Abolish the Death Penalty

Abolish the Death Penalty April 30, 2014

Listen to the bishops and the past three popes. It’s time the US stopped competing with China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and similar savage despotism for Most Backward Nation status on this question.

And before you begin with the standard dissents from the clear and obvious and common sense teaching of the Church, be aware they’ve all been answered before.

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  • Fred of Rick

    I have been against the death penalty for many years and has always been a trial because so many of the arguments against it refuse to deal with the requirement of justice. We need arguments that also uphold the dignity of the victims and hold the guilty accountable. Mercy is a gift we should give, not a requirement they are due because the guilty need to repent and atone for the spilling of blood.

    • Dave G.

      Thank you. I don’t object to abolishing the death penalty.I object to bad reasons for doing so, such as the call to help the Catholic Church stop being like China and N. Korea after all these years, and instead follow the example of pro-life bastions like Denmark. Easily refuted or promoted, depending on how much you dislike the Church. Not to mention the oft ignored (or sometimes dismissed) questions of victims now and in the future. There are reasons for abolishing the death penalty, just like there are classical reasons for keeping it. The trick is to step aside from talk radio level advocacy one way or another, and deal with the real issues.

  • AquinasMan

    I’m horrified at what took place in Oklahoma. As a (former) supporter of the death penalty, and a closet-supporter (shamefully, when my glorious, infallible charism of judgment kicks in), I just can’t see any legitimate application in a civil society where killers can be effectively neutralized in the prison system.

    I never thought I would be this far removed from the thing we used to call Conservatism. I belong to no one but Christ.

  • CJ

    Yeah, I don’t think this horrific incident is going to change anybody’s mind. If I still supported the death penalty, I would’ve simply said that this was a great reason to return to firing squads. Slate had an article a month or two ago showing that firing squads were probably more humane than any of the other methods. The article was somewhat facetious, but the idea is gaining traction in some state legislatures.


    • AquinasMan

      I completely agree — we could go back to the guillotine for the “swift and painless” argument. Supporters will simply redefine “cruelty” instead of taking stock of what their motives are for justifying capital punishment.

    • kenofken

      We don’t have the guts as a people to do firing squads or beheadings. Lethal injection wasn’t an attempt to spare the condemned suffering. It was designed to protect the weak stomachs and cowardice of the executioners and the society they serve.

  • Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: “There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty…” (Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principals, 3.) http://goo.gl/5SO7IQ

    • AquinasMan

      Correct. Because the unfolding of history is unpredictable, anyone could come up with a theoretical circumstance in which a nation loses control of its penal system and can no longer protect the public from mad-men. Anything is possible — even the Church administered capital punishment in the papal states. So there will never be an absolute “no”, because the action still retains an aspect of “justice”. But it’s not “just” to kill another human being where other remedies are present. It may be subjectively “just” in certain circumstances that existed in the past (and maybe in the future), but the current conditions in our society are such that there is no convincing aspect of “justice” when taking another person’s life.

      • You may be right, but recognize that the faithful Catholic is not obliged to agree with your position, per Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

        Support for prudential use of the death penalty is not “dissent from the clear and obvious and common sense teaching of the Church.”

        • AquinasMan

          The key word is “prudential”. Even though that may seem like a very large loophole, the Church has exercised her own prudence in indicating that there is scant justification for the death penalty in modern society. If the Church isn’t asking us to conform our consciences to those statements, why does she repeat it? Because the death penalty does not constitute an “intrinsic evil” (because there are *possibly* just applications) doesn’t mean we can ignore the Magisterium. We just canonized one of those men who appealed to the faithful on this issue. We would be wise to first believe, then ask for understanding, if we disagree with the Church. CCC 2267 isn’t a throwaway paragraph.

          • Even CCC 2267 does not oblige the faithful to concede that there are no cases in which the death penalty is permissible:

            “Today… the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non existent.'” http://goo.gl/2xAVGg

            The bottom line is this: Determining when application of the death penalty is acceptable is a matter of prudential judgment upon which Catholics can legitimately disagree, according Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI; and he’s right.

        • chezami

          Yes. It most certainly is.

          • Care to cite the Church teaching that support for prudential use of the death penalty constitutes dissent from?

            • chezami

              Don’t need church teaching. Just need a dictionary. To “dissent” mean to disagree with and reject. You seen to have the idea that it’s only dissent when the thing you disagree with and reject is dogma. But if you dissent from the Church’s clear, obvious and common sense prudential guidance, you still dissent, even if it’s not dogma.

        • Jared Clark

          His Holiness was saying that it is not a matter of absolute truth. The Principle of Double Effect demands a better reason than “I wanna” for executions!

          • Who was arguing that “I wanna” is legitimate justification for application of the death penalty?

  • Matthew

    Years ago, Avery Cardinal Dulles observed that there was an inverse correlation between religious observance and support for the death penalty. It was only as Europe became increasingly secular that it gave up the death of penalty. I am not sure if that is causative or merely correlative. In Dulles’ view there seemed to be a connectiion between a denial of eternal life which leads to a rejection of the death penalty.

    • Athelstane

      Yes, I’ve always been struck by Dulles’ observation.

      I still think that the death penalty must be revisited in America, and that a commitment to the cause of life forces us to examine our support for it. But it’s worth noting that most of the support for its abolition has come from secularists over the last few centuries. Something to chew on.

    • chezami

      Because JPII, Benedict, and Francis obvious deny eternal life.

      • Dave G.

        Come on Mark. Try engaging with what he said. You’re the one who keeps using the argument “if you think this way, then you’re like them.”. I don’t think Matthew was doing that.

    • Jared Clark

      My personal experience would lead me to think that it is a correlation. I know too many people of faith who oppose executions.

    • there was an inverse correlation between religious observance and support for the death penalty

      I suspect that’s because religious people still believe in justice, not just therapy.

  • Andy

    I have never supported the death penalty – however, if I did this would make me change my mind


    If one person is innocent and put to death – we no longer have justice.

    • That’s why my father, conservative and Republican that he was, was opposed to the death penalty. As a criminal defense attorney he knew of actual people executed for crimes they did not commit.

      • Andy

        how frightening – am not sure how those who support the death penalty sleep at night or call themselves christians.

        • Dr. Eric

          I sleep just fine. And I’ll remind you that Vatican City had the death penalty until 1969. So, are you calling in to question St. John XXIII’s Christianity?

          • Andy

            AT the time of St. John XXIII the churches teaching about the death penalty was “supportive”, however, that has changed and become less supportive. By the way I am not questioning his Christianity – I am questioning those who know that innocent people might be put to death – state sponsored murder – claim to be christian – the whole “Thou shalt not kill” thing. Understandings and knowledge allows us to grow and change – a fact seemingly lost or ignored.

            • wineinthewater

              I don’t think that’s the right way to express it. The Church’s teaching on the death penalty has been fairly consistent. What has changed is the world. The circumstances that have always justified the state’s legitimate resort to capital punishment have become more and more rare.

              I think what we are seeing is that recent pontiffs are correctly pointing out the true nature and purpose of capital punishment, especially in light of current circumstances.

              • Andy

                I agree – that is what I was trying to get at – that given whet we now know that we should not have to resort to the death penalty.

        • Dave G.

          I’m sure they manage.

      • kenofken

        The application of the death penalty is this country is so sloppy that is is almost random. Someone with wealth will get more due process on a fence height variation case than most death penalty suspects get in the court system.

    • CJ

      That (possibility of executing an innocent person) is the one and only thing that changed my mind.

  • catholicchristian

    These blanket – and false – assertions of “dissent from the clear and obvious and common sense teaching of the Church” make me understand that what is happening here is The Thing That Used To Be Apologetics.

    I really miss it.

    • CW Betts

      Not false. Perhaps you should actually read the Catechism–all of it, and not just the parts you like…

      • catholicchristian

        As noted in other comments, Benedict XVI has taught that opposition to the death penalty is not an absolute thing. While I am opposed to the death penalty in most circumstances, there are circumstances (ones not normally found in current society) where it might be justified. Mr. Shea’s blanket, unqualified condemnation of the death penalty does not match up with Catholic teaching, and undermines his status as a Catholic apologist.

        • Jared Clark

          Instead of accusations, why not ask him?

          Hey Mark, are you against the death penalty as an absolute rule? Or are you against the death penalty because improvements in prison security means we can keep society safe and satisfy justice without executions in the vast majority of cases?

          • chezami
            • Jared Clark

              “Death penalty minimalist” is the best description I’ve heard!

              Hey, catholicchristian. If you read this, I hope you consider improving online dialog. The internet is naturally dehumanizing, so we have to make the effort to remind ourselves that we’re speaking with other humans, often our brothers and sisters in Christ, and that we should refrain from jumping to conclusions and such.

      • Dave G.


  • Jared Clark

    Justice is best served by giving a criminal his due. Human dignity is best recognized by using the most merciful method of giving a prisoner his due. If we can safely imprison them, then the most dignified weapon for execution is time. Therefore, we should not execute a prisoner so long as he or she may be safely imprisoned.

    This has the additional benefits of offering time to repent, time to save innocent prisoners, and removing the temptation of revenge.

    This should not be controversial.

    • sez

      Amen! But it would go down easier if our prison system wasn’t rife with its own evil.

      • Jared Clark

        Definitely! I doubt we’ll ever reach a point where prisons are perfect, but that’s no reason to stop improving them

  • obpoet

    Clearly Jesus was misguided when he pardoned the adulteress from being stoned. No one seemed to dispute her guilt of a capital crime, only that no one present was innocent. Who does the Son of God think He is dispensing mercy? Jesus Christ or something?

  • everyman

    Mercy and compassion is better spent elsewhere. Mark likes to throw a stone in the pond to see how many frogs will jump out. When we get other, more important issues addressed and resolved, such as abortion, pornography, hedonism, lefty politics and all such evils that also claim the souls of the victims, then these matters will follow and we’ll see more clearly how justice needs to be applied.

  • Gary Keith Chesterton

    Since the Gregg decision, about 4400 people have been sentenced to death in the US. Of those, about 1380 have been executed.
    Of the 4400, about 145 have been exonerated due to DNA or other reasons. That’s about 3.5% of the total number of condemned since Gregg. Isn’t that enough? How many is enough? 4 per cent? 5? If 145 can be proven to be innocent, how many more are, but just can’t prove it?
    There was an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published just a couple days ago, that uses statistical analysis to conclude that about 370 people have been put to death unjustly in the country since Gregg. Isn’t that enough? How about 400? 500? How many?
    I don’t doubt that some people deserve death for their crimes. But I do doubt our ability to administer this punishment — which cannot be corrected after the fact — with anything like fairness or even competence.