Catholic Bloggers Unite Against the Death Penalty. This Catholic Blogger Says Wait a Minute.

Catholic Bloggers Unite Against the Death Penalty. This Catholic Blogger Says Wait a Minute. March 7, 2015
The map is from 2012. Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by m01229
The map is from 2012. Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by m01229

I’m always the outlier. No matter what the question, as soon as the crowd starts yelling Huzzah!! I’m the one standing slightly aside, saying “wait a minute now.”

I guess that means it’s no surprise that I’m the one saying “wait a minute now” about Catholic bloggers joining together in opposition to the death penalty. Not, mind you, that I favor the death penalty. And I certainly support Catholic bloggers getting together in support of Church teaching. I think that kind of initiative is long overdue.

My “now, wait a minute” in this instance is based on those confounding truths that reality often imposes on idealism when public policy is the question. This reality is multifarious, and I’m mentally and physically tired this morning. So I’m going to abandon long-winded explanations and number my thoughts. Here we go.

  1. Any question of public policy has to be decided based on one object: A just and stable government is always the greater good.
  2. There are people who cannot be allowed loose in the larger population. To do so would be to ignore government’s responsibility to provide for the public safety.
  3. The death penalty is not usually necessary to achieve this aim of a just and stable government in advanced societies which are capable of keeping people locked up.
  4. Innocents are convicted of crimes, including capital crimes, that they did not commit.
  5. When innocent people are executed by the state, the death penalty becomes an egregious wrong. It not only does not provide for the public safety, it abrogates it in this instance.
  6. Thus the death penalty is not necessary in most instances in advanced societies, and in the case of innocents who are wrongly convicted, it is a grave moral injustice.
  7. However, (you knew this was coming, right?) if, for whatever reason, it is not possible to keep killers off the streets, then the death penalty becomes a necessity. (Go back to point one.)
  8. Also, there are instances, when murderers murder for political or philosophical reasons, where incarceration may be a means and method for them to spread their murderous politics and philosophy further and enlist others to murder in the name of that politics or philosophy.
  9. Certain members of Boko Haram/ISIS/Islamic Brotherhood/Taliban/etc fit the criteria of number 8. Certain Bolsheviks fit the description of number 8 at earlier points in history.
  10. When people in our prisons use their prison time to enlist fellow prisoners in a murderous pact which they then unleash on the civilian population once they are freed, then simply incarcerating these people becomes a violation of point number 1.
  11. What to do? Do we use the death penalty selectively on people who murder for politics or philosophy? That is a dangerous business which will — I guarantee it — be abused. Once you allow government this type of power to selectively kill, government will — once again, I guarantee it — get around to using it on anyone who annoys those in power.
  12. We must, as a matter of guaranteeing point number 1, think clearly and without our usual social lies about points 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 when constructing laws about the death penalty.

This numbered list is my way of saying, “now wait a minute” about the death penalty. I oppose the death penalty. So far as I know, I am alone among the Catholic bloggers in having the votes and the scars to prove my opposition to the death penalty. In addition to questions about the death penalty, I have had to vote on many laws that changed the lives of millions of people. It is an awesome thing to hold that kind of power in your hands. It changes how you look at questions like this.

I oppose the death penalty within the parameters of the basic principle that a just and stable government is always the greater good. I oppose the death penalty so long as opposition to the death penalty does not endanger the public health and safety. I oppose the death penalty whenever there are just alternatives. In practical terms, that means I oppose the death penalty in almost all circumstances in Western society.

But I know full well that there are situations that make the death penalty necessary. I’m on record in support of the death penalty for Jihadi John. My reasoning has nothing to do with the horror of his crimes. I am calling for the death penalty for Jihadi John for two reasons. One, allowing him to live in prison leads to the recruitment of other murderers. Two allowing him to live in prison makes him a living martyr, an on-going symbolic reference point for those of his murderous philosophy.

Jihadi John, and all of ISIS, commit crimes that are not just crimes against the persons on whom they inflict them. They commit crimes that are crimes against the structure and fabric of civilization and humanity as a whole. That is what a crime against humanity constitutes. It is a crime that attacks the bedrock of human civilization and that destroys and diminishes all of humanity in a real and rending way.

I believe that those who commit crimes against humanity, in particular the leaders, figureheads and mouthpieces of such crimes, should be put to death. I also think that their bodies should be consigned to the sea in unmarked locations. They deserve no monument, no memoriam.

I am opposed to the death penalty. I am one of the few death penalty opponent bloggers who has actually voted against the death penalty in my role as an elected official and taken the hits that go with that action. When I say that I oppose the death penalty, I mean it, and I can prove that I mean it. However, I have to say “wait a minute” when we talk about a mindless and blanket end to the death penalty in all circumstances.

A just and stable government is always the greater good. Thumb through history, look around the world, and you will see what happens and how many innocent people die when governments are unjust and unstable. Unjust, unstable government is a killer on a mass scale. Given modern communication and weaponry, unjust and unstable government is a scythe, mowing down whole populations in short periods of time.

For that reason, when I consider blanket responses to questions of public policy, I am often forced to say, “Wait a minute …”

The death penalty is no exception.

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37 responses to “Catholic Bloggers Unite Against the Death Penalty. This Catholic Blogger Says Wait a Minute.”

  1. I do largely share your wait-a-minute stance, but I would ask, in the case of the Jihadi John types – why not simply place them in solitary confinement, essentially only able to communicate through his attorney, or with certain family members who the State knows to not be subversive?

  2. Because he would then become a symbol and a flash point for recruiting and enabling further crimes against humanity. It goes to point 1.

  3. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a good article on the subject of Capital Punishment, including a quote by the Marquess Beccaria (too long to include here) on the principle that the death penalty is only necessary in case the executed would have the power to endanger the safety of the nation or government. He goes on to say that a stable government has no need of the death penalty. I would agree, insomuch as it happens that in this age even peaceful societies may be gravely harmed by one man, even alone.

    Truth be told, I am dubious of any claim that this or that is “always” wrong or right, unless it is one of those tautological true-by-definition things (e.g. murder is wrong,) or relates to God Himself. I believe you can find just about any practice that in some incorrupt form in some specific moral circumstance is acceptable. The heresy on the other side of consequentialism is the reduce-everything-to-one-moral-absolute-ism, where the moral absolute is not God but one transient thing.

  4. I agree entirely, Rebecca, and get in trouble all the time for it. I think there are occasions when the State, to protect society must act by executing a person. For all those who say, well, let’s lock them up forever: what will we do when a ruthless political group demands the release of one of these individuals, as Rebecca described, as ransom for a group of kidnapped civilians?
    I posted at the Anchoress as well, this is a waste of time. Why did the great coalition of Catholic publications not call for an end to abortion and euthanasia? That would be worth the effort.

  5. There is one noted jihadi whose name has been mentioned by violent Islamic jihadis. The guy is in prison and they want him back.

  6. As I remember, Orwell’s Big Brother had a solution for #8- the concept of the unperson. Isaac Asimov had something similar when Hari Seldon suggested to the Galactic Emperor that there be no public trial, execution or imprisonment of terrorists- that their acts be referred to only by number, and that they be quietly removed from society, simply never to be seen or heard from again, and that all past records of their existence be wiped out. This, he argued, was the worst punishment of all for such acts, for it wipes away the political meaning for which the act was taken to begin with.

  7. They wanted a Jordanian woman in exchange for not killing the pilot they had captured. The Jordanians refused unless the pilot was freed. Now both the woman and the pilot are dead. So there is a way to deal with those the other side wants back.

  8. And given that in the US a substantial percent of those on death row are black and this country has a long and unpleasant history of harming blacks which continues to this day in places like Staten Island, we can be sure that if we have the death penalty in this country, innocent minorities will end up executed.

  9. The execution of an innocent is not an argument against the death penalty.

    So long as man is involved in any system of justice there will be mistakes. Man, by his very nature, is flawed. In other words, no man made system is or can be made perfect.

    Still man needs laws and must seek justice. In creating such a system, a society must make every reasonable effort to enact a just legal system which eliminates mistakes and the wrongful conviction and imprisonment or conviction and execution of anyone. The mere fact that a mistake can be made (How many innocents have been executed?), is no excuse not to execute someone who has intentionally and maliciously planned to and does murder another person.

    Some argue executions are no longer necessary because, a rich society can protect itself by imprisoning the murderers. This is false. As a practical matter, too many murderers are released early by sympathetic judges and law makers. And a few escape. And as the author points out, many murderers serve as examples, teachers and preachers for other prisoners who will be released into society to practice their new skills.

    Also, who pays for these murderers’ expenses for years and years? The society and the victim’s family and friends. Is this justice?

    Additionally, since when is prison necessarily justice. If someone murders a loved one, why isn’t the murderer’s life forfeited? And the family of the victim should be allowed to address the Court or Jury when the issue of life or death is being decided.

    Some argue that society/State has no right to take a life, even a murderer’s life. Yet, these same people have no objection to forcing innocent young men to die for them. How many innocent young men were forced by the U.S. society/State through the draft to die on the beaches of Normandy, on Okinawa, in Korea, Vietnam, etc., etc., etc. “for the greater good”.

    How about a justice system the also appropriately punishes “for the greater good”. And if by the remotest chance, an innocent is lost, it will be “for the greater good”-a justice system that works for the Defendants, society and the victims.

  10. I think its a well rounded approach to the subject. You establish a set of guiding principles, yet you remain pragmatic in that approach and avoid clinging to blanket statements that might lose sight of the overall picture and the reason we set those rules in the first place.

    Have you made similar assessments on the other divisive issues regarding life and death in our society (abortion, euthanasia)? I’ve caught the occasional glimpse now and then, spread out throughout different posts, but not an overview like you’ve done here regarding the death penalty.

    I figure you must have gone though this mental process on other issues, given that you’ve also had to craft legislation for them. Do you have previous blog posts that similarly outline your thought process behind your stances?

  11. Always ignored in the debate is the fate of prison guards. About 8 are murdered in prison each year –most by convicted murderers. So each time a murderer gets life as a substitute for cap punishment there is most likely a prison guard who will die. No one ever seems to mention this or care.

  12. I’ve talked about it a lot, but I honestly don’t remember if I’ve given a summary like this one.

  13. You make several statements I disagree with, but I’ll only address a couple of them.

    It is absolutely possible to create laws that would keep murderers locked up without parole. Judges and and juries have the right to sentence people now, and they should. But once someone is given life without parole under a well-written law, that’s it.

    The idea that we should kill people because it costs money to keep them alive is repulsive logic. Hitler used it when he killed “useless” eaters. Some people use it today when they talk about elderly people having a “duty to die.”

  14. What about matters related to sexual education and accessibility to birth control? I have some idea on where you stand on a personal level as a Catholic and regarding religious institutions, but I have no idea what do you think about these issues when it comes to crafting public policy.

  15. You are silent as to all my points, but one-paying for a murderer in prison.
    You don’t respond to the justice of a murderer forfeiting his life as a penalty for his murder.
    You ignore letting the victim’s family assisting in determining the fate of the murderer.
    You think keeping a murderer alive in prison for life is justice. And you think a life sentence means a life sentence when reality says otherwise.
    Many people disagree.
    Since you think executing is repulsive, you should support your decision and not require others to pay for your fear of the death penalty.

  16. I’m going to say this once. I do not allow interrogations on Public Catholic. People here are free to answer, or not, as they chose. I delete comments that hector.

  17. I don’t mind answering the question, however, this is beginning to sound like hectoring, which I don’t allow.

    Access to birth control is legal and I have no problem with that. As for sex education, the programs I’ve dealt with are actually quite destructive to the dignity and freedom of choice of young people. They sexualize young people and take away the freedom to say no from young girls. I dealt with this all the time in crisis pregnancy counseling. The girls didn’t feel they could say no, and what’s more, they were not enjoying the sex they felt forced to have. (Wonder why?)

    Sex education is a big money-maker for Planned Parenthood, which amounts to indirect funding for abortion. As a public policy initiative, It’s a failure on many levels, including its stated purpose of preventing teen pregnancy. Again, when the largest provider of sex education is also the largest provider of abortions, it, as Shakespeare said, follows as the morning does the night.

    We refuse to see the clear conflict of interest because of political agendas. These political agendas are mis-labeled as “women’s health” but they are nothing of the kind.

    Now, I’m not going to engage in a big debate about this. Too much else on my plate. I’m also not going to answer any more questions like this.

  18. When I was a kid I watched a 60 minutes type program that followed a woman whose brother was killed by a man. The killer was on death row.

    The woman was going to watch the execution. She stated many times that she wanted him dead. The cameras weren’t allowed in the execution room but were there when she came out. She was crying and screaming that she didn’t feel better. She wanted her brother back and the killer dying didn’t bring him back.

    I’ll never forget that. She was so upset that she didn’t feel better.

    Not every victim’s family would feel better if someone was executed.

  19. Sue Korlan, you are talking about the ISIS killing in Jordan. The Jordanians would not release the woman and a man because the pilot was already dead when they made the demand. That is not the one I’m talking about. I do not want to mention the terrorist’s name because I do not want to flag this blog. He is in prison for life for masterminding a major terror incident and now they want him back. This is going to happen again.

  20. I haven’t looked into the programs promoted by Planned Parenthood, but what you describe sounds like the exact opposite of what it should be and completely different from the high school orientations I went through.

    Anyways, as to where I’m going with all this: I don’t know of anybody who is really pro-abortion, in the sense that they would argue that abortion is in and of itself a good thing. Maybe I’m being overtly naive, but I would describe a pro-choice stance as a “I don’t believe in abortion, but wait a minute” argument.

    In a perfect society they wouldn’t be any abortions at all, but our civilization is far from perfect, which results in us allowing what is (or should be) a radical deviation from the norm.

    The decision to terminate a pregnancy does not occur in a vacuum. By the time a woman walks into a clinic, a lot of different variables have already been factored into and influenced her decision.

    I guess what I’m looking for is a public policy outline that contemplates reducing the number of abortions before the option is even considered; not only by reducing unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, but by making the option of parenthood itself more viable at all stages of life.

    That’s where issues like income vs cost of living come in; if people are barely surviving on their salary then the prospect of raising a child becomes a terrifying one, when it shouldn’t be.

    Its kind of absurd that parenthood is viewed as an obstacle to higher education and/or career opportunities when the later is supposed to be a way of enabling the former. They can’t go to college? Then bring college to the students via online classes or offer college-level courses at local public facilities.

    Its within this context that I think enacting legislation to provide free childcare is a genius move in its simplicity, effectiveness and the way it addresses underlying socio-economic issues.

    I guess I’m rambling a bit, but you get the idea.

  21. Sorry for the delay in response. You never explained how I was hectoring/bullying anyone. Is calling someone statement “repulsive logic” being a hector? Is comparing an opposing view point to “Hitler” being a bully? How about censoring someone without even providing the incriminating statements that supposedly justifies such censorship? Or is your article only for those who agree with you.

  22. You were taking on the role of someone who was cross examining. You gave the impression that other people were required to answer your questions.

  23. If your position on abortion is “I don’t believe in abortion, but wait a minute” what sort of law would you draft concerning the issue? Assuming that you are going to be murdering a child with each and every abortion.

  24. I try to learn by asking and answering specific, challenging questions. A long time ago it was called the Socratic method of teaching/learning. No offense intended.

  25. I’m familiar with the Socratic method. I don’t think this was it. But, apology accepted.

  26. Describing “abortion as a blessing, in near sacramental terms”, sounds downright bizarre at face value, so I looked her up to get a bit of context.

    I realized that we are talking about different things; its mostly my fault for choosing words that already have well established meanings within this context.

    What you and your friend were referring to as “pro-abortion” is “having the option of abortion available”. What I’m talking about is the act itself. I don’t think even the most strident pro-abortionist would advocate for abortion as something to look forward to or wish upon anybody.

    I hope I cleared things up a bit.

  27. If you are being honest, you might want to look up what Cecile Richards said about abortion and how wonderful it is. Nancy Pelosi calls it a blessing. Dismembering a baby, because that is what it is.

  28. Concerning the issue itself, I would end up drafting laws like the ones we have, for reasons we fundamentally disagree on and would endlessly argue back and forth. Its beside the point I’m trying to make anyways.

    I’m trying to conceptualize a guiding principle/overview that includes tangential social issues that ultimately affect the issue of abortion. That’s why I asked you about birth control and sex education. That’s also why I think something like providing accessible child care is also part of this.

    As to what kind of laws I would draft, off the top of my head I would try to incentivize providing paid maternity and paternity leave. I can’t think of specifics at the moment, but I would try to find ways to make higher education more affordable, accessible and able to adjust to different domestic situations. In short, raising children is a natural part of life, so lets adjust our workplaces and education systems accordingly, instead of the other way around.

    Does this make any sense?

  29. Actually I agree with all you suggestions such as childcare, paid maternity and paternity leave and ways to make higher education more affordable. Whether you realize it or not, these are pro life issues. I have said for a long time that no woman should have to chose between a murdered child or a ruined life. There’s a lot more to this, of course, but we really need to consider ways to support maternity and family.

  30. The number 8 seems high — that probably includes other fatalities, such as transportation accidents. The US BLS website can be searched with Google. From various reports there, it looks like the counts were:
    2009 – 3
    2010 – 6
    2011 – 4
    2012 – 6
    2013 – 4

    Presuming that’s typical, that would be 4.5 give or take a standard deviation around 1. This also neglects that some small fraction of those homicides may have been committed by people in prisons for other crimes.

  31. For a different theological position, see this page on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    I’m not deontologically opposed to the death penalty myself. However, I have the impression that the state-by-state popular support seems roughly correlated with higher false conviction rates and higher racism. This leaves me with the suspicion that the states that want such power probably don’t deserve to be trusted the authority to determine when it should be used. Additionally, I tend to regard the death penalty as a tacit admission of social failure, in that no better use can be found for a person than to make them a corpse.

    Regarding points 8-10, I’ll note that there may be alternative means beside the death penalty to address the problem; recruitment may be prevented by solitary confinement, for example, and might be made an explicit part of the sentence for crimes where political motivation is an aggravating part of the offense. (Contrariwise, that may run into issues with the proscription of “cruel and unusual punishment” on the one hand, and on the other seems to tread on thin ice near the fundamental principles giving basis to the freedom of expression.) If the only way a society can prevent an idea from spreading is to kill the people who believe it (rather than, say, persuading other people it is a bad idea), then the society seems likely to have more fundamental problems which endanger it far more than that particular idea.

  32. Ken – off topic, but I am not seeing a reply option in the place we “met”. Could you take a look to see if my posts are still there?