompanied by messiness, so the requirement that executions be witnessed will less trouble the faint of heart.

      Professional headsmen have botched decapitations. That is why Guillotine invented his machine.

  • Dave G.

    It was an epic fail of a drug that is supposed to painlessly kill someone. I feel for the families. The families of the murderer are victims, too. So are, of course, the families left with the horrors of their murdered loved ones. Of course we don’t want to see anyone suffer, though there is a logical reaction based upon old time notions of justice that some might say he caused her to suffer, so he should suffer. I think we’ve moved past that. Of course as a society, we are moving past the idea that if a kid breaks a window he should pay. So that seems to be going hand in hand. Nonetheless, there’s not much to cheer about, either in his suffering, or the death of that poor child who was made to suffer such horrors in the last moments or her life, nor in the families of those involved. Much prayer needed.

    • everyman

      There are reports that it was not the failure of the drug but rather an injection problem with the vein. The needle in the vain is always tricky. The medical profession is not involved in the administering because of their Hippocratic oath. That oath is suspended in hospitals and clinics that perform abortions. New Age morality is a little different.


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