9

PopeWatch: Chaplain of the Zeitgeist

Sandro Magister enlists the late Cardinal Dulles to explain why the Pope’s attempt to change doctrine on the death penalty flies in the face of twenty centuries of Church teaching:

 

The decision of Pope Francis to rewrite the Catechism of the Catholic Church in regard to the death penalty has ignited lively discussions.

The change was in the air, and Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been foretelling it for some time. In the letter of the prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith that accompanies the rescript, Cardinal Luis F. Ladaria says that “the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.”

But this is precisely the point that is raising the greatest controversy. For many, the contradiction with the previous teaching of the Church is there. And it amounts not to a “development” but to a real and proper rupture.

Also striking is the “historicist” nature of the motivations that Francis adopts: new awareness concerning the dignity of the person, new understanding of the meaning of penal sanctions, new and more effective prison systems, etc. From here would arise, “in the light of the Gospel,” the new current teaching of the Church on the absolute inadmissibility of the death penalty.

Given this precedent – as many hope, or on the contrary fear – what can prevent a pope from changing the doctrine of the Church on any other issue? Breaking not only with the previous magisterium, but with the Sacred Scriptures themselves?

To facilitate an understanding of the debate, the following are two useful elements of documentation.

*

The first is a comparison of the old article of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty and the new article rewritten at the behest of Pope Francis.

THE OLD ARTICLE

2267. The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.

If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today are very rare, if not practically non-existent’ [John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56].

THE NEW

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” [1], and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

[1] Francis, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017, 5.

*

The second element of documentation offered here is an extract from an essay published in 2001 in “First Things” by Cardinal Avery Dulles (1918-2008), a Jesuit and one of the greatest North American theologians of the twentieth century, highly esteemed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

The complete text of the essay:

> Catholicism & Capital Punishment

To begin with, Dulles focuses on what the Sacred Scriptures say regarding the death penalty:

“In the Old Testament the Mosaic Law specifies no less than thirty-six capital offenses calling for execution by stoning, burning, decapitation, or strangulation. Included in the list are idolatry, magic, blasphemy, violation of the sabbath, murder, adultery, bestiality, pederasty, and incest. The death penalty was considered especially fitting as a punishment for murder since in his covenant with Noah God had laid down the principle, ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image’ (Genesis 9:6). In many cases God is portrayed as deservedly punishing culprits with death, as happened to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16). In other cases individuals such as Daniel and Mordecai are God’s agents in bringing a just death upon guilty persons.

“In the New Testament the right of the State to put criminals to death seems to be taken for granted. Jesus himself refrains from using violence. He rebukes his disciples for wishing to call down fire from heaven to punish the Samaritans for their lack of hospitality (Luke 9:55). Later he admonishes Peter to put his sword in the scabbard rather than resist arrest (Matthew 26:52). At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’ (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, referring to Exodus 2l:17; cf. Leviticus 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate’s power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (John 19:11). Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Luke 23:41).

“The early Christians evidently had nothing against the death penalty. They approve of the divine punishment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira when they are rebuked by Peter for their fraudulent action (Acts 5:1-11). The Letter to the Hebrews makes an argument from the fact that ‘a man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses’ (10:28). Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans, with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority ‘does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer’ (Romans 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.”

Dulles then goes on to examine how the Fathers of the Church and Catholic theologians expressed themselves over the centuries, coming to this conclusion:

“Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment. […] And throughout the first half of the twentieth century the consensus of Catholic theologians in favor of capital punishment in extreme cases remained solid”.

He points out, however, that already in 1977 a theologian of good repute had taken a position in “L’Osservatore Romano” in favor of the inadmissibility of the death penalty, giving voice to the “objections” of “a rising chorus of voices in the Catholic community”:

“Some take the absolutist position that because the right to life is sacred and inviolable, the death penalty is always wrong. The respected Italian Franciscan Gino Concetti, writing in ‘L’Osservatore Romano’ in 1977, made the following powerful statement: ‘In light of the word of God, and thus of faith, life-all human life-is sacred and untouchable. No matter how heinous the crimes… [the criminal] does not lose his fundamental right to life, for it is primordial, inviolable, and inalienable, and thus comes under the power of no one whatsoever’.”

And from here on Dulles discusses precisely this radical thesis, a forerunner of what Pope Francis has now decided.

Here are a few passages from his argumentation, written in 2001 but still perfectly relevant:

“To warrant this radical revision – one might almost say reversal – of the Catholic tradition, Father Concetti and others explain that the Church from biblical times until our own day has failed to perceive the true significance of the image of God in man, which implies that even the terrestrial life of each individual person is sacred and inviolable. In past centuries, it is alleged, Jews and Christians failed to think through the consequences of this revealed doctrine. They were caught up in a barbaric culture of violence and in an absolutist theory of political power, both handed down from the ancient world. But in our day, a new recognition of the dignity and inalienable rights of the human person has dawned. Those who recognize the signs of the times will move beyond the outmoded doctrines that the State has a divinely delegated power to kill and that criminals forfeit their fundamental human rights. The teaching on capital punishment must today undergo a dramatic development corresponding to these new insights.

“This abolitionist position has a tempting simplicity. But it is not really new. It has been held by sectarian Christians at least since the Middle Ages. Many pacifist groups, such as the Waldensians, the Quakers, the Hutterites, and the Mennonites, have shared this point of view. But, like pacifism itself, this absolutist interpretation of the right to life found no echo at the time among Catholic theologians, who accepted the death penalty as consonant with Scripture, tradition, and the natural law.

“The mounting opposition to the death penalty in Europe since the Enlightenment has gone hand in hand with a decline of faith in eternal life. In the nineteenth century the most consistent supporters of capital punishment were the Christian churches, and its most consistent opponents were groups hostile to the churches. When death came to be understood as the ultimate evil rather than as a stage on the way to eternal life, utilitarian philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham found it easy to dismiss capital punishment as ‘useless annihilation.’

Go here to read the rest.  The Pope’s attempted doctrinal change has bupkis to do with Catholicism and everything with this Pope’s constant attempt to splash with Holy Water the current beliefs and prejudices of the chattering classes of the West.  The Pope has made himself the chaplain of the current zeitgeist.

9

PopeWatch: Avery Cardinal Dulles

 

 

Prophetic words from the late Avery Cardinal Dulles in 2004:

 

If, in fact, the previous teaching had been discarded (on the death penalty), doubt would be cast on the current teaching as well. It too would have to be seen as reversible, and in that case, as having no firm hold on people’s assent. The new doctrine, based on a recent insight, would be in competition with a magisterial teaching that has endured for two millennia — or even more, if one wishes to count the biblical testimonies. Would not some Catholics be justified in adhering to the earlier teaching on the ground that it has more solid warrant than the new? The faithful would be confronted with the dilemma of having to dissent either from past or from present magisterial teaching.

14

PopeWatch: Development of Doctrine

Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, among his many other services to the Church, clarified the concept of development of doctrine as opposed to corruptions of doctrine that occasionally fasten on the Church and are shed off by the Church over time.

Newman posited seven notes, I would call them tests, for determining whether something is a development of doctrine or a corruption.

1.  Preservation of Type

2.  Continuity of Principles

3.  Power of Assimilation

4.  Logical Sequence

5.  Anticipation of Its Future

6.  Conservative Action upon Its Past

7.  Chronic Vigour

PopeWatch defies anyone to argue with a straight face that what Pope Francis has done in reversing the Church teaching on capital punishment is anything but a corruption of doctrine using the Newman test.

8

PopeWatch: Error

Ed Feser, PopeWatch’s go to man on the death penalty and the teachings of the Church has an article at First Things looking at the attempt of Pope Francis to do a 180 on the teaching of the Church in this area:

If capital punishment is wrong in principle, then the Church has for two millennia consistently taught grave moral error and badly misinterpreted scripture. And if the Church has been so wrong for so long about something so serious, then there is no teaching that might not be reversed, with the reversal justified by the stipulation that it be called a “development” rather than a contradiction. A reversal on capital punishment is the thin end of a wedge that, if pushed through, could sunder Catholic doctrine from its past—and thus give the lie to the claim that the Church has preserved the Deposit of Faith whole and undefiled.

Not only does this reversal undermine the credibility of every previous pope, it undermines the credibility of Pope Francis himself. For if Pope St. Innocent I, Pope Innocent III, Pope St. Pius V, Pope St. Pius X, Pope Pius XII, Pope St. John Paul II, and many other popes could all get things so badly wrong, why should we believe that Pope Francis has somehow finally gotten things right?

One does not need to support capital punishment to worry that Pope Francis may have gone too far. Cardinal Avery Dulles, who was personally opposed to the practical use of capital punishment, still insisted that “the reversal of a doctrine as well established as the legitimacy of capital punishment would raise serious problems regarding the credibility of the magisterium.” Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is likewise opposed to applying the death penalty in practice, has nevertheless acknowledged:

The death penalty is not intrinsically evil. Both Scripture and long Christian tradition acknowledge the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances. The Church cannot repudiate that without repudiating her own identity.

If Pope Francis really is claiming that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, then either scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and all previous popes were wrong—or Pope Francis is. There is no third alternative. Nor is there any doubt about who would be wrong in that case. The Church has always acknowledged that popes can make doctrinal errors when not speaking ex cathedra—Pope Honorius I and Pope John XXII being the best-known examples of popes who actually did so. The Church also explicitly teaches that the faithful may, and sometimes should, openly and respectfully criticize popes when they do teach error. The 1990 CDF document Donum Veritatis sets out norms governing the legitimate criticism of magisterial documents that exhibit “deficiencies.” It would seem that Catholic theologians are now in a situation that calls for application of these norms.

Go here to read the rest.  Twenty centuries of Church history or the current Pope.  Choose, and perhaps choose more wisely than the Conclave obviously did in 2013.

 

5

PopeWatch: Ultra Vires

In the law the doctrine of ultra vires states that an action is null and void if it is beyond the powers of an entity.  For example, if Congress decided to turn itself into a court and try a citizen for murder this would be beyond its powers.  In regard to popes, they have very broad powers indeed, but these powers are not limitless.  Cardinal Newman noted this almost a century and a half ago when he wrote of papal infallibility:

 

I end with an extract from the Pastoral of the Swiss Bishops, a Pastoral which has received the Pope’s approbation.

“It in no way depends upon the caprice of the Pope, or upon his good pleasure, to make such and such a doctrine, the object of a dogmatic definition. He is tied up and limited to the divine revelation, and to the truths which that revelation contains. He is tied up and limited by the Creeds, already in existence, and by the preceding definitions of the Church. He is tied up and limited by the divine law, and by the constitution of the Church. Lastly, he is tied up and limited by that doctrine, divinely revealed, which affirms that alongside religious society there is civil society, that alongside the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy there is the power of temporal Magistrates, invested in their own domain with a full sovereignty, and to whom we owe in conscience obedience and respect in all things morally permitted, and belonging to the domain of civil society.”

In his recent statement about capital punishment, the Pope seeks to reverse the teaching of the Church and to invade a sphere that the Church has always left to the prudence of secular governments:  the use of the death penalty.  This was stated succinctly by the Council of Trent in 1566:

 

The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thy shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.

In the Psalms we find a vindication of this right: “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord” (Ps. 101:8).

Innocent III in the thirteenth century noted that :


The secular power can without mortal sin carry out a sentence of death, provided it proceeds in imposing the penalty not from hatred but with judgment, not carelessly but with due solicitude.

Scripture is replete with examples of the State carrying out the death penalty, often pursuant to laws decreed by God mandating the death penalty.

The Pope in his condemnation of the death penalty flies in the face of twenty centuries of the teaching of the Church, and attempts to wrench from the secular world the ability to impose the death penalty.  He has acted beyond his powers and betrayed the first duty of any Pope:  to preserve and defend the teaching of the Church.  I would assume the Pope Emeritus would agree with this since in 2004, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote:

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

Further posts this week will examine other aspects of the attempt by the Pope to use the Magisterium to Godstamp his personal political agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

5

Well, This Sounds Reasonable

News that I missed while on vacation, courtesy of The Babylon Bee:

 

 

VATICAN CITY—Following his recent announcement that the Catholic Church no longer supports the use of the death penalty, Pope Francis clarified that it may still be applied to slow left-lane drivers. “It almost goes without saying,” the leader of the Church commented.

Whereas prior Church teaching allowed the death penalty in certain cases, the Catechism now teaches that the punishment is always impermissible. “Except,” said a Vatican spokesman, “for those reprobate souls who just hang out in the left lane as if nobody else has anywhere to be.”

Go here to read the rest.  Yes, but what about tailgaters?  Can’t they at least be maimed?

5

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Antonin Scalia

It seems to me that the more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post-Christian Europe, and has least support in the church-going United States. I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal. Intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal: it is a grave sin, which causes one to lose his soul. But losing this life, in exchange for the next? The Christian attitude is reflected in the words Robert Bolt’s play has Thomas More saying to the headsman: ‘Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God’. For the nonbeliever, on the other hand, to deprive a man of his life is to end his existence.

Justice Antonin Scalia, God’s Justice and Ours, 123 First Things 17. (May 2002).

34

Godzilla v. Bambi

 

 

Philosopher Doctor Ed Feser takes on Mark Shea on the death penalty in the biggest mismatch since Godzilla tangled with Bambi:

 

As Pope St. John XXIII once wrote:

 

The Catholic Church, of course, leaves many questions open to the discussion of theologians.  She does this to the extent that matters are not absolutely certain…

 

[T]he common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.  (Ad Petri Cathedram 71-72)

 

What Catholic could disagree with that?

 

Well, Mark Shea, apparently.  For no sooner does he acknowledge the truth of what Joe and I wrote than he proceeds bitterly to denounce Catholics who have the effrontery actually to exercise the right the Church herself has recognized to hold differing opinions on the topic of capital punishment.  After acknowledging the truth of our basic claim, he writes: “So what?” – as if Joe and I were addressing some question no one is asking.  This is followed by a string of remarks like these:

 

When it comes to taking human life, the right wing culture of death asks “When do we get to kill?”

 

The Church, in contrast, asks, “When do we have to kill?”

 

The death penalty supporter looks for loopholes and ways to enlarge them so that he gets to kill somebody.  The Magisterium urges us to look for ways to avoid killing unless driven to do so by absolute necessity…

 

The term for that is “prolife”. You know, from conception to natural death. It’s what we are supposed to actually mean when we say “All Lives Matter”. Even criminal ones.

 

So it comes back to this: If you stop wasting your time and energy fighting the guidance of the Church, searching for loopholes allowing you to kill some of those All Lives that supposedly Matter to you, you find that you have lots more time and energy for defending the unborn that you say are your core non-negotiable. Why not do that instead of battling three popes and all the bishops in the world in a struggle to keep the US on a list with every Islamic despotism from Saudi Arabia to Iran, as well as Communist China and North Korea? Why the “prolife” zeal to kill?

 

Be more prolife, not less…

 

“I want to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing” is, on the face of it, a hard sell as comporting with the clear and obvious teaching of the Church and perhaps there are other issues in our culture of death that might use our time and energy more fruitfully, particularly when the immediate result of such an argument is to spawn a fresh batch of comments from priests scandalously declaring the pope a heretic, wacked out conspiracy theorists calling the pope “evil beyond comprehension“, and false prophets forecasting that “Antipope Francis” will approve abortion.  This is the atmosphere of the warriors of the right wing culture of death.  It does not need more oxygen.

 

End quote. 

 

Well.  What on earth is all that about?  And what does it have to do with what Joe and I wrote? 

 

Let’s consider the various charges Shea makes.  As to the “So what?”,  Joe and I are by no means merely reiterating something everyone already agrees with.  On the contrary, there is an entire school of thought with tremendous influence in orthodox Catholic circles – the “new natural law theory” of Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Robert P. George, and many others – that takes the position that capital punishment is always and intrinsically immoral and that the Church can and ought to reverse her ancient teaching to the contrary.  Many other Catholics, including some bishops, routinely denounce capital punishment in terms that are so extreme that they give the false impression that the death penalty is by its very nature no less a violation of the fifth commandment than abortion or other forms of murder are.

 

In our article we cited cases in which even Pope Francis himself has made such extreme statements.  We also suggested that the pope’s remarks should be interpreted as rhetorical flourishes, but the fact remains that they certainly appear on a natural reading to be claiming that capital punishment is intrinsically wrong – a claim which would reverse the teaching of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and every previous pope who has addressed the topic.

 

Since Shea agrees that the Church cannot make such a change, to be consistent he would also have to admit that the more extreme rhetoric from the pope and some bishops and other Catholics is misleading and regrettable.  He should also agree that “new natural lawyers” and others who hold that the Church should completely reverse past teaching on capital punishment are taking a position that cannot be reconciled with orthodoxy. 

 

The late Cardinal Dulles, among the most eminent of contemporary Catholic theologians, has (in remarks quoted in our article) gone so far as to say that a reversal of traditional teaching on capital punishment would threaten to undermine the very credibility of the Magisterium in general.  Our primary motivation in writing our book was to show that the Church has not in fact reversed past teaching on this subject, and thereby to defend the credibility of the Magisterium.  Accordingly, Shea’s charge that Joe and I are in the business of “fighting the guidance of the Church” is unjust and offensive.  So too is Shea’s casually lumping us in with those who characterize Pope Francis as a “heretic” and “antipope.”  In fact we explicitly said that we do not believe that the pope wishes to reverse past teaching, and we proposed reading his statements in a way consistent with the tradition.

 

As to Shea’s other remarks, it is simply outrageous – to be frank, it seems as clear an instance as there could be of what moral theologians would classify as an instance of calumny – to suggest that Joe and I are really just “look[ing] for loopholes and ways to enlarge them so that [we get] to kill somebody,” that we “want to kill the maximum number of people [we] can get away with killing,” that we have a “zeal to kill,” etc.  There is absolutely nothing in what we wrote that justifies such bizarre and inflammatory accusations. Continue Reading

50

Tom McKenna Schools Mark Shea on the Death Penalty

Council of Trent-Death Penalty

 

No Catholic blogger writes better on the traditional teaching of the Church regarding the death penalty than Tom McKenna, my worthy adversary on this blog on many a joust over the Confederacy.  In a post on October 22, 2015 he masterfully addresses Mark Shea who has become hysterical, (what a surprise !), in his anti-death penalty rantings:

On Shea’s blog, another attack on Sacred Tradition and a confusing conflation of arguments.  The first thing bothering Shea this time is that death penalty proponents supposedly place too much weight on the words of Dismas, the Good Thief, related in this passage from Luke 23:

And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.  But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil. And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom.  And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise. 

Now, I don’t know anyone who hangs their hat on this passage alone, or even as a mainstay of the obvious and overwhelming approval of the death penalty in Scripture.  It is, however, one more place in Sacred Scripture where the death penalty is either merely assumed to be moral or expressly stated to be so.

It’s significant, if not decisive, that St. Luke added this detail, and did not record any rebuke of Our Lord to the Thief’s claim that the two criminals were being justly executed.  In fact, the Lord right after the Thief’s statement assures him of Paradise.

And after all, when God Himself says in Genesis,

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image 

it’s pretty clear that He approves of the death penalty precisely because of the inherent dignity of man (almost the direct opposite conclusion drawn by our contemporary clerical class, which argues, against Scripture, that the dignity of man means that the death penalty is immoral).

 And while Shea smears those who cite this passage of Scripture in Genesis as “quot[ing] Scripture like a fundamentalist,” he may not realize that he is smearing folks like Cardinal Avery Dulles, not a noted fundamentalist as far as I know, and a man whose education, erudition, and judgment I certainly find more convincing than Shea’s. Continue Reading

42

Pope Francis and the Death Penalty

Pope and Friend

 

Pope Francis this week delivered anti-death penalty sentiments that are not only in direct opposition to the traditional teaching of the Church, that would be the teaching until 1995, but also opposed to the current teaching of the Church.  From another pontiff this would be headline news, but from this Pope it is not even surprising.  Steve Skojec at One Peter Five explains just how out of tune with the teaching of the Church these statements of the Pope are:

The ongoing debates about the authentic Catholic position on the death penalty have grown particularly exasperating. Perhaps the worst thing of all is that we’re wasting time arguing over teaching that is incredibly well-established throughout the majority of Church history. The Church’s stance on capital punishment has always been more than merely permissive; the idea that “rendering harmless” those criminals deserving of capital punishment is sufficient to eradicate the need for such a sentence is simply not consistent with the teachings of Holy Scripture, the understanding of popes, doctors of the Church, and various apostolic pronouncements.

Adding fuel to the fire, today we have a report from the Vatican’s own news service indicating that Pope Francis has attempted to proclaim that there is no circumstance whatsoever in which the death penalty is warranted:

Capital punishment is cruel, inhuman and an offense to the dignity of human life. There is no crime in the world that deserves the death penalty. That was Pope Francis’ unequivocal message to members of the International Commission against the death penalty who met with him on Friday morning in the Vatican.

In a lengthy letter written in Spanish and addressed to the president of the International Commission against the death penalty, Pope Francis thanks those who work tirelessly for a universal moratorium, with the goal of abolishing the use of capital punishment in countries right across the globe.

Pope Francis makes clear that justice can never be done by killing another human being and he stresses there can be no humane way of carrying out a death sentence. For Christians, he says, all life is sacred because every one of us is created by God, who does not want to punish one murder with another, but rather wishes to see the murderer repent. Even murderers, he went on, do not lose their human dignity and God himself is the guarantor.

Capital punishment, Pope Francis says, is the opposite of divine mercy, which should be the model for our man-made legal systems. Death sentences, he insists, imply cruel and degrading treatment, as well as the torturous anguish of a lengthy waiting period before the execution, which often leads to sickness or insanity.

This is why I use the word “attempted” in describing the pope’s desire to eradicate capital punishment: because he lacks the authority to make such a change. Shocking, I know, but I said it before and I’ll repeat it again: the teaching on this matter is settled. In order to advance this position, Pope Francis would have to declare several of his predecessors as well as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More (who prosecuted heretics in an England where that was a capital offense), a papal decree, an apostolic constitution, and also St. Paul’s own divinely-inspired writing in the New Testament to be in error.

Don’t believe me? Read for yourself. We’ll start with the New Testament:

  • “If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death.” (Acts 25:11)
  • “Let every soul be subject to higher powers. For there is no power but from God: and those that are ordained of God. Therefore, he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil” (Romans 13:1-4).

We may also examine papal and magisterial pronouncements:

  • “It must be remembered that power was granted by God [to the magistrates], and to avenge crime by the sword was permitted. He who carries out this vengeance is God’s minister (Rm 13:1-4). Why should we condemn a practice that all hold to be permitted by God? We uphold, therefore, what has been observed until now, in order not to alter the discipline and so that we may not appear to act contrary to God’s authority.” (Pope Innocent 1, Epist. 6, C. 3. 8, ad Exsuperium, Episcopum Tolosanum, 20 February 405, PL 20,495)
  • Condemned as an error: “That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.” – Pope Leo X, Exsurge Domine (1520)
  • “The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thy shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives. In the Psalms we find a vindication of this right: “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord” (Ps. 101:8). (Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1566, Part III, 5, n. 4)
  • “Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.” (Pope Pius XII, Address to the First International Congress of Histopathology of the Nervous System, 14 September 1952, XIV, 328)
And finally, some teachings from the doctors of the Church:
  • “The same divine authority that forbids the killing of a human being establishes certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. The agent who executes the killing does not commit homicide; he is an instrument as is the sword with which he cuts. Therefore, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of public authority to put criminals to death, according to the law, that is, the will of the most just reason.” – (St. Augustine, The City of God, Book 1, chapter 21)
  • It is written: “Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live” (Ex. 22:18); and: “In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land” (Ps. 100:8). …Every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part exists naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we see that if the health of the whole human body demands the excision of a member, because it became putrid or infectious to the other members, it would be both praiseworthy and healthful to have it cut away. Now every individual person is related to the entire society as a part to the whole. Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and healthful that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since “a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). – (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, II, II, q. 64, art. 2)
  • In Iota Unum, Romano Amerio cites St. Thomas on the expiatory nature of accepting a death sentence:
     

    “Even death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment for those crimes in the next life, or at least part of that punishment, according to the quantities of guilt, resignation, and contrition; but a natural death does not.” (Cf. Romano Amerio Iota Unum, 435)

In his apostolic constitution, Horrendum illud scelus, Pope St. Pius V even decreed that actively homosexual clerics were to be stripped of their office and handed over to the civil authorities, who at that time held sodomy as a capital offense. He wrote: “We determine that clerics guilty of this execrable crime are to be quite gravely punished, so that whoever does not abhor the ruination of the soul, the avenging secular sword of civil laws will certainly deter.”

These are, to borrow words from the New Testament, “hard sayings.” But as Catholics, we are obligated to wrestle with these teachings – especially the ones we don’t understand or find ourselves interiorly opposed to. Taking it upon ourselves to condemn what we disagree with is to challenge the authority and doctrinal orthodoxy of those who proclaimed them true in the first place. The burden is on us to prove, if we really believe it, why some prior teaching was wrong – and how to reconcile that with infallibility and authentic doctrinal development.

The above citations alone should be sufficient to prove that the death penalty was traditionally viewed by the Church as more than just morally permissible in certain circumstances. It seems clear that the traditional view was that, when carried out justly, the execution of criminals deserving of such penalties by the legitimate authority of the state actually served the common good and even had the power to expiate temporal punishment on the part of the guilty. This is something that more recent papal statements — like those found in Evangelium Vitae — fail to address. (More on that in a minute.)

No less contemporary an ecclesiastical authority than Cardinal Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict, admitted at the very least that Catholics had room to disagree on this issue. He stated, as pertains to the question of capital punishment and the worthiness of an individual who supports it to receive Holy 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.

As a student of Church history, it’s no surprise that Ratzinger clarified this. We see why in an article published by Dr. Steven Long, professor of theology at Ave Maria University, on the website Thomistica (run by the Aquinas Center of Ave Maria). In the piece — which specifically addresses the recent joint statement in favor of abolition of the death penalty by four ostensibly Catholic journals — Long demonstrates that acceptance of the right of the state to levy this penalty was a requirement for the restoration of the heretical Waldensians to full communion: Continue Reading

22

Shea Plays Race Card on Death Penalty

 

Mark Shea has been trending left for quite a while and now he is using the favorite tactic of the contemporary left in this country:  race baiting.

 

but it’s totally not about race or anything and if you notice that it is you are “playing the race card”. The Death Penalty: Because the Magisterium is incompetent to teach about faith and morals when American white conservative sacred cows are involved.

 

Have you no sense of decency left Mark?  Of course, it has long been known around Saint Blogs that in the heat of controversy Mark Shea will use any stick to wield against those on the other side, no matter how dirty and unfair the stick is.  Back in 2013 Shea offered a public apology for his bad behavior and I congratulated him on it.  Go here to read my post.  One aspect of apologies is amendment of behavior and, regrettably, since that apology Shea has gotten worse in his public behavior, and the above putrid insult by him of Catholics who hold to the teaching of the Church for almost 2000 years as racists, is beneath contempt and is about as low as one can go in American contemporary discourse.

For 33 years I have engaged in adversarial relationships every day of my professional life as an attorney.  I have always tried to never use unfair arguments and I have always attempted to treat my adversaries with respect.  Sometimes I have felt that this has put me at a slight disadvantage occasionally with attorneys who have a win at all costs mentality.  However, my success record in litigation has been rather good, and I have the added bonus of being able to look at myself in the mirror when I shave.  I think that what I have done as an attorney is a good rule to follow in blogging, whether other bloggers do so or not.

27

The Death Penalty and the Traditional Teaching of the Church

 

Trent Death Penalty

 

One aspect of the current debate in Saint Blogs over the death penalty that I find fascinating is the sheer indifference that many anti-death penalty Catholics have to the fact that the Church until 1995 never challenged the right of the State to execute convicted criminals.  Calls for mercy from clerics were never uncommon, but the justice of the death penalty per se, apart from prudential concerns, never entered into the picture.  Steven Long at Thomistica looks at this:

 

Four Catholic journals–the National Catholic Register,  America, The National Catholic Reporter, and Our Sunday Visitor–have decided to press for the total abolition of the death penalty in the United States in a shared editorial, making only faintly veiled suggestions that it is essentially evil, “abhorrent”.  Their joint editorial may be found, among other places, here. The editorial manifests a wondrously positivistic indifference to, and disregard for, distinctions in doctrine.  That all the Doctors and Fathers of the Church–with the exception of Tertullian who died outside the faith– have taught the essential validity of capital punishment; and that it is the teaching of the Council of Trent that where all the Fathers and Doctors hold one interpretation of Scripture as the proper one, Catholics are to accept it, are two propositions that signify very little in the oppressive culture of mutationist accounts of doctrinal development.  

Wholly unobserved is the high theological note characterizing the profession required of the Waldensians in 1210 in order to re-establish ecclesial communion.  The Waldensians were required to acknowledge among other things the essential justice of the death penalty for grave crime.  Cf. Denzinger, #425—“Concerning secular power we declare that without mortal sin it is possible to exercise a judgment of blood as long as one proceeds to bring punishment not in hatred but in judgment, not incautiously but advisedly.”  Clearly to require this oath for the re-establishment of ecclesial communion at one moment, and then to imply the absolute necessity of the opposite—where what is at stake is not prudential application and limit but the principled possibility of just penalty of death—would constitute not a development of doctrine, but rather a mutation.  Note, again, that the oath required of the Waldensians directly refers to the death penalty in principle and that it indicates that as such it cannot be a malum in se. Nor is it listed as such in Evangelium Vitae, which provides a list of such intrinsic evils from which the death penalty is omitted. 

Are the editors of the journals involved–or the bishops who so commonly describe the death penalty as contrary to human dignity as though it were a malum in se–familiar with the work of the late Eminence Cardinal Avery Dulles on this question?  Or the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church?  Hundreds of years of Catholic teaching in conformity with the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors has acknowledged that implementing the penalty is a prudential matter and that the penalty is essentially valid.  Pope Piux XII taught that the penalty is valid across cultures.  The wisdom of applying this penalty is essentially a prudential matter.  But as prudential there is no such thing as “de facto abolition” since circumstances change, and–again, contrary to the journals and the new enthusiasm–deterrence is a necessary and essential part of criminal justice.  The reason for this last is that we are not free to impose penalties in this life without considering the common good, and an essential part of this consideration is (contrary to Kant who thought that the justice of the death penalty made its application to be absolutely necessary) the issue of deterrence.   Continue Reading

20

Bishops, Lies and the Death Penalty Part Two

 

 

 

 

Saint Thomas Aquinas Death Penalty

 

 

Dudley Sharp has sent TAC part 2 of his response to the anti-death penalty editorial in National Catholic Reporter, America, Our Sunday Visitor and National Catholic Register:

 

One of the major problems with the Church’s newest teachings on the death penalty is that neither the Bishops, nor any other Catholics, opposed to the death penalty, fact checks anything the anti death penalty movement produces,  resulting in error after error presented to the flock, undermining the truth. You must fact check and consider opposing facts to find the truth. As a rule, on this topic, the Church will not do that.

On this topic, the Bishops have accepted anti death penalty claims, as gospel (small “g”), even when they conflict with Church teachings, as described.

“NCR” is for quotes from the referenced op/ed, with my reply as “Sharp reply”.

NCR: “(The death penalty) is also insanely expensive as court battles soak up resources better deployed in preventing crime”.

Sharp reply: It is all but guaranteed that the publications editors blindly accepted the anti death penalty material on the costs of the death penalty and fact checked nothing, just as with the bishops.

Since 1976, Virginia executed 108 murderers (70% of those sent to death row), within 7.1 years, on average, a protocol that would save money in all jurisdictions (1).

It is irresponsible not to fact check in any public policy debate, especially one where a religious flock is depending upon the truth, Fact check the cost claims and the studies, next time (1).

NCR: “Admirably, Florida has halted executions until the Supreme Court rules”

Sharp replies: Of the many options that Ok has for execution protocols, one of those. primarily, being considered, in the Glossip case, is nearly identical protocol in Florida, which is why Florida suspended executions.. Florida has had no problems with that protocol.

NCR: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty until he has received and reviewed a task force’s report on capital punishment, which he called “a flawed system … ineffective, unjust, and expensive.” Both governors also cited the growing number of death row inmates who have been exonerated nationwide in recent years.”

Sharp reply: Virtually all of the problems that Pa. has had are based upon a judiciary, which has no respect for the death penalty law. Only three executions have occurred within Pa, since 1976, all of whom were “volunteers” who waived appeals. allowing executions. The judges will, otherwise, not allow any executions and/or will overturn the cases, also stopping executions. See Virginia, above, in contrast.

The Governor only made official what everyone knew that the judges had already done.

You may be happy with the judges, but be careful what you wish for, with judges that flaunt the law, simply because they don’t like it, becoming dictators in robes, not ruling guided by the law, but, instead, ruling to spite the law.

NOTE: Politics at play. The five Governors who have suspended executions are all Democrats, as, additionally, were/are the Governors that, in recent years, signed laws to repeal the death penalty, after Democratic majority legislators passed the bills. I believe all those governors support abortion, an intrinsic evil within Catholic teaching, whereas the death penalty is not and any Catholic can support more executions and remain a Catholic in good standing, the opposite of those who support abortion. Continue Reading

32

Tom McKenna on the Death Penalty

 

 

“Q. 1276. Under what circumstances may human life be lawfully taken? A. Human life may be lawfully taken: 1. In self-defense, when we are unjustly attacked and have no other means of saving our own lives; 2. In a just war, when the safety or rights of the nation require it; 3. By the lawful execution of a criminal, fairly tried and found guilty of a crime punishable by death when the preservation of law and order and the good of the community require such execution.”

Baltimore Catechism

 

 

 

Long time readers will recognize commenter Tom as my worthy adversary on many a Civil War post here at TAC.  Tom, a prosecutor in real life, has done yeoman’s work for years in defending the traditional teaching of the Church in regard to the death penalty at his blog Seeking Justice.  He has done a series of posts in response to the anti-death penalty editorial of Our Sunday Visitor, the Jesuit rag America, National Catholic Birdcage Liner Reporter and National Catholic Register that are well worth reading.

So it seems that some Catholic papers that few people read, joined by a blog group that few people read, are taking a brave and bold stand for justice in favor of… convicted murderers, and urging abolition of the death penalty.

Where to begin with this crew?  The sanctimony and name-calling directed at those like myself who merely uphold what the Catholic Church has always and everywhere taught about capital punishment?  The shoddy reasoning that simultaneously claims to support the Catholic Catechism (which teaches that capital punishment is morally legitimate but should be used rarely) while claiming at the same time that the death penalty intrinsically violates human rights, and ought not just be used rarely, but abolished altogether?

Or perhaps to point out that when they say it’s “three popes and the current magisterium” against St. Thomas Aquinas and the Church’s traditional teaching on this matter, they are buying into the very “hermeneutic of rupture” between current Catholic teaching and traditional Catholic teaching which they routinely criticize some Traditionalists (scornfully called “Rad-Trads”) for espousing, and which was condemned by Pope Benedict XVI as a faulty view of Vatican II and post conciliar teachings?

Or to remind them when they call us (without apparent irony) “lovers of death” that it was precisely one of those three Popes, the same Benedict, who stated, “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.” 

But this crew is undeterred by facts, which they resolutely ignore as being inconvenient to their “America is Moloch” meme (such as: the death penalty is very rarely used in the US and only on offenders who could not reasonably be “rendered harmless” by incarceration).  It is undeterred by a religious teaching going back 6,000 years and utterly irreformable, and a principle of the Natural Law itself, that gives societies the right and even duty to protect themselves and to carry out justice by resort to the death penalty.  It is shameless in its lack of actual knowledge of the criminal justice system and penal systems, and what each can reasonably accomplish to “render offenders harmless”.  But from their basement blogging outposts and neatly isolated cubicles in Madison, this questionable alliance of  dissenters, some “conservative” Catholics, some thoroughly liberal, such as those found in the pages of Catholic-in-name-only America and National Catholic Reporter, forge ahead, facts be damned, Church teaching be damned, public safety be damned. Continue Reading

11

Bishops, Lies and the Death Penalty

 

 

 

Saint Thomas Aquinas Death Penalty

 

 

Hattip to Pewsitter.  Dudley Sharp, who has commented at TAC, has written a response to the editorial boards of Our Sunday Visitor, National Catholic Register, the Jesuit rag America and National Catholic Fishwrap Reporter:

TO: the Editorial Boards of America magazine, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, and Our Sunday Visitor

One of the major problems with the Church’s newest teachings on the death penalty is that neither the Bishops, nor any other Catholics, opposed to the death penalty, appears to fact check anything the anti death penalty movement produces,  resulting in error after error presented to the flock, undermining the truth. You must fact check and consider opposing facts (1) to find the truth. As a rule, on this topic, the Church will not do that.

The Bishops have accepted anti death penalty claims, as gospel (small “g”), even when they conflict with Church teachings, as described.

“NCR” is for quotes from the referenced op/ed, with my reply as “Sharp reply”.

NCR: “Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) will hear arguments in Glossip v. Gross, a case out of Oklahoma that challenges the most widely used lethal injection protocol as being cruel and unusual punishment.”

Sharp reply: That is untrue. as found within Glossip, Oklahoma has adopted many new additional protocols, which are unique to Ok – not the most “widely used” and are those which will be the areas of contention at SCOTUS.

NCR: “Our hope is that (the Glossip v. Gross case) will hasten the end of the death penalty in the United States.

Sharp reply: SCOTUS will only look at the specific new protocols, within Glossip. All different protocols, of other jurisdiction will survive, be that alternate lethal injection methods, gas, hanging and firing squad, which exist in other states, the federal government and the military.

Based upon the facts, detailed within the 10th Circuit ruling (1/12/15), against the plaintiffs, it appears most likely that SCOTUS will reject their appeals, as well, and accept Ok new protocol.

In addition, it appears possible, if not likely, that Ok will adopt a nitrogen gas (NG) protocol, prior to the SCOTUS decision. NG has already been approved in an Ok  legislative committee. NG has none of the downsides of any other method, NG is a completely painless execution method, as well as providing an endless supply, which cannot be withheld (1) and which may be adopted by all states, which wish to minimize delay, legal challenge and costs.

NCR: Archbishop Thomas Wenski, of Miami stated, “… the use of the death penalty devalues human life and diminishes respect for human dignity. We bishops continue to say, we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”

Sharp reply: For about 2000 years the Church has taught that the death penalty is based upon the value of innocent life and an abiding respect for the dignity of man (2).

What the Archbishop is, now saying, is that for 2000 years the Church supported that which devalued human life and that which diminished respect for human dignity, a claim which no knowledgeable Catholic can or should accept.

The Archbishop is just repeating standard anti death penalty nonsense which has no respect for Catholic teachings and tradition.

One wonders – why he raises false anti death penalty teachings above Catholic teachings, a common problem for many of the bishops.

The Archbishop states: “We bishops continue to say, ‘we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing’. ”

Sadly, they do.

The Bishops are just repeating, again, common anti death penalty nonsense.

We all know that murder is wrong, even if there is no sanction.

The Bishops are unaware that sanction doesn’t teach that murder is wrong – Church morality and tradition, as well as clear biblical texts teach that murder is wrong.

Sanction is the outcome of that moral teaching. Those are the rational and traditional teachings, which, somehow, the bishops have discarded and replaced with this anti death penalty nonsense. How and why?

Execution of murderers has never been declared immoral by the Church and never will be (2). The foundation for the death penalty is justice, just as with all sanctions for all crimes.

These inexplicable gaffs may cause good Catholics to wonder when reason and tradition vanished.

NCR: Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley stated: “Society can protect itself in ways other than the use of the death penalty,”

Sharp reply: Cardinal, the proper standard is what sanction is most just for the crime committed, what the Church has called the primary consideration (CCC 1995, 2003) and what sanction provides greater protection for innocents.

The death penalty provides greater protection for innocents, in three ways, than does a life sentence (3).

One example:

There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since the 1930s (3).

Just since 1973, from 14,000 – 28,000 innocents have been murdered by those known murderers that we have allowed to murder, again – recidivist murderers ( two recidivism studies covering two different  periods) (3)

My guess is that none of the Bishops are aware, because they haven’t looked, as with EV and CCC.

NCR: “the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church . . . include a de facto prohibition against capital punishment.”

Sharp reply: First, the de facto prohibition is based upon several errors (4).

Secondly, as the most recent death penalty teachings have been confirmed, by the Church, as being a prudential judgment, any Catholic may reject the Church’s latest teaching on the death penalty (4), honor the Church’s teachings of the previous 2000 years, and seek more executions, based within justice and the fact that executions offer greater protections for innocent lives (4).

Endnotes:

1) Intro. Basic pro death penalty review:

The Death Penalty: Justice and Saving More Innocents

http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-death-penalty-justice-saving-more.html

 

2) For more than 2000 years, there has been Catholic  support for the death penalty, from Popes, Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, church leadership, biblical scholars and theologians that, in breadth and depth, overwhelms any teachings to the contrary, particularly those wrongly dependent upon secular concerns such as defense of society and the poor standards of criminal justice systems in protecting the innocent.

The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-death-penalty-mercy-expiation.html

See Catholic references within:

New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming

http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2014/01/new-testament-death-penalty-support.html

 

3) The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-death-penalty-do-innocents-matter.html

 

4)  Current Problems: Catholic Death Penalty Teaching: Most recent Catechism (last amended 2003)

http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2014_10_26_archive.html Continue Reading

56

A Disgrace

 

 

As my co-blogger Paul notes here, National Catholic Register, the Jesuit rag America, National Catholic Distorter Reporter, and Our Sunday Visitor have a joint editorial calling on the Supreme Court to decree by judicial fiat, in precisely the same manner that it legalized abortion, the abolition of the death penalty.  Well, lets look at these four publications.

No surprise from America and National Catholic Reporter.  They are leftist propaganda organs and have precisely the same respect for the traditional teaching of the Church as they do for the Constitution:  bupkis.

Our Sunday Visitor has always been a fairly lickspittle publication that has usually blown to and fro with the changing winds from the Vatican.  Their theme song might as well be Company Way:

 

That brings us to National Catholic Register.  They should know better.  They should especially know better than to try to defend their blatant betrayal of principle with the following cheesy editorial:

From the time of the publication of his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope St. John Paul II urged Catholics to re-examine the use of the death penalty — teaching that its use today should be “very rare if not practically nonexistent.” His successors Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis consistently have taught the same.  

We’ve taken that teaching to heart. We’ve prayerfully pondered it, and we accept it. Our reporting over the years has reflected this teaching. And, while we recognize that the Church has allowed for the legitimate use of the death penalty for society’s self-defense, we find that it’s harder and harder to argue that a particular act of capital punishment is circumstantially necessary today in contemporary America. We believe the right path is to seek its abolition, and we’ve taken the opportunity, along with other members of the Catholic press, to encourage our readers to consider this stance as a part of comprehensively embracing the gospel of life. 

Today, we face ever-increasing assaults on the sanctity of human life. Unity among Catholics in defense of life can send a powerful message. Euthanasia, abortion, war and capital punishment differ in moral weight, but they all threaten human dignity, and we must work to end them. While we look forward to the day we can stand in unity with the other Catholic publications on each of these life issues, we stand today on the death penalty, strengthened by the teaching of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, and say, Capital punishment must end.”

 

Let’s take this apart piece by piece, shall we?

1.  Prior to 1995 the Church had absolutely no problem with the death penalty.  John Paul II’s stance was at odds with the consistent teaching of the Church since the time of Christ.

2.  Even John Paul II did not call for the complete abolition of the death penalty, because that would have been a flat reversal of the prior teaching of the Church, which is what this editorial calls for.

3.  Capital punishment not necessary in contemporary America?  I will assume that no one on the editorial board of the National Catholic Register has loved ones who work in prisons.  Murders by individuals serving life sentences are not uncommon of both guards and fellow inmates.  Of course the issue is additionally complicated by the fact that Pope Francis has come out against life sentences.  This would indicate under 2267 that the death penalty is licit since contrary to the assertion in that section of the Catechism, we have no way of assuring that a convicted murderer cannot kill again, especially if we follow the Pope’s lead and no longer have life sentences for murderers.

4.  The Gospel of Life-The idea that the death penalty is antithetical to the protection of innocent life is so looney that it could only have been developed during a period when society, and a great many clergy and laity within the Church, had badly lost their moral compasses.  Equating convicted murderers with unborn children is simply obscene.  I can understand people who have prudential concerns about the death penalty.  For 33 years I have seen up close what an imperfect instrument law is.  If the people of a state or a nation wish to abolish the death penalty, it is not a hot button issue for me.  However, such prudential concerns are a far cry from the assertion that being for the death penalty is in any way in opposition to the Gospel.

5.  While we look forward to the day we can stand in unity with the other Catholic publications on each of these life issues,

That is the most hilarious section of the editorial.  America and National Catholic Reporter do not give a damn about abortion or euthanasia. When they are not giving space to people who think abortion and euthanasia are civil rights, they are carrying water for the party of abortion and euthanasia.

6.  The most disheartening aspect of this editorial is how adamantly determined it is to pretend that Catholic teaching on the death penalty began in 1995.  Of all the heresies that beset the Church today, perhaps the most perfidious one is presentism, the idea that all that matters in the Church is what current Popes and other ecclesiastics say and do rather than the broad teaching of the Church.  That is not how the Church operated for almost all of her history, and that is not how our greatest Saints viewed the teaching of the Church. Continue Reading

10

Various and Sundry, 3/5/15

– Jay Anderson has indicated he has written his final blog post, so I will provide him one last link. It seems that the heads of the four families – excuse, me the big four Catholic publications have joined forces and issued a joint editorial. They have set aside their differences and collaborated to discuss the burning issue of the day. Liberal and conservative, orthodox and heterodox: these labels mean nothing when it comes to this unequivocal teaching of the Church*. Yes, finally, America, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, and Our Sunday Visitor have written their joint editorial calling for an end to abortion, rebutting same-sex marriage, condemning the genocide of Christians taking place in the Middle East, calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

These four Catholic publications have decided that the paramount issue bridging the gap between these distinct entities is the death penalty. What’s more, they’re not calling for the election of local legislators who will vote to outlaw the death penalty in their respective states. Oh no, they’re calling for the raw judicial activism when the Court decides on the case of Glossip v. Gross. Despite the fact that the death penalty is one of the few things manifestly countenanced by the U.S. Constitution, (after all, if you need to write amendments saying you can’t deprive someone of their lives without due process you’re tacitly admitting you can deprive citizens of their lives with due process) these four publications are totally cool with judicial activism so long as such activism comports with their personal preferences.

Jay notes that in his very first blog post he wrote:

Sir Thomas More’s admonition to Roper should serve as a warning and a reminder to Catholics that the activist Court that sides with us in this particular instance is the same activist Court that is likely in the future (as it has in the past) to “turn round on us” and use its increasingly strident activism to decide cases contrary to our Catholic values.

This was in reference to Roper v. Simmons, another death penalty case. Now, here we are, ten years later these supposedly Catholic publications are totally fine with the use of raw judicial power. They’re fine with it now, but where will they be in ten years when judicial activists deprive Catholics of basic First Amendment rights?

Like Jay I am personally opposed to the death penalty, but I’m even more opposed to legislation by judicial fiat, and those who support the Court declaring unconstitutional that which is concretely and unambiguously constitutional are compliant in an act of judicial tyranny, even if it is for an ostensibly good cause.

*Footnote here for the sarcasm impaired. Let’s just say that traditional Catholic teaching is no more prohibitive of the death penalty than the U.S. Constitution.

– Anna Mussmann muses that we’re over-complicating motherhood. It’s of a similar vein to what I’ve written before, suggesting that helicopter parenting is a symptom of selfish parenting. Her take is a little different, but well worth the read.

– I just can’t quit the latest Clinton scandal. It’s odd that this is the thing that has dented the Clintons’ teflon coating, to the point where even Lawrence O’Donnell is abandoning ship. Now the website Gawker demonstrates that Clinton’s use of a personal email account was a huge security risk. Long story short, Clinton preferred having her emails fall in the lap of Russia than an intrusive American press.

Here’s another Hot Air link. The Republican party now controls more state houses than any point in recent history, and they owe it all to President Obama. The party that is supposedly on its deathbed is routing Democrats at all local levels. This ascendancy started before Obama was immaculated, but has only sped up since.

– Darwin’s take on when to call the cops on a kid.

If you see a property or violent crime being committed, by all means call the cops. Or if a kid is doing something which seems likely to directly result in death or injury. If a child seems genuinely lost, upset or hurt, and you’re not able to find an adult connected with them (especially if you’ve taken the time to ask the kid if she needs help and she says yes) then by all means summon help.

But keep in mind that calling the cops on a family can have traumatic (and at times even fatal) consequences. “I wouldn’t let my kid walk home alone,” is probably not a serious enough reason, unless you happen to live rather literally in a war zone.

A victory today for the revolutionaries who dared to sled on Capitol Hill.

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What Would Jesus Do On the Death Penalty?

 

whatwjd

 

I always find questions that begin “What Would Jesus Do?” rather obnoxious for two reasons.  First, because they are usually posed by people absolutely certain that Jesus follows their views in lockstep, and second, because Christ of course is God and the mind of the All-Mighty is unknowable to us.  As Lincoln put it so well in his Second Inaugural:

Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

So questions that begin “What Would Jesus Do”?, strike me as presumptuous at best and blasphemous at worst.

Johnathan Merritt at The Atlantic seems very confident as to the position of Jesus on the death penalty.  He would be against it:

 

Many forget that Jesus once served as a one-man jury on a death-penalty case. In a famous New Testament story, an adulterous woman was dragged to Jesus’ feet. The woman was guilty of a capital offense and had been caught in the act by at least one witness. The law mandated her death but Jesus prescribed a different response: “Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” He was teaching that only a perfect being—only God—should have power over death and life. Continue Reading

4

Conrad Black’s Messy Attack on Scalia

Conrad Black has written one of the most rambling and fairly incoherent things I’ve ever seen in quite some time.  I’m not quite sure what his overall point is, but he ends up attacking Antonin Scalia  of all people.

But some are, including Justice Antonin Scalia, who, as Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times on October 2, has attacked the complainant in a civil suit to stop the banning of co-ed dormitories at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. As Ms. Dowd pointed out, Justice Scalia has not hesitated prior to this to volunteer publicly either his solidarity with his Church militant, or his dissent from it. But in the case of the Roman Catholic Church’s long-held and oft-expressed (by four recent popes) hostility to the death penalty, Justice Scalia recently told Duquesne University in Pittsburgh that if he thought “that Catholic doctrine held the death penalty to be immoral, I would resign.” Since he could not possibly be unaware of the views of the Holy See over the past 50 years (John Paul I was the only pope in that time who did not reign long enough to opine on the subject), nor of the authority of the pope to speak on such matters for the whole Church, it is not clear why he is not delivering his letter of resignation to the president instead of sticking his nose into the dormitory rules in one of the national capital’s universities.

To move the inquiry that Ms. Dowd usefully started to entirely secular matters, there could be searching questions about why the Supreme Court has sat like a great suet pudding for decades while the Bill of Rights has been raped by the prosecution service with the connivance of the legislators, a tri-branch travesty against the civil rights of the whole population, but I will spare readers another dilation on that subject. However, Justice Scalia’s preoccupation with the dormitories of the Catholic University of America (a matter that is now, to the Justice’s chagrin, sub judice), is, in the circumstances and to say the least, bizarre.

Leaving that aside, the report card on the co-equal branches is not uplifting: The legislators and the executive wimped out on abortion and immigration. The beehive of conscientious jurists on the Supreme Court applied a completely amoral test to get to a defensible conclusion on abortion when it was dumped by default on them to determine. And its most vocal current Roman Catholic member, swaddling himself in his faith, upholds the death penalty in contradiction to the popes, holds in pectore his views on abortion (which is not now before the high court, though not for absence of petitions), and thunders fire and brimstone about coeducational university dormitories, which is not, I think, a subject that the See of Peter has addressed.

This is just bizarre.  From relying on Maureen Dowd as a source of criticism of Scalia’s Catholicism, to his complete non sequiter about Scalia’s involvement in the CUA suit, to Black completely misconstruing Church teaching on the death penalty; this turned into an unholy mess of an article that already has no clear thesis.

I was all set to write a response, but Shannen Coffin has already done so masterfully.   I’d be violating fair use to copy and paste the whole thing, but you must read the whole thing.  But here are the key passages: Continue Reading

72

Scottish Cardinal Makes Fool of Himself

The primate of Scotland, Keith Cardinal O’Brien, today in the newspaper Scotland on Sunday, decried the attempts by the United States Senate to investigate the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, who was convicted of the bombing on January 31, 2001, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  On August 20, 2009 al-Megrahi was released by the Scottish government to Libya, ostensibly on the compassionate grounds that he was dying of prostate cancer.

The text of the Cardinal’s article may be read here.

His argument basically consists of allegations that America has a “Culture of Vengeance” since we have the death penalty, while the Scottish justice system embraces compassion as demonstrated by the freeing of the Lockerbie bomber.

There is no polite way to put this.  The Cardinal’s article is rubbish from beginning to end.

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Gov Perry Moves to Stall Investigation of Execution of Innocent Man

Megan McArdle links to a post by Publius of Obsidian Wings on Governor Perry’s recent move to slow the investigation into likely miscarriage of justice (due to a faulty arson investigation) which resulted in the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. This much-discussed New Yorker article makes a fairly solid case that the evidence that Willingham set fire to his own house (resulting in the death of his three daughters) was far from conclusive. Publius says:

In 2005, after the execution, Texas established a commission to investigate forensic errors, and the commission started reviewing the Willingham case. In the course of its review, the commission hired a nationally recognized fire expert who ultimately wrote a “scathing report” concluding that the arson investigation was a joke.

The expert was originally set to testify about his report on Friday, October 2. On Sept. 30, however, Perry suddenly replaced three members of the panel, including the chair, against their wishes. The new chair promptly canceled the hearing. More recently, Perry replaced a fourth member (he can only appoint four — other state officials appoint the remaining five members).
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42

Tortured Credibility

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.

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8

Catholic Campaign for Human Development – Tainted by ACORN or Still Rotten Itself?

A lone individual with a sign protesting the second collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development sets Vox Nova‘s Morning’s Minion on a tirade against Fr. Neuhaus and evangelicals:

After a moment of confusion, it suddenly dawned on me what this was about. And then I became rather angry. Yes, it was just one “whack-job”, but I was still angry. And then I thought of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’s partially-successful attempt to align Catholics with the emergent right-wing evangelical movement, and realized that it had come to this. Catholics, including Neuhaus, were lambasting an anti-poverty program because it simply did not fit with the the ideological talking points of the hour.

As Fr. Neuhaus points out, “Ten years ago, CCHD was exposed as using the Catholic Church as a milk cow to fund organizations that frequently were actively working against the Church’s mission, especially in their support of pro-abortion activities and politicians.”

Pointing to the CCHD’s stated principles, including that it “will not consider organizations which promote or support abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, or any other affront to human life and dignity,” Morning’s Minion dismisses Neuhaus’ concerns:

This is important as many of the critics (including Neuhaus) claim it is funding pro-abortion activities. (Yet again, the mis-use of the abortion agenda as a Trojan horse to further a distinctly less noble cause– will this ever end?)

Unfortunately, Neuhaus’ claim is true — CCHD has a disappointing history of, contrary to its stated principles, providing extensive funding for questionable political groups with agendas morally at odds with Catholic teaching.

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