Pope Calls for Abolition of Death Penalty

Pope Calls for Abolition of Death Penalty June 20, 2013

Cue invocation of magic words “prudential judgment” (right wing code for “Ignore the old fool” just as “primacy of conscience” is left wing code for the same thing when he talks about artificial contraception) in 3….2….1.

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  • G. Seymouse

    “Blessed John Paul II did not state that recourse to capital punishment was intrinsically immoral.”

    What sort of things are “intrinsically immoral”?
    Abortion, contraception, sodomy, denying a worker his just wage, theft,many more.

    And yet, to hear the episcopacy, you would think one case of capital punishment was a greater crime than any of the above.
    I am all for eliminating it because it’s become such a farce. But folks, its legitimacy has been been defined by popes and infallible councils for two millennia.

    • Andy

      When was the death penalty defined as infallible? Just asking – but this is a nice variation from “prudential judgment”.

      • Imrahil

        Let’s say that the right says “prudential judgment” because there’s something to it. After all, Christianity is not about taking care to offend both political sides equally.

        That said, the legitimacy of the death penalty has never been either “defined” or “infallible”, so it would be wrong to say so.

        However, it cannot possibly be overlooked that the death penalty is treated by the fashionable philosophy as an intrinsical offense of human dignity and never ever applicable under any circumstances whatsoever. This is not the position of the Catholic Church, now as little as ever, as it is said in the Catechism. Nor is it realistic. Otherwise, please take a time machine to the Renaissance countryside Italy, and try to be Pope without using it.

        “But that was what I, incorrectly maybe but I so like the expression, call the Middle Ages! We have other standards now!”

        No. Standards of morality do not change.

        It goes without saying that overtones sometimes heard among the
        right, especially the rather revolting arguments of moderns who have not gone anti-capital punishment, viz. that murder simply deserves to be punished with death and nothing else can suffice etc., are just as wrong. Capital punishment as little as anything else can remedy a sin committed, it is the Most Precious Blood of Christ that does so, and it alone.

        Hence, I can imagine that some may sigh when the Pope, by the nature of the situation with less precision than the Catechism, expresses firm adherence to the one position of the Catechism that is fashionable, which happens to be the one position where Catholics may legitimately ask questions and have differences.

        (The “prudential judgment” is the estimation of the makers of the Catechism is that at the time the Catechism was written, capital punishment was not “absolutely necessary” for the upkeep of society. This can, for Europe excepting the Two Sicilies, and for most parts of the United States, hardly be doubted however prudential.

        Does the Catechism actually say that this means that there must be no penalty? Surprisingly, and though it was obviously what its framers meant to say, not literally. The argument would surely be a Catholic one that capital punishment might be enacted even when not absolutely necessary for the upkeep of society, if for instance it be necessary for the saving of some more innocent lives, or the like.)

        • Andy

          Standards of morality do not change – what changes is our ability to respond. There may have been few ways to deal with “criminals” who deserve to kept away from society. The sue of the death penalty today would seem to be more revenge then anything else.

          My question about the death penalty being part of infallible teaching was sincere. Prudential judgment among many facets must avoid moral relativism. All to often death penalty debates devolve into moral relativistic statements. The primacy of conscience leads to the same place.

          The church teaches four aims of punishment: Retribution
          Defense of society, Deterrence, Rehabilitation. Retribution is not revenge, it is restoring social order, and I am not sure how the death penalty leads to restoring social order. Defense of Society – at one time the death penalty may have been the only mechanism for this, today that seems far-fetched. There is debate about deterrence, but death associated with committing a crime logically would deter, but so would life in prison without parole. However, rehabilitation – the death penalty denies rehabilitation.

          • Andy

            Had to answer the office door – to finish.
            The use of the death penalty would seem to indicate that we can ignore the for aims of punishment, and substitute a new aim – violence is the catholic response to violence. That truly is a disturbing thought as Jesus was the Prince of Peace.

            • AnneG

              Mark, once again, rather than try to convince, you stand in the corner of the playground and call names. That’s why I usually don’t even read your blog.
              Regarding the death penalty, I agree with the Church. There is one place, however, where the principles of deterrence and defense would make it necessary. Society cannot defend itself against violent, ideological terrorists who are willing to blow themselves up. Eventually, one of these Islamic terrorists is going to take hostage a school, hospital, etc and demand release of one of their brethren or they will blow up the building. The death penalty would have precluded that for those whose continued existence makes others unsafe. Not something contemplated by those who wrote the Catechism.

              • chezami

                A) I called nobody a name.
                B) Calling for the death penalty for suicide bombers seems like closing the barn door after the horse gets away, as well as creating martyrs so that we can indulge our vengeful bloodlust
                C) You read this. 🙂

              • Andy

                Two simple questions
                1. How do you identify a suicide bomber or hostage taker before they commit their crime?
                2. Since we most likely can’t pre-identify suicide bombers or whatever, how do you use the death penalty to stop them?

          • Retribution is not primarily about restoring the social order but restoring the universal moral order.

        • “That said, the legitimacy of the death penalty has never been either “defined” or “infallible”, so it would be wrong to say so.”

          But it has been.

          • Andy

            There are only two infallible teachings of the Catholic Church – both involve Mary. There are doctrines that have been taught before the church established its practice of infallibility, but they do not include the death penalty. SO where and when did the death penalty become an infallible teaching? Please be specific.

            • Andy, Bad Person

              There are only two infallible teachings of the Catholic Church – both involve Mary.

              Um, what? I think you’re confusing “infallible teaching” with “things that have been declared infallible ex cathedra since the clarification of that doctrine.”

              There are plenty of other infallible teachings.

              • Andy

                From my understanding and it may indeed be weak or wrong – there are many doctrines that are irreformable that the church has always held to be true. From my understanding these are held infallible, event though not declared ex cathedra. These doctrines e.g. the divinity of Christ are presumed to be always true. I was indeed referring to the ex cathedra teaching since clarification of that document. It is my understanding that though both “types are infallible, that only two have beeb declared infallible. I was writing in response to the concept that the death penalty is an infallible teaching.

                If I am wrong in my understanding I would appreciate a good citation so I can gain a better understanding. i

                • Fr. Denis Lemieux

                  The best ‘one stop shop’ for this matter is the document Ad Tuendam Fidei – Google it! It really does clarify all these distinctions in a relatively easy way.

                  • Andy

                    Father –
                    Thank you – I shall look at it tomorrow after I teach my class.

              • Imrahil

                In which case you’d mean the ordinary infallible magisterium. In which case you have to prove, not that a certain thing is said all once in a while, but that it is at a certain time of history by virtually (“virtual” is a terminus technicus) all bishops, and not just as something also true, or a side-issue, but something actually part of the Faith. Good luck with that.
                There has been a case, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (the proof was in Inter Insigniores, 1975 or so), but such exceptions excepted, let’s cite the Catholic Encyclopedia: “For practical matters and as far as the specific question of infallibility is concerned, we may [in these days] neglect the Ordinary Magisterium.”

            • Dr. Eric

              This is false. There are 22 Ecumenical Councils and they have given us many infallible statements.

            • There are many more than two infallible teachings of the Church … just to name one, the Resurrection of Our Lord.

              Leo X condemned the error that burning heretics is against the will of the Spirit. Hence the death penalty can be applied in at least some circumstances.

              • Andy

                given this logic then according to Lateran II and Clement the VI – banks cannot charge interest on loans. That was the concept for many popes and councils. Yet things changed.
                Having said that obviously you didn’t read what I wrote further down.

                • It is certainly worth asking whether banks can legitimately charge interest and, if so, under what circumstances. There has definitely been a development in what is regarded as usury, but the Church’s condemnation of usury has not changed. That is vastly different from saying that a practice which was legitimate in at least some circumstances 50 years ago is now intrinsically evil. I take the Pope’s statement, and those of his predecessors, as applying to our time. It may not apply in the future.

                  • Dan C

                    The Church’s condemnation of usury remains, but what it condemns has changed.

                    The Church in the Early Church had different views on war. Basil himself hated war and considered returning soldiers so defiled as to be refused the sacrament for years after their service. This would even be for wars he would consider “necessary.”

                    Teachings have changed. To suggest otherwise is to embrace a mythology.

              • Dan C

                Pope Leo was wrong. Such can happen.

              • Imrahil

                This was clearly a fallible teaching. “All these sayings are condemned as either heretic or blasphemous or false or rash or offensive to pious ears or… or… or…” It was not clearly characterized to begin with, which totally excludes an ex cathedra – which otherwise would be improbable, also.

                I hold this sentence one of the rare case of fallible teachings (which it certainly is) where an actual error did occur, not for reason of the punishment but of the crime (if not here, then there was an error in Vatican II, of course).

                • Popes are generally held to be infallible when condemning errors. But then Leo X’s statement in Exsurge Domine is just one example of Popes approving the death penalty.

                  I find it interesting how those opposed to the death penalty make the very same arguments against past Popes that the contemporary “right” uses against their successors.

    • chezami

      Why does something have to be intrinsically immoral to be a bad idea?

      • Stu

        But once we start talking about “bad ideas,” then prudential judgment does come into play.

    • Mariana Baca

      You don’t understand what “intrinsically immoral” means. It does not mean “more immoral.” Lying is intrinsically immoral, but most lies told are venial. Missing mass is not intrinsically immoral, but it can be a mortal sin provided motives of laziness or no impeding circumstances.

      Intrinsically immoral means the act is immoral in the nature of the act (that is what intrinsic means), without considering motivations or circumstances. However, there are lots of acts that are not intrinsically immoral, but can still be gravely evil when the wrong motives and circumstances apply. The death penalty is in this category.

      • Dan C

        Thank you for this! For even those activities which we have freedom to choose, such as to choose war or not, there exists a moral truth. Unjust wars are intrinsically immoral. Hence, one should choose well.

        Also, there is no heirarchy of evil. And most do not choose evil like a cartoon villain does. Most choose either selfish actions, actions out of fear, or actions out of surrender to a vice to choose an evil action. Unlike what many suspect, choices are not made to do evil explicitly.

        My great example is Dick Cheney, a man who, on my side of the political spectrum is Lucifer with an implanted human heart. Clearly, his decisions are based out of pride, a quest for the maintenance of his wealth, and fear of loss of power, both personally and formthe nation. But he has made choices that are objectively evil. An unjust war, torture. Deceit.

        He does not think he is evil, obviously. But his choices are so.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Every time this man opens his mouth, I am more and more impressed with him. God bless him abundantly.

  • contrarian

    Hey, I like The Lincoln Lawyer as much as the next guy, and can see why using the death penalty in a corrupt legal system might add insult to injury. But the problem here is the corrupt legal system, not the death penalty per se. The Church has from its inception taught that the death penalty is not only licit, but just.

    To quote pre-VII popes and councils and catechisms to this effect would make this comment insanely long. So if our current pope, like JPII, wants to be against the death penalty, he better make clear that it’s because of corrupt legal systems. Otherwise, he’s suggesting something that is novel. Unfortunately, like JPII’s own pronouncements here, this sounds like he’s against the death penalty per se. Novel, novel, novel.

    Instead of speaking out against the death penalty, why not speak out against corruption? It’d be much less confusing for those Catholics who are familiar with what the church taught (again, and again, and again) before the magical 60’s.

    • John Schaefer

      I am not sure that I like the set up of “corrupt legal system”. In that case, can there ever a just verdict? We’re dealing with humans on juries, bound by their own sin, original or not, passing judgement. Certainly on occasion corruption is involved. But, I don’t believe that makes the legal system inherently corrupt. Just flawed. Sometimes, man doesn’t have all of the facts.

      Here are my questions:

      1. If the legal system is flawed, isn’t F1 correct in his assertion that the death penalty should not be on the table?

      2. Can the church’s view evolve on the matter of the death penalty?

      3. Because it approved of the “death penalty” 100 years ago, does that make it valid today?

      At the end of the day, I think you are speaking of a specific act when discussing the death penalty. “Corruption” is something quite generic, and how would you fight something such as “corruption”?

      • I love that shorthand twitter nickname for the new Pope. Make him sound like a racecar.

      • contrarian

        John, these are good points! Perhaps Pope Francis should instead talk about the perpetual (and certainly never completely solvable) problem of corruption and all the while also talk about the justice of the death penalty.

        • John Schaefer

          I don’t know. I think focusing in on the end result is a good start. Let me ask you this…are we truly better off because Saddam Hussein was executed? Or, for that matter, anyone else?

          It probably is an argument that old skool, Old Testament folks don’t like. You know…an eye for an eye and all. The problem with an eye for an eye is that everyone ends up blind!

    • It is more than just because of corrupt legal systems. In fact, in a way, corrupt legal systems under JPII’s argument would be an argument *for* the death penalty- a corrupt legal system can let a life sentence prisoner out of jail on parole thus re-endangering society.

      I see it as more of a technological argument. We have the physical and mental capacity to create a world where proven violent people are permanently separated from physical access to other people. This serves exactly the same purpose as the Death Penalty without making US into murderers.

      • contrarian

        “This serves exactly the same purpose as the Death Penalty…”

        Certainly, Innocent I, Innocent III, and Pius XII would disagree (if, a la a comment above, this is a game of addition). Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you here, though.

        The *purpose* of the death penalty according to these popes, and the decrees of the Council of Trent, have to do with true justice and the true application of mercy. It is also the most ‘prudent’ course of action, if you are concerned with the immortal soul of the perpetrator.
        Dave G. above writes well on this idea above.

        The arguments of the Catholic Church, that is, are only partially and really secondarily about the safety of the public. Certainly, that’s a concern. But it’s never the main concern, precisely because true justice is ultimately about getting as many souls to heaven as possible.

        • If that is the case, then giving more time for repentance (assuming of course, that you CAN protect society) is the most prudent move; we can see in our own lives that we grow in holiness only by having time in silence. More time for the guilty to repent, means more souls in heaven.

          Innocent I was during the fall of Rome, and even at the height, Rome arguably didn’t have the technology to provide for such mercy.

          Innocent III was during the dark ages, and yet he still suggested that courts could only not sin in the Death Penalty “provided it proceeds in imposing the penalty not from hatred but with judgment, not carelessly but with due solicitude.”

          I’d suggest that in our time, technology has changed due solicitude in favor of the accused.

          The Catechism of the Council of Trent (still speaking at a time before welding and good masonry) states “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 [Thy shall not kill], 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 lives.”

          Punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent, today, can equally be achieved with life in solitary. In fact, in many ways, this is a worse punishment for the type of demonic possession that causes murder to begin with; for it gives the murderer the time in silence he needs to realize the enormity of his crime.

          Even relatively recently, Pope Pius XII stated: “Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life. ”

          I would suggest that depriving the offender of his freedom in a sentence of life in solitary, even better removes from him the good of life- all the good of life, save one: repentence.

          • Dave G.

            When? Where is this happening? In some European countries, crime is on the upswing after years of no DP (Denmark leaps to mind). Other places like Mexico that have no DP aren’t even worth mentioning. In America, there is no link between the existence of or the absence of crime alongside the DP. I mean, crime happens. And again, saying ‘we won’t kill you, but we’ll strip away everything that gives joy to life until your biological functions shut down’ seems somewhere between sustained torture and the DP. A technicality at best. Perhaps a gift in that we made life so pointless, all he would have to look forward to would be death. Otherwise, not seeing it.

      • Imrahil

        Oh how I regret to hear that.

        If we execute the death penalty, we are. not. murderers.

        Which renders moot all fashionable argumentation against it.

        That cutting the hyperbole, most, fashionable arguments against it are moot, does not mean it’s right though.

  • Dave G.

    “a courageous reaffirmation of the conviction that humanity can successfully confront criminality” without resorting to the suppression of life.

    I don’t know how people can look at countries that have abolished the death penalty, like Mexico, and not realize how true that statement is.

    I couldn’t resist. But seriously. A few months ago, a pretty raucous debate about heaven and hell flew through the Catholic internet. Basically, not a few folks dismissed the idea of hell, or at least the idea that anyone will go there. Not just here. I was shocked at how many seemed either to have completely dismissed the idea of hell, or were at least toying with the idea that we all just might be saved in the end – despite previous takes on the subject.

    I wonder if it’s a natural, and logical, progression that the less emphasis put on one’s eternal destiny (it seems to happen when universalism becomes the norm), the more emphasis we put on this life. When I look at other traditions that have rejected the death penalty, I wonder if they have more or less dropped the old fire or brimstone. If it’s pretty much heaven as assumption. Certainly secularists and others who reject an afterlife have nothing but this one to focus on (this doesn’t count using the DP as terror or to rid the world of my enemies, this is assuming the traditional arguments that saw the DP as consistent with goodness).

    Yeah, the Amish are the opposite, and have some pretty strong ideas about hell as a viable option if I understand correctly. But they also completely renounce the world altogether, including its benefits. Other Protestant traditions that embrace a universalist mentality (either officially or perhaps unconsciously) seem to put premiums on the here and now, and are often the ones that reject things like the death penalty or war (after all, nothing to die for if this is all we have or the next is guaranteed).

    Don’t know. Just thinking out loud based on a few observations. I still prefer the Church’s teaching c. 2005 when I came into the Church: default to mercy whenever possible, but not at the expense of the widow’s and orphan’s safety. To completely abolish the DP is to say we’re willing to risk the widow and orphan in order that all criminals be saved (better that a widow or orphan die than a guilty man be executed). A problem I had with opposing the DP outright in my pre-Catholic days. But then if we all end up in heaven, perhaps that’s why it’s a risk worth taking, since we know the end of the story when all is said and done anyway.

    • Elimination of the death penalty requires an adequate replacement. But an adequate replacement *does* exist. A sentence of life in solitary requires no day of execution, fewer appeals, and creates needed time for repentance.

      • Dave G.

        Nope, not seeing it work yet. And even if it did, a life in solitary? That’s humane how?

        • Humane for criminals is not exactly something I’m as concerned with as the permanent protection of society.

          • Dave G.

            But stripping away the humanity of the criminal for life as opposed to actually executing seems the old adhering to the letter, but not the heart. Not to mention it not happening yet, and the Church acting as if all is well, so let’s do away with the DP. I’d rather the Church say all sucks, which is why we must do away with the DP. Saying all is well? The Church might as well say since the State can prevent traffic accidents now, we can do away with speed limits. What the hell does it mean?

    • The Deuce

      Hi, Dave,

      Like I said above, what I think is driving the illegalization of the death penalty isn’t a growing appreciation of the dignity of man, but rather just the opposite: a growing belief that man is a mere animal with no reason, no free will, and no real moral culpability (I know the popes don’t believe that, but I belive it’s the main driving ideology behind the anti-death penalty movement).

      Of course, if one believes that man has no moral culpability, it would make perfect sense that one 1) wouldn’t believe in anybody going to hell for their (nonexistent) sins, and 2) would oppose capital punishment and the punitive aspect of justice in general, seeing murderers as malfunctioning machines that just need to be reconditioned and “rehabilitated” rather than moral agents responsible for their actions and needing punishment.

      I don’t know how people can look at countries that have abolished the
      death penalty, like Mexico, and not realize how true that statement is.

      I know you’re being sarcastic, but the underlying observation is true and inescapable: The excuse that the Catholic Catechism gives that the death penalty is unnecessary because the modern state has the ability to completely and permanently protect us from murderers without it, if it’s true anywhere (and the evidence doesn’t favor that notion), is only *conceivably* true in developed nations like the US. It’s an obvious observable fact that the government of Mexico, and many others, simply does not have that supposed ability, and that the place is turning into a chaotic hellhole for the innocent, as the murderers are running rampant and taking over.

      • Dan C

        “Like I said above, what I think is driving the illegalization of the death penalty isn’t a growing appreciation of the dignity of man, but rather just the opposite: a growing belief that man is a mere animal with no reason, no free will…”

        This is informed by what? Your ignorance your left-wing religious confreres is a bit appalling. The Catholic left has maintained this position for years, and this is a breathtaking dismissal of their thought, belief, and position.

        Argue against it, but at least know it. Because on this matter, the last three popes find more agreement with them than the death penalty-embracing right wing.

        Many secular arguments on this matter actually focus on the dignity of man and human life as a centerpiece of the argument.

        • Dave G.

          That would seem truer if it weren’t for the fact that the trend seems almost universal that societies that abolish the death penalty invariably accept abortion (let’s not forget, America’s first go around at abolishing the death penalty was at the point where Roe v. Wade became possible). Likewise, within Protestant circles at least, the majority who reject the DP (and armed conflict it’s worth noting), usually – usually mind you – allow for abortion rights, and some are even beginning to toy with right to die, assisted suicide. So while I don’t know if I’d say they reject the dignity of man, there seems to be a tendency to redefine it. There certainly is a tendency to dismiss the old warning that we should fear more than just loss of body, but loss of soul.

          • Dan C

            It is only biased antagonism that would perceive anti-DP activities in this nation as part and parcel of the package of Roe Vs. Wade as opposed to the first step away from a culture of death a reputedly Christain nation embraced when the Greatest Generation willfully and eagerly waged total war in the 1940’s, embraced immoral weapons of mass destruction, promoted evil and horrofying wars of choice throughout the world over the next 20 years. The culture of death extends to the comingof age of the Greatest Generation, and Roe was an act of conservative justices. A resolve against the DP could have been used as the crack in the edifice of the culture of death, but, since then, it has been emblematic of the culture war divide in Catholicism (may it rage forever, amen).

            • Dave G.

              No, it’s not. It’s asking things like ‘are you sure the State can prevent crime’, mixed with taking a look at trends. This happened when people who still allow the use of the DP were reminded that’s what Islamic countries and Communist countries do. It didn’t take long to say ‘wait a minute, I notice a trend with countries that do reject the DP.’ As for the Greatest Generation, notice I didn’t say anything about Left or Right, this generation or that. Which is interesting. Just noticed a trend. The term ‘The Greatest Generation’, which you use with no small sense of disdain, I think is a label used by those who came after, and used when compared to the their own generations, which will usually make just about any other generation seem great by comparison.

          • The Deuce

            So while I don’t know if I’d say they reject the dignity of man, there seems to be a tendency to redefine it.

            No doubt they’d claim to accept something they’d label “the dignity of man,” but if you’re in favor of killing the unborn and culling the old and weak, you have rejected the actual dignity of man. Attempting to redefine words doesn’t redefine reality, much as leftists wish otherwise.

        • The Deuce

          This is informed by what? Your ignorance your left-wing religious confreres is a bit appalling. The Catholic left has maintained this position for years, and this is a breathtaking dismissal of their thought, belief, and position.

          You can be appalled all you want, but the plain, observable fact of the matter is that the vast majority of left-wingers who identify as Catholic are 1) pro-legal-abortion, and 2) anti-death-penalty.

          Incidentally, the vast majority of left-wingers who consider themselves secular progressives have the same views on those and most other topics.

          There are some who are opposed to both, and genuinely believe in and espouse human dignity, but they are the minority. That is manifestly not what is primarily motivating the anti-capital punishment movement.

          • Andy

            Actually on the right and left – true pro-life folks are a minority – thinking especially about JPII and his statements about a culture of death.

      • Dave G.

        I don’t know about the idea that they reject the dignity of the human person, though some probably do. I don’t know that I’d make a blanket statement about opposition to the DP. I do know that the most troubling argument is that our states can prevent crime without the DP. I’m not even sure what it means. Even some stats would help.

        • The Deuce

          I do know that the most troubling argument is that our states can prevent crime without the DP.

          The ironic thing is that it almost directly contradicts the other commonly cited reason for illegalizing the death penalty, which is that the state has become a deeply corrupt and malign entity that doesn’t care about the citizens, and which cannot be trusted to possess that sort of power without using it to persecute them. FWIW, I find the latter reason increasingly persuasive and the former almost entirely contrary to the actual evidence, but I think it’s interesting how many DP opponents are happy to cite both, or at least cite other DP opponents citing the opposite reason, when logically proponents of each reason should be horrified by proponents of the other.

    • Thomas R

      As I understand it absolute opposition to DP is based on the belief other options work and that it is never necessary to protect others. Personally I think it’s therefore based in a strong, I’d say unreasonable, faith in the ability of psychiatry or prisons to “fix” or “contain” anyone and everyone.
      If a Pope or other proves to me our psychiatry and prison science really is that great I might be opened to changing my mind. But if that is not proved, and I feel it isn’t yet, than Evangelium Vitae doesn’t require an absolute ban on the death penalty.

  • Rachel

    For those who are saying that abolishing the death penalty is a novel idea, its not entirely. Even back in the Middle Ages, the Church found ways to mitigate it. In fact, this is one of the issues that got St. Thomas Becket and King Henry II into a big fight since St. Thomas Becket wanted the clergy to be tried in the Church courts instead of the state courts. In addition, the death penalty was not applied in every case of violent crime. Instead, there were other methods such as penitential pilgrimage, banishment, etc. Granted, the wisdom of turning out a criminal onto the roads on a penitential pilgrimage was not always the best but the idea was for the criminal to do penance for his crimes. In other instances, in Norse and Anglo-Saxon communities, a wergild was paid (a form of money or something similar) in compensation for a crime committed. The death penalty was used sometimes for violent crime but in many cases it was used in the crimes of treason or heresy. Granted, we could have a whole conversation on the efficacy and the morality of putting to death heretics but what I’m trying to point out is that historically the Church was not enthusiastic about the death penalty. It was seen as an necessary evil and even the executioners saw it in some ways as a mercy. Justice must be served but there are other ways besides the death penalty to do it. Since our legal system is very corrupt, I don’t think its morally feasible to do it. I agree with the Holy Father on this.

    • Thomas R

      I don’t believe in being “enthusiastic about the death penalty”, I’m just more skeptical than the current Popes about how advanced prison-science and psychiatry has come. I believe in the premises of Evangelium Vitae, just not some of the conclusions many Popes personally take from it. I think they want to believe, or do believe, that we can cure or fix all violent personality disorders. And I understand the desire to believe that, not believing it could seem to imply some can’t be saved (at least not permanently), but I just don’t think they’ve really proven that case.
      And as I’ve repeated I will assent to it if I have to, but I like that the faith “makes sense” to me. Being forced to believe things I don’t really think make sense would be hard for me.

      • Rachel

        I agree that the Faith must make sense but there are aspects that are difficult to comprehend. I used to be a big death penalty proponent but the opinions of the last three popes can’t be ignored. I also know from history that the Church has tried to mitigate it to some degree although they also used horrific forms of torture/execution on heretics, etc. I prefer that convicted criminals (mostly murders, child molesters) be given life in prison. There is always the chance that they will convert. We must pursue justice in all matters of course but there is a difference between justice (ie punishing the criminal and making sure that he/she is not going to harm anyone else) versus vengeance (eye for an eye). I don’t think there is an easy solution to the problem but I think we need to pay close attention to what the Holy Father is saying.

  • Stu


    I believe your comparison of those who support Capital Punishment with those who support artificial contraception to be off as the Church does allow for difference of opinion on the former but not the latter.

    “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.”

    -Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles
    Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
    Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
    July 2004
    For the record, I am against the use of Capital Punishment.

    • chezami

      The allowance of difference of opinion pertains to “How do we implement it prudently?” not “Shall we or shall we not blow off the Church’s teaching and ignore it?” which is the urging of death penalty enthusiasts, often with a huge heaping of scorn and contempt for the Magisterium.

      • Stu

        Who are these “death penalty enthusiasts” who show “scorn and contempt for the Magisterium?” Do they post here? Where are they? Honestly, I don’t know these people.

        Regardless, one can differ on opinion on the use of Capital Punishment. That is clear. One cannot differ in opinion on the use of artificial contraception. That also is clear.

        • chezami

          I quote a few here: http://www.mark-shea.com/dpmvlar.html In addition, the Seeking Justice and Catholic Champion blogs have heaped scorn on death penalty minimalists and abolitionists for years. And it’s not hard to find other. Right in this thread we are hearing from people only too ready to call JPII, Benedict and Francis heretics.

          • Stu

            Who here is calling the Popes heretics?

            I’ll admit that in your linked piece that you have found some folks with the extreme point of view that you have put forth but they are rather obscure and dated.

            Again, I think your comparison is “off.” We surely can’t just blow off the consistent thoughts of successive Popes on this, but comparing Capital Punishment to Artificial Contraception just doesn’t hold up.

            • Jared Clark

              The comment I was replying to (where I was a little Inquisition-y :P) did kind of imply it by saying this about certain popes:

              “Seems to me that there’s a lot more developing (a fantastic euphemism) than conserving. :)”

              He accused them of changing Catholic teaching rather than conserving it.

              • Stu

                That’s far from calling them heretics and it appears to be a bit TIC.

      • contrarian

        Could not I argue that JPII and Francis are blowing off the church’s teaching (as iterated by countless pre-VII popes and councils) and ignoring it?

        Also, I second Stu’s comments about those who show scorn and contempt. Certainly, such people exist. But they aren’t found on this comment thread.

        • chezami

          No. Because you are Some Guy With a Keyboard and they are Popes of Holy Church tasked with conserving and developing the Tradition.

          • contrarian

            Seems to me that there’s a lot more developing (a fantastic euphemism) than conserving. 🙂

            At any rate, I’m going to prudently assume that the teachings on this issue as found in the Catechism of the Council of Trent are still in effect, because Benedict XVI said as much concerning the entirety of this catechism.

            (Then again, how could he say otherwise?)

            • Stu

              I don’t believe there is either “developing” nor “conserving.”
              I think it is as it always was.

              Capital Punishment remains an option but it’s use is not really needed given we have other methods at our disposal at least in most of the developed World. However, society can devolve and this could change.

            • If the teachings on this issue as found in the Catechism of the Council of Trent are still in effect, then you MUST support life in solitary over the Death Penalty as better for the soul of the prisoner.

              Note what I’m not saying. I’m not saying let them go free. I’m NOT saying give them 20 years and then parole (the sentence laughingly referred to as life in many of these United States). I’m saying strip them naked, weld them into a box, give them a Bible, food, and a father confessor for the rest of their lives, with NO other human contact.
              Catechism of the Council of Trent

              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 [Thy shall not kill], 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 lives.

              In the Psalms we find a vindication of this right: “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord” (Ps. 101:8).

              (Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566, Part III, 5, n. 4)

              • contrarian

                HI Theodore,
                “I’m saying strip them naked, weld them into a box, give
                them a Bible, food, and a father confessor for the rest of their lives, with NO other human contact.”

                Why didn’t the authors of this catechism of Trent think of this? Certainly, these means were available back then.

                I disagree, moreover, that this option is indeed more merciful and better for the perpetrator’s immortal soul, let alone that this is true justice, than an execution.

                • “Certainly, these means were available back then.”

                  NO, in fact they were NOT. The Bessemer process for making steel wasn’t invented until 1855, and even then, steel had to be fitted together with screws or rivets, both of which introduced weaknesses into the system that could be exploited by a smart prisoner. That’s if the community was even lucky enough to have steel; most had blacksmith iron instead, hand worked at lower temperatures and much less secure. Welding wasn’t invented until 1919. One could, in the manner of the anchorites, wall somebody up in masonry, but there’s a secondary reason masonry was used for anchorages, because it was easy for people on the outside to break into.

                  You could free such a prisoner with a cutting torch, but it would take hours, and for a sufficiently small cell the heat would probably kill him.

                  Your last paragraph intrigues me. In what way is a life of contemplation not better for the perpetrator’s immortal soul AND better justice for the family of the murdered? Forgiveness, after all, is a great comfort to the victim’s family, but it can take decades to arrive at that point, do they not deserve *every* possible chance to arrive at that point?

                  • contrarian

                    Hi Theodore,

                    So you’re saying that the authors of the catechism of the council of trent did not advocate life-long isolation with a priest-confessor, as opposed to an execution, because of *technological* impediments of the former option, and because of these impediments, the option simply didn’t *occur* to them (much as the notion of a mouse didn’t occur to us until Steve Jobs introduced it)? They couldn’t suggest this option because *welding* hadn’t been invented?

                    I guess we’ll have to disagree here.

                    As to the second part, I reminded of the old saying (I can’t remember who said it), “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Such a sentiment certainly seems to align with the sentiments of the writings of the pre-VII popes and council authors.

                    Anyway, I’ll give you the last word.


              • Pavel Chichikov

                Life in solitary with no human contact is an inhuman form of slow torture, destructive to the human personality and degrading to the guards and society at large.

                Driving people mad is a form of execution that takes time.

                • Stu

                  I agree. I’m for “life” meaning just that but at that point we do have a responsibility for the general welfare of the person in custody.

                  While I side with the Pope on this, I also don’t feel as though the argument that life in prison provides a greater opportunity for repentance to necessarily be convincing. Knowing you are going to die with such certainly can also motivate one to get their life in order. I certainly have seen that first hand with people who have a terminal illness.

                  • Pavel Chichikov

                    Sometimes I think I’ll never truly be alive until I know that death is at hand.

                    There was recently some rock musician – I don’t know much about the form – who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given six months.

                    He said that at the moment he was asymptomatic, and felt great – never better. It sounded as if a life long depression had lifted.

                  • Dan C

                    “While I side with the Pope on this, I also don’t feel as though the argument that life in prison provides a greater opportunity for repentance to necessarily be convincing. ”

                    Why is this for us to decide? It is but one argument among many, but the basic “dignity of man and sacredness of human life” arguments are the prevailing arguments, while others reach for some utilitarian apologetics to convince others, while others reach for libertarian arguments.

                    I, personally, worry for the executioners too.

                    • Stu

                      It is “one argument” that is routinely used that I chose to address.

                      The Church recognize that use of CP is legitimate. Therefore, I would say it’s use for guilty party is not an affront on the dignity of man nor does it violate the sacredness of life.

                    • Dan C

                      Slavery, an offense against the dignity of humans, was also once embraced by the Church. I would suggest you would struggle hard to find a respectable opinion and theology in the Church today that would suggest that slavery does not violate the sanctity of life by making it a commodity.

                    • Stu



                      My point stands, unless you are claiming some manner of revelation.

                • Thus the need for a father confessor visiting regularly.

                  • Pavel Chichikov

                    Might as well make it the Grand Inquisitor.

                    • The Inquisition brought law and order to what was formerly a vigilante system. With a record of over 90% rehabilitation, it was a major success as well. We’d be doing great if we had a justice system that was even close.

                    • Pavel Chichikov

                      It’s not coming back.

                    • Maybe not here, but in Africa where it is still common for mobs to stone witches, it is sorely needed.

                      I’d be satisfied with actually having intelligible rules of evidence and better record keeping.

                  • Pavel Chichikov

                    Aside from the inhumanity of the punishment, it may not come as a surprise that not everyone is a Catholic, and that even for Catholics, Confession must be voluntary and never under duress.

                    • Interesting. Duress used to be waterboarding. Now it is time alone to think?

                    • Stu

                      There is “time alone to think” and then there is deprivation to the point of losing your mind.

                    • Hasn’t the man who has committed murder already lost his mind? The idea is to give him time to find it again.

                    • Stu

                      Total deprivation isn’t going to do that.

                    • So the vow of silence is useless in listening to God?

                    • Stu

                      That’s not total deprivation and that is not involuntary.

                    • It’s involuntary when applied to a misbehaving priest by a Bishop- and if included in with a cloister, is often as near to total deprivation as possible. I’ve known a few priests who have received that punishment for sex scandals.

                    • Stu

                      I don’t think we are operating from the same definition of total deprivation.

                      What you have called for above is not aimed at repairing a soul:

                      “I’m saying strip them naked, weld them into a box, give them a Bible, food, and a father confessor for the rest of their lives, with NO other human contact.”

                      it’s punitive and damaging to the mind. Even a vow of silence in a cloister allows for routine human contact and freedom.

                    • chezami

                      Ted: Stu’s right. Listen to him.

                    • Fr. Denis Lemieux

                      No, sorry. Religious vows cannot be ‘imposed’ as a punishment. Nor is life in a monastery anything remotely like being welded in a steel box. I don’t know what situations you are thinking of regarding various priests but… no.
                      (Incidentally, I truly wish Catholics would stop thinking of monasteries as some sort of parallel penal system run by the Church. The monastic vocation is a joyful, beautiful one – not Attica in a cowl.)

                    • The main purpose of a penal system is to separate the criminal from his victims. Seems to me a cloister is awfully good at that, isn’t it?

                    • Pavel Chichikov

                      Solitary for life is “time alone to think”?

                    • Solitary is time alone to think.

                      Solitary for life is even more so.

                    • The Deuce

                      It escapes me how making the conclusion to “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” into a real-life punishment is supposed to be humane. I’ll take disembowelment if it’s a choice between that and the rest of my life as existential horror, thank you very much.

                    • Nobody keeps people in solitary from screaming.

                    • chezami

                      Ted: Every word you say just makes you sound more and more inhuman. Stop.

                    • I think that my post in Leah’s blog on empathy may explain that one. I’m not human- at least not by your standards or the standards of other people who have Empathy Quotients above 10.

                      Autism, it’s not a processing error- it’s an entirely different operating system.

                    • Stu

                      Father Rutler had a good piece recently that put for the
                      rationale for use of Capital Punishment as a means to bring the guilty on the right path. One interesting thing I took away was how executions were approached in times gone past. Now I am not claiming that everything was idyllic but he outlined how criminals headed to their death were escorted by religious praying for them and their salvation. It really was an entirely different outlook because society was much
                      more “Catholic.”

                      That outlook has certainly been lost.

                    • Pavel Chichikov

                      Most people think of CP as a form of vengeance and retribution, a settling of scores. Isn’t that so?

                      Nor are we a convocation of infallible angels handing down verdicts. Mistakes and malice in this case are irretrievable.

                      In times of serious civil disorder or other emergencies it may be necessary because there are no other means of defending society. Otherwise, what are we really doing?

                    • Stu

                      I agree. Though I am not convinced that every part of the World is capable of handling it’s criminal population like we are and thus still may justify the use of CP.

                    • Imrahil

                      One of the senses of any punishment, whether it be death or no, is vengeance. Which is a virtue (cf. St. Thomas, Summa theol. II/II 108).

                      And even if there would be no good in the scores being settled, then still, people have given up their private revenge among other things because they trusted that the state would see to it that they won’t get away.

                      This is no argument for the death penalty; only in that “settling of scores”, and necessarily is, part of any penalty.

                    • Pavel Chichikov

                      Then you’re stuck with the emotions called up by vengeance. They are toxic. Poison. Maybe even blasphemous.

                      St. Thomas is a great theologian, no doubt, but he did not die for us on Golgotha.

                    • The Deuce

                      No, Imrahil is right. It’s been the teaching of the church from time immemorial that part of the purpose of criminal punishment is retribution, not just defense of society.

                      In fact, were it not so – were retribution an evil against the criminal that we undertake anyway for the utilitarian defense of society – then *all* criminal punishment would be “doing evil that good may come of it.”

                      And it’s not about being driven by emotions. Quite the opposite. Precisely the reason that retribution is rightly left to the government, through due process, is so that the retribution will be handed out in an impartial manner and justice won’t be distorted by personal vendettas.

                    • Pavel Chichikov

                      We’re all evil to one extent or another. Or did Christ die on Golgotha for only some of us?

                      None are impartial. All are capable of personal vendettas.

                    • The Deuce

                      Yes, we’re all capable of personal vendettas. Again, that’s why justice is administered via the state’s justice system – so that the retribution is hopefully administered by a 3rd party using a fair process instead of the person who holds the personal vendetta against the accused. It’s still not perfect since we are all fallen, but it is a legitimate function of the state.

                      Again, if you are trying to say that the punitive aspect of justice is immoral, but that criminals should be imprisoned anyhow as a practical measure to defend society (which inflicts punishment on them whether that’s why we did it or not), then you are making a “Let us do evil that good may come of it” consequentialist argument.

                      Furthermore, the Scriptures are quite explicit that retribution is a legitimate function of the state, ordained by God Himself:

                      “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” – Apostle Paul writing inerrantly, Romans 13:4

                    • Pavel Chichikov

                      I wish you would not assume what my thoughts might be on the subject, so that you can refute an argument I have not made.

                      One notes that St. Paul would not have been executed for respecting the authority of the State. Did he consider himself a wrongdoer?

                      There are States and there are States. In any case, what I felt should be rejected is the idea of perpetual solitary confinement. I consider that barbaric, and degrading not only to the prisoner but to everyone else.

                      It reminds me of the Soviet “isolater.”

                      Soviet joke:

                      A guy comes back to his cell and his cellmate asks:

                      What did they give you?

                      !5 years.

                      What for?

                      For nothing.

                      I don’t believe you. For nothing they give ten.

                    • The Deuce

                      I wish you would not assume what my thoughts might be on the subject

                      I was just going by what you wrote, which was that vengeance carried out by the state is “toxic. Poison. Maybe even blasphemous,” and a dismissal of Aquinas on the matter.

                      One notes that St. Paul would not have been executed for respecting the
                      authority of the State. Did he consider himself a wrongdoer?

                      Yes, clearly Paul’s statement is not meant as an absolute claim that every powerful entity calling itself a “government” is always good and never punishes unjustly without exception, and that no good person ever has anything to fear from such an entity. But it’s impossible to read it without the implication that there are human-run states that are legitimately ordained to dispense retribution.

                      In any case, what I felt should be rejected is the idea of perpetual solitary confinement. I consider that barbaric, and degrading not only to the prisoner but to everyone else.

                      I agree. I assumed you were referencing the death penalty (it’s difficult to follow multiple concurrent threads with different topics) rather than Theo’s horror novel idea, but either way it seemed that you were denouncing the very concept of state vengeance as such, which is what I am responding to.

                    • Pavel Chichikov

                      Vengeance installed in the human soul is toxic, perhaps an everlasting fire. States are not persons.

                      I wonder if anyone one here is interested in finding employment as a guard in a prison which imprisons people for life in solitary confinement.

                      BTW, I once visited death row in Virginia. As I recall, prisoners were allowed out of their cells for an hour a day. They mingled with one another, gave one another haircuts, and were also allowed visits, the ministrations of a priest or minister if they wished, and physicians’ and I presume lawyers’ consultations – so perhaps it was more than an hour a day.

                      I’m quite sure that if they had been confined permanently to solitary confinement with only a Bible for company the courts would have put a stop to that.

              • Imrahil

                I’m saying strip them naked, weld them into a box

                That would be a clear violation of human dignity, and hence intrinsically evil.

                There may be cases where the state can take a life. There certainly are never ever any cases where the state can disregard human dignity, however big the crime.

            • Jared Clark

              Killing is not intrinsically evil, so it falls under the principle of double effect. The intent and circumstances are both important with acts such as this.

              This means a pope today can have a different opinion on the matter than a previous pope WHILE conserving the faith. I’d appreciate it if you recanted your implications with the euphemism comment.

              • Pavel Chichikov

                Recanted? You’re the Inquisition?

                • Stu


                  • Pavel Chichikov

                    Grandiosity is a hazard of the blog, ain’t it? It’s a temptation I sometimes find myself retreating from.

                    • Stu

                      I’ll assume no grandiosity on his part but it does make me laugh. As does your light-hearted reply.

                • Jared Clark

                  I stand by my word choice 😉

                  • Stu

                    Your new callsign.


          • EzBs

            Mark, I can’t believe how many Catholics have come out of the woodwork, who think they can trump The Holy Fathers message, with their superior knowledge of what he should and should not be saying, doing and approving.

            I’m gobsmacked at the lack of obedience and understanding of Pope Francis message. It’s unprecedented.

            It is one thing to disagree and respectfully discuss, even ask for clarification, but it is another thing to dismiss, criticize and insult our Pope.

            My patience is running thin with the faceless people behind keyboards who, as you say perfectly, are NOT Popes of the Holy Church tasked with conserving and developing the Tradition, but seem to think they are.

        • chezami

          You don’t think that calling the teaching of the Holy Father in Evangelium Vitae “contrary to the teaching of the Church” is showing scorn and contempt? Interesting. I always thought calling the Pope a heretic was considered scornful.

          • Thomas R

            Evangelium Vitae states

            “It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

            This doesn’t seem to require an absolute prohibition. I think what the last three Popes believe is that improvements in the penal system make it unnecessary, but I don’t know that it is requiring the believer have the same faith in penal science or psychiatry. (And sadly I think certain events showed the Popes had too much faith in the ability of modern psychiatry or restraints to rehabilitate)
            As I’ve stated I am willing to force myself to believe things I think don’t make sense, if the Popes really demand it, but this would be a very sad day for me as a Catholic. And I would be unable to defend something if I only believe it because “The Pope says so, so I must believe it.”

        • Not without, as I showed above, failing to actually examine pre-VII Papal opinions on the topic.

  • ivan_the_mad

    Three popes call for the same thing? It seems pretty clear how I ought to conform my mind. BXVI’s hermeneutic of continuity really aids in the understanding of the development of the teaching.

  • The Deuce

    Can anybody think of a country where the death penalty is illegal, and abortion is too? I don’t believe there are any. The places where the death penalty has been abolished, imo, it was done out of the underlying premise that man is a mere beast or a machine with no free will and no moral culpability for his actions, not out of a respect for human dignity.

    • The Deuce

      …and btw, giving examples of actual countries where both are illegal would be a lot more effective than downvoting the comment.

      • chezami

        I don’t get why this is a valid argument. You could just as easily say that, because lots of historically Christian nations now embrace abortion, therefore Christianity causes abortion.

        • The Deuce

          Hi, Mark, it’s not a tightly valid argument. TBH, I was sort of alluding to the “do you want to be in the same boat as those guys” map you showed a few months ago. I don’t want to be associated with the philosophies driving the leaders of China or Saudi Arabia, but I likewise want nothing to do with the aims of secular progressivism.

          For my part, I think the death penalty should be a last resort, but I simply can’t see any rationale for taking it completely and permanently off the table as a possibility altogether that can stand up to scrutiny. The rationales I see given all contradict each other, and I simply see no way to square the circle between most of them and 2000 years of teaching on the matter.

    • kirthigdon

      In most Latin American countries, the most Catholic region of the world, both abortion and the death penalty are illegal. Unhappily there is a drive on to legalize abortion in many of these countries, but so far it has not been very successful. Obviously an argument can be made that there are a lot of illegal abortions in these countries and often illegal impositions of the death penalty by death squads, but the question concerned legality, not extra-legal practice.
      Kirt Higdon

    • I was about to say Mexico, but you’re right. Abortion is only *partially* illegal there.

      • The Deuce

        And it’s interesting that abortion was legalized, and the death penalty illegalized, only two years apart in Mexico City.

    • Mariana Baca

      Chile, Malta, both have illegal in all cases (Except life of mother) for abortions, and illegal death penalty. In most of latin america, abortion is illegal except for edge cases (life of mother, rape) and the death penalty is illegal or not applied. There are some carribean countries that still have the death penalty — those that were not under hispanic colonial rule and not traditionally catholic. Ireland also has illegal abortion except in life of the mother (Even though defacto women travel to the UK) and has no death penalty. I would guess Luxembourg also fits in this category.

      So you know. Traditionally Catholic countries that have not completely secularized mainstream Europe. I think your premise is faulty.

      • The Deuce

        Thanks for the info. It looks like Chile fits the bill for sure. The others appear to do a fair amount of fudging on abortion to varying degrees. I don’t think Luxembourg counts in either direction. It has legal abortion to 12 weeks, and the death penalty seems to be more of a moot point than anything, just because the number of murders in the country is extremely low.

      • Geoff_Fides

        For the record, abortion is illegal in Chile. In all cases. With no exceptions.

        Medical operations that result in the death of the growing child may be performed under the principle of double effect but an abortion may never be performed (salpingectomy is a legal treatment for ectopic pregnancy while methotrexate is not).

  • John Gold

    The Papal States had the death penalty and the DP was affirmed in the 50s by Pius XII. Kind of hard to argue that the recent pope’s opinion are just that, opinions.

  • John Gold

    I meant that the recent popes’ opinions are only opinions, being contrary to the teaching of the Church.

    • chezami

      The Cafeteria on the right is wide open! Funniest part: people who talk this way are the ones most eager to declare others CINOs and kick them out of the Church for their impurity.

    • Andy

      I know if an opinion was uttered since the 1950s it is invalid. I realize that the idea that things change because we develop new understandings or technologies is hard to grasp, but it happens. And to suggest that the recent popes are merely talking without exercising their teaching authority is going to the cafeteria – must make you a CINO, like most of us or more erudite than the “newer” popes.

      • Thomas R

        Fine, but this is different than people who reject teachings that were pretty much always church teaching. (Rules on contraception, abortion, homosexuality or a belief in “baptism of desire”, opposition to laissez-faire capitalism, opposition to racism, etc) The Papal states had an official executioner, they didn’t have an official abortionist or junk-bond king. The Catechism does not say capital punishment must always be illegal.

        Yes I will assent to a universal abolition if I absolutely have to. I just am loathe to do something that is basically a break with Church tradition and the Bible because “we’re so much smarter now and the Pope says so.” I’m not SSPX or anything, but I like to think Papal positions are a “development”, not a break, of doctrine.

        • Andy

          Because the Papal States at one time had an executioner means that the current Popes are tied to it. They at that time declared charging interest was an anathema. So your argument that having had an executioner means that understandings can’t change in this area, but that other areas are mutable?
          To be honest that doesn’t make sense – I guess then following your logic the pope needs to appoint an official executioner? I truly m baffled by this argument/logic. I. need to know more about it. Otherwise it seems an interesting variation prudential judgment.

          • Thomas R

            My understanding would be that the traditions and history of the faith matter. The Pope isn’t a God or a scientist. So, no his opinions can’t overrule things well established and defined even if you think those things are “old” or “passé.” My understanding of “development of doctrine” is that it’s a development. So “that’s old, so who cares” is not a valid reasoning.

            This doesn’t mean Vatican City needs an executioner. In fact it probably could not have one as the Church is not to “carry the sword.” The Papal States had an element of state as well as Church. Also the Vatican is unlikely to have a criminal who merits the death penalty.
            But I will assent if I absolutely have no choice, just not before then. If your point is “You have no choice now, the Popes have up-ended something consistent before, as they did with usury, and they’re doing so now” then I guess I hope that’s not true. If it is true then I guess I grudgingly assent. I believe in the truth of the faith, and it’s important to me, so I guess I can assent to one little thing that doesn’t make sense to me. If I have no choice.

    • Gary

      Not contrary to the teaching of the Church. We are no longer in a society in which public executions take place, thus scaring others from committing the same crime. Instead private executions take place which are in no manner redemptive of the condemned and neither do they dissuade others from following suit.

      The death penalty today thus utterly fails to prevent the instance of first-time offenders, though it may rather effectively prevent repeat offenses. Even then, there is the significant problem of condemning the innocent, which happens rather frequently in the United States. Plus, blacks and males receive harsher punishments than whites and females for the same crime. It is unjust as practiced.

      We are not a society in which the wisest among us go to court and function as the jury. The elders of the city did this in the Old Testament. Today, it’s random people off the street, as logically and morally incompetent as they can be, who decide who lives and dies. The Church has NEVER taught that this is legitimate.

      Romans 13 may say the authorities have the Sword, but there is no indication that the misuse of thereof is permissible.

  • Harry

    I can understand why certain Catholics are in favor of the death penalty, but I don’t understand the rationale behind quoting authorities like the Council of Trent or other important figures from the Middle-Ages or earlier. Not to go on about it, but once upon a time Catholics thought the right reaction to an Anabaptist, say, was to publicly execute them in a gruesome manner. Even a man as saintly as Thomas More had absolutely no issue with the burning to death of heretics. The teaching of the Church has undergone quite a dramatic development in this area, and the same can be said for the Church’s position on the death penalty. You can’t point back to earlier times and pretend like the beliefs of that era are without blemish.

    • Thomas R

      The problem is, going by a source above, the death penalty was supported in some cases even by Pope Pius XII and in the New Testament it is somewhat supported.

      I totally accept that as good-hearted people Popes personally don’t want to believe the death penalty is ever necessary. However I don’t accept that their personal opinions are right and I trust that I don’t have to either. If the Popes make it an infallible position sure I will have to accept it, but this will be an unhappy event because I will have to make myself believe something I feel is unjustified by reason, the Councils, or the Bible. (So far that hasn’t occurred)

  • Quidite

    There are two valid reasons to support the death penalty:

    1) retributive justice
    2) self-defense

    Now, it is true that in the pursuit of retributive justice, one may not use illicit means (such as tortue). Further, it may be the case that the death penalty is an illicit means (and we’ve just come to recognize this). Therefore, using the death penalty for retributive justice would be immoral (if it is an illicit means).

    However, that still leaves the death penalty as a means of self-defense. And because the right of self-defense is part of the natural law, it cannot be abrogated.

    Now, it seems to me that the last three popes have said that improvements in incarceration techniques have made it possible to neutralize any threat from someone who has received a death sentence, therefore the right of self-defense is not at stake.

    This is a prudential judgment. It also seems highly debatable to me.

    It is not uncommon for death row inmates to kill either other prisoners or guards while in prison. Prisoners and guards have a right to be defended against aggression.

    It may be possible to contain prisoners so that they never kill again. But so far no one has designed that prison. Further, the most likely way to stop murderers from murdering again may involve total isolation of a murder from all other prisoners — i.e. solitary confinement. But solitary confinement itself may be an illicit means of pursuing justice.

    While I think we should give high respect to the three previous popes’ pronouncements on the death penalty, I think we should also note their argument is not fully convincing. And we should especially avoid condemning Catholics who hold to the death penalty because Catholic teaching has until the last 40 years been on their side. It seems there needs to be a lot more debate and exploration of these issues.

  • Lynda

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0461.html Overview of Catholic Church’s teaching on Capital Penalty by Avery Cardinal Dulles.

  • Will

    Standing before God at the final judgement: sure I supported the death penalty, but that other guy was doing real intrinsic evil.

  • What sticks in my craw on the case against the death penalty is the following “Today, however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” I do not believe that this is actually true. The 2012 assassination plot against Justin Bieber launched from prison by a convicted murderer demonstrates the danger that murderers continue to pose even when serving time.

    Without a proper examination and proof of the truth of this statement, something I haven’t yet seen, I remain in disagreement that, at this point in time, now things are different and thus we should adopt a new stance (or at this point relatively new stance). But maybe I just missed it. Does anybody know of the number of times that escaped murderers have killed, or have murdered while serving sentence, or have murdered after release? How rare are these evils?

  • Aquila

    I live in a jurisdiction without the death penalty, and in the case of a theoretical referendum on its reintroduction, I would not vote for it. That said, I am in complete agreement that its abolition, which usually sees murder punished with life rather than with death, often very rapidly sees the practical penalty for murder and other capital crimes reduced beyond all reasonable levels. That nationalist terrorist in Norway, Anders Brevik, is serving a 20 year sentence for I don’t know how many murders. It’s the maximum sentence. The government has promised to detain him indefinitely after his sentence ends under some law that allows dangerous people to be detained without them having actually committed a crime. That doesn’t really seem right to me – a convict should get a proper sentence, imposed by a court, and (if appropriate) be free at the end of it. Norway seems to have a situation that reflects a deep moral confusion about the purpose of criminal punishment.

    Before anyone says, “But those Scandinavians have always been a bit relaxed about these things,” this is fairly common in Europe – certainly in Spain and I think Holland, others may be able to fill in the gaps. My own country (Australia) does have a sentence to be served “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure”, which means life unless there is a Royal Pardon, but it is extremely rarely imposed. In my opinion, and I am no legal scholar, a good compromise would be to have a mandatory death penalty for first degree murder, with it always being commuted to a proper life sentence. This would retain the moral weight of capital punishment, but make allowance for miscarriages of justice. Some Pacific states follow this practice.