Benedict and the Death Penalty

Surprise!

New Pope Benedict XVI was instrumental in revising Catholic Church teachings on death penalty

The 1992 Catechism said that governments had the right to inflict penalties in keeping with crimes, including the death penalty, “in cases of extreme gravity.” But it added that if non-lethal methods of punishment “suffice to defend human lives against aggressors and protect public order and the security of people, authorities should use these means, because they better conform to the concrete conditions of the common good and to the dignity of the human person.”

A revised edition of the Catechism issued in 1997 contained even stronger language against the death penalty, reflecting the views expressed by Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life.” At a September 9, 1997 Vatican press conference introducing the new edition, Cardinal Ratzinger was asked to what degree the new version strengthened the Church’s opposition to the death penalty. He replied that the new text “does not categorically say that it is impossible, but it gives objective criteria which make it practically impossible for all of them to be met. We don’t exclude it in principle, but we insist on these criteria.”

In response to another query, he said that polls showing that most Catholics in the United States favored the death penalty had no bearing on the Church’s opposition to it. “While it is important to know the thoughts of the faithful,” he explained, “doctrine is not made according to statistics, but according to objective criteria, taking into account progress made in the Church’s thought on the issue.”

During the pontificate of John Paul the Great, folks on the left who had serious issues re his defense of traditional doctrine would nevertheless use him to advance those issues on which they and he agreed.

I wonder if the folks in opposition to Benedict will do the same – if they will at least give him credit where it’s due when he is in agreement with them. From the current tone, it seems doubtful to me.

As I said elsewhere, I can’t wait for the new pope to begin to make himself seen and heard, so that we may all take his measure, without the filter and noise, noise, noise of the media.

***

Anchorising has a good, long, complete and thoughtful sort of roundup on all Things Benedict that you might want to check out.

***

Courtesy of my dear little brother, Thom, comes this extraordinarily useful and informative piece from Chiesa. It is VERY long, VERY detailed, and you won’t want to miss the bit about the agenda, at the bottom. Print it out – I’m going to do that myself, and take it along to read on the plane this Friday.

***

Benedict XVI made the very pragmatic remark that his would not be a “long” pontificate. Since he is 78 years old, that is not exactly a surprising revelation. But…his parents did live to be in their 90′s. Thom sent this to me with the remark, “In other words: ‘Don’t worry. He’ll be dead soon.’”

I’m sure that some DO think that way.

But then again…Karol Wojtyla’s parents died young, and he made it to 84!

Blogging will be very light from here on out. Leaving on our first vacation in three years, and there is still much to do. I will be trying to post when I can while on vacation…after all…what is avacation if I can’t have fun online? Supposedly, the ship has an internet cafe! Ahh, coffee and readin’ news on the net! Good times! :-)

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Seahawk

    “Supposedly, the ship has an internet cafe!”

    Forget the internet cafe! Just keep a look out for icebergs.

    And take along the sheet music and lyrics to “Nearer, My God, to Thee”.

    (It pays to be prepared. . . )

  • http://ohhowilovejesus.com Jeanette

    Anchoress, I hope your vacation is as fun and funny as the one described by Buster a couple of weeks ago. Enjoy your cruise.

  • http://www.nerepublican.blogspot.com Dan M

    Maybe you should leave some room for 7 story waves….

    I for one find nothing comforting in the role that Cardinal Ratzinger played in delineating the Catholic position on capital punishment.

    To allow it in theory, but to lay so many stipulations upon it in practice is a dodge. The purpose of which was to make the Church more acceptable to those on the Left who decry capital punishment. The Left has denounced the Church as hyproctical for opposing abortion, yet allowing capital punishment. And instead of manfully and artfully defending their position, the Church has effectively caved to the carping of the Left.

    I don’t want a Pope who is trying to ingratiate himself with the enemies of the Church. And newsflash! The Left is GENUINELY and DEEPLY hostile to the Church.

    Far better it were to maintain the right of the State to avail itself of the death sentence, than to wander off in search of accolades from the Left, that have never come, and will never come. It was a bit of political naivety. And it has not procured what it was intended to procure, a rethinking by the Left of their support for abortion.

  • Ellen

    My grandmother was German and lived to be 99. May Benedict XVI do the same.

  • http://www.mythusmageopines.com Alan Kellogg

    From the footage of the man I’ve seen he doesn’t look young for his age. By the same token, he is active and that’s always a good thing.

    Even more important, he looked happy to be there, doing what he was doing. He continued John Paul II’s tradition of getting out and meeting people.

    I don’t agree with him on everything, but I will wish him a long and productive stewardship.

  • TheAnchoress

    My Brother in Law’s parents were from Germany. They both lived to be 100.

    They ate butter, eggs and ham, every day of their lives! :-)

  • Kevin

    Dan M-
    `
    Let’s not make the same mistake as some Leftist critics, and be so quick to presume that ulterior motives, bad faith, political calculation, or anything else lies behind the efforts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI to grapple with the death penalty.
    `
    I believe that these two brilliant and holy men found the practice deeply troubling, especially having lived through the horrific festival of death that was central Europe in the 1940s. And I also note that this unease penetrates many parts of the Catholic world: unlike other hot-button issues, many conservatives as well as liberals, many devout as well as secular, many orthodox as well as dissident, are divided on the issue.
    `
    I also do not believe that sincerely-felt concerns about the state putting people to death are entirely a 20th-century innovation.
    `
    Now personally, I have long believed that capital punishment should be–to coin a phrase–”safe, legal, and rare”. Something just wouldn’t seem right with the world to me if Timothy McVeigh still drew breath; and it won’t seem right if Saddam Hussein doesn’t eventually face a firing squad. But our late Holy Father got me to examine these opinions more deeply, and in fact to refine and strengthen my line of thinking in response; and I remain open to being taught and persuaded and enlightened by our new Holy Father.

  • Darrell

    Just as I believe that every decision rendered by the SCOTUS must have a basis in the US Constitution, I feel even more strongly that every change in the long-established “Faith and Morals” of the Church should have a basis in the Holy Scriptures. The four Gospels give pretty thorough coverage to the events leading up to the Crucifiction and Jesus’s Words–and plenty of opportunity for any opposition to the Death Penalty to be known. We just don’t see it. Did Jesus tell Pilate that he did not have the right to put Him or any man to death? When the “Good Thief” said that we deserve our fate, but you don’t, did Jesus say “No, Brother, no man has the right to put another to death–only God has that authority,” or something similar? There are dozens of similar opportunities for us to know Jesus’s opposition to the Death Penalty in the Story, yet none are found. We get “Render to Caesar…” and an implicit acknowledgement of the State’s right to exact penalties/set rules as they see fit.

    I take no comfort in JPII’s and Cardinal Ratzinger’s changes in nearly 2000 years of Church Teachings, especially in instances with so thorough a coverage in the Scripture.
    …I pray that the Holy Spirit leads Pope Benedict XVI to re-examine his positions.

    I also take no comfort in SCOTUS “mining” international “thought and feelings” for it’s rationales.

  • tmt

    Have a great vacation, Anchoress!
    Relax and enjoy!!

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    Kevin, Dan M. is absolutely right. For one thing, Genesis 9: 5-6 demands that murderers be executed as a direct command from God Himself! Why? Because murder is the ultimate descecration of the divine image in humanity. That is a concept that, in its rush to develop a “seamless garment” of “pro-life” pseudo-thought, this Church has blatantly ignored.

    I would also suggest that you read the following from Aquinas, a true Doctor of the Church (unlike the present Pope and his immediate predecesor) concerning capital punishment:

    Here’s what Big Tom says about the death penalty and mercy:

    “The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from
    their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for
    the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain
    than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentence. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death, their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146)”

    Here’s what Aquinas says about capital punishment and protecting the community:

    “If a man is a danger to the community, threatening it with disintegration by some wrongdoing of his, then his execution for the healing and preservation of the common good is to be commended. Only the public authority,
    not private persons, may licitly execute malefactors by public judgement. Men shall be sentenced to death for crimes of irreparable harm or which are particularly perverted. (Summa Theologica 11: 65-2; 66-6).”

    Of course, given the fact that Catholic cathetheis is generally mediocre, let alone ignorant of the intellectual heritage of Aquinas, Augustine and other luminaries, what can we expect?

  • James A.

    …comes this extraordinarily useful and informative piece from Chiesa.

    Dead link, I’m afraid.

    Joseph:

    “The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from
    their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for
    the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain
    than the good which may be expected from their improvement.”

    If they’re locked up in prison, the danger posed by their way of life is virtually zero. The equation doesn’t hold. Guy’s wrong.

    Plus, with the best system in the world, you’re gonna wind up executing innocent people from time to time.

    Darrell:

    Please note that I want to justify crucifying people as being OK in the sight of God, I can do so easily with your logic:

    The four Gospels give pretty thorough coverage to the events leading up to the Crucifiction and Jesus’s Words – and plenty of opportunity for any opposition to such a cruel Penalty as crucifixion to be known. We just don’t see it. Did Jesus tell Pilate that he did not have the right to put Him or any man to death by crucifixion? When the “Good Thief” said that we deserve to be crucified, but you don’t, did Jesus say “No, Brother, no man has the right to kill someone in such a brutal manner,” or something similar?

    Do you, therefore, think that crucifixion is an acceptable punishment for certain criminals? Including thieves, by the same logic?

  • TheAnchoress

    thanks for the heads up, the Cheisa link is fixed!

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    James A., you say that “if they’re locked up in prison, the danger posed by their way of life is virtually zero.”

    This is balderdash.

    First, have you ever heard of parole? How many convicted murderers are relased on parole? Parole laws in this nation (at least) are full of holes). Where are the Catholic activists who are so concerned about “executing the innocent” that they wish to fight against the further taking of innocent life by fighting to strengthen parole laws?

    They don’t exist, at least not in any appreciable numbers.

    Second, the “danger from their way of life” does not lie solely with the perpetrators. It also lies with those who might be tempted to imitate them because they, in effect, can get away with it.

    Suppose I break into your house, James, and murder your spouse and children? Or, suppose that I murder your parents and siblings, leaving you in either case with a profound trauma that you did not ask for?

    Why is it fair or just that I retain my life, even if I spend the rest of it in prison, for wantonly taking the lives of people whom I arbirtraily deprived of their ability to use their God-given right to life to enjoy His creations, the talents He gave them and the ability to influence others positively?

    The Talmud says it best: Those who would be merciful when they should be cruel will be cruel when they should be merciful. The church’s moral revisionism is nothing but an insult to the innocent.

  • newton

    Anchoress,

    Have a great vacation! Send us lotsa pictures! I’d love to go with you, but surprise, I can’t afford it!

  • http://www.nerepublican.blogspot.com Dan M

    What I see is moral confusion on the death penalty, creeping over into confusion on just war doctrine as well. The confusion is of a piece, when is it licit for the state to kill?

    Over at Amy Wellborne’s site, she has a quote which is even more disturbing than the comment which started this thread. Ratzinger suggested that because the just war theory was used by those justifying taking down Saddam, that it might be necessary to refine it, id est preclude American unilateralism.

    I don’t like it.

    PART of the reason that malfactors are executed is the maintainence of moral tone.

    To preclude capital punishment would allow Osama to live if caught. Such an outcome is so morally revolting, and awakens such a physical repugnance, THAT IT MUST be disturbing to the demands of justice. And the demands of justice require equilibrium.

    To preclude just and preventive war is to wink at creatures like Saddam, and to borderline connive at their continued reign. Such an outcome cannot possibly be moral.

  • James A.

    (I’ll mention now, in the interests of full disclosure, I’m a british protestant. We have no death penalty.)

    James A., you say that “if they’re locked up in prison, the danger posed by their way of life is virtually zero.”
    This is balderdash.
    First, have you ever heard of parole? How many convicted murderers are relased on parole? Parole laws in this nation (at least) are full of holes). Where are the Catholic activists who are so concerned about “executing the innocent” that they wish to fight against the further taking of innocent life by fighting to strengthen parole laws? They don’t exist, at least not in any appreciable numbers.

    This is obviously a bad thing, and I shall look into whether my own country has a similar problem. (Are you fighting to strengthen parole laws for violent criminals, btw?)

    However, just because jail terms for murderers are too short, doesn’t mean jail terms are bad themselves. You can’t justify the death penalty just because the country’s letting out violent criminals too early – well, you can, but it’s a stop-gap solution, like insisting on government welfare taking care of people to try compensating for the fact that community is too weak in western society, and charity too weak in human nature generally, for everyone to get what they need without heavy-hand beaurocratic government interference.

    Second, the “danger from their way of life” does not lie solely with the perpetrators. It also lies with those who might be tempted to imitate them because they, in effect, can get away with it.

    Getting locked up in jail for 20 or 30 years is not getting away with it. Furthermore, and highly important if we’re talking about deterrence: what deters criminals most is how likely they are to get caught. Racking up harsh punishment won’t do much good if criminals have reason to believe they’ll get away scot-free.

    Suppose I break into your house, James, and murder your spouse and children? Or, suppose that I murder your parents and siblings, leaving you in either case with a profound trauma that you did not ask for? Why is it fair or just that I retain my life, even if I spend the rest of it in prison, for wantonly taking the lives of people whom I arbirtraily deprived of their ability to use their God-given right to life to enjoy His creations, the talents He gave them and the ability to influence others positively?

    Difficult question. Ideally I’d try to forgive you – this is what God demands (and he did the same on the cross). It’d be difficult, obviously.

    And it wouldn’t be fair or just, no. But you dying wouldn’t bring back my family, and I personally (in theory) should be content to appeal to God for justice – and forgiveness – for you.

    In practice, I don’t know what I’d actually think, do or say, I admit.

    (Let me also note I would be happy to see Saddam or Osama in prison and would feel no moral repugnance to such an outcome, though I wouldn’t be too bothered to see them dead. To repeat the now-cliched phrase: killing them won’t bring their victims back. You may reply that I’ve been conditioned by my country’s softness on the matter, but that argument cuts both ways.)

    (And yes, I supported the Iraq war and was glad to see it start, before anyone accuses me of lunar chiropterism.)

  • Darrell

    So, if Jesus’s Words, or lack of them, would allow crucifiction, or anything else we now deem “cruel and unusual punishment,” we must discount them? I guess you feel that He should have gone through a whole laundry list of cruel and inhuman punishments, sort of like a Marquis de Sade novel, in order to make the logic valid. The fact that the State’s right to set punishments as it deems proper and necessary is unchallenged is sufficient. The changes in secular attitudes about allowable punishments have taken care of this, all on their own. But that is Caesar’s domain. There is no Scriptural basis for opposing State-sanctioned capital punishment. Secular arguments will continue to thrive and evolve. But that is not the concern of the Pope or the Church, except as it relates to a matter of opinion and commentary.

  • James A.

    So, if Jesus’s Words, or lack of them, would allow crucifiction, or anything else we now deem “cruel and unusual punishment,” we must discount them?
    You tell me, I was borrowing your logic. Should christians oppose cruel and unusual punishment, even thought Christ ignored the opportunity to condemn it himself?
    I guess you feel that He should have gone through a whole laundry list of cruel and inhuman punishments, sort of like a Marquis de Sade novel, in order to make the logic valid.
    Again, it’s your logic, it’s for you to say what he should go through.
    The fact that the State’s right to set punishments as it deems proper and necessary is unchallenged is sufficient.
    Yes, but where does the argument from Christ’s silence end? It covers execution, but does it cover execution of thieves? Brutal punishment? Getting beaten up by soldiers?
    There is no Scriptural basis for opposing State-sanctioned capital punishment.
    Proverbs 24:11-12, and note the complete lack of qualifications about why someone might be being led away to death:
    “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?”
    But that is not the concern of the Pope or the Church, except as it relates to a matter of opinion and commentary.
    Yes it is. It concerns justice, mercy and human life. These are perfectly reasonable things to have an opinion on. They may not be reasonable things to declare clear and infallible doctrine on, but then that’s not what Ratzinger did anyway.
    I confess I’m being a bit nitpicky here – I don’t have a strong opinion on the death penalty, and only commented on your argument because it seemed so curious to me.

  • Darrell

    My logic is sound. Your extrapolations are flawed. If Jesus accepted the validity of crucification by the civil authorities, surely our current more-humane methods would be allowed. Society evolves and attitudes change, but the authority does not. The same with political systems. But those are secular matters. As are decisions about what crimes warrant capital punishment. I’m sure you know, the other men crucified alongside Jesus were judged guilty of sedition and other crimes as well. So that point is immaterial and irrelevant, as Perry Mason would say–a secular matter.

    Proverbs? Isn’t that Howard Dean’s favorite New Testament Book? Or was Job his favorite? How about When Jesus faces Pontius Pilate, Pilate says to Jesus: “Do You not know that I have power to crucify You..?” Jesus replies: “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:10-11) Jesus reminds Pilate that the use of the death penalty is a divinely entrusted responsibility that is to be justly implemented. The Old Testament is absolutely clear about civil authority being granted the power of capital punishment. Proverbs 24:11-12 is not a challenge to defy civil authority. It is a call to help the poor, the oppressed and the suffering, within the bounds of civil law. Exactly what we tried to do for Terri Schlindler.

    Go ahead and contribute to the secular arguments concerning the death penalty. That is your right and the right of all persons in society, including the clergy. But those are opinions, secular concerns, not matters of Faith and Morals–Church Doctrine. Pope John Paul II did that when he used Ratzinger’s work as the basis of his.

    What did God have to say about this? In
    Genesis 9:6, God states: “Whoever sheds MAN’S blood, by MAN his blood shall be shed.” By civil authorities, of course. Jesus concurred.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    James A., of course the death penalty won’t bring back the murdered victims. That is one of the most asinine things promoted by contemporary thought. No, the whole idea of capital punishment is establish the moral value of innocent life. Any other punishement for the wanton, arbitrary taking of innocent life inherently devalues that life. It’s an arguement from the Pentateuch itself; for example, God commands the Israelites not to accept money (i.e., a fine) as a payment for murder.

    There’s an even stronger theological argument for capital punishment: The wages of sin is death. What does that mean? Here’s an explanation from Prof. Michael Pakaluk, a member of Opus Dei (and you can’t get any more papal among the laity than that):

    “If no crime deserves the death penalty, then it is hard to see why it was fitting that Christ be put to death for our sins. … St. Thomas Aquinas quotes a gloss of St. Jerome on Matthew 27: ‘As Christ became accursed of the cross for us, for our salvation he was crucified as a guilty one among the guilty.’ That Christ be put to death as a guilty person presupposes that death is a fitting punishment for those who are guilty.” (empahsis mine)

    Does this mean that every infringement of the law should be a capital offense in modern society? No, far from it. But Pakaluk’s idea is to show that a holy, righteous God cannot tolerate sin of any sort. If that is true with relatively minor offenses, how much more true is that of murder?


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