Sometimes I get the feeling I haven’t caused enough controversy lately, so here it goes…
1) It strikes me that in many ways the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia underscores a lot of the points that opponents of capital punishment which make cause even supporters to feel a bit uncomfortable: The execution occurred 20 years after the trail, and only after numerous appeals that cost the state more than life in prison would have. Several witnesses recanted their testimony after the fact and alleged police coercion (though other witnesses continued to maintain they had seen him commit the crime). Claims were made about poor defense representation. Claims were made about the race composition of the jury being an issue (though I’m unclear how this works, and Davis is black and the majority of the jury was as well.) Etc. All of this does not necessarily serve to clear Davis, but it is the sort of thing that could make many people wonder if it would be easier all around to simply lock such cases up and not deal with trying to use the death penalty.
2) On the other hand, the execution on the same day of Lawrence Brewer in Texas underscores why most Americans support capital punishment in at least some situations. There was absolutely no question as to Brewer’s guilt in the sadistic and racist murder of James Byrd, Jr., and the day before Brewer’s execution he told a reporter, “As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.” For all the claims that society can be kept safe from such people without the use of capital punishment, most people, I think, naturally feel both that someone like Brewer (who had been in prison and released twice before he participated in Byrd’s murder) needs to be executed for the safety of society and also that there is a two mile stretch of bloody highway which “cries out to heaven” for justice.
Ed Stoddard of Reuters’ religion blog Faithworld carries a roundup of the skirmish between Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin.
In conclusion, Stoddard asks:
This leads to a question about the consistency of views in the U.S. Catholic Church leadership. The Church opposes abortion and therefore liberal politicians who support abortion rights risk being refused communion. The Church supports a healthcare overhaul that would make the system more equitable. So does a conservative Catholic politician who opposes this reform risk being denied communion for ignoring the Catholic social teaching that justifies it?
How about support for capital punishment, which the Vatican says is unjustified in almost all possible cases, or for war? In the build-up to the Iraq war, Pope John Paul was so opposed to the plan that he sent a personal envoy to Washington to argue against it. Did bishops threaten any measures against Catholic politicians who energetically supported that war despite Vatican opposition?
The author’s questions reveal an elementary ignorance concerning the moral issues in question and their relationship to varying levels of Church teaching. While I am disappointed by his answer (Faithworld is generally one of the better and more educational “religion blogs” in the secular media), it is understandable — as even many Catholics find themselves confused on this matter. Continue reading
As an aside in an otherwise unrelated talk, I heard a priest say the other day, “How can there be any logic in capital punishment? How can you teach people to respect life by threatening to kill them?”
Regardless of what one thinks about the legitimacy of capital punishment, this is a bad argument. Throughout history, legitimate authority has used the threat of legally sanctioned violence (punishment) to prevent people from committing crimes, and it does indeed work pretty well. Not only that, but there’s an example from everyday life that most people have direct experience with: Telling young children that biting, kicking, scratching, hair pulling, kicking, hitting and any other physical attacks I haven’t thought of at the moment will be met with a spanking actually works very well. Indeed, at the ages of 3-8 when children are capable of more-or-less controlling their actions but have very limited ability to empathize with others (especially others who are making them angry) it’s often pretty much the only effective manner of preventing intra-sibling fights getting nasty.
It has become an oft repeated trope of Catholics who are on the left or the self-consciously-unclassifiable portions of the American political spectrum that the pro-life movement has suffered a catastrophic loss of credibility because of its association with the Republican Party, and thence with the Iraq War and the use of torture on Al Qaeda detainees. Until the pro-life movement distances itself from the Republican Party and all of the pro-life leadership who have defended the Iraq War and/or the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees, the argument goes, the pro-life movement will have no moral authority and will be the laughing stock of enlightened Catholics everywhere.
Regardless of what one thinks about the Iraq War and torture (myself, I continue to support the former but oppose the latter) I’m not sure that this claim works very well. Further, I think that those who make it often fail to recognize the extent to which it cuts both ways.
I think we all have, if we are fortunate, a few good friends with religious and political viewpoints very different from our own with whom we regularly hold long discussions. For me, one of these is an uncle of mine. My mom is the oldest of seven, so this uncle is actually only fifteen years older than I am. He’s a long lapsed Catholic (he describes himself as believing in God but having no religion), a comic book and movie buff, an independent rocker, and someone who thinks a lot about the meaning of life, though he does so from a very different perspective than I do.
A few months back, my uncle was telling me about how he’d recently become pro-life (or anti-abortion, for those who ride the hobby horse of not being willing to accept the common use of the term.) His reason, he said, was basically the same as the reason he’d come to oppose capital punishment a few years before.