“Well, excuse me if I care more about innocent babies than criminals!”

“Well, excuse me if I care more about innocent babies than criminals!” March 6, 2015

st peter square

Catholics who are in dissent from the Church  — those who reject Church teaching on contraception, or male priesthood, or whatever — often say that the Church is right about everything else, but regrettably wrong about this one issue.

And those of us who are not in dissent respond incredulously, “How could that be? How could the Church be right about the resurrection, and transubstantiation, and eternal life, but wrong about this one issue? How do you even swallow that idea?”

But it’s just as senseless to say, “I care so deeply about this one important moral issue that I refuse to even acknowledge that there are other important moral issues.” And yet this is exactly what we’re hearing in the wake of the four paper’s joint editorial condemning the death penalty in the U.S.  The comboxes are pretty much wall-to-wall reiterations of this argument: “Death penalty for criminals? Who cares? What I care about as a Catholic is ending the slaughter of the innocent unborn!”

This attitude displays a deep and disastrous misunderstanding of the consistency and interconnectedness of Church doctrine. The Church is consistent. Utterly consistent. All of her teachings spring from a unified understanding of what God is like and what human life is for. 

So if we are going to pish-tush at some teaching of the Church — like the teaching that the death penalty is only to be used as a last resort when there is no other way of keeping society safe* — calling it “marginal” or “liberal,” or saying that we just can’t get ourselves to care about it? Then we are very close to being in dissent. At very least, we have what I might call a “dissenting mentality”: pretending to submit to the guidance of the Church, but actually only adhering to and defending the doctrines which appeal to us, while ignoring, scorning, or even openly defying the ones which we don’t like.

[the following paragraph added at 11 eastern for clarity:] I’m not talking about people who truly believe that the death penalty is, in some cases, the only way to keep society safe. I believe they are wrong, and that in this country, in this century, there is no compelling reason to execute any prisoner. But who I’m talking about is people who openly reject what the Catechism teaches:  who say, “The hell with that. Blood demands blood. Some people are just scum of the earth, and justice demands that we wipe them clean.”

If some doctrine makes us uneasy, and we admit that we don’t like it or understand it? No problem! That’s just being honest, and we all have some catching up to do. So pray, pray, pray, turn it constantly over to God, beg for understanding and the grace to submit, and have passionate arguments with people you respect. That’s fine. God never commands us to be instantly calm and happy about All the Catholic Things.

But for your own soul’s sake, if you have reservations or doubts, don’t be flippant or nasty about them, or, God forbid, proud of them.  Belligerently parading around with a “dissenting mentality” is like going to a friend’s house, greeting the host nicely, displaying perfect manners during dinner, — and then going to the bathroom and crapping all over the floor.  And then writing a gracious thank-you note for a lovely evening.

Guess what? It’s all one house. If you want to be a good guest, you have to behave yourself in every room.


*2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68


image via Wikimedia Commons


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  • Lydia

    The entire teaching on the death penalty hinges on that “if”. It’s not intrinsically evil, like abortion, and I think that’s where people get confused, even though it’s a fairly simple concept. In our country, I don’t think we need the death penalty. We have massively secure prisons. We have ways of keeping inmates away from other inmates. It does seem to be more about the idea of retribution, which actually isn’t how it works out practically. Right order doesn’t actually get restored. It becomes a sort of closed spectacle, and the rhetoric surrounding it is all about “closure” or “getting your own back” but it’s all buzzwords designed to make people feel vindicated. Practically speaking, I don’t think the death penalty in the US makes a whole lot of sense. In any case, I’ve been of JPII’s mind on this issue for ages, and it is nice to see four very different Catholic publications agree about something weighty.

    • Elijah fan

      Secure prisons protect you ( not other inmates, Dahmer and Fr. Keoghan were murdered by lifers, and not witnesses ordered killed from prison by coded phone calls)…protect you from murderers who have been caught ALREADY. They don’t protect you from the UNCAUGHT or the potential murderer who are minimum 38% of murderers in the US and 95% of murderers in Guatemala whose clearance (solved) rate for murder is 5%. The catechism and Evangelium Vitae by basing themselves on secure prisons totally,… neglected deterrence of uncaught murderers….which in Catholic Latin America is an immense crowd. Deterrence studies? The US Supreme Court actually, after stopping death penalties in 1972, resumed them in 1976 precisely noting that their review of deterrence studies indicated that executions deter premeditated murders but not passion/ domestic murders. No Catholic document shows evidence of having thought of this area as to murder. Rome could have written the US Supreme Court and asked them for their sources on deterrence. Instead we theologized a topic that is not understood simply by theology…it needs the input of the social sciences. Anti death penalty studies came largely from lawyers and sociologists while studies favoring deterrence came from economists doing regressional analysis. Joanna Shepherd writing in the Michigan Law Review tried to balance the two sides against each other. She concluded that executions deter when done more than rarely and do not deter when done rarely. China has a billion people, mostly poor in our terms, but has an adult murder rate ( ie excluding abortion) of 1 per 100,000 with the death penalty….tiny Catholic Malta is almost three times that rate (2.8). Only Catholic Luxembourg and Austria and several others with few poor people are a bit safer than China. Our largest Catholic populations, Mexico and Brazil, neither with a death penalty, are egregiously anti life as to murder victim rates…..Brazil 25.2 per 100,000 and Mexico 21.5 per 100,000. Many small Catholic non death penalty states in Latin America are worse than Brazil and Mexico. Catholic Central America has a murder rate by UN figures of 31 per 100,000…no death penalties. I believe this is a bad turn in non infallible papal teaching and will get thousands killed for future centuries wherever the Vatican has been key as in the Phillipines which has 8 times the murder rate of China. Oddly Japan with few Christians in the population has a murder rate of .3 per 100,000…three times safer than China but without her poor class.

      • wineinthewater

        The catechism shows a definite (and in my opinion unfortunate) bias for states with fully functional legal and penal systems in that last statement.

        But I think there is an other issue that is potentially more significant than that of protecting society. The piece from the catechism opens with “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined.” This gets at the state’s ability to justly apply the death penalty. Considering the high rate of wrongful convictions and the egregiously disproportionate application of the death penalty to the poor, I think that the US has shown itself incapable of justly applying the death penalty even if you make the claim that it has just cause to do so.

        I don’t know about all those other countries, but the system in the US is too profoundly broken to be entrusted with the death penalty. Until our penal system sees a significant reform in terms of justice, our state has no business administering the death penalty.

        • Elijah fan

          . In modernity, murders don’t happen by the affluent. Centuries ago as with Caravaggio and a host of Renaissance figures prior to him, the affluent killed. Now you’re totally safe from being sworded to death by an analyst from Goldman Saks. I’ve been in street fights ( one just two years ago) because I grew up in a poor area. I never was attacked by an affluent person… multiple times by the poor…8 out of ten times by blacks. Can you be honest in that area?
          God gave Romans 13:4 during and within the Roman empire which had just killed Christ unjustly. How do you explain that?

          • wineinthewater

            Wow, comments like that aren’t going to help your cause.

            The affluent certainly commit murders (I’m wondering if I’m missing sarcasm somewhere here). But studies have been done that show that our system applies the death penalty disproportionately to poor and minoritiesto people who have been convicted of murder. The sample here is just people convicted of murder, so you can’t just dismiss it saying that poor and minorities are committing murders.

          • Elijah fan

            You totally avoided the question about God giving Romans 13:4 within a bad government.
            The only recurring example I can think of …of an affluent person murdering would be spousal…they don’t have to rob or deal drugs…and passion murders are less likely to involve execution. Are you aware that the percentage of death row cases is tiny compared to the total number of murders?
            Go down at the below link to discrepancies in the incidence of violence…
            it’s about violence and income..


    • wineinthewater

      There is another issue that I think we neglect that may be even greater. In calling for abolition, we often talk about the state’s ability to protect society, but what of the state’s ability to justly administer the death penalty? That first criteria, “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined” is also important.

      With the number of wrongful convictions and the egregiously disproportionate application of the death penalty to the poor, I think it is clear that the US is currently *incapable* of meeting the Church’s criteria for just application of the death penalty. Even someone like Elijah fan who has strong opinions about deterrence contrary to the catechism can’t defend the use of the death penalty by many states with this criteria in mind.

    • Nan

      The death penalty is for criminals whose acts were so atrocious as to be irredeemable for society.

  • Admiral Nissan

    I am amazed that people equate abortion with the death penalty. I have worked with the families of victims of horrendous murders. I think in the cases of premeditated murder by repeat violent offenders, that it is perfectly acceptable to commend their sorry souls to God,. He can decide their eternal reward or punishment.

    • Beth Rogers

      I don’t get to pick who lives or dies. Neither should my government. Life is life and is sacred to God, sinner or saint.

      • Admiral Nissan

        Sorry, you can’t equate the innocent unborn with ruthless murderers. That’s just stupid.

        A. N.

        • Chris Lewis

          And yet the Catholic Church says all life is precious and not ours to give or take away.

          • Ursula

            Not all moral issues have the same moral weight. Some things are always wrong , a non negotiable – and there are other things that depend on the situation. There is a difference in the moral weight of Abortion and the death penalty.Abortion is an intrinsic evil ., while the death penalty is not.

            “Intrinsically evil actions are those that fundamentally conflict with the moral law and can never be performed under any circumstances. It is a serious sin to deliberately endorse or promote any of these actions, and no person who rea1ly wants to advance the common good will support any action contrary to the non-negotiable principles involved in these issues.” The death penalty is not.

            “Some issues allow for a diversity of opinion, and Catholics are permitted leeway in endorsing or opposing particular policies. This is the case with the questions of when to go to war and when to apply the death penalty. Though the Church urges caution regarding both of these issues, it acknowledges that the state has the right to employ them in some circumstances (CCC 2309, 2267).

            Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, spoke of this in a document dealing with when Catholics may receive Communion:

            “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” (WRHC 3).

            The same is true of many other issues that are the subject of political debate: the best way to help the poor, to manage the economy, to protect the environment, to handle immigration, and to provide education, health care, and retirement security. Catholics may legitimately take different approaches to these issues. While the underlying principles (such as solidarity with the poor) are non-negotiable, the specific applications being debated politically admit of many options, and so are not “non-negotiable.”


          • Admiral Nissan

            So, in other words, you don’t know the church’s teaching on capital punishment.

        • Beth Rogers

          Well above my pay grade to decide who is more worthy. That’s God’s job. All life is sacred, because all can be saved.

  • Connie Maanaum

    Part of the frustration is that many who are against capital punishment don’t speak out against abortion or contraception. We can’t be cafeteria Catholics. But the Church has only recently concentrated on capital punishment while abortion has always been prohibited. Would those same four magazines do a joint editorial against abortion and contraception? Because until life is respected in the womb it will not be respected at other stages. There will be more and more murders, suicides, rapes and violent crimes and more and more people in prison.

    • gregcamacho8

      Connie, I can see why it could be frustrating, but instead of saying, “If we focus on other problems, we have something to lose,” Catholics should be saying, “If we focus on other problems, we have something to gain.”

      Instead of highlighting that the majority of people who are vocally anti-death penalty are pro-choice, we could be undoing that.

      Of course, the ultimate reason why we must speak out against the death penalty is that people who commit heinous crimes are still people with human dignity. But when we speak out against the vast array of injustices, we also make it harder for people to believe that pro-lifers “only care about the fetus before it’s born.” We would be more credible. And more holy.

  • Raymond

    1. Not being flippant, though, also includes not being flippant towards people who do care more about abortion than the death penalty. Practically speaking, we only have so much time, energy, and ink to spend. It strikes me as perfectly fair to hold that abortion is a far more serious issue.

    2. I am entirely sympathetic with people annoyed with those who try to put abortion and the death penalty on the same level. I cannot imagine any plausible argument that they are. Abortion is intrinsically evil, but if the death penalty is allowed in some cases, then it is NOT intrinsically evil. Hence, attempts to put the two on the same level are absurd.

    3. There is another reason, one could support the death penalty. As Catholics, we care about the state of a person’s soul first. If the alternative to the death penalty is life in prison without parole, often including solitary confinement (which i take to be a cruel practice) for the safety of the prisoner or other inmates, then isn’t it plausible that this could be more dangerous to a person’s soul than death that he could prepare for?

    • 1. Yes, practically speaking we have limited resources. So why do some people spend the time, energy, etc. that they could be spending protecting the unborn on attacking those who point out the Church’s stance on the death penalty?

      2. They are different in degree, but not in kind: both relate to the absolute commitment to the inherent inalienable dignity of every human person. An unborn child does not earn his/her dignity by being productive or useful; neither does a criminal lose his/her dignity by their horrific acts. In both cases, the question is, how do we defend the dignity of the human person? With regard to abortion, the answer is, abortion is never permissible under any circumstances. With regard to the death penalty, the answer is, the circumstances which permit the death penalty are vanishingly rare, even practically nonexistent.

      So I agree that it is absurd to “put them on the same level” as if they were no difference between them; but it is not absurd to make comparisons or to note that they are, after all, both issues dealing with the same moral teaching.

      3. This is an argument for the reform of our entire penal system, which (as far as I have seen) the Catholic Church fully would support. Just because the death penalty is not the only injustice in our penal system does not mean it should be accepted.

      • Raymond

        You have some interesting thoughts in your reply, but on one point at least, I have to be firm. The death penalty and abortion are indeed differences in kind and not merely degree. They are qualitative differences and not merely quantitative ones. A difference in kind would be the difference between killing 5 people and 100 people. This is not the issue. The key point is that abortion is recognized as an *Intrinsic* evil; the death penalty is not. the Cathechism (2266) is quite clear on that. This makes it a difference of kind and not degree.

        This also applies if we consider the issues in light of human dignity. Abortion is always contrary to human dignity, there are no exceptions. But the death penalty is not (as shown above). First, the catechism allows that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. Second, it is conceivable that execution could be done in a way that would respect a person’s dignity, because it would respect his ability to accept punishment for the offense, and allow him to expiate his crime.

        To state my own view. I don’t believe that either execution or the penal system as currently set up respect the dignity of the person and I am hesitant to treat the end of the death penalty (though I am inclined to hope for it) like the great accomplishment that many would see it as.

        Finally, I haven’t attacked anyone. That’s absurd. I have expressed sympathy for those who believe that abortion is a more serious issue that merits more attention and explained why.

        • I did not mean to say that you had attacked anyone. I simply noted that some have. I apologize if I implied you were one of those.

          I see your point that abortion is an intrinsic evil and capital punishment is not. I think it may be a difference of perspective. I look at it this way:

          Murder is an intrinsic evil.

          Directly procured abortion is an intrinsic evil because it is murder; there is no circumstance in which it is not murder.

          If a child is accidentally aborted, as in treating an ectopic pregnancy or cancer or some other disease/condition, it is not intrinsically evil because it is not murder. It is an unintended side-effect of treating an illness or condition. That is, it is a “double-effect.” Note, this is not permission to ignore the child in such treatments; but it does mean that one can do good and accept that some evil will also result.

          Deliberately killing an adult is an intrinsic evil because it is murder.

          Capital punishment can be justified under a couple different lines of argument. The more traditional one (as I understand it) sets the State as a different kind of moral agent than the individual, one which has a particular charge for the common good and has the authority of life and death over its citizens; therefore the State may execute criminals. The more recent one sees capital punishment as a State-level version of self-defense, and applies the same double-effect reasoning that permits soldiers to kill on the battlefield, or an individual to kill in defense of self or others. That is, the reasoning is that capital punishment is not murder either because A) The State does it, so it’s not murder, or B) It’s self-defense, so it’s not murder.

          In either case, if the State acts unjustly, that is, kills someone for any reason other than defense of the common good or defense of the individuals of society, the act is no longer justified capital punishment, but is murder.

          While it is possible to justify capital punishment in theory, like you I have no confidence in our current “Justice System” or “Penal System” to administer capital punishment justly. In practice, our government, which represents all of us citizens, is committing murder on a regular basis. While abolishing the death penalty would not solve all our problems, it would still be one step in the right direction.

          So, through the lens of the Fifth Commandment, I see them as being moral questions of the same kind. However, from the perspective of how particular actions are justified, I agree that the arguments are different in kind. (There is no authority of the State to abort babies, for example; clearly a difference in kind.)

          I hope I’m clear in my explanation, and I hope I’m understanding you correctly.

          • Antiphon411

            “Deliberately killing an adult is an intrinsic evil because it is murder.”

            Homicide is not murder. Homicide is the killing of a man. It is a morally neutral act. Murder is illicit homicide.

            If a soldier kills an enemy soldier in a just war, it is not murder.

            If a doctor performs a risky surgery to save someone’s life and the surgery fails through no fault of the doctor, it is not murder.

            If an intruder breaks into your house to cause harm to you and your family and you shoot him defending yourself, it is not murder.

            If the lawful authority of the State executes a criminal, it is not murder.

    • Iota


      With respect to your #1: a common argument by people who support abortion is: “Take care of all the children starving now, then we can talk abortion – or is it that once the child is out of the womb, you no longer care?”

      Pro-life people then say “We support care for children”.

      The abortion supporters reply: “Not enough, there are hungry children still. They are innocent. You claim to care about innocent life – go feed them and get back to us when you’re done.”

      Of course, then someone can say “Oh, great – now the kids have food, but I guess they don’t need medicine, right? As long as little Ali dies of malaria and not hunger, it’s all right?”

      Do you believe the whole church should stop feeding the hungry, until innocents are no longer killed anywhere (the hungry are alive, they die accidentally, not by murder)? Does that include any and every war? Does that apply to adults or just kids?

      After all, the basics of the argument are the same – we have limited resources.

      I assume you don’t. So what’s the difference between one argument from limited resources (yes, children are starving but we also need to stop abortion / yes, we need to stop abortion, but we must also feed hungry kids and “we must also care about the lives of criminals”)?

      • Nan

        Jesus Himself said “the poor you will always have with you.” We cannot wait until everyone is fed; that would be forever in some of the corruptocrat countries that misuse food aid, selling that which was freely given, hoarding grain so it rots and lining their own pockets.

        • Iota

          That was sort of the point of my question to Raymond back then, a month ago.

          “Well excuse me – I care about these poor children while you clutch your Rosaries in front of abortion clinics” is a silly argument. – that we can’t feed everyone doesn’t simply mean Catholics involved in the anti-abortion work “don’t care” (I think it’s anti-abotion, in much the same way that something can be anti-slavery).

          But so is “Well excuse me, as I care about these children while you care about them rotten criminals – we can’t afford to waste time on them.”

          I don’t think Raymond was saying that, but the “limited resources” argument is a two edged sword. It cuts both ways.

          Best wishes.

  • SpeSalvi

    First: I agree with you wholeheartedly about both abortion and capital punishment. No qualms there. What bothered me about this post is this comment.

    “How could that be? How could the Church be right about the resurrection, and transubstantiation, and eternal life, but wrong about this one issue? How do you even swallow that idea?”

    To which I can only say… Why couldn’t the church be right about some things and not others? What is there to even swallow?

    The history of the church clearly shows that it has had to come to grips with things it was wrong on over and over and over. The Church is in a historic quest through a maze, feeling it’s way forward towards ever greater understanding of truth, sometimes backtracking, sometimes retracing her steps.

    On each of the teaching you cite above, you only see them as infallibly granted because they have been more or less settled well before your own life. But some of them were open to discussion for literally hundreds of years while the Church felt its way towards answers. Why do we struggle to accept that may still be happening today on other teachings?

    Why must the church be infallible in order to be a good and trust-worthy guide? It can easily be fallible, and STILL be the best guide and hope we have of making it through the maze of life ourselves.

    • Chris Lewis

      The Church has to be infallible because She was founded by Christ, and if She can be wrong about anything, She can be wrong about everything. The Church has never changed doctrine, only clarified it.

      • Pretty sure we were unabashedly wrong on flat earth and geocentrism, to the point JPII publicly apologized to Galileo.

        • Chris Lewis

          Flat earth and geocentrism are not issues of faith and morals. The Catholic Church only claims infallibility on issues of faith and morals. Geocentrism isn’t a doctrinal issue.

          Yes, JPII publicly apologized to Galileo for disagreeing on this issue, but it’s important to point out that popular culture is historically wrong in claiming Galileo was persecuted because of these positions. In reality, it was because he was wrong on theological matters that he was excommunicated.

        • Lagos1

          When was the Church teaching “flat earth”? The idea that the world was spherical was fairly common knowledge right back to the classical age.

          And as for geocentrism / heliocentrism; the general theory of relativity now tells us that from a scientific point of view, we cannot insist on heliocentrism as being true and geocentrism as false even if heliocentrism does provide a simpler model. And this is actually the point that the Church made.

          So in the end, no, not unabashedly wrong after all.

    • AnonyMom

      Feeling it’s way towards answers isn’t the same as being wrong though. The Church is infallible on matters of faith and morals.

  • CRS

    The Catechism clearly states that the death penalty may be used by states when states find it necessary. Don’t pick and choose, Simcha. You are so passionate about saving criminals from something the Catechism says is just in certain circumstances, but you are all for laws that ensure women who want an abortion can get one safely, despite the Catechism’s strong opposition to abortion. Geee, I wonder who’s backwards on these issues? Let’s remember, too, that the issue in both cases is Justice. It is always unjust to support or procure an abortion regardless of circumstances. It is just to execute a criminal in extreme circumstances where the individual has proven a continual danger to society. Examples of these dangerous individuals include serial killers and pedophiles who cannot be rehabilitated. Capital punishment is the state’s method of self-defense, and is supported by the Catechism, the official teaching, of the Catholic Church. And if anybody here is “wrong,” it’s you group of dissidents who can’t seem to understand that there are real but rare occasions where the death penalty is warranted and necessary. That’s Catholic teaching. What isn’t Catholic teaching is the cr*p these four newspapers are touting. What you are touting is wrong, immoral and anti-Catholic.

    • gregcamacho8

      Simcha is pro-life. And the Catechism, like John Paul II’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, notes that:

      “Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.'”

      • antigon

        John-Paul II’s encyclical Humanae Vitae? Simcha Fisher is ‘all for laws that ensure women who want an abortion can get one…’? The resurrection & eternal life ‘were open to discussion for literally hundreds of years while the Church felt its way towards answers?
        What is this, a sneaky application for work at the parody National Catholic Reporter? (America I’m told – may it be true – is no longer hiring)

        • gregcamacho8

          Oh woops, I meant Evangelium Vitae.

  • HenryBowers

    As long as “American Sniper” enjoys Catholic adulation, Simcha’s appeal falls on deaf ears. The sniper might have acted in national self-defense, but his private comments are 100% consequentialist, weighing the value of one soul against another. To act on any such judgment is to choose evil that good may come, despite the veneer of national security. The DP (death penalty) dissenters identified by Simcha suffer the same confusion as the sniper aforementioned.

    • BTP

      Fine. I am with that other tribe, then. That would be the tribe that doesn’t think its inability to reason makes it pure.

  • I have wanted to change my position on capital punishment over the years. I am for it. I’ve gone back and forth and have prayed to change my will. But every time i read the newspaper of some degenerate killer maliciously hurting and ending the life of some poor defenseless soul, my jaw tightens and a natural, proper sense of justice comes back to me. If anything is natural law, capitial punishment is natural law. I’m sorry, I just can’t check my brain at the door.

    • LiveOaksandSpanishMoss

      The feeling is natural, yes. When I read about ISIS terrorists who burn children alive and destroy villages and torture Christians, I burn with anger and the righteous desire for justice. But the perfectly legitimate feeling is not the same as natural law or natural consequences. Moreover, reading about the problems of capital punishment was what convinced me that it should be discarded, before I believed it was wrong. I don’t think one has to check one’s brain at the door to think capital punishment is an expensive and meaningless process that doesn’t bring justice to victims.

      • So we disagree. My comment to checking one’s brain at the door had to do with Catholics who blindly obey what their being told. Perhaps that makes them better Catholics, but it’s not me.

        • Antiphon411

          No. The good Catholic does not blindly obey what he is being told. He knows his Faith and studies it. He makes his decision with a properly formed conscience. JPII and liberal bishops are wrong on the death penalty. ‘Tain’t the first time popes and bishops been wrong.

        • antigon

          What about the ones who know the difference between ‘their’ & ‘they’re?’

          • Thanks for the correction. I was typing fast and I didn’t proof read.

      • Antiphon411

        But these are all accidents of the present “Justice” system in USA. If the death penalty were swift and sure, it would be better. The fact that USA “Justice” system is screwed up does not mean that the death penalty is immoral. I could be in favor of a moratorium in USA based on this. We could put capital punishment on hiatus until we had a just system of government here, but I suspect we’d be waiting a long time.

    • I didn’t say that natural law was based solely on my feelings. An eye for an eye punishment is as natural as can be. Plus just about every culture in human history has used the death penalty. That’s about as natural as it gets.

    • Antiphon411

      Yes. When I first entered the Church by the Grace of God, I tried really hard to think the death penalty was immoral. These were the days of Pope St. John Paul the Greatest Ever. My heart, however, could not be forced to believe. Now I would say that I have taken great pains to form my conscience, so it was not hardness of heart. Rather I studied the question a great deal. I read old encyclicals and councils and catechisms and handbooks of moral theology. I learned what the Church had always taught and found that JPII and the liberal bishops of the recent few decades were at odds with the Tradition of centuries. What’s a poor Catholic to do here? Go with the ol’ quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, sez I.

      • Thank you for that.

  • anna lisa

    I don’t understand how people can remain so utterly entrenched in an idea when

    a. the CCC spells the matter out so clearly


    b. heavy hitters of superior intellectual and moral formation (John Paul II and Mother Teresa) spoke so forcefully on the subject.

    What pride!
    I had never given the subject too much thought when I was younger. I just shrugged if people became passionate about it either way, but was more inclined to nod at the removal of a potential threat to my loved ones (criminals who are returned to society after violent crimes) Nor did I feel inclined to work any harder in order to feed and house a violent offender to the tune of millions of dollars.

    My understanding of the whole debate was more of a conversion than an intellectual epiphany. Discussing the subject with my children really changed me, It disturbed me to hear them ever speak in tones of revenge or “just retribution”. When people argue for this, they literally grimace with a kind of malice. It’s unsettling and chilling–almost like they are going over to this place of hatred for human beings–and hey let’s just be honest–we all know where that dark passion comes from. Nor does that mentality mesh with: “Mercy, shaken down”. At the very least we should practice mercy because the judgement of our own soul will come down to whether we did or didn’t offer it to our neighbor.

    More than ANY of these arguments, is the *reality* that once we strip ourselves of ANY hatred for any soul whatsoever, a profound and beautiful change happens in the heart. Love begins to grow forcefully, in that little spot where we were guarding our righteous hate. We cease to see people as rivals, a pox upon humanity, a drain on the system–we begin to see them as a *soul* in bondage, a brother, and a child of God, who is worthy of being fought for AT ALL COST against the forces of evil.

    • Antiphon411

      Did Mother Teresa have a superior intellectual foundation? I have discovered nothing of her educational history apart from the fact that she learned English at an abbey in Ireland.

      As for John Paul II’s intellectual foundation, he was well educated, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t have gotten some bad ideas in his head. Bertrand Russell was well-educated and had a good intellectual foundation.

      A poorly educated man can have an unerring moral sense. And of course the Faith is given to people of all intellectual levels.

      The Church and Her bishops and theologians have made many strong arguments in favor of capital punishment over the years. The modernist utilitarian approach of current bishops and popes has not really shown where these men went wrong. What pride!–as you say.

  • Lauren

    Hear Hear!

  • http://madprof.home.mindspring.com/ethic.html

    I hope more people take him up on his offer. I have one of these on the back of my prius, and have gotten comments at church from both extremes.

  • chezami

    I cannot fathom the mentality that uses the unborn as human shields for commitment to killing undesirables.

    • BTP

      As always, a pyromaniac in a field of straw men.

      • Antiphon411


        • antigon

          Sorry Mr. Shea, but that line above of BTP – who is nonetheless wrong about nearly everything if I recall correctly – would be perfect for one of those cup quips or whatever it was that Mrs. Fisher was looking for.

          • Antiphon411

            Oh, wait, chezami is Shea? See that’s the kind of comment one would expect from him. Weak and emotional. At least he is honest in the opening line. He should start his every utterance with “I cannot fathom…”

  • Guest

    Remember the sovereign state of the Vatican City only abolished the death penalty in 1969 and the Papal States conducted their last execution in 1870. As for consistency, I don’t think the Church has even been consistent with herself on this issue.

    • Nan

      How is it inconsistent to choose not to have the death penalty while not determining if other countries may do so? The last execution was nearly 100 yrs before a formal declaration that they had changed their policy. How is that inconsistent?

  • Guest

    Remember the sovereign state of the Vatican City only abolished the death penalty in 1969, and the Papal States conducted their last execution in 1870. As for consistency, the Church has hardly been consistent with herself on this issue.

    • Antiphon411

      No, the Church has been remarkably consistent. A few modernist churchmen have tried to change the tune. They can’t. They are wrong. That is the nice thing about having a Deposit of Faith, even the sheep know when the shepherds have got them going into the wrong pasture.

  • Elijah fan

    Pius XII affirming the death penalty in 1952 and John Paul II calling it “cruel” in 1999 in St. Louis is consistent in what universe? Pope Nicholas V affirming chattel slavery in 1454 for newly discovered natives and Pope Paul III denouncing it for new natives in 1537 is consistent in what universe? We are a 24/7 self flattery machine. The non infallible areas of papal thought don’t have to be consistent…because Popes can err in morals when they’re not accessing the charism of infallibility ( see Intro to Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma/ Ludwig Ott/ section 8). The new death penalty ideas of the last two Popes are exactly one of those errors. Rome had inescapable life sentences in the mines when God inspired Rom.13:4 that said the state’s sword was there to minister to God’s wrath…not ours. But after Rahner and Von Balthasar…God’s wrath is never mentioned by the Magisterium though it, God’s wrath, festoons scripture like Chinese lanterns along a river.
    We will get murder victims killed thru non deterrence for the next centuries…just as we killed heretics wrongly for centuries before apologizing. It’s how we roll unfortunately.
    John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae cited an actual death penalty mandate passage, Gen.9:5-6, but he removed from view the death penalty part and used the other fragments to begin to argue against the death penalty…unbeknownst to 99% of readers. Yes…he used a death penalty passage to argue against the death penalty but no Catholic writer noticed because after Aquinas…bible memorizing fades to black in Catholicism. It’s section 39 of EV. Easily read for free on the net…
    small section. Nor did he look into the prison conditions or murder rates of the two largest Catholic populations…non death penalty Brazil and Mexico…which the UN figures show to be 20 times more dangerous as to adult murder than death penalty China which has hundreds of millions of poor people like Latin America. Both Brazil and Mexico are 60 times more dangerous than Japan which has the death penalty but no large poor class like Mexico or China….so it is less comparable than China. God gave multiple death penalties to the Jews for sins…( not applicable after Christ for non lethal acts)… but He gave them because execution deters and causes last minute conversion when it doesn’t… as in the good thief…50% salvation rate between the two thieves. Not bad given Christ’s broad road/ narrow way sermon. Stubborn Timothy McVeigh ditto…last minute reception of sacraments.

    • anna lisa


      This is a great little piece about how the lamb of God, Jesus, unlocks the meaning of the OT.

      God is not in fact wrathful, spiteful, jealous or angry. He doesn’t smite his children. The OT simply cannot be read at face value, or understood without the lamb.

      We shouldn’t be scandalized that He says that He has hidden the true meaning from the proud. We have to actively and humbly *search* for it, This search will never be successful without Jesus–
      Jesus who welcomes,
      Jesus who forgives,
      Jesus who touches the untouchable,
      and yes, even those that are dead.

      It is Jesus who draws a line in the sand telling a mob that they can kill a woman (according to the law of Moses) if they in fact are without sin…

      • Elijah fan

        You’re creating your own super sweet bible by using nano fragments, brushing tons of severe verses aside ( even from Christ) ….without having read the whole bible…or retained the severe along with the sweet. I did both…I read the whole thing and retained much.
        Christ said of Judas…” it were better for that man had he never been born”. Then in prayer to His Father, Christ said of Judas, ” Those whom you gave me I guarded and not one of them perished except the son of perdition”. And He said that prior to Judas sinning which means it is past tense prophecy which is certain…as good as done…unconditional not conditional like Jonah’s future tense prophecy of Nineveh’s destruction….like the past tense prophecies of Christ by Isaiah in Isaiah 53’s beginning. Sounds like Christ needs you as a key to get rid of His OT severe wrath side. He told Jerusalem and its people they would be destroyed and their children within them for not knowing the hour of their visitation ( by Him)….and they were destroyed in 70 AD (1.1 million according to Josephus…600,000 according to Tacitus)….sounds like Christ needs you as key to get rid of His severe wrath OT side. 70 AD was worse than any massacre in Canaan or the OT and it happened in NT times by God’s willing and use of the Romans as His Ax ( see Isaiah 10:15 ) …and it happened mostly to Jews too young to have rejected Christ. How is that possible? Read the Sinai Covenant terms….Exodus 20:5 …” punishing the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”. He kept His word. Did they…the young… go to hell? No…did David’s baby who was killed by God for David’s sin go to hell? No because Ezekiel tells you that the son cannot be punished. SPIRITUALLY for the sin of the father but
        Exodus is telling you the son can be punished PHYSICALLY for the sin of the parents.
        You’re deluded ( “God doesn’t smite”) …until God deeply intervenes in your life and He will….know your hour. He’s in love with you but He will damn you if you run a game on Him til your end.

        • anna lisa

          E fan,
          You are in love with destruction. Who are you? What kind of human being are you, that you are so filled with pride in your pronouncements about the nature of God Himself?

          God is in love with his children–but he won’t indulge us with cushions and bumper pads for our sins.

          Judas sinned, but Jesus never said that it was better for him if he had never been conceived.

          God speaks of destruction–the destruction of evil–if walls and bodies and kingdoms must come down in the process of saving souls–this is nothing, when the critical act of salvation of souls is concerned.

          God is incapable of wrath. Wrath is one of the worst deadly sins and cries out, that we amend for it.

          Jesus speaks of a sword–that we might slay our malice..

          He speaks of wrath because this is what is left when we turn away from *LOVE*.

          I fear for this place of judgement that you exalt yourself to.

          • Elijah fan

            So your entirely subjective and abridged Bible lacks these words of Christ:

            “The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”

            Mk. 14:21

            Check and get back to me.

          • anna lisa

            It doesn’t say that it would be better for him if he hadn’t been conceived.

            I read the entire Bible through the lens of the Catholic Church.

            Mercy instructs us to see the sinner through the wounds of Jesus.

            The only sin that can’t be forgiven is the one that isn’t repented of. Only God is capable of assessing this.

            Mercy is the greatest impetus to repentance.

            Reading the Bible at face value has gotten a lot of fundamentalists into some sticky theological positions.

            Origen cut his genitals off….
            “and if your—-causes you to sin, cut it off! …It would be better for you to enter heaven (mutilated) than to be thrown into Gehenna…”

          • Elijah fan

            I and Christ said ” It would be better for that man if he had never been born”. You are switching to the word “conceive” which no one brought up. Games much?

            The Catholic liturgy has only a fraction of the Bible in its cycles so you’ll never read most of the Bible if you are depending on the liturgy. A Jesuit priest online gives you the percentage of each book as it appears in the liturgy. The lens of the Catholic Church on Bible violence issues just got changed radically. Aquinas and Pius XII in 1952 would both find the lens of Popes Benedict and John Paul II on violence…incomprehensible….especially Benedict being the first Pope to say that the herem were sins rather than God ordered.

            It’s hopeless because it’s deeper than the death penalty…it’s a gathering pan pacifism in high clergy. Popes now practice the higher biblical criticism that previous Popes warned of…and no highly published Catholic authors like George Weigel even whisper it. John Paul II tells you softly in section 40 of Evangelium Vitae that he doesn’t believe the Levitical and Deuteronomy death penalties were really from God but from an unrefined culture even though Scripture has them being ordered by God. He can pick and choose what he believes…biblical cafeteria-ism…and he knows no Catholic author who is paying for kids’ college will criticize him or they’ll get few publishers.
            Pope Benedict did the same thing on OT violence issues. Pope Benedict in section 42 of Verbum Domini even goes to the modernist extreme of insinuating that the massacres ( really herem ) of the OT were sins and scholars with training in historical-literary context will prove it ( they won’t because 70 AD, the worst God involved massacre, was not ancient…the genre was history not fiction). Here’s Benedict talking of the herem in sect.42:
            “This can be explained by the historical context, yet it can cause the modern reader to be taken aback, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many “dark” deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day.”
            So the herem of Canaan were like the bombing of Dresden…not from God though Wisdom 12 spends a whole chapter saying they were from God ONLY after God punished the idolaters in small degrees for 400 years firstly….and they would not repent.
            He goes further on all kinds of violence being anathema to the prophets as though they were
            Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan back in the day:
            ” In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual, and thus became God’s way of training his people in preparation for the Gospel.”
            Really? I only recall them denouncing the rich Jews violence against poor Jews over land grabs. Let’s look at the prophets…Elijah killed 552 men and maybe 952 if the Carmel incident had a missing verse. Jehu, a prophet- king, killed decades of Baal worshippers. Samuel killed Agag because Saul failed to. Eliseus got 42 children killed by bears via a curse. Jeremiah warned the Chaldeans to perfectly fight against the Moabites…Jeremiah 48:10 “Cursed be he that doeth the work of Jehovah negligently; and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.”
            But Pope Benedict was allowed to make up OT history in sect.42 because we apparently are sinfully polite and don’t know the Bible as Jerome did….and Benedict did help traditionalists on the liturgy so hey…let him slide. Christ said, “and the scriptures cannot be broken”. That’s never quoted in modern Catholic circles. Benedict was dead wrong….the herem were ordered by God as scripture says and the prophets did not challenge every kind of violence. One of the prophets contradicts Benedict on both prophets/violence and herem in Isaiah 23:11…” The LORD has issued orders concerning Canaan to destroy its strongholds.”. We have drifted so far from the early Fathers’ relationship to scripture that Popes no longer know the OT….or worse, think they know the real OT which was never written.

          • anna lisa

            “I and Christ”–lol. Say no more.

          • Elijah fan

            And if you quoted Christ….you could write to someone misquoting both Him and therefore you….”I and Christ”. But you’re a gamester…aren’t you at times though your non biblical posts about family are some of the best I’ve read. So you’re good on existence and you’re frontin’ on the Bible. Maybe it’s Santa Barbara and the James Roday thing.

          • anna lisa

            I hear Isis is hiring.

    • Ryan Godfrey

      This is brilliant. Most of the commenters here will miss this fact. Thank you. I think the author of this post needs to rewrite in light of this.

  • Noah_Vaile

    It is important to keep in mind that this is an issue that is ‘supposed’ to be left up to the states and not the federal government to determine. Calling for the supremes to sing out their ruling is asking that our Constitution be violated for this issue. And if for this… then why not another… and another.
    This is an issue Constitutionally left up to the states and while it would certainly be easier for the supremes to just rule it over everyone, like they did in Roe v Wade you may recall, they really shouldn’t and the USCCB calling on them to do so is calling on them to throw out the law and centralize more power to themselves.
    “Et tu USCCB?”

    • antigon

      Or a woman’s or Family’s! Plus don’t forget that RoevW was also dealing with a collective’s public matter on invalid cases.
      The self-absorption of people who can’t see or accept these things – or write comprehensible English sentences when, say, promoting mass murder – really is appalling.

    • antigon

      Based of course not upon anything like the historical understanding & expression of those words (or anything else in the ‘Constitution,’) , but only the private & personal opinions of an oligarchy.

    • Noah_Vaile

      You are so caught up in your pr-natal infanticide fantasies that you have neither range nor depth to your perception.
      Stated another way: You are wrong.

    • Noah_Vaile

      The death penalty may be arguably cruel but it certainly isn’t unusual. Furthermore this particular law is allotted by our Constitution to the purview of the states.

      Your fallacious reasoning what ultimately open up quite literally every aspect of life to federal jurisdiction eliminating both state’s and individual rights. Much like the over-broad interpretation of the ‘commerce clause’ has done.

      You would have us return to the Magna Charta and all privileges (NOT Rights) trickling down from the ruling elite.

    • Nan

      The thing is, the CCC doesn’t prohibit treating a woman’s ailments even if that treatment results in the death of the fetus; therefore, if the ectopic pregnancy doesn’t resolve on its own, it is possible to remove the section of the fallopian tube containing the uterus, as it is a threat to the mother’s health.

  • Ryan Godfrey

    Unfortunately, I think you’ve missed the ole boat. JPII’s reference to the Death Penalty in Evangelium Vitae and the reference in the Catechism does not bear the same weight as the teaching on abortion. JPII and the New Catechism represent a “revised” understanding of the Church’s clear support of the death penalty over the past 2000 years. Abortion has always been condemned. Even Benedict said: “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.” http://dailycaller.com/2014/10/23/pope-all-christians-must-oppose-death-penalty-life-imprisonment/
    So I think you should revise your article using another example.

    • Antiphon411


  • bob

    With some people, abortion is their only topic of discussion. Ask them how the weather is, and they’ll say, “Who cares how the weather is when we’re killing babies!!!?” So any discussion about the death penalty was always going to to redound to abortion.

    • Antiphon411

      Haha! I think that abortion is a great evil, but you hit the nail on the head here.

  • antigon

    Speaking of black & white, should we worry about the much greater percentage of black abortions? Or should we be glad about that? Or just turn our heads & pretend that…the answer is blowin’ in the wind?

  • Simon D

    I am not in dissent in any way shape or form on the death penalty, but even I can’t bear the false equivalence here. To compare a teaching coined by John Paul II only two decades ago to the time-tested eternal verities of the Church seems unbearably glib.

  • The death of even just one innocent child by abortion is one too many.

  • Nan

    No. It is for God to decide the time of death. Late term abortions are done for the convenience of the mother, who hadn’t yet gotten around to killing her baby. It is never valid to take an innocent life.