Abolish the Damn Death Penalty

Arizona act of human sacrifice to pagan god of vengeance takes two hours to kill victim. Advanced civilizations of Communist China, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia send telegram to Governor: “Congratulations!  You’re one of us!”

This is a pro-life issue.

"[Post about how Mark doesn't know enough to comment, so please stop asking him to ..."

How I spent the an afternoon ..."
"How do you have such intimate knowledge of this boy's condition?"

How I spent the an afternoon ..."
"Those are question marks after my questions; that indicates I am asking you a question. ..."

How I spent the an afternoon ..."
"Okay, tell me which of these points you think is incorrect.1) It can be harmful ..."

How I spent the an afternoon ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dave G.

    Two bad arguments in one brief post. Not bad. Guilt by association? Check. Pretend the Church didn’t allow, and sometimes support, the pagan god of vengeance for 2000 years (including, officially, now)? Check. Why waste time on solid arguments when we can make bad ones? Perhaps that says something about the Church’s reasons for changing this teaching.

    • Carlos

      My thoughts exactly. Edward Feser is the expert to read on this matter. Those who think that the Church’s allowance of the death penalty is only limited to the matter of defense is gravely ill-informed on what the Church’s teaching actually is. Retributive justice and deterrence are perfectly legitimate reasons, from the perspective of the Church’s timeless moral theology, for allowing the death penalty.

      • chezami

        And yet the last three popes advocate abolition of the death penalty.

        • Carlo

          You are correct. The last three popes have advocated abolishing the death penalty using their own prudential judgement. What the last three popes did NOT do was change the perennial teaching of that Church which has always held that the death penalty is not only permissible, but in some cases even necessary to protect the common good and to distribute retributive justice. As Pope Benedict XVI (while still Cardinal Ratzinger) affirmed (quote to follow), a Catholic is free to disagree with the pope on the matter of the death penalty and still be a Catholic in good standing.

          The other error that you keep making in this regard is to equate the death penalty with abortion, as if the two are of equal moral weight. They are not, and this was likewise also affirmed by Cardinal Ratzinger while in the CDF.

          Now, here is the relevant quote:

          “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.” – Cardinal Ratzinger, 2004

          • wineinthewater

            I think you are talking past each other.

            The Church permits the use of the death penalty. Always has, and I imagine always will. However, the Church has also always given criteria for the just use of the death penalty. What has changed is not what the Church teaches about the death penalty, but the societal situation to which that teaching applies. Things that were a given in the past are not a given now. Societal norms of the past are not societal norms now. The per-eminance of Catholic and or even Christian ethos in culture is not a given now.

            The reality is that grounds for the just application of the death penalty have drastically shrunk in developed countries. Meanwhile, one of the core criteria for the just application of the death penalty, “where the identity of the perpetrator can be known with reasonable certainty,” has been fairly well proven to not exist in the US. The number of bad convictions on death row in the US prove we do not meet that requirement. Another criteria for the just application of the death penalty is that it be applied consistently without regard to the perpetrator. The disproportionate presence of the poor and minorities on death row (even after accounting for the rates at which those demographics kill and are convicted of murder) show that we are not justly applying the death penalty as penalty. Really, punitive retribution is the only grounds left for the death penalty in developed countries, and that can (debatably) be served by other means.

            What our 3 latest popes have done is offer a timely application of the Church’s ancient teaching. Not infallible for sure. You can be a good catholic and disagree for sure. But here’s the thing, if you are going to disagree with the last three universal pastors of the Church about the application of a Church teaching to contemporary circumstances, you have a very, very, very high hurdle to clear in making your case.

          • chezami

            A favorite trick of the anti-abortion-but-not-prolife Catholic is treat “prudential judgement” as a means for ignoring almost everything the Church says that is not to their liking, including their obsession with the death penalty. The Church practices a preferential option for life, asking “How can we possibly avoid killing?” Death penalty zealots ask “When do we *get* to kill?” and seek to maximize slaughter in the name of rulekeeping.

            • Linebyline

              Then save your venom for “the anti-abortion-but-not-prolife Catholic” and in this thread, respond to what people are actually saying, not what you are so certain they really mean. You are the only person in this combox whom I’ve ever seen bring up anything approaching “When do we get to kill?”; while I have seen the basic attitude in other fora (*coughFacebookcough*), you’d do well to limit your posts in this forum to responding to the arguments made by the people who are actually here and attempting to have a discussion with you.

              Exactly what is it that Carlos, Dave G., or anyone else in this thread has said that can be read as a paraphrase of “When do we get to kill?” Quote the exact words that indicate that their intention is “to maximize slaughter in the name of rulekeeping.”

              Or in short: [citation needed]

            • Carlos

              You’re talking past me. I know that some people do like to use the “prudential judgement” line in areas where it doesn’t apply, but in this case it actually DOES apply. The quote I posted from Cardinal Ratzinger is a perfect paraphrase of the “prudential judgement” argument.

              Yes, the Church gives preference to life, but ONLY after other aspects are taken into account. Executing a guilty person is not an intrinsic evil as in the case of abortion, so other factors (such as the common good, societal safety, deterrence, retributive justice) must be factored in, sometimes in just as equal weight.

              Also, you might be surprised to hear that I actually am not a fan of the death penalty either. But since I prefer honest and well-reasoned argumentation, I couldn’t help but chime in once you started trying to pass off your own political positions as Church teaching. Please read up on the Church’s actual teaching on this topic, and then make clear that you are not espousing Church teaching when you rail against the death penalty in future posts.

    • chezami

      I make no such pretense. You, however, pretend that the last three popes have not called for the abolition of the death penalty. Catholic moral theology is divided between those (like these popes) who ask “How can we avoid the taking of human life if at all possible?” and those (like you) who ask, “When do we *get* to kill and how can we maximize the number of people we get to slaughter while feeling really righteous about it?”

      • Dave G.

        I missed where expressing concern about changes in Church teaching gives you the right to judge me. A new spiritual gift that I’m unaware of? Last Christians I knew who responded to struggles that way were in tents with sawdust flooring.

      • Dave G.

        Oh. And I’ll forgive your slanderous and false accusation. If you can’t debate better than that you might want to consider a different line of work. It’s not worth jeopardizing your soul over.

        • chezami

          And I forgive your shoddy and cheap attack.

          • Dave G.

            Shoddy and cheap attack? You mean when I pointed out that your arguments in this post are, well, lousy? Or when I said you’re playing with fire when you accused me of wanting more human slaughter to fulfill my self righteousness? If those things are what you think you need to forgive, then wow. I mean, wow. You’re better than this Mark. The world has one Jack Chick. It doesn’t need another.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Well said, Mr. Shea.
    There’s a lot of dreck in George Martin’s Song of Ice & Fire books, but he did hit on one nugget of wisdom that I wouldn’t mind implementing in this country: He who passes the sentence must swing the sword. If you can’t do that, then maybe the person doesn’t really deserve to die.
    Our justice system makes a death sentence too easy by outsourcing it.

    • Dave G.

      Well said? Which parts were well said?

  • Andy

    I agree the death penalty serves no purpose other than vengeance. The fact that according to research that 1 out of 20 people killed by the state have been innocent should be enough to say stop it. However, according to research states with the death penally appear to have higher rate of murder than do those states without the death penalty – http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterrence-states-without-death-penalty-have-had-consistently-lower-murder-rates. Further research has supported this and called into question the results of research supporting the death penalty not only on methodological issues, but also on flawed assumptions – http://www.law.columbia.edu/law_school/communications/reports/summer06/capitalpunish.

    Although the church allowed for and still in some fashion allows for the death penalty – what the church teaches can be changed – not doctrine but how it is to be understood. The church dies this in relation to introspection, and prayer. In fact according to Gaudium et Spes – paragraph 4 – ‘The Church has the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel’ The church learns trough the world because God speaks to us in the and through world – the world is part of God’s handiwork and is constantly evolving – we prayer to a fuller communion with God. The church I believe is undergoing one of these changes surrounding the death penalty – with its call that the death penalty be used only as a last resort. I am praying that it soon moves to the point where it says the death penalty canon be used.

    • Dave G.

      So a better argument to abolish the death penalty would be, not that the state can now prevent crime, but in fact there is no evidence that innocents won’t be executed out or proportion of those innocents who might be saved by maintaining the death penalty? Yeah. That sounds like a better argument.

      However, this:

      “I agree the death penalty serves no purpose other than vengeance.”

      Is the sort of thing critics of Catholicism love to hear from Catholics. Without Superior by Catholic or the Genesis Principle, it makes the Church sound pretty bad.

      • Andy

        Dave – I am/was not trying to be superior – I was reacting to the comments made by Gov. Brewer and the family of the murdered individuals. For me the lack of congruence between what the death penalty is purported to accomplish – deterrence and justice is defeated by those types of comments. It is this lack of congruence that absolutely sends me over the edge about the death penalty.

        • Dave G.

          Sorry Andy, sometimes I use terms and phrases from olden times and I forget folks may not know the context. I didn’t mean you were acting superior. The phrase is an old stereotype used against Catholics by those who are less than friendly toward the Church. They mean that Catholics hold others to higher standards than Catholics feel the need to live up to themselves. Or, when Catholics are 40% it’s better than when anyone else is 99% (because they’re Catholic). It’s a stereotype, of course. But when we say things like Death Penalty is Evil, support for it is evil, it is nothing but evil, then it does make most people scratch their heads and wonder ‘Gee, I guess the Catholic church has always embraced evil!’ And it’s tough to gerrymander that to make support now an evil without implicating the Church.

          • Andy

            Thank you Dave, for explanation – I remember those days when there was the stereotype about “Catholics feeling superior” and didn’t think about it yesterday.

      • jroberts548

        Does the death penalty, in America, in 2014, serve any purpose other than vengeance?

        So few murderers are executed, and, from the perspective of the murderer, the difference between what gets you executed and what gets you a life sentence is completely random and arbitrary. There’s no evidence that the death penalty serves as any sort of disincentive. Do you seriously think anyone, prospectively deciding whether to commit murder says “Well, I would kill this guy and risk spending the rest of my life in prison where I might frequently be raped and beaten; however, I don’t want to risk a judge applying some set of factors that I neither know nor understand and sentencing me to die, resulting in my execution in 20 years”? The death penalty is not a deterrent.

        Except as against someone who commits murder while in prison, it’s not a more effective specific deterrent than incarceration.

        Since the prisoner is dead after receiving the death penalty, there’s probably not a strong argument that it’s rehabilitative.

        It’s not a deterrent, and it’s not rehabilitative. There isn’t any penological goal, other than punishment, that the death penalty could serve (except for the very tiny amount of people who get the death penalty for committing murder while in prison).

        • Dave G.

          If we equate justice with vengeance, then no. There are some schools of thought that do of course. Justice is just a byword for vengeance. I would say that the growing lack of concern about justice is a good reason to ditch the DP.

      • The Deuce

        The thing that gets me about that is the assumption that vengeance carried out by the state is somehow automatically illegitimate, when vengeance is *supposed* to be the primary part of what the state does, not just with the death penalty, but with imprisonment and punishment in general. The state is supposed to administer *justice* via punishment, not simply rehabilitation (and actual rehabilitation is impossible without punishment, recognition of guilt and the justness of the punishment, and repentance anyhow). I mean, I’m presuming the Catholic Church hasn’t officially abandoned the explicit statements of Paul in Scripture in favor of a “Clockwork Orange” position regarding crime, sin, free will, and moral culpability here.

  • Pete the Greek


    You know something else? It’s the whole thing of trying to be ‘clean’ and ‘scientific’ with killing that causes things like this. Plain old hanging or firing squad would have technically been ‘cleaner’ than what they did. But then, that’s not as aesthetic, I guess?

    And no, I’m not advocating it, just making an observation.

    • CJ

      I favor abolition only because of the possibility of executing an innocent person. But as far as method, I do think firing squads make the most sense.

      • Pete the Greek

        Well, that’s a very good reason to support abolition. I think the better is that with the prison system we have, we already have the ability to fulfill the three necessary things in this regard: Punish, Protect the rest of society from the predator and still leave him available to the grace of repentance.

        I really have to strain to come up with a scenario where having the death penalty would be the best choice…. perhaps if you had a dozen or so people who wash up on an island and are waiting for rescue and one of them, bigger and stronger than the rest, starts to regularly kill and eat the other. Once apprehended, I could understand a death sentence being used, as there is really no other way available to protect the others from someone who obviously means them lethal harm, means of confinement not being available.

        And seriously, when that’s one of the best arguments for it that can be thought up, it’s really past the point of being allowed to exist.

        • CJ

          Where we likely differ is that I don’t have a problem with capital punishment in theory (FYI I’m not Catholic). The only argument needed to justify it in my mind is “he/she is a murderer.” That is, I believe execution is a just penalty for murder. There are a host of prudential reasons why we might choose another form of punishment, including problems with the method, corrupt government, diplomatic concerns, etc. But the only one (for me) that goes to the heart of the issues is the question of innocence.

        • “I really have to strain to come up with a scenario where having the death penalty would be the best choice”

          The only example I can think of is the Joker, since he keeps escaping Gotham Prison and Arkham Asylum so easily. Perhaps Magneto, too. In the real world, of course, our prison system (as deeply flawed as it is) suffices.

          • Pete the Greek

            There is a parallel of sorts in real life.

            What, say, do you do with a cartel kingpin doing life without parole who, even while in prison, still finds ways to order the killings of rivals? I suppose you could order solitary confinement with no communication allowed, but then is that even allowable legally?

            Makes for some interesting debates on the subject, but those are VERY rare circumstances.

            • In the case of the kingpin, I’d try monitoring his communications more, or moving him to a prison with none of buddies and contacts, first. As it has been pointed out in other circumstances, death should be the *last* resort.

              They are very rare, which is why I don’t think the death penalty is worth it, especially in light of all the other flaws (the wrongly convicted, race and class issues, arbitrariness, the inhumanities that sparked this post, and so on).

        • The Deuce

          I think it’s interesting that the Church used to teach that the death penalty was just partly on the grounds that it would prompt the guilty to repentance by confronting him with the gravity of his sins and the justness of his imminent demise, and now one of the primary reasons given against it is that it *prevents* the guilty from repenting. There’s a direct contradiction there. Only one of those things can be correct.

          • Pete the Greek

            I’m not so sure it was the Church that changed so much, or the world.

            To explain: To someone who has the idea of sin, impending death would, i would certainly guess, be cause for repentance.

            To those in the modern world who don’t accept even the idea of sin, or simply couldn’t care less, their impending death would just seem like bad luck or even just arbitrary, I’d think.

            • Jared Clark

              Well said! They’re actually both true for different particular people. Some need a good reason to repent (ie. “I’m going to hang tomorrow, I need a priest”) and others need time. No contradiction

            • The Deuce

              At the same time, I think it’s the case that our allergy to the whole concept of punishment and retribution that fuels much of the opposition to the death penalty is, in fact, a large part of why the modern world doesn’t accept the idea of sin in the first place. And that argument could equally be applied against punishing people for their crimes *at all*, not just with the death penalty. By saying there should be no retribution because people don’t understand sin is to in fact reinforce the denial of sin.

              But, I don’t think people truly don’t grasp sin anymore. They’re deeply aware of it, and ever-more-desperately trying to suppress that awareness to justify themselves.

              • Andy

                I believe that punishment is supposed to have a if you will a corrective function – I am not sure that the death penalty leads to correction and change. For me retribution always seemed to be in God’s hands and not ours.
                I do know what sin is and I know that we are all capable of and do sin. And for our sins there will be a consequence.

                • The Deuce

                  Well, it’s not to be in our hands individually, because we are individually given to rationalizing disproportionate revenge over petty slights to ourselves as “justice.” But Scripture and the consistent teaching of all of Christianity through the ages has consistently been that we can and should administer retribution collectively, through our systems of justice which God has ordained for that purpose.

                  • Andy

                    Scripture is consistent – it is consistent that our laws must match or at least be in line with moral teaching. SO that if we accept the death penalty then perhaps we might dispose of questioning all laws that seem to meet the test of matching what the Bible has taught or Jesus has taught?

              • chezami

                I think it’s our allergy to brutal pagan worship of a god of vengeance and cruelty.

            • The Deuce

              Also, when Paul talked about the state and its God-ordained role in administering justice (and it’s pretty obvious that he’s alluding to the death penalty here when he refers to “the sword”), keep in mind that the *immediate* government he was talking about was the pagan Roman government. So I don’t think it’s plausible to say that we can’t have retribution because our society and government don’t have a developed concept of sin, but that that Roman empire did.

              • jroberts548

                But the Romans did have a developed idea of justice and law.

                Our criminal legal system doesn’t have a well-developed idea of justice. The successive effects of soft-on-crime hippyism followed by tough-on-crime politicians of both parties has all but severed the connection between justice and the criminal law.

                • Pete the Greek

                  Our criminal justice system seems driven purely by conviction rates, with as high as possible being good.

                  Fred Reed has some interesting observations on this.

                  • The Deuce

                    Our justice system has serious issues of corruption to be sure, at least compared to what it used to be, and the Romans indeed had a highly developed idea of justice and law for their time as well.

                    But do you really think our modern justice system is more corrupt that the Roman empire’s circa 50 AD in absolute terms? Keep in mind, this is after the Republic had been usurped by the Caesars through murder of their political rivals, and keep in mind that Christianity was *founded on* an unjust execution administered by the Roman government.

                    And is our justice system really so much more corrupt than all the governments Paul had in mind when he wrote Romans that his teaching on the God-ordained legitimacy of capital punishment by the state doesn’t apply to it (And keep in mind that this was ~10 years before Nero unjustly executed Paul himself).

                    And is our society’s concept of sin and repentance actually weaker than pagan Roman society’s, which had never had Christian teaching in the first place, and so much weaker that the Church’s age-old teaching about retribution and repentance no longer applies?

                    I find all of the above highly implausible, to say least.

                    Look, I’ve got no real problem abolishing the death penalty, if that’s what our society wants to do and it can really be done safely. I’m okay with it if you oppose the death penalty out of personal preference or distaste, or out of precautionary concerns, or whatever. I don’t think it’s a moral obligation that we MUST have the death penalty on the books.

                    What bothers me is that people seem to be trying to make the illegitimacy of the death penalty a morally obligatory matter of Christian doctrine, and in so doing are straining mightily (and failing) to harmonize this idea with the clear and constant teaching of Christianity and Scripture on the matter throughout the ages, and are rationalizing away the contradictions and torturing and corrupting Christian teaching in order to fit the square peg into the round hole.

                    This brings shame to Christianity, because it’s transparently obvious to everyone on the outside who isn’t personally invested in it that you’re changing supposedly unchanging doctrine and deluding yourself about it, and it gives them ammunition to say that even Christians don’t really consider Christian doctrine to be Truth themselves.

                    It particularly bugs me because, in addition to their personal discomfort, many of the moral premises that people are trying to “read in” to Christianity to condemn the death penalty as morally illegitimate are actually cribbed from a strange combination of incompatible secular ideologies, namely anarcho-libertarianism with its belief that government authority is inherently bad and illegitimate on the one hand, and secularist leftism with its denial of free will and the reality of moral guilt on the other hand.

                    • Pete the Greek

                      You bring up some very good points and I think I understand your concerns. Unfortunately, I am NOT as good at explaining these things in my own words as I am on some other topics.

                      You might find THIS to be a help. I think it may help you to see that the Church is not ‘changing doctrine’ regarding the death penalty.

                • MarylandBill

                  This is a really good point. While I don’t support legalization of drugs, some of the penalties that one can receive for merely possessing certainly undermines the argument that the punishment is proportionate to the crime.

    • kenofken

      I agree on this point. As a Pagan, and one whose religion acknowledges vengeance as a legitimate (albeit often unproductive) motivation, I have no problem with the theory of capital punishment. At the same time, we don’t have a society with the wisdom to administer it fairly and we certainly don’t have the moral courage and honor to do it right.

      A society which cannot bear to look this violent act in the face and do it openly and decisively has no business doing it. If it is to be done at all, it should be done by firing squad, and the governor of the state should have to be right there, front and center, pulling a trigger as well. A person who doesn’t have the visceral fortitude to do that has no place signing a death warrant, and is not fit to lead an office with that grave responsibility. Alan Kozinski, chief justice for the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, outlined my position very well in his dissent on this very case:

      “If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution
      carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.”

      All that said, we should get out of the business for the reasons I’ve outlined and because it makes us a pariah state in the civilized world. It buys us no safety or deterrence at all.

      Those of you concerned with trying to foster a Christian “pro-life” ethos in this country should also know that you are wasting your time in that endeavor so long as you support/tolerate the death penalty. Those in the wider post-Christian society see a movement which, in its most powerful and vocal strains – places a highly conditional, not universal, value on life. It’s a commodities market, and the only difference between the right and the left in this country is their pricing strategies. Absolutely no one in the wider society is going to take your position seriously so long as you defend capital punishment.

  • Jared Clark

    Self-Defense: “If you can defend yourself without taking the attacker’s life, do so.”
    Makes sense!

    Just Warfare: “If you can resolve the issue without going to war, do so.”
    Makes sense!

    Executions: “If you can protect the common good through non-lethal sentences, do so.”

    I don’t see why so many fail to grasp the Church’s teaching on this. It’s not that executions are intrinsically evil, but that we are not in a situation where we have to kill most, if not all, prisoners given this sentence. We need to abolish the death penalty.

    • CJ

      Jared – That’s an excellent way of framing the argument. The difference I see between the capital punishment vs. self defense and just war is that protection of the innocent is not the only goal of the criminal justice system. Retribution is also a LEGITIMATE part of the package. For at least some subset of murderers, capital punishment makes sense in order to fulfill the retributive end.

      • Jared Clark

        Then execute them with time. In either punishment, they remain in prison until they die. This has the added benefit of the consequences that many use as the entire argument (more time for possible repentance or discovery of innocence), and more importantly, it follows the teaching on the Church of only taking life when necessary.

      • Retribution is a legitimate “part of the package”?

        First, define “retribution”. Some use it as a synonym for “restitution” and some as a synonym for “vengeance”. How are you using it?

        Second, I hope we all agree that restitution is a legitimate form of justice; but we may disagree about vengeance. Do you consider vengeance to be a legitimate form of justice?

    • Dave G.

      Good summaries. I think one reason people, or at least I, am a bit cautious is because it’s one thing to say ‘if you can avoid using the DP or going to war, then do so’, and saying, for all practical purposes, ‘never.’ To say never opens up a string of other topics that need addressed.

      • Jared Clark

        The Church says that such cases are “rare, if not practically non-existent” in developed countries, which isn’t the same thing as “never”. It’s not intrinsically evil, but it is rarely needed and our current implementation has to go.

        Personally, I’d only consider it as an option for those who are still a threat to the common good even within prison (criminals who can organize dangerous crime from within prison, criminals who continue to commit dangerous crimes within prison, and dangerous criminals who escape and are recaptured are cases that come to mind). Certainly less than how it is applied today.

        (Apologies for the vague term “dangerous crimes”, but we’re talking about the penalty itself and not the crimes that warrant it)

        • Dave G.

          See, I have no idea what it means that it is non-existent. I know that in the 90s, some countries in Europe that had abolished the death penalty seemed to have abolished crime along with it. I mean, crime rates were almost nil. But in recent years, several European countries have seen an uptick in violent crime (remember, numbers might not be to our level, but then are smaller, more homogeneous, and don’t have the population we have). Of course our crime rates say nothing of the sort. In America, it could be argued we are less about to protect using our modern approaches. We won’t even get into the countries like Mexico and others in central America that ditched the DP and are now killing fields. That’s one of my biggest beefs. The reason just doesn’t line up. It sounded good at one particular moment n one part of the world, but even that is changing.

          For me, the best reason to abolish the DP (at least for now) is that we are moving into a post-Christian civilization, where justice and freedom are quickly going the way of the butter churn. In such an environment, we can no longer be sure that more innocent people won’t be killed than will be protected by the DP. But things like ‘the state can now prevent crime’ doesn’t mean anything. It simply can’t. Any more than it could a hundred years ago when the Church almost universally stood on its traditional allowance for capital punishment.

          • Jared Clark

            The Church hasn’t changed her teaching. Executions aren’t intrinsically evil. And of course crime can rarely be prevented; the question is if the vast majority of those who commit crimes worthy of execution may be safely imprisoned. If so, we simply have no business killing them.

            • Dave G.

              Well, if it calls to finally abolish the DP, then it’s changed its teaching. It hasn’t yet, which is why this shouldn’t be an argument between the righteous sheep and the vile goats. As for the safely imprisoned, again there is no real statistical evidence that this is the case any more than it was a hundred years ago. I say this because a year ago when this subject came up, with folks leaning heavily on ‘now we can safely imprison people’, in our little neck of the woods, there were two inmates killed in only a couple months in a nearby penitentiary, and a man was killed outside a strip mall by two escaped convicts. Suggesting strongly that we are still far away from ‘safely imprisoning’ anyone, at least any more than ages past. Not that there aren’t some good reasons to end it now, but to abolish it forever, I’m just not sold. At least not for the reasons given.

              • Jared Clark

                …where in my comments, where I was talking about the Church not teaching that it’s intrinsically evil and listing scenarios where it still makes sense (including the two you just used as an example), did you get the idea that I was saying it ought to be abolished forever?

                • Dave G.

                  You haven’t. But the phrase is ‘abolish the death penalty!” Then we should say ‘abolish it for now.’ Or ‘abolish the DP in the US! But allow it in other countries.’ Which makes me wonder why now, as opposed to other times. And why here? That’s what I’m getting at. Again, I think there is a good reason to say stop it now. But the reasons commonly given don’t always line up with what is actually happening.

  • Linebyline

    I can think of only one good reason to use the death penalty at this point, and that’s when someone who’s already locked up for life is still presenting an imminent danger to others’ lives.

    And it does happen. Prisoners find all kinds of ways to craft lethal weapons. Some folks have no trouble running their drug empires and other criminal operations (merrily wrecking or ending lives) from within the “confines” of prison; heck, I’ve even heard of people getting arrested and imprisoned deliberately for that purpose.

    And the state does have the right, when absolutely necessary, to administer the death penalty.

    But you know what? If this is how America does the death penalty, then screw it. At the risk of resorting to utilitarianism, the harm being done outweighs the good. Too many innocent people are unjustly executed, too many guilty people are needlessly executed, and even people who do need to die are not just killed but tortured to death because somehow, despite all the freaking practice we get, we still haven’t figured out how to kill someone humanely. And yet the death penalty doesn’t seem to do much to prevent the kind of harm that it’s meant to prevent.

    So I’m beginning to agree with you, Mark. Abolish it. At least for now, and then when and if our culture regains a smidgen of respect for human life (even–no especially–the lives of the guilty and otherwise unsympathetic) we can see about reinstating it when–and only when–it’s absolutely necessary.

    • Dave G.

      The strange thing is, this didn’t happen until they started changed the drugs used. My boys (one against, one still supporting the DP) were arguing about it because of this story. The one against admitted that this seems to be a problem that only recently happened. But then he said if we’re going to have the DP, then do it the old fashion way and face what it really looks like. That’s his way

  • Alex

    Lest we forget:

    “A word must be said on the full meaning of penalty. Most of the modern theories of penal law explain penalty and justify it in the final analysis as a means of protection, that is, defense of the community against criminal undertakings, and at the same time an attempt to bring the offender to observance of the law. In those theories, the penalty can include sanctions such as the diminution of some goods guaranteed by law, so as to teach the guilty to live honestly, but those theories fail to consider the expiation of the crime committed … Up to a certain point, it may be true that imprisonment and isolation, when properly applied, constitute the penalty most likely to effect a return of the wrongdoer to right order and life in the community. But it does not follow from this that imprisonment is the only just and effective punishment. Our remarks on international penal law on October 3, 1953, referring to the theory of retribution apply here. Many jurists, thought not all, reject the concept of vindictive [retributive] punishment, even when it is to be accompanied by medicinal penalties. In our remarks, we declared that it would be incorrect to reject completely, and as a matter of principle, the function of vindictive punishment. While man is on earth, such punishment both can and should help towards his eternal salvation, provided he himself raises no obstacle to its salutary efficacy. The effectiveness of vindictive penalties is in no way opposed to the function of punishment, which is the re-establishment and restoration of the order of justice which has been disrupted, a function which we have already indicated as essential to all punishment.”

    — Pius XII

    • Dave G.

      Interesting. I’ve seen other quotes from other popes as recently as the 20th century. So much so, and so apparently universal the teaching, that it reminds us just how radically the Church is changing some of its teachings, and how recently these changes have taken place. Or at least, are in the process of taking place.

  • There’s also Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan.

    Absolute abolition of the death penalty is something of an innovation that, largely, might be a reaction among Europeans (Argentina is culturally connected to Europe) to WWII and to the promise that psychology seemed to offer. So far as I know it has never been raised to an essential of the faith one must consent to and if it is I will admit I’d find that troubling because an absolute abolition does not seem to correspond to either tradition or possibly even the New Testament.

    Sadly I think your strident manner means you’ll read this as “I want to know what kind of people I can kill because I like killing” because you have a tendency to dehumanize and denigrate those who disagree with you. (Hence I lost respect for you over time) But this is obviously not what I mean now or in the past. What I mean is that the Church, in history and traditionally in doctrine, is not strictly pacifistic. That there can be a concept of “just war” in itself sometimes means that the State does have the legal right to commit violence in certain restricted cases.

    Immediate defense is certainly justified in case of threat. But if it would be better to have prison guards ready and able to kill prisoners for threatening is something I’m not sure would be better. Turkmenistan hasn’t had the death penalty since 1999, but I’m guessing being a Turkmen prisoner is not that great.

    Life-wise a bigger issues might be just general prison safety. We’re still a culture where TV series make jokes about prison rape, etc. Executions are, I’d guess, only a small percent of the danger prisoners face. Maybe even a minority of those on death row face.