On Death Penalty, Roma Locuta Est

On Death Penalty, Roma Locuta Est August 2, 2018

Death penalty

Image via Pixabay

Causa finita est. Pope Francis has said that the death penalty is “inadmissible.” He has updated the Catechism (§2267) to reflect this—repeat with me, now—development of doctrine. And he has sent this letter to the bishops about it all.

Here is the new CCC 2267:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

The usual suspects are screaming CRISIS!!!!!!!! Phil Lawler, worst known for his recent book calling the pope a “lost shepherd,” bemoans “another dose of confusion.” (If someone encounters a Lawler article about the pope in which he doesn’t claim to be “confused,” let me know. The word is a tic with him.) “Once again,” Mr. Lawler writes, “Pope Francis has given the world reason to believe that the teachings of the Catholic Church can and will change.” As though he has never heard of Newman and the world ought be static and new wine can be forced into old wineskins, dammit by gee by gosh by gum.

Then, over at Fake Site News—well, let’s just say they would not shut up over at Fake Site News. Here they call it a “doctrinal error.” (As though they be the CDF; as though they are inspired by the Holy Spirit to decide this.) Alan Fimister, trying to plagiarize Phil Lawler, calls it “distressingly ambiguous.” Dr. Peter Kwasniewski claims that it “contradicts natural law and the deposit of faith.”

Can we call them Death Site News now? After all, these articles are not defending the right to life; they are defending the right to kill.

And watch how simply over the top Dr. Kwasniewski’s rhetoric is. This is how he begins.

In the boldest and most reckless move to date in a pontificate that was already out of control and sowing confusion on a massive scale, the Vatican has announced Pope Francis’s substitution, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of a new doctrine on capital punishment.

(WordPress really needs to come up with a laugh track insert for posts.)

 

But I digress. I’m okay now. Dr. K. goes on to say that the “new doctrine” (I’ll come back to that) violates both natural law and Scripture.

[A]ccording to the natural law and Scripture alike, the rulers of a State, acting as representatives of divine justice and as custodians of the common good, may exercise an authority over life and death that they do not possess as private persons. In other words, it is God, always God, who has the right of life and death, and if the State shares in His divine authority, it has, at least in principle, the authority to end the life of a criminal.

Dr. K. has in mind Romans 13:4.

For he [i.e., the civil authority] is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Now, there’s no question at all about this. But St. Paul says that the civil authority can execute “wrath” upon a criminal; and the death penalty is only one of many forms that wrath might take. If it be death, it depends upon a condition. And St. John Paul II had already told us about it in Evangelium Vitae 56.

[T]he nature and extent of the punishment [of a criminal] 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.

And that is why the Catechism, as John Paul II points out, insists that “if bloodless means are sufficient,” the state will not apply the death penalty.

The draft of the new CCC 2267 is simply a further development along the lines St. John Paul II had already expressed. You can find that in the second paragraph:

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

It is for these reasons that Pope Francis says that the death penalty is “inadmissible.” And note that every single one of them is already in Evangelium Vitae.

  • The dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of a crime. St. John Paul II writes: “The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity.” He writes: “[G]reat care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors.”
  • There is a new understanding of the significance of penal sanctions. St. John Paul II writes: “As a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases [i.e., where the death penalty is justified] are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
  • Effective prison security permits the possibility of redemption. St. John Paul II writes: “[A]uthority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.”

Dr. K. tells us that Pope Francis has created “a new doctrine.” The pope has done it “ex nihilo.” And thus the pope is “openly heretical.”

That is just absurd. Evangelium Vitae is not “nihilo.” I remember when Death Site News was frothing at the mouth in an apoplectic fit because Pope Francis had (so they claimed) contradicted St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio. Now Pope Francis does no more than apply the teaching of Evangelium Vitae to the world we find ourselves in in 2018, and Death Site News is still in an apoplectic fit. That’s just what they do.

But when you take the authoritative teaching of the Catechism and a former pope on the death penalty, and apply them to the time we live in today, that’s not novelty. That’s a development of doctrine.

And incidentally, if you think it’s even possible for the Church to change its doctrines, and invent new ones, then it’s you, not the pope, who is “openly heretical.” The Holy Spirit protects the Church from any such thing, and this is an infallible teaching. Doctrine develops; it is never overthrown; and certainly the Church does not introduce novelties. (This is not really confusing, paging Mr. Lawler, if you understand Church teaching or can read the writing of St. John Paul II.)

***

The first murderer was Cain. And after God had found him out, Cain fretted being sent into exile because anyone who found him would kill him. “Therefore,” God said, putting a mark on Cain, “whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold” (Gen. 4:15). Because of the hardness of your heart, God hath permitted it; but from the beginning it was not so. God protected Cain from the death penalty.

But Alt! How do you know that this exegesis is sound? Glad I am that you asked. Because it’s the very exegesis St. John Paul II uses in Evangelium Vitae. Tolle, lege; it’s in EV 9.

And yet God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, “put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him” (Gen 4:15). He thus gave him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abel’s death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this. … God, who preferred the correction rather than the death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be punished by the exaction of another act of homicide.

From the beginning it was not so. And it is there to which Pope Francis is calling the state, and the Church. He calls us there in light of our understanding of the inviolable dignity of all life, even guilty life, and our capacity to protect the innocent by bloodless means. In that context—as a development, not change—the death penalty is inadmissible. As Catholics we are to follow where the pope leads the Church; certainly we must not follow the fake magisterium of Death Site News

***
"They might be forced to interview a lifelong Catholic who serves on the parish council ..."

Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome XXIV: Cardinal ..."
"How would EWTN or Catholic Answers find any talent?"

Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome XXIV: Cardinal ..."
"Taylor rejects certain Popes, certain Church Councils, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church; I ..."

Documentation of Taylor Marshall’s attacks on ..."
"Pope Francis in the first days of his elevation told the Curia/Cardinals/Bishops to get off ..."

Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome XXIV: Cardinal ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment