A Matter of Justice
A Truly Catholic Look at Capital Punishment
By Mario Derksen
I. Perennial Church Teaching on the Death Penalty
The Catholic acceptance of the death penalty as a legitimate means of punishment for very severe crimes is perennial. The legitimacy of capital punishment is rooted in the Old Testament, of course, which hardly needs mention, for anyone who's read even a little bit of the Old Testament knows that death was a sentence justly inflicted for certain crimes, commanded by God Himself (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 22:18; Psalm 100:8; etc.).
As far as the New Testament is concerned, there, too, we find an endorsement of capital punishment:
"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).
That is pretty straightforward. In addition, we do well to recall that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), and that somebody who kills another human being unjustly deserves to die himself. Remember that the words of Holy Scripture are divinely inspired. If St. Paul had thought capital punishment to be incompatible with the Gospel, he would hardly have written these lines. Other Scripture passages from the New Testament that can be used to show the legitimacy of capital punishment are John 19:11 and 1 Peter 2:13.
St. Augustine wrote in the fifth century A.D. in his monumental City of God:
The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows 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. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, 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 the State's authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice. (qtd. in Cardinal Avery Dulles, "Catholicism and Capital Punishment," First Things, April 2001)
In 1210, Pope Innocent III maintained against the Waldensians: "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" (Denzinger 425).
Of course, the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, also wrote about the death penalty in his phenomenal Summa Theologica, Part II-II, Q. 64, art. 2. On the question of whether it is lawful to kill a sinner, he responded as follows, first giving three objections to the Catholic view, then giving and explaining the Catholic view, and then refuting the specific objections given at the beginning:
Objection 1. It would seem unlawful to kill men who have sinned. For our Lord in the parable (Mt. 13) forbade the uprooting of the cockle which denotes wicked men according to a gloss. Now whatever is forbidden by God is a sin. Therefore it is a sin to kill a sinner.
Objection 2. Further, human justice is conformed to Divine justice. Now according to Divine justice sinners are kept back for repentance, according to Ezech. 33:11, "I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." Therefore it seems altogether unjust to kill sinners.
Objection 3. Further, it is not lawful, for any good end whatever, to do that which is evil in itself, according to Augustine (Contra Mendac. vii) and the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 6). Now to kill a man is evil in itself, since we are bound to have charity towards all men, and "we wish our friends to live and to exist," according to Ethic. ix, 4. Therefore it is nowise lawful to kill a man who has sinned.
On the contrary, It is written (Ex. 22:18): "Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live"; and (Ps. 100:8): "In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land."
I answer that, As stated above . . ., it is lawful to kill dumb animals, in so far as they are naturally directed to man's use, as the imperfect is directed to the perfect. Now every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part is naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we observe that if the health of the whole body demands the excision of a member, through its being decayed or infectious to the other members, it will be both praiseworthy and advantageous to have it cut away. Now every individual person is compared to the whole community, as part to whole. Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since "a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump" (1 Cor. 5:6).
Reply to Objection 1. Our Lord commanded them to forbear from uprooting the cockle in order to spare the wheat, i.e. the good. This occurs when the wicked cannot be slain without the good being killed with them, either because the wicked lie hidden among the good, or because they have many followers, so that they cannot be killed without danger to the good, as Augustine says (Contra Parmen. iii, 2). Wherefore our Lord teaches that we should rather allow the wicked to live, and that vengeance is to be delayed until the last judgment, rather than that the good be put to death together with the wicked. When, however, the good incur no danger, but rather are protected and saved by the slaying of the wicked, then the latter may be lawfully put to death.
Reply to Objection 2. According to the order of His wisdom, God sometimes slays sinners forthwith in order to deliver the good, whereas sometimes He allows them time to repent, according as He knows what is expedient for His elect. This also does human justice imitate according to its powers; for it puts to death those who are dangerous to others, while it allows time for repentance to those who sin without grievously harming others.
Reply to Objection 3. By sinning man departs from the order of reason, and consequently falls away from the dignity of his manhood, in so far as he is naturally free, and exists for himself, and he falls into the slavish state of the beasts, by being disposed of according as he is useful to others. This is expressed in Ps. 48:21: "Man, when he was in honor, did not understand; he hath been compared to senseless beasts, and made like to them," and Prov. 11:29: "The fool shall serve the wise." Hence, although it be evil in itself to kill a man so long as he preserve his dignity, yet it may be good to kill a man who has sinned, even as it is to kill a beast. For a bad man is worse than a beast, and is more harmful, as the Philosopher states (Polit. i, 1 and Ethic. vii, 6).
This is the perennial Catholic teaching, expressed and explained by the wisdom of St. Thomas.
Next in our brief historical survey of Catholic teaching on the death penalty, we come upon the Catechism of the Council of Trent, from the late 1500's. Commenting on the Fifth Commandment ("Thou Shalt Not Kill"), the Roman Catechism says:
Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.
Clearly, capital punishment is lawful to be inflicted on grave sinners, in order to preserve and secure the sanctity of human life. Some may find this ironic that human life should be secured and preserved by killing another human life, but it is not. Rather, capital punishment makes it clear that if innocent human life is violated, the life guilty of the crime will be terminated so that justice is done and the natural order is restored. Capital punishment therefore demonstrates how seriously it takes the dignity of innocent human life--so seriously that the taking of it is answered by the taking of the guilty human life.
This distinction between innocent human life and guilty human life is all but ignored nowadays. The life of the victim and of the criminal are put on the same level, as if the criminal had not forfeited his right to life by his heinous act. But let me keep further commentary for later. Right now, we're only concerned with demonstrating how perennial the Church's endorsement of the death penalty is.
The next stop in our historical survey is the great work The Catechism Explained by Fr. Francis Spirago, from 1899. This book is now back in print from TAN Books. Fr. Francis teaches the following about capital punishment:
"The officers of justice, in as far as they stand in the place of God, have the right to sentence evil-doers to capital punishment. . . . The authority of the magistrate is God's authority; when he condemns a criminal, it is not he who condemns him, but God. . . . Yet the judge must not act arbitrarily; he must only sentence the criminal to death when the welfare of society demands it. Human society is a body of which each individual is a member; and as a diseased limb has to be amputated in order to save the body, so criminals must be executed to save society. As a matter of course the culprit's guilt must be proved; better let the guilty go free than condemn the innocent. It is an error to suppose that the Church advocates capital punishment on the principle of retaliation; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This is a principle of Judaism, not of Christianity. The Church does not like to see blood shed, she desires that every sinner should have time to amend. She permits, but does not approve capital punishment."
(Francis Spirago, The Catechism Explained, ed. by Richard Clarke [Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1993], 388-89; italics added for emphasis.)
Fr. Francis is clear: the Catholic teaching allows for capital punishment if the well-being of society requires it. Justice permits it. It has nothing to do with the "dignity" of the criminal, nor is it used to "get back" at the offender in the sense of personal vengeance.
Next, let us consider what The Catechism of St. Pius X has to say on the topic of capital punishment:
3 Q. Are there cases in which it is lawful to kill?
A. It is lawful to kill when fighting in a just war; when carrying out by order of the Supreme Authority a sentence of death in punishment of a crime; and, finally, in cases of necessary and lawful defense of one's own life against an unjust aggressor.
Again, the perennial teaching allowing for the death sentence is confirmed.
Finally, as recently as the 1952, Pope Pius XII reiterated the constant Catholic doctrine:
"Even when it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death, the state does not dispose of the individual's right to live. Rather, it is reserved to the public authority to deprive the criminal of the benefit of life, when already, by his crime, he has deprived himself of the right to live." (A.A.S., 1952, pp. 779ff.)
Further confirmation on the perennial endorsement of capital punishment by the Church may be found in St. Thomas Aquinas' Catechetical Instructions, Fr. Heribert Jone's book Moral Theology, and the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913).
This now concludes our brief historical survey of what the Church has always taught with regards to the morality of capital punishment.
II. The Church's Theology of Punishment
There is a popular slogan to be heard among anti-death penalty activistis. It asks, "Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?" But this slogan is fallacious. But because it contains so much rhetoric, people do not immediately see the fallacy. What's the fallacy contained therein? Quite simply, the assumption that we believe and want to demonstrate that killing is wrong. We don't. What is wrong is killing the innocent and without the proper authority. But many people don't realize this, and, persuaded by the slogan, they adopt it themselves and start raving against capital punishment.
In reality, however, the slogan should be, "Why do we kill guilty people who kill innocent people to show that killing innocent people is wrong?" And of course, when we ask the question this way (and this is the only correct way), then the answer is immediately obvious.
"Thou Shalt Not Kill" is to be understood in the sense of "Thou Shalt Not Murder." And when the state, the legitimate authority, kills after due process those who have murdered innocent people, then the state, while killing, is not murdering. Otherwise, it would have been absurd for God to suggest that killing is intrinsically wrong and then command the Israelites to kill those who break that commandment (cf. Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17; )--and not only those. In Exodus 21, we read of crimes other than killing that are nevertheless punishable by death. Obviously, unless God Himself would execute the criminal in question (as, e.g., in Numbers 16:29-33), one of the Israelites had to do it. But this person would not be guilty of murder or any other sin because he was carrying out a command from God and did not kill anyone innocent, nor did he kill on his own authority.
The difference between innocent and guilty people is most crucial and essential, but, alas, it is so often ignored or overlooked nowadays. But this distinction is at the basis of the justification of punishment. Let us, then, take a look now at the Church's teaching on punishment in general.
The main factor to be considered in an explanation of punishment is Justice - God's Justice. Romans 1:32 reminds us that especially wicked sinners deserve death: "Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death: and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them."
God's Justice is at the heart of the theology of punishment. Though God forgives our sins, even those sins which have been forgiven us may still require satisfaction (cf. Denzinger 922), which often reaches beyond the few prayers the priest gives us as a penance. The satisfaction we make by penance does not forgive the sin committed but reestablishes the moral order that has been violated and helps us get our good relationship with God back on track.
The Sacred Scriptures mirror the Catholic theology of punishment, of course. In 2 Kings [2 Samuel] 12:13-14, for instance, we read: "And David said to Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said to David: The Lord also hath taken away thy sin: thou shalt not die. Nevertheless, because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, for this thing, the child that is born to thee, shall surely die."
Similarly, in Numbers 12:1-2,4-15:
"And Mary and Aaron spoke against Moses, because of his wife the Ethiopian, and they said: Hath the Lord spoken by Moses only? Hath he not also spoken to us in like manner? And when the Lord heard this, immediately he spoke to him, and to Aaron and Mary: Come out you three only to the tabernacle of the covenant. And when they were come out, the Lord came down in a pillar of the cloud, and stood in the entry of the tabernacle calling to Aaron and Mary. And when they were come, he said to them: Hear my words: if there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision, or I will speak to him in a dream. But it is not so with my servant Moses who is most faithful in all my house: For I speak to him mouth to mouth: and plainly, and not by riddles and figures doth he see the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak ill of my servant Moses? And being angry with them he went away: The cloud also that was over the tabernacle departed: and behold Mary appeared white as snow with a leprosy. And when Aaron had looked on her, and saw her all covered with leprosy, He said to Moses: I beseech thee, my lord, lay not upon us this sin, which we have foolishly committed: Let her not be as one dead, and as an abortive that is cast forth from the mother's womb. Lo, now one half of her flesh is consumed with the leprosy. And Moses cried to the Lord, saying O God, I beseech thee heal her. And the Lord answered him: If her father had spitten upon her face, ought she not to have been ashamed for seven days at least? Let her be separated seven days without the camp, and afterwards she shall be called again. Mary therefore was put out of the camp seven days: and the people moved not from that place until Mary was called again."
Again, God is willing to forgive sin, but this does not mean His justice is entirely vindicated and He desires no more satisfaction on our part. And this is not just an Old Covenant principle; it's also true of the New Covenant. Though our Lord Jesus Christ's Sacrifice was perfect, we must not think for a minute that Christ underwent our punishment, so that we would not have to suffer anything anymore. He did not! Rather, Christ offered Himself as a propitiatory sacrifice to the Father, on account of which God forgives us. But again, forgiveness of a sin does not necessarily include satisfaction for that sin. But even the satisfaction we make is made worthy and effective and meritorious only through Jesus's death on the Cross for us. So, either way, both our forgiveness and ability to make satisfaction depend upon our Most Holy Lord's Work on the Cross. But, in turn, this does not absolve us from our responsibility of making satisfaction, even though the strength we need to do it ultimately derives from Christ.
The holy Council of Trent teaches this quite beautifully: "All our glorying is in Christ, in whom we live, in whom we merit, in whom we make satisfaction, bringing forth worthy fruits of penance, which have their efficacy from Him, by Him are offered to the Father, and through Him are accepted by the Father" (Session 14, Chapter VIII).
Basically, the relationship between God's Justice and His Mercy is such that, for those who die in a state of grace, Mercy will triumph over Justice; but for those who die in mortal sin, enemies of God, Justice will triumph over Mercy.
Given that we now live in the post-conciliar church and a post-hippie "peace, man" society, it is not all that surprising that, all of a sudden, the essential ingredient of Justice in the theology of punishment should have disappeared: "In the new theology of punishment, justice is not considered, and the whole matter is made to turn on the usefulness of the penalty and its aptitude for bringing the guilty person back into society, as the saying goes" (Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century [Kansas City, MO: Sarto House], 433; italics in original).
Justice is thrown out the window because it is no longer politically correct. How often do we hear before a public execution that we should "be merciful" and "forgive" and not execute the criminal (e.g. Timothy McVeigh). But the execution has nothing to do with forgiveness! Of course we must individually forgive the criminal. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't be punished with the ultimate earthly penalty. It is like saying that God shouldn't require satisfaction and penance after He has already forgiven our sins. But He does!
Why? Because it is just. Let me use this analogy. Imagine little Johnnie and Walt playing soccer in a neighbor's backyard. Before they know it, Johnnie kicks the ball too hard and Walt can't catch it--the ball goes through the neighbor's kitchen window! Now what? Johnnie and Walt are scared, not knowing the neighbor, who had just moved in. But it turns out the neighbor is a very friendly man and, knowing they are little kids who didn't mean any harm, he generously forgives them for their fault and promises not to hold a grudge against them.
But who's going to pay for the broken window? Surely, little Johnnie and Walt will have to--or their parents, of course. But to suggest that the neighbor hasn't truly forgiven the boys because he asks them to pay for the window, is absurd. After all, the neighbor could demand payment for the window and hold a grudge against his neighbor's children. "These boys are never playing in my backyard again!" he could insist. But because he has forgiven them, he doesn't. Yet, they still have to pay for the broken window. It is called just reparation.
Now, while this analogy isn't perfect, I think it illustrates the point that punishment does not necessarily have anything to do with forgiveness. As far as eternal punishment in hell is concerned, sure--that is related to forgiveness. But temporal punishment isn't really. And physical death is part of temporal punishment, and therefore so is execution. So to suggest that nobody should be put to death but rather "forgiven" has things wrong. Just like saying that the friendly neighbor should pay for his broken window himself and "forgive" the boys instead also has things wrong.
Let me repeat here the quote from Romans 13:4: "For [the prince] 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." The modernists have tried to make this verse apply only to the historical circumstances in existence at that time. But on February 5, 1955, the beloved Pope Pius XII rejected such an interpretation. He said that "the passage of St. Paul was of permanent and universal value, because it refers to the essential foundation of penal authority and to its inherent purpose" (Amerio, Iota Unum, p. 432).
Amen! I find it so refreshing to hear the solid Catholic responses the preconciliar Popes gave to the challenges of modern society. Nowadays, of course, we hear a completely different tone. But more on that later.
To sum up, we have seen the relationship between Justice and Mercy/Forgiveness with regards to offenses and punishment. They are the reasons how and why punishment takes place.
Now let's consider the four ends of punishment. In an article in First Things in April of 2001, Cardinal Avery Dulles said: "Punishment is held to have a variety of ends that may conveniently be reduced to the following four: rehabilitation, defense against the criminal, deterrence, and retribution."
That we defend ourselves against a criminal by putting him to death is beyond question. Even if it were an unjust defense, it is still clear that it is a defense. So no problems here.
As far as deterrence goes, of course capital punishment deters. Every child knows that! A more severe punishment always deters more than a lesser punishment. It stands to reason, then, that capital punishment deters. To suggest that the most severe punishment should, for some reason, not deter, is insane.
Now, I am well aware that the deterrence of capital punishment is disputed. But it is silly. When opponents of capital punishment point to statistics, it is laughable. How are we going to measure crime that has not been committed? We can't, obviously, because it hasn't been committed! You can't measure something that doesn't exist or occur. In order to find out how much (or little) the death sentence deters people from committing a crime, we'd have to know everybody's mind and see whether people would have committed a crime deserving death during a certain period of time if the state's death sentence had not deterred them. Of course, this can't be done. So, all speculation about deterrence is worthless. Certainly, there will always be people who are not deterred by any type of punishment (e.g., Ted Bundy, it seems)--but, are we therefore going to propose getting rid of all punishment and prisons, because some people are not deterred by it? Of course not.
So, I think it's pretty safe to say that capital punishment, by its very nature, is a deterrent.
What about rehabilitation? Obviously, the man condemned to death cannot be rehabilitated after he has received his punishment. In the case of the death sentence, there is no rehabilitation. That is, there is no societal rehabilitation. He cannot be rehabilitated into the life of society. But, since we have the gift of the Catholic Faith, that doesn't matter. What matters is if, perhaps because he is facing earthly annihilation rather quickly, he can be brought to repentance and be rehabilitated in the supernatural life!
C.S. Lewis once asked whether a murderer is "more likely to repent in the execution shed or, say, thirty years later in the prison infirmary?" The argument that facing sudden death through execution is more likely to move somebody to repentance (which is more important than anything else) than wasting away in a filthy, kinky, and immoral prison has much merit. In fact, I think it's right on the money. And getting right with God is the most essential thing in life. It is better for somebody to be executed and go to Heaven, than for somebody to be spared his earthly life and rot away in prison and ultimately suffer eternal damnation.
So, in terms of supernatural rehabilitation, capital punishment is entirely vindicated.
Lastly, we must address the factor of revenge. The Catholic Church condemns the attitude of imposing a death sentence on somebody out of revenge!
Revenge differs essentially from retribution. Retribution is satisfaction for the sin or crime committed by means of temporal punishment, either self-imposed or inflicted by somebody else. "Revenge is Mine, and I will repay them in due time" (Deuteronomy 32:35), says the Lord. And again, "Seek not revenge, nor be mindful of the injury of thy citizens" (Leviticus 19:18). Of course, the New Testament itself is full of prohibitions of revenge. Christ our Savior said: "You have heard that it hath been said: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other" (St. Matthew 5:38-39).
Clearly, somebody who approves of the death sentence as a means of revenge, or a state official who executes in the spirit of revenge, sins. Revenge is vindictive and therefore reprehensible. Retribution, which is satisfaction that restores the moral order, is not.
Such are the facts concerning the true Catholic theology of punishment and how this relates to the death penalty. Being pro-capital punishment is not politically correct, but it is the morally right thing to do--even for the sake of the condemned man, as we have seen.
III. Responses to Anti-Death Penalty Arguments
In the foregoing two sections, we have already preempted and answered some arguments against capital punishment. But there are many more that can be made. Let's look at the most common ones.
Objection 1: "Christ is loving and forgiving; He would never approve of anyone being put to death. Just look at John 8:11."
As already pointed out, temporal punishment is justly inflicted on sinners and criminals and in no way infringes upon the virtue of forgiveness. John 8:3-11 says:
"And the scribes and Pharisees bring unto him a woman taken in adultery: and they set her in the midst, and said to him: Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery. Now Moses in the law commanded us to stone such a one. But what sayest thou? And this they said tempting Him, that they might accuse Him. But Jesus bowing Himself down, wrote with His finger on the ground. When therefore they continued asking Him, He lifted up Himself and said to them: 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.' And again stooping down, He wrote on the ground. But they hearing this, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst. Then Jesus lifting up Himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee? Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more.'"
What Our Lord demonstrates in this passage is His forgiveness, His clemency, and His mercy. As we have already seen, none of these divine traits exclude His justice, i.e. the fact that temporal punishment may still remain after a sin has been forgiven. Now, the interpretation of such a complicated passage ought to be left to scholars and not to folks like you and me, so I will quote here from the popular Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture by Dom Bernard Orchard (1953):
"The Law, as [the Scribes and Pharisees] combine its statutes, appointed the death penalty for adultery, Lev 20:10, and stoning was specified for the infidelity of a betrothed woman, Deut 22:24. The question : ' What sayest thou ? ' was meant to destroy the ascendancy of Jesus over the people. What the party expected was a sentence of mercy which would publicly brand Jesus as one who flouted the Law of Moses. Even a rigorous sentence would make him lose in the eyes of the crowds. [. . .] In his divine response to their persistence Jesus carried the matter into the secret tribunal of their own consciences : ' He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her ' . Jesus did not thereby announce a principle that sinful persons may not judge or punish a criminal, but he gave the accusers the discomfort of feeling their hypocrisy" (p. 997).
This last sentence is very important. Our Lord was not saying that sin should not be condemned or that the sinner should not suffer the just consequences of the prescribed law. Rather, knowing the hearts of those who wanted to trap Him, and knowing their self-righteousness, He took the opportunity to embarrass them and to expose their hypocrisy. Note how the Lord did not refuse to condemn her sin but her. In other words, He forgave her sin, which of course He had the power to do. He knew she was sorry, and so He remitted her sin, but He added as a condition: now go and sin no more. Here we see the Catholic requirement of a firm purpose of amendment when confessing one's sins.
Since Christ came to institute the New Covenant, in which we are no longer under the Mosaic Law, Christ our Lord freed the woman from the prescribed punishment for adultery: stoning to death. There was nothing wrong in and of itself in what the people about to stone her were going to do--after all, they were only acting according to the Law which God Himself had given them. Stoning an adulteress to death was not some evil punishment which the self-righteous had dreamed up--no, it was God's decreed punishment for adultery. But Christ our Lord came to free us from the Law, and so it is no surprise that He let the woman go without having to suffer death. But freedom from the Mosaic Law does not equal freedom from temporal punishment, as some might suppose. If Christ chose to free this particular woman from the temporal punishment of death, then He can obviously do so. That's called an indulgence.
The New Testament reminds us continually of temporal punishment we must undergo:
"For whom the Lord loveth he chastiseth: and he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons. For what son is there whom the father doth not correct? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards and not sons" (Hebrews 12:6-8).
Also, St. Paul uses the example of King David, who, as we already saw, had to suffer temporal punishment (his son's death) after he had been forgiven of his sin of adultery, as a prefiguration of our justification in the New Covenant:
"As David also termeth the blessedness of a man to whom God reputeth justice without works: Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven: and whose sins are covered" (Romans 4:6-7).
So, if our justification in the New Covenant is like to David's, which still demanded temporal punishment even after forgiveness, then we, too, may have to suffer temporal punishment after having been forgiven of our sins.
St. Peter, too, teaches that temporal punishment is part and parcel of our holy Faith: "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you and confirm you and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10; italics added). Suffering is necessary to make it to Heaven. If we do not suffer enough in this world in order to wipe out all our punishment still due to sin, we will have to suffer further in the cleansing fires of Purgatory, after which we will then see God face to face in eternal bliss.
When we look at Calvary, when our Lord hung upon the Cross next to two thieves, Christ did not fulminate against the death penalty, even though He was innocent! Even St. Dismas, the Good Thief who had been justly convicted of theft, accepted the legitimacy of this punishment: "we receive the due reward of our deeds" (St. Luke 23:41).
Objection 2: "Justice cannot be served by more violence" (Most Rev. Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Denver, CO).
Depending on how we wish to interpret this statement, Archbishop Chaput here seems to be endorsing pacifism, the immoral notion that violence is never necessary and certainly never allowable. Such an idea is contrary to Catholic teaching because violence is often necessary in order to defend oneself, one's country, one's religion, or one's children or family. To stand by non-violently while your child is being murdered is certainly immoral. Even though you might be "protesting" against the murderer while he tortures your child, if you do not use violent means--the only possible means to accomplish anything in this case--to ward off the offender, you are committing a grave sin. The non-violence mantra is more of the claptrap of the Vatican II mentality that has justified apologizing for the Crusades, when, in truth, the Crusades were very necessary for the recovery of Christian land and possessions, not to mention souls.
But perhaps I misunderstood Archbishop Chaput. Perhaps he doesn't mean that violence is never allowable. Perhaps he only means that justice cannot be accomplished by using violence. That is, maybe the archbishop wants to say that while violence is certainly allowable in certain circumstances, it's never allowable to bring about justice. Again, I offer the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto as evidence of the error of that thinking.
And, if Chaput believes justice cannot be accomplished through violence, then how does he deal with the overwhelming evidence contained in the Sacred Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, which clearly suggests that justice is served precisely by violence? In Exodus 21:12, God commands that murderers be put to death. That is a perfect example of rendering justice to a murderer. And as it is, it involves violence. I have no idea how Archbishop Chaput even arrived at this insane idea that justice could not be served by violence. Where did he get this? To me, this seems an arbitrary claim that simply "sounds good" in the post-hippie, pacifist, and politically-correct liberal society we live in. Perhaps he's especially sensitive to the post-Columbine fallout since that tragic high school shooting occurred in the Denver area. But I see simply no reason to accept as true the archbishop's claim that justice can't be served by violence--it is a totallt unsubstantiated and gratuitous claim.
In response to Archbishop Chaput's statement I would ask: Is he not familiar with the Communion of Saints? Webster's defines the word "militant" as 'Engaged in warfare; fighting; also combative; aggressive activity.' It is derived from the Latin word for 'to be a soldier'--militaris. Have you ever seen a soldier being prepared for non-violent means? How does he justify the Church Militant's cause and mission for the Church Suffering in harmony with the Church Triumphant if not for violence against sin? But then, the term 'Soldiers of Christ' has been lost in the shuffle since Vatican II along with so much else.
Certainly, our Blessed Lord taught us to love our enemies and not to resist evil (cf. Matthew 5:38-39,44). But obviously He was referring to our individual disposition towards those who do evil to us. He is not talking about the state's justice system, which, as St. Paul tells us in Romans 13:1-4, has the authority and the right to execute those who have committed a crime worthy of death--and this authority and right comes from none other than God Himself!
It seems appropriate to me to make a very important observation at this point. I have seen several TV documentaries about capital punishment in which the relatives of the victim are virtually craving the death of the offender, full of vengeance and in a bloodthirsty manner. This is wrong! Make no mistake about it. We cannot harbor such feelings for anyone. We must let go of all hate and desire for revenge. Anyone who craves the death of another person out of vengeance is committing sin--even if the person is as evil as can be (e.g. George Tiller). We are commanded to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. So let me make clear here that I am not defending such an attitude of hate and revenge as many families of a death-row inmate's victims display). Instead, I am defending the death penalty as a legitimate means of punishing a person guilty of a heinous crime. The punishment must be executed in a spirit of sadness, and we should greatly deplore it whenever we have to execute somebody. Most of all, we must pray for the person to be put to death, asking God to give him the grace of final repentance so that he might not suffer eternal damnation--no matter how evil the person is or what great evil he has done. I know this can be very difficult, but it is our duty to "forgive those who trespass against us." This is not optional. We must forgive those who have wronged us and others.
But as I pointed out before, forgiving the offender does not absolve him from the punishment about to be inflicted on him, even if it is death. In fact, if the offender's soul is properly disposed and in a state of grace, the acceptance of the death sentence can gain immense merit for this soul and wipe out a large part of the temporal punishment due to his sins--perhaps even the entire temporal punishment, so that he could go straight to Heaven without having to suffer the tortures of Purgatory (tortures unimaginable to us on earth).
But of course these are doctrines which the post-Vatican II world wants to ignore: merit, penance, justice, punishment, indulgences, and Purgatory. Once we eradicate these saving truths from our Catholic minds, not only do we cease to be Catholics, but we will also come to see the death sentence as totally reprehensible. See a connection here, anyone? But more on this later, when I will go into the reasons why capital punishment has become such a thorn in the post-conciliar church's side.
Objection 3: "Inflicting capital punishment on somebody violates his human dignity."
Not so. A murderer has already taken away his own dignity by his very act of murder, as both St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope Pius XII taught: "Although it be evil in itself to kill a man so long as he preserve his dignity, yet it may be good to kill a man who has sinned, even as it is to kill a beast. For a bad man is worse than a beast, and is more harmful" (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 64, art. 2); "It is reserved to the public authority to deprive the criminal of the benefit of life, when already, by his crime, he has deprived himself of the right to live" (Address to the First Int'l Congress on the Histopathology of the Nervous System, Sept. 14, 1952).
Of course, it goes without saying that once he has repented, in God's eyes he is no longer considered "worse than a beast" for he has been reinstated in God's good graces. Yet that does not mean he does not have to make reparation for the harm done. No matter how malfeasant man might be, he has the dignity given him as a child of God. This is a dignity owing to Christ's redemptive merits on the Cross and nothing man has merited on his own.
In truth, opposing capital punishment has nothing to do with "discerning the dignity of man." Cardinal Avery Dulles makes a very relevant observation regarding this, and it is worth quoting: "Many governments in Europe and elsewhere have eliminated the death penalty in the twentieth century, often against the protests of religious believers. While this change may be viewed as moral progress, it is probably due, in part, to the evaporation of the sense of sin, guilt, and retributive justice, all of which are essential to biblical religion and Catholic faith. The abolition of the death penalty in formerly Christian countries may owe more to secular humanism than to deeper penetration into the gospel" (from the April 2001 issue of First Things). Despite the Cardinal's liberalism, this quote is indeed right on the money!
Now, Cardinal Dulles is a relatively good cardinal compared to the rest, but he is nevertheless, and quite deplorably, a heretic, for he does not believe that the Catholic Church is exclusively identical to the Church our Lord founded (for evidence, cf. David Tracy et al., "Vatican II: The Work that Needs to be Done" in Concilium magazine [NY: Seabury Press, 1978], p. 91; quoted in John Vennari, Close-ups of the Charismatic Movement [Los Angeles, CA: Tradition in Action, 2002], p. 78).
Later, I will examine more closely exactly what John Paul II has said about the death penalty. It started out as an opposition against the death penalty as unnecessary in our age and time, but it has evolved into a per se opposition because it supposedly violates human dignity, as we will see.
Objection 4:"Capital punishment is often inflicted on innocent people because the judicial process isn't fair."
Of course, this is deplorable. Putting to death an innocent person is a horrendous thing to do and must be avoided at all costs. But this is irrelevant to my argument, or, better to say, to the Church's argument. Because I am defending capital punishment as such; I'm defending it in and of itself, as a means of punishment. Other factors, such as whether innocent people have unjustly been put to death, have nothing to do with whether or not capital punishment is morally acceptable when inflicted on the guilty. Of course we must be sure beyond doubt that the person to be executed is indeed guilty and deserves the punishment. Our judicial system needs to be cleaned up big time. No argument there. But, again, it's irrelevant when talking about the death penalty as such, when evaluating whether it can ever be used against an offender.
Some argue that capital punishment should be abolished to avoid ever again putting to death innocent people. But this argument is not a good one, because we would have to do away with all punishment in order to be 100% sure that we will never again convict innocent people. Let's remember that innocent people have not only been executed unjustly, but also received all sorts of other punishments unjustly, especially serving time in prison, sometimes even life sentences. But as deplorable as that is, it makes absolutely no sense to abolish punishments because some people may be convicted unjustly. We would have no penalties at all for anything because we might run the risk of convicting the wrong guy. No, this is not the solution. Because if we stop at capital punishment, if we do away with the death penalty, why not do away with other punishments as well? Where should we draw the line without being arbitrary? No, the real solution is a clean-up of our justice system. That's where we need change, not in the penalties.
Objection 5: "In the book of Genesis, Cain kills Abel, but God puts a mark on Cain so that nobody will kill him. This shows God does not approve of capital punishment."
Any argument that suggests that God does not approve of capital punishment as such is ridiculous because of God's clear instructions to punish by death certain criminals, as evidenced in chapter 22 of the book of Exodus. God cannot positively command something that is evil, for that would contradict His divine perfection and benevolence. Hence, capital punishment is a proper from of punishment in the eyes of God. Now, it is true that in Genesis 4, God shields Cain from being killed by putting a mark on him: "Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the earth, and from thy face I shall be hid, and I shall be a vagabond and a fugitive on the earth: every one therefore that findeth me, shall kill me. And the Lord said to him [Cain]: No, it shall not so be: but whosoever shall kill Cain, shall be punished sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, that whosoever found him should not kill him. And Cain went out from the face of the Lord, and dwelt as a fugitive on the earth at the east side of Eden" (Genesis 4:14-16; italics added).
So, what do we make of this? Whoever would kill Cain would be punished sevenfold. Does this not sound like a complete opposition to capital punishment on God's part, for even a severe a crime as murder? No, it cannot, as I already suggested, because God would not later sanction that which is evil: "He that striketh a man with a will to kill him, shall be put to death" (Exodus 21:12). Here God decrees the death penalty. The death penalty therefore cannot be wrong or else God, who is all-good and all-holy, could not command it. It is true that in the case of Cain, God specifically wanted men not to kill him, but it seems to me that the reason why is a mystery which will not be revealed until the Coming of the Lord.
Objection 6:"God allowing the death penalty in the Old Testament proves nothing. God also allowed slavery and divorce, for instance, and that's wrong."
Several very important things here. First, while God allowed divorce, slavery, and polygamy, none of these were positively commanded by God, totally unlike the death penalty. So capital punishment is in an entirely different moral class. For instance, in Exodus 21:2, the Sacred Scripture says: "If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years shall he serve thee; in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing." Note here that God is not commanding the Israelites to have slaves (servants). Rather, He is merely implicitly permitting them to have slaves. The verse here talks about the regulation of slaves and therefore is an implicit endorsement of slavery. But this is a far cry from God commanding the Israelites to have slaves. This difference is important because the death penalty, unlike slavery, is firmly commanded by God, not merely permitted.
Secondly, what is referred to in other translations as "slaves" is more correctly rendered as "servants," as the Douay Bible has it. When we 21st century people think of slaves and slavery, what comes to mind right away is the horrible atrocities committed by white men against blacks in the United States mostly during the 1800's. But this is not the kind of slavery we read about in the Sacred Scriptures. God asked the Israelites to treat their servants well. Also, as pointed out in Leviticus 22: 10-11, the servants or slaves had some privileges which even some Israelites did not.
In order to understand slavery in the Bible better, it is important to keep in mind that, in a sense, we are all slaves, namely, either slaves to good or slaves to evil. The man who thinks he is "free" by doing whatever he wishes, especially sin, is deceiving himself. He is a slave of his own passions, a slave of sin, a slave of the devil (John 8:34). We, however, must be slaves of Christ and of virtue.
With this in mind, let us approach Leviticus 25:44-46: "Let your bondmen, and your bondwomen, be of the nations that are round about you: And of the strangers that sojourn among you, or that were born of them in your land. These you shall have for servants: And by right of inheritance shall leave them to your posterity, and shall possess them for ever. But oppress not your brethren the children of Israel by might."
To understand this better, we must remember that Israel was the chosen nation, and the other peoples were not. Being a servant to an Israelite was actually a great grace, at least supernaturally speaking, for one was introduced to the true religion. If they were circumcised, then the servants themselves were considered Israelites, via "adoption." In other words, nothing better could happen to a pagan than to be made a servant in Israel! As a friend of mine put it, "Better to be a doorman in Heaven than a manager in hell!"
The issue of slavery in the Bible is quite complex and deserves more space than we can give it here. However, due to space constraints, I must end it here and move on.
Quickly, regarding divorce, of course Christ our Lord explained the permission--not command!--of divorce in the Old Testament Himself in St. Matthew 19:7-8.
Objection 7: "You can hardly use the Old Testament to endorse capital punishment, because capital punishment was decreed for such things as kidnapping, striking a parent, breaking the Sabbath, adultery, etc."
Let's be clear: I am not merely using the Old Testament. The New Testament supports capital punishment just as much. What I'm using the Old Testament for is showing that God positively commanded the death penalty, and that therefore it cannot be evil. It was not optional for the Israelites to carry out the death sentence. They couldn't say to God, "Well, we'll put the guy behind bars for life instead. That'll do. No shedding of blood. We support every human being's right to a natural death. You see, God, we're a consistent Pro-Life people here." NO WAY!
Secondly, in answer to the question, the fact that God decreed the death sentence in punishment towards particular sins and crimes that no longer receive the death penalty, is irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is only the morality of capital punishment as such. That is, I am only concerned with defending the death penalty as a legitimate, moral, and God-commanded type of punishment. It is wrong to oppose capital punishment as such, as many people in the Novus Ordo establishment are now doing. When death is an appropriate means of punishment does not have any bearing on whether it is in principle. God, being all-good, would not command capital punishment, for instance, for petty theft or an insignificant lie. I would think His goodness demands that the punishment be somewhat proportionate to the crime or sin committed. Therefore, what crimes and sins should receive the death sentence is dependent on the will of God, so the fact that certain sins or crimes no longer receive the death sentence now because of the will of man is not much of an issue. There are many incidents in the Old Testament where God withdrew His graces because of the weakness of the people such as Ezechiel 20: 25-26. Remember, from all time man and the angels were given free will. In the times of the New Covenant, God speaks through His Church (St. Matthew 18:18; St. Luke 10:16; Ephesians 3:10), and the Church therefore, by Our Lord's charge in Matthew 16:19, has the authority to relegate what sins should receive what kind of punishment. Of course, here we're supposing something that is virtually absent nowadays, namely, the union between Church and state under the Social Kingship of Christ.
IV. The New church's Attempts to Change Catholic Doctrine
Before Vatican II, the Catholic endorsement of the death penalty as morally acceptable and appropriate for certain severe crimes was beyond dispute. The teaching had been carried over from the time of the Apostles all the way to Pius XII's death in 1958. But then came John XXIII. Then came the encyclical Pacem In Terris. Then came Vatican II. And of course the rest is history. With its overemphasis on man and a distorted view of his dignity, the Novus Ordo establishment started to make capital punishment, perennially endorsed by the Church, a "life issue."
So, for instance, we heard Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., make the following statements back in April of 2002:
"When Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia publicly disputes church teaching on the death penalty, the message he sends is not all that different from Frances Kissling disputing what the church teaches about abortion…..[although abortion and the death penalty] don't have equivalent moral gravity, the impulse to pick and choose what we're going to accept is exactly the same kind of 'cafeteria Catholicism' in both cases"
This is simply outrageous! Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic who was raised before Vatican II came around, did nothing other than uphold that which every Pope in the Church upheld until 1958! Now he is equated with a pro-abortion apostate by the name of Frances Kissling! This is beyond disgusting. This is beyond offensive. Justice Scalia is merely upholding perennial Church teaching, but due to the innovators, modernists, and humanists, he is now almost universally derided as a dissenter! Archbishop Chaput should be ashamed of himself. He is quite right in condemning Frances Kissling and the pro-abortion lobby that calls itself "Catholic." I'm glad he's speaking out against abortion. But you see, in the Novus Ordo, speaking out against abortion comes with a price. You also have to speak out against capital punishment, something in a completely different moral category. This is how the Newchurch works. All the good things you want to do as a cleric come with a trade-off. Want to say the traditional Mass? Gotta say the New Mass too. Want to oppose modernism? Gotta claim that even if it's everywhere, it's not in the Vatican. Want to believe in Fatima? Gotta believe that the Third Secret has been revealed and that it's all a thing of the past. Thank God we have traditional orders like the Society of St. Pius X who refuse to play this game!
But let's get back to the issue at hand. The Newchurch has tried to make capital punishment a "life issue," i.e. to put it on a par with the issue of abortion. How can this be? What happened between 1958 and now that turned things around so drastically? The answer: Vatican II happened. John XXIII happened. Paul VI happened. John Paul II happened. That's what happened.
The Newchurch does not distinguish innocent life from guilty life. Rather, it's all the same human life now with the same dignity. There is no difference. And that's what John Paul II calls the "Gospel of Life." In reality, it's humanism. How deep this humanism now sits in the Church I have laid bare in an article series on Vatican II and humanism at the Daily Catholic.
Now, I am not suggesting that Vatican II changed the teaching on the death penalty. Rather, Vatican II, with its exaggerated view of man and his dignity, was the catalyst for humanism to be injected into the modern Magisterium. And as we know, every encyclical of John Paul II has tons of references to that council. So, Vatican II was the starting point of the New Humanism, and with John Paul II, capital punishment is now entirely condemned, as he indicated in a speech in 1999 in Missouri, to be quoted later. But even if, for the sake of argument, we should grant that the Pope is not entirely against capital punishment, the American hierarchy certainly understands him this way, and everyone who can read between the lines does. Therefore, we have the bishops of Texas, for instance, saying the following:
"Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States in 1976, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have repeatedly condemned its use as a violation of the sanctity of human life. Capital punishment, along with abortion and euthanasia, is inconsistent with the belief of millions of Texans that all life is sacred"
What do we have here? Three unacceptable and reprehensible errors:
(1) Capital punishment is put on a par with abortion, thus making the death penalty an intrinsically morally reprehensible crime.
(2) Capital punishment is declared immoral on the grounds that it violates the sanctity of human life.
(3) The opposition to capital punishment is based on the majority of what Texans believe.
In contrast to these errors, the truth is that:
(1) Capital punishment is not a crime, and certainly not one like abortion, but was commanded by God in the Old Testament and is endorsed in the New Testament. To suggest that God can positively command evil is blasphemy. The death penalty is not a sin or a crime, but instead a morally acceptable type of temporal punishment which the Church has always affirmed until approximately 1960.
(2) Capital punishment does not violate the sanctity of human life, any more than any other type of temporal punishment violates the dignity of human life. Per this reasoning, we would have to conclude that even doing so much as imprisoning people is wrong. Besides, capital punishment is executed on the guilty, not the innocent (that is, executing an innocent person is a grave moral evil), and those guilty of heinous crimes like murder have lost their right to life in virtue of their crime.
(3) What most Texans believe is irrelevant. A Texan majority does not make the moral law. God does.
Let me now quickly go through the rest of the bishops' statement (in blue), interjecting my comments where appropriate (in brown):
"It is important that we address this issue at this time. Since 1975 Texas has executed more than 100 men, some of whom were mentally retarded or mentally ill"
[Comment: Being mentally ill should not absolve one from being executed. If the mentally ill person is truly not responsible for the crime in virtue of the mental defect, then the person should not be declared guilty in the first place. Hence, the question of the execution of the mentally retarded should not arise.]
"We currently have more than 400 men and women on death row"
[Comment: That says a lot about crime and law enforcement in Texas; it doesn't say anything about the morality of executing the guilty.]
"We sympathize with the profound pain of the victims of brutal crimes, nevertheless, we believe that the compasssionate [sic] example of Christ calls us to respect the God-given image found even in hardened criminals"
[Comment: We must forgive them, indeed; but they do not escape their temporal punishment, by means of which they can actually exterminate much of the temporal punishment due to their sins.]
"We must now take bolder steps to change the attitude of the American people regarding capital punishment as a means of dealing with a complex issue. It is unfortunate that a large majority of Americans, including Catholics, support capital punishment as a means of dealing with crime, even in light of strong evidence of its ineffectiveness, its racially-biased application and its staggering costs, both materially and emotionally"
[Comment: Whether or not capital punishment is effective in terms of deterrence is irrelevant, since that is not the primary purpose of the punishment; on the other hand, capital punishment, we know, is very effective in rendering the aggressor harmless.]
"Captial [sic] punishment has not proved to be a deterrent to crime. States which have the death penalty do not have lower rates of violent crime than states without the death penalty. All other western democracies have abolished capital punishment and have lower rates of violent crime"
[Comment: As above. And I think it is quite questionable whether democracies without capital punishment do indeed have lower crime rates. Either way, deterrence is not something too important here, and deterrence can never be proved or disproved because one cannot measure what's not there.]
"The imposition of the death penalty has resulted in racial bias. In fact, the race of the victim has been proven to be the determining factor in deciding whether to prosecute capital cases. Of those executed, nearly 90% were convicted of killing whites, although people of color are more than half of all homicide victims in the United States. More than 60% of the persons on death rows in California and Texas are either Black, Latino, Asian or Native American"
[Comment: It is horrible of course that some people are not fully prosecuted because they are white. However, what matters here is whether those who are on death row are truly guilty-whether or not they happen to be members of other so-called "races" is irrelevant. The only thing to be deplored here is that certain whites are not prosecuted--not that other races are.]
"In the State of Texas, it costs $2.3 million on an average to prosecute and execute each capital case as compared to $400,000 for life imprisonment"
[Comment: So, what's that an argument for or against? That we shouldn't prosecute people? I never understood why executing somebody has to be this expensive. Why can't they just shoot the offender with one bullet and it would be over and done with? Be that as it may, if they're concerned about money, the Catholic bishops should lobby for making executions cheaper, not for getting rid of them.]
"Tragically, innocent people are sometimes put to death by the state. It has been proven in 350 capital convictions over the past 20 years that the convicted person had not committed the crime. Of these cases, 25 people were executed before their innocence was discovered"
[Comment: That is unacceptable and tragic indeed. But to get rid of the death penalty would be the wrong thing to do. Instead, make sure that the justice system works better. Otherwise, you might as well abolish ALL sorts of punishment because you might convict the wrong guy. The real solution here is to work on the system, not the punishment.]
"Capital punishment does nothing for the families of victims of violent crime other than prolonging their suffering through many wasted years of criminal proceedings. Rather than fueling their cry for vengeance, the state could better serve them by helping them come to terms with their grief"
[Comment: Feelings of vengeance must indeed not be fueled. In fact, they are sinful. But that still says nothing about the morality of the punishment itself.]
"While human logic alone seems to support the abolition of the death penalty"
[Comment: Oh, give me a break!]
"as moral leaders we call for alternatives because of its moral incongruity in today's world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, 'If ... 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 with 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'"
[Comment: Well, the New Catechism is wrong, but I'll address that later.]
"In our modern society, we have means of keeping an offender from harming others. Although in previous times people of faith have employed capital punishment, today we have the ability to realize better the principles of mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love for all people, as evoked in the Hebrew Scriptures by the Prophet Ezekiel: 'As I live, says the Lord GOD, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man's conversion, that he may live. Turn, turn from your evil ways'"
[Comment: Of course God doesn't desire the death of the sinner. But He nevertheless sends souls to hell. It's called justice. The Scriptures also say that God desires all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), and yet not everyone will be saved (Matthew 22:14). My goodness, what kind of exegetical ability do these bishops have. Here the bishops are basically accusing God of not being merciful, loving, and forgiving enough.].
"We believe that capital punishment contributes to a climate of violence in our state. This cycle of violence can be diminished by life imprisonment without parole, when necessary. The words of Ezekiel are a powerful reminder that repentance not revenge, conversion not death are better guides for public policy on the death penalty than the current policy of violence for violence, death for death"
[Comment: Yada, yada, yada….]
"As religious leaders, we are deeply concerned that the State of Texas is usurping the sovereign dominion of God over human life by employing capital punishment for heinous crimes."
[Comment: You've got to be kidding! God Himself commanded the death penalty. And the Church has taught its morality for 2,000 years. So, what are you talking about, "usurping the sovereign dominion of God"??]
I just wish the bishops were as concerned about abortion and Catholics voting Pro-Life as they are about the rights of murderers and other heinous criminals. But of course that would be politically incorrect.
The 1992 edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, declared by Pope John Paul II as "a sure norm for teaching the faith" and endorsed by the same as "a valid and legitimate and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion" (New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing Co., p.5), has the following to say about capital punishment:
2266 Preserving the common good of society required rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty. For analogous reasons those holding authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge.
The primary effect of punishment is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons. Finally punishment has a medicinal value; as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender [Cf. Lk 23:40-43].
2267 If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and 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. [Cross-reference here to 2306]
Now, compare this to the second (1997) edition of the New Catechism (quoting from the Modifications from the Editio Typica booklet, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1998):
2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.
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, when 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 with 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 had committed an offense incapable of doing harm-without definitively 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 non-existent" [John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56].
There is so much to say about both the 1992 version and the 1997 version that I don't know where to start. Let me, therefore, walk you through the whole thing, beginning with the 1992 version, from the very start, and interject my comments:
"2266 Preserving the common good of society required rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty."
Note here first that the only reason given for the traditional teaching is the preservation of the common good. Nothing in here about justice, retribution, and God's command. Secondly, the Catechism here says that "the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged…."--a merely factual statement about something in the past. Nowhere does the Catechism say, "Therefore the Church has always taught that…."--which would denote continuity of the perennial teaching. Instead, the Catechism only makes a statement about what the Church taught in the past, without approving or disapproving it. This is a perfect example of Vatican II ambiguity. One could read this in two ways: the traditional Catholic would understand this, of course, to mean that the Church now continues to uphold the traditional teaching, whereas the modernist might think this means that that was only the traditional teaching, and we've moved on now.
Next: "For analogous reasons those holding authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge."
Alright, but note that this has nothing to do with capital punishment. It addresses rather the right to self-defense, as in a just war, for instance.
The Catechism further: "The primary effect of punishment is to redress the disorder caused by the offense."
Note that this says something you may have been unaware of when you read it. It says the primary effect (not purpose!) of punishment is the redressing of the disorder caused by the offense. Now, let me ask you something. Besides the doubtfulness of this claim, why in the world should the Catechism talk about "effect" here? Wouldn't it be the perfect time and place now to address the purpose of punishment? Up to this point, the Catechism has not yet clearly said anything about whether capital punishment is right or wrong and why.
So we move on: "When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons."
No argument there. But again we hear about effects, and still we have not been told about the purpose or morality of capital punishment.
Next: "Finally punishment has a medicinal value; as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender [Cf. Lk 23:40-43]."
Ah, here's the Newchurch's "should" morality. Such-and-such "should" be done. What's that mean? What kind of a moral authority says "should"? "Should" does not place a strict obligation on one. It is more of a "suggestion" or "encouragement," and this is precisely the kind of language we've heard from the Vatican since the Council (you know, things like "the Tabernacle SHOULD be placed in the center of the sanctuary"). Imagine a father telling his 16-year-old son that he "should" be home by 10 o'clock, or that he "should not" fornicate. When I was in high school, I remember a very powerful saying posted in dean's office: "If God had wanted us to be tolerant, he would have given us the 10 Suggestions." Exactly right! Very well put!
But to get back to my original point, just what does the Catechism mean when it says that the punishment "should" contribute to the correction of the offender? Specifically, how is this supposed to work with the death penalty, the topic under discussion? Obviously, capital punishment does not have a medicinal value, and therefore it is not true to say that punishment as such has medicinal, or offender-correcting, value, and this certainly is not the primary purpose of punishment, in case anyone might think that. The only sense in which one could say that capital punishment can have rehabilitating value is that its swift execution might bring the offender to repentance and thus restore his life supernaturally, as I had suggested earlier.
The Catechism goes on: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means…."
Here we go again! "Should"! What's a Catholic to get out of this? What kind of teaching method is this? The very purpose of the Catechism is to teach the Catholic Faith. With such ambiguous statements, only confusion can result. Practically speaking, what is a state to do according to this Catechism? May or may it not impose the death penalty? "Should" and "shouldn't" won't get us very far.
Come on, if you intend to make somebody a morally virtuous person, you don't tell him he "should not" commit sin. You tell him he "must not" commit sin. In my view, the simple reason why the New Catechism puts "should" in its sentence is because it would have clearly contradicted previous Church teaching by insisting that if bloodless means are sufficient, the state "must" spare the life of the offender. I think that's the only reason. But the desired effect is achieved nonetheless: everyone who reads "should limit" understands "must limit," at least in practical situations when the teaching is recalled.
The sentence quoted above is concluded thus: "….because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person."
Pardon my academic immaturity and ignorance, but what in the world are the "concrete conditions of the common good"? If they are so concrete, why are they not enumerated in the Catechism? Really, someone trying to figure out what the Church says about capital punishment will get nothing from this catechism, only ambiguous rhetoric that takes no real position and mixes facts with confusing insinuations.
Oh, and the "dignity of the human person" argument. Of course. They had to put that in. "Bloodless means . . . are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person." What's that supposed to mean? There are two options:
(1) Bloodless means don't violate the dignity of the human person; and neither does capital punishment.
(2) Bloodless means don't violate the dignity of the human person; but capital punishment does
Now, neither is tenable. And here's why. If (1) is true, then what's the fuss all about? If (2) is true, then the Catholic Church has violated the dignity of the human person for 2,000 years. Gee, did the Church not discover the dignity of man until Vatican II? Or, worse yet, until the 1992 Catechism? This is what the Neo-Catholic has to admit if he wishes to push his anti-death penalty agenda.
But the worst is perhaps yet to come. The 1992 edition of the Catechism puts a cross-reference here to paragraph 2306. What's paragraph 2306 say? You're not going to believe your eyes:
2306 Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death. [Cf. Gaudium et Spes 78.5]
This is simply outrageous! This is preaching pacifism! But pacifism, the notion that violence may never be used, is a moral evil. This paragraph says that people can be pacifists, whereas that's not true. For example, as I already mentioned, if someone attacks your little son or daughter with a knife, you don't stand by and wave a banner that says, "Please don't hurt her." Instead, you do everything you possibly can to protect your child, even killing the offender if necessary. Oh, yes, but that would entail "destruction and death," wouldn't it? Yes indeed, but destruction and death of the offender, rather than your innocent child!
To get back at paragraph 2306, just what in the world is meant by "those means of defense available to the weakest"? What is that? We are not told. Nor does the paragraph give the slightest hint as to how a pacifist could possibly harm the "rights and obligations of other men and societies." Perhaps the author of that passage didn't know either and just wanted to be on the safe side in case someone, like me, was objecting. Then we hear blah-blah about "legitimate witness" to the risks of violence that the pacifists supposedly bear. I can't believe it. And this, folks, is cross-referenced to the treatment on the death penalty! What utter claptrap. Oh, and what kind of authority is cited in the text? You got it! Vatican II! In fact, Vatican II only. On top of that, the document cited is one of the most pernicious of them, Gaudium et Spes.
But, while this hippie catechism endorses pacifism, we Catholics must stick to the perennial truth beautifully expressed by the authoritative Roman Catechism, also known as the "Catechism of the Council of Trent," which states in no uncertain terms:
"Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life."
Did you read that? Capital punishment is an "act of paramount obedience"! Note that this says nothing about capital punishment only being an option because there is no effective penal system around. No, it has nothing to do with that. We're talking here about the death penalty as such, not as conditioned by circumstances, society, or the times, but as such.
I think that a good exhaustive catechism should state, explain, and demonstrate:
None of this is done in the New Catechism.
Now, as you may know, the Novus Ordo Catechism underwent a second edition, which was published in 1997 (yes, in the Newchurch, there is a "second edition" to something that was supposed to teach the truth; it's amazing). So let me now examine the contents of this 1997 edition with regards to capital punishment. I already quoted the relevant text, but I shall do so again now and interject my commentary where appropriate:
"2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good."
What kind of sense does this make? This is a descriptive statement, not a proscriptive statement. In other words, the Catechism is saying here that the "efforts" of "the state" (which one?) do correspond to the requirement of protecting the people. But this would only make sense if it were a proscriptive statement, i.e. if the Catechism were saying here that the efforts of the state ought to correspond to the requirement of protecting the people. But it's not saying that. It's saying that this is already how it is. But, pardon me, this makes no sense whatsoever, since many countries have unjust laws. But even if the Catechism said "ought to" and made it a proscriptive statement, the sentence would still be misleading as the aim of punishment is not merely to protect the people from the offender.
"Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense."
Right on! Finally, a really good statement. It's absolutely correct, and an improvement compared to the 1992 version of the Catechism.
"Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense."
Absolutely correct. This is the proper correction of the error in the first edition which said that the primary effect of punishment is the redressing of the disorder introduced by the crime.
"When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation."
Alright, more good stuff! Keep it going, absolutely correct.
"Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party."
Compared to the 1992 version, which talked about "medicinal value," we now have "medicinal purpose"; and the "should" has been replaced by a forceful "must." This is to be applauded. The move from "value" to "purpose" is important, as "value," which denotes how something is, is open to the criticism that I gave earlier about the 1992 version, whereas "purpose," which denotes what something is for, is no longer open to that criticism. But at least in the English translation, what used to be rendered as "offender" has now become "guilty party," deliberately avoiding the issue of gender, thus pandering to the feminist movement. Saddening.
Overall, however, up to this point, the 1997 version of the text dealing with capital punishment is a great improvement over the 1992 version. But, mind you, we all have to pay a price for that improvement. Because, watch out, here comes paragraph 2267:
"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, when 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 with the dignity of the human person."
Ouch! Here is the core of the novelty. The Church teaching is being misrepresented here as though the only justification for imposing a death sentence were the defense and protection of human lives. This is not so. Ironically, the very same 1997 edition of this Catechism, just sentences earlier, had said that "legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense" and that "punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense" and that "when it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation" (par. 2266).
HELLO?? As Christopher Ferrara so appropriately asked at this point, "Is not the death penalty a punishment proportionate to the offense of murder? Does it not redress the disorder caused by the offense? Does it not assume the value of expiation-indeed, the supreme expiation-if willingly accepted?" ("Bearing the Sword" in The Latin Mass, Summer 2001, p.79). Thus, the statement in the Catechism that the death penalty may only be imposed "when this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor" is out of sync with the traditional teaching and contradicts its very own principles that it had just enumerated a few lines earlier. It's amazing.
The part of the quoted paragraph that says that if "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 with the dignity of the human person" is another big problem. First, the phrase "authority will limit itself to such means" is awkward, to say the least. It is a descriptive statement, when it should be proscriptive, and it is blatantly untrue as well. The very fact that the death sentence is given and imposed in numerous countries proves that authority will not limit itself to non-lethal means to protect people's safety. Secondly, the sentence is a modified version from the 1992 edition, which says that "public authority should limit itself to such means"--a proscriptive statement. So why was "should" transformed into "will"? Your guess is probably as good as mine. The final statement, about the "dignity of the human person," was only minimally revised and retains its meaning, compared to the 1992 version. Thus, I have no comment to add to what I already said.
So, to sum up, what's the essential difference between the 1992 and the 1997 versions of the New Catechism with regards to capital punishment? The core of the change in teaching is to be found in this sentence: "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor" (1997 Catechism, par. 2267). This replaces the 1992 edition, which said something quite different: "the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty" (1992 Catechism, par. 2266).
This abrupt and total change in Church teaching from 1992 to 1997, over the course of a mere 5 years, is unacceptable. The new teaching is a novelty! It is wrong! But this is precisely what the Neo-Catholics will tell you is nothing other than "legitimate doctrinal development." It is not! It is a corruption of the true teaching. In fact, to suggest that a doctrinal development has occurred in a matter of 5 years is absolutely ridiculous!
V. The Newchurch's Justification for Changing Catholic Doctrine on Capital Punishment
So, what reason does the Newchurch bring up for changing the teaching on the death penalty? Just what happened within those 5 years between 1992 and 1997 that made this teaching "develop," as they would have it? The answer is very simple. We can point even to one specific day on which the "development" occurred. It was March 25, 1995. On this day, Pope John Paul II promulgated his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (EV), "The Gospel of Life." So, the question "What happened?" has an easy answer: "Evangelium Vitae happened!" Here are the relevant passages of this encyclical:
Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform. (EV, 27)
The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence." Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behavior and be rehabilitated.
It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. (EV, 56)
OK, ready for this? The statement that "modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless" without imposing the death sentence is a mere opinion of the Pope and not a matter of faith or morals and therefore outside the Pope's jurisdiction. He cannot possibly bind anybody to accept this claim. In addition, the statement erroneously presupposes that "suppressing crime" is the only purpose of punishment. We know that that's false, as the Pope himself, just 19 paragraphs later, as well as the 1992 Catechism say that one purpose of punishment is the redressing of the disorder introduced by the offense.
Secondly, the addition "without definitively denying them the chance to reform" is specious as countless people have converted precisely because their end was near because of an impending death sentence. So, for instance, we already see this in the Good Thief St. Dismas, who hung upon a cross next to Our Lord, full of remorse, and recognizing that his execution was the "due reward" for his crime (cf. St. Luke 23:39-42). "Indeed," says Chris Ferrara, "the common experience of mankind is that nothing is more likely to provoke repentance in hardened sinners than imminent execution. The historic accounts of death-row conversions could be set forth endlessly. Even the proudly defiant Timothy McVeigh received the last rites of the Church only minutes before his execution. We do not know if [he] was saved, but who can say that convicted killers languishing in prisons which are sinkholes of immorality are more likely than a condemned man to receive the grace of final penitence?" ("Bearing the Sword," p.76).
So much for who gets a better chance to reform his life.
In paragraph 56 of EV, the Pope says that "public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom." That's true, but, why are only "personal and social rights" mentioned? God's rights have been infringed upon first of all, and by imposing punishment, the state also exercises God's Justice, as the state's punishment is part of the temporal punishment ordained by God to be inflicted on the offender. The imposition of punishment is also a matter of natural law, as nature itself has been thrown out of balance by a crime committed. Punishment brings back the equilibrium demanded by the God-ordained order of nature.
Next, we ought to look at the following statement in the encyclical EV: "It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society." No, this is by no means "clear." It is indeed clear that "the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated," and that, as the New Catechism says, the punishment must be in proportion to the crime, but it is not at all clear or even rational that the punishment "ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity." If the punishment is supposed to be in proportion to the crime, why in the world would the death penalty not be an option "except in cases of absolute necessity," which is an entirely vague and subjective restriction anyway?
Finally, the Pope goes on to say that "today . . . , as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases [in which the death penalty can be imposed] are very rare, if not practically non-existent." Ah, there we have it, the so-called "development"! John Paul says it--and the doctrine develops! There you go. One sentence of John Paul II does the job. And what nice typical Vatican II phraseology: "very rare, if not practically non-existent." Karl Rahner would be proud! Saying something without actually saying it, that is a typical Vatican II talent. With this sentence, the Pope has basically condemned the death penalty for all intents and purposes, but without binding himself to a complete reversal of teaching, even though everyone understands it this way. The little backdoor of "if not practically" seems to give him the orthodox excuse should the need arise, eh? Clever. But traditional Catholics won't be fooled. The fact that John Paul II believes the death penalty to be intrinsically evil is clear from a homily he gave on January 27, 1999, when he was visiting St. Louis, MO:
"The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."
There you have it! Pope John Paul II denies 2,000 years of Church teaching by saying that the death penalty is not a moral option. He finally stated bluntly what I had long suspected him to be really thinking about the death penalty.
Note how the Pope makes capital punishment a "Pro-Life issue," namely, by saying that Catholics must be "unconditionally pro-life." As if the death penalty had anything to do with the Pro-Life cause! I will get back to this in just a few moments.
The novel movement that the lives of criminals of particularly heinous crimes ought to be spared is something the Supreme Pontiff calls "a sign of hope." It is sickening! Folks, it is clear that this is not Catholicism, this is humanism! The cult of man is being advanced here, not the true religion of God! I encourage you here to go back and look again at what the Catechism of Trent says about the just application of the death sentence, namely that "far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to [the Fifth] Commandment which prohibits murder"! And now compare this to what the Pope says about the death penalty, calling it "cruel and unnecessary" and prohibiting the use of capital punishment altogether as inconsistent with the "Gospel of Life." It is absolutely baffling. Folks, this is not a "development," this is a corruption, precipitated by the new humanist religion that is being imposed upon us by the Newchurch.
How ironic that the New Catechism itself should acknowledge that the "supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh" (par. 675)!!!
But I still ought to comment on the part in EV in which John Paul says that what makes the death penalty now unacceptable is the "steady improvements in the organization of the penal system." This claim, like the other one I already mentioned, is not within the sphere of faith or morals and is merely the Pope's opinion. It has absolutely no binding authority on any Catholic. Secondly, just what might those "steady improvements" be? Chris Ferrara raises some interesting questions regarding this: "Which 'steady improvements' in which 'penal system' make the death penalty unacceptable? May only societies with laggardly penal systems continue to execute convicted murderers in ordinary course? How many 'steady improvements' must prisons achieve before the death penalty [must become] 'very rare, if practically non-existent'? In short, the quality of prison systems seems a rather arbitrary and insubstantial moral criterion for deciding on [the] application of the death penalty. Why should prison conditions alone determine whether a convicted killer is granted clemency?"
And most interestingly of all, Ferrara asks:
"Why should only the death penalty be viewed strictly from the perspective of rendering the offender 'harmless,' when all other criminal penalties take into consideration just retribution, expiation, deterrence and aggravating factors such as the number of victims?" ("Bearing the Sword," p.78).
Friends, the New Religion has been unmasked! The Newchurch is exposed! This humanistic nonsense has nothing to do with Catholic doctrine. It is humanism, plain and simple, and the pre-Vatican II Popes would have quailed in horror and utter disbelief if they had known in any vivid detail what the modernizers and innovators would do to Holy Mother Church, all the while being called "great," "conservative," and "thoroughly Catholic."
VI. The Newchurch's Attempt to Make the Death Penalty a "Life" Issue
As I said at the very beginning, Pope John Paul's strong opposition to abortion comes with a price: a virtually equal opposition to the death penalty. Our politically-correct Novus Ordo bishops here in the United States have picked up on that fast--on the anti-capital punishment attitude, that is. Wherever you find a diocesan Catholic "pro-Life" conference or meeting that contains literature to be given out or sold, I guarantee you it will also have something to say against the death penalty.
I live in the state of Florida, and though I don't attend the Novus Ordo mass, of course, I heard that the Florida bishops made sure that parishes throughout Florida would be provided with a video tape that should be played to the faithful on October 6th, which was Respect Life Sunday of 2002. Hey, the Florida bishops want everyone who went to a diocesan church that Sunday to be educated about the sanctity of innocent human life, right? Wrong. You see, the video tapes these cowards in bishops' vestments sent to every parish were not about abortion. They were about--against--capital punishment! What a disgrace!
But this came in handy for the Florida bishops. I mean, what a great opportunity for them to look like they're concerned about human life and promote Respect Life Sunday--by condemning the death penalty! Because, you see, being anti-capital punishment is politically correct. Being against abortion is not. It's "narrow-minded," "controversialist," "rigid," "anti-woman," and "intolerant," perhaps even "sexist" and "bigoted." Most Democrats are against capital punishment. What a wonderful opportunity at the same time for the Florida bishops to lobby--implicitly--for the Democrats! Surely, the Democrats will now look more "concerned about upholding the sanctity of human life" and the bishops, willingly or not, have now give voters more incentives to vote Democratic.
So, Respect Life Sunday has been betrayed. Instead of telling people in no uncertain terms that abortion is evil, morally wrong, and a mortal sin in all cases, the Florida bishops instead use it to condemn something that the Catholic Church has always upheld as intrinsically morally right--putting to death a criminal convicted of serious crime. The Novus Ordo bishops have betrayed the true sanctity of human life by putting the innocent unborn child on a par with a murderer or otherwise heinous criminal.
But then again….what did you expect?
As is easily apparent in Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Newchurch has put abortion on virtually the same level as capital punishment. That's right--innocent babies are compared to convicted killers. The practical consequence is that when you hear a representative of the Newchurch condemn abortion, you will hear in the same breath that we also ought to oppose the death penalty. Most of the time, however, we only hear a condemnation of the death penalty and nothing about abortion at all.
The Novus Ordo pastor at the parish across from where I live once said, "If we're going to be Pro-Life, we also have to be against capital punishment." Nothing could be further from the truth. The cases are essentially different as abortion deals with the unjust taking of innocent human life and capital punishment deals with the just taking of guilty human life. But the Novus Ordo establishment does not distinguish between innocent and guilty--to them, human life is human life. But that is not Catholicism; that's humanism.
The entire philosophy that ties abortion to capital punishment is rooted in an even greater perversion of truth, the so-called "Seamless Garment" movement. The term "seamless garment" was coined by the awful Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, formerly archbishop of Chicago, who met his Maker in 1996. Bernardin was a pacifist, an indifferentist, and possibly a Freemason. His doctrine of the "seamless garment" (an allusion to Christ's tunic; cf. John 19:23) is particularly perfidious and disgusting, because it considers all human life, whether innocent as a baby or as guilty as sin itself, to have the same value.
On one web site, I found the following explanation of the "seamless garment" heresy:
"The seamless garment ethic, also known as a "consistent ethic of life," makes the same point as this Gospel story [St. John 19:23-24]: the fabric of God's Creation is desecrated when we tear it, gamble over pieces of it, or in any sense lay claims of ownership upon any part of it. This ethic involves an opposition to abortion, sexism, warfare, the death penalty, economic deprivation, and active killing of the sick and disabled, but does not stop there. Just as much it calls us to create positive alternatives to these violent practices" .
Folks, it's high time that the Catholic laity (and clergy and theologians!!!) be once again educated about the true sanctity of human life. At the beginning of this essay, I made clear just what the Church's teaching is on this. Particular attention ought always to be paid to St. Thomas Aquinas, the universal Doctor of the Church.
To comment on the above quote, let me say that capital punishment (the issue under discussion, though more could be said about the other issues mentioned) does not tear or cut to pieces Christ's garment! On the contrary: by redressing the disorder introduced by the offense, the death penalty actually mends the garment back together again! The present Novus Ordo hippie society, however, wants to make good evil and evil good. They do not realize that what rents the garment asunder is the sin committed for which the death penalty is justly imposed! Folks, these heretics have the natural law backwards! They will deplore sin (or at least pretend to do so) but even more so deplore the appropriate punishment for sin! They would probably have the audacity to tell God that He cannot send anyone to hell because that wouldn't be consistent with His loving nature! Ah, I guarantee you that some, perhaps many, of those supposed "Catholic" pacifists probably deny the dogma of an eternal hell!
With their hippie gospel they have totally perverted the truth, having instead replaced it with a misguided, heretical, pacifist humanism that cares not to distinguish the saint from the sinner, justice from injustice, and right from wrong.
To illustrate precisely this, let me quote to you what I found on the "Consistent Life Ethic" web site:
"Cardinal Bernardin urged abortion foes to find common
ground with others who work for causes that affirm human life. These include
advocates of disarmament and world peace, economic justice, fair and
compassionate treatment of prisoners, shelter for the homeless, care of
the disabled and terminally ill, racial reconciliation, respect for
lifestyle diversity -- and, above all, attention to the welfare of women
and the rights of children."
Did you get that? "Respect for lifestyle diversity!" Yes, you guessed it: that's a cowardly euphemism for the homosexual agenda. In fact, the web site quoted above links the phrase "lifestyle diversity" to the "Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians" web site at www.plagal.org!
Are you feeling nauseous yet? Not only is the "Seamless Garment" movement linked to all sorts of hippie doctrines, it is also linked to the promotion, acceptance, and toleration of homosexuality, a sin which cries to Heaven for vengeance! Didn't I tell you these folks have the natural law backwards? The Lord has told us what He thinks of all this: "Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. Woe to you that are wise in your own eyes, and prudent in your own conceits. Woe to you that are mighty to drink wine, and stout men at drunkenness. That justify the wicked for gifts, and take away the justice of the just from him" (Isaias 5:20-23).
I remember talking to a former fellow-seminarian who is still in the Novus Ordo seminary now (which I left in 1999). I told him that he should make sure that there are no homosexuals in the seminary because, among other reasons, homosexuality is a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance. You know what answer I got? "We don't have time here to classify sins into those which cry to Heaven for vengeance and those that don't"! Well, that's too bad because God does have the time and will repay accordingly!
This is what is fed into Novus Ordo seminarians' minds, and people's minds in general. "Want to be against abortion? Alrighty, but you better also against capital punishment and any sort of 'injustice' whatsoever." What else did the web site I quoted list were further goals of the Seamless Garment movement? "Disarmament and world peace, economic justice, fair and compassionate treatment of prisoners . . . and rights of children." What? You've got to be kidding. Can you smell the summer of '69? Why do these beatniks think the U.S.A. has had peace with Russia since 1945? Because we disarmed? On the contrary, because both countries were full of arms and each country was afraid to attack the other or instigate a war because it would result in unprecedented destruction!
In order, according to those people, to be "consistently Pro-Life," you also have to support "economic justice." Now, justice in general is a virtue, of course, and it must be promoted in all ways of life, incl. the economy. However, I have my doubts about that what these people feel is economically just is indeed just. Justice is giving the good that is due. That is not (necessarily) the same as giving everyone the same thing or the same amount.
And what's this about "compassionate treatment of prisoners"? Of course prisoners ought to be treated fairly (and what is fair may vary depending on the prisoner), but compassionately? That's one of the Novus Ordo buzzwords. Prison is supposed to be a time of punishment, not an alternative place of residence.
Finally, I want to briefly address the issue of "children's rights." What do these people mean? Of course every child has the right not to be abused, molested, raped, or aborted. No question about that. If that's what they mean, great. However, I have the gut feeling that they wish to go beyond this and advocate that children have the right not to be disciplined by their parents or smacked for bad behavior. Call me paranoid, but for some reason that's what I feel they are alluding to.
In the March 2002 issue of the HLI Reports, published by Human Life International, there appeared an article called "Is the Seamless Garment Pro-Life" by Dr. Charles Rice. Rice smelled the rat and quite aptly observed: "The 'seamless garment' argument has been misused to confer 'pro-life' status on politicians who support the agenda of political correctness but who fail to support-or even oppose-the protection of the lives of the unborn. A pro-abortion politician can often obtain 'pro-life' endorsement by making rhetorical or marginal gestures in a pro-life direction. In numerous cases, such politicians have gained 'pro-life' endorsement by voting for the ban on partial-birth abortion (which ban will not stop a single abortion) despite their consistent overall pro-abortion voting record"
Interestingly enough, though the term "seamless garment" has been hijacked by the liberals, it also has a proper use. It traditionally refers to the unity of the Catholic Church. And so we read in Pope Boniface VIII's bull Unam Sanctam (1302) that "the unity of the spouse, the faith, the sacraments, and the charity of the Church . . . [that] is the 'seamless tunic' of the Lord [John 19:23], which was not cut, but came forth by chance" (Denzinger #468).
On September 30, 2002, the ten bishops of Florida issued a letter entitled "Neither Retribution nor Deterrence Justify the Death Penalty," asking Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) to spare the life of convicted killer and death-row inmate Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco (see, for this the Florida bishops have time, but not for excommunicating pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians). The average brainwashed Novus Ordo Catholic who reads their tagline will agree. But with just a little bit of critical thinking, this nonsense can be exposed. First, the death penalty has never been allowed for reasons of retribution. Secondly, to suggest that deterrence does not justify the death penalty is plain nonsense, because of course it does, but even worse, the bishops' statement makes it look as though only retribution and deterrence are possible reasons for approving of capital punishment! Of course this couldn't be further from the truth.
In the letter, the bishops mention that there are "growing numbers calling for a moratorium [on the death penalty]," as though right and wrong were determined by majority rule. The bishops then go on to state that though they have sympathy for the victims of the crimes of Sanchez-Velasco (executed on October 2, 2002), they do not believe that "his state-sanctioned killing will honor them or lessen the pain." No kidding! DUH! That's a smart comment. Has anyone ever suggested that executing an offender have this effect on the family of the victim of the offender? Has anyone ever said that this is supposed to be the purpose of capital punishment?
The bishops further state that "we must seek justice without vengeance," implying that the death penalty is, by its nature, vengeful, which is simply not true, as pointed out earlier in this essay. The bishops say that the quest for justice must take place "without further killing," but, again, that is not so. To say this is a tradition of men. It is humanism. God Himself, the Author of life, has decreed that a murderer shall be put to death. Thus, to say that justice must be sought "without further killing," implying that all killing is equally wrong, is a falsehood. But that's what we have nowadays. Today's perfidious bishops oppose all sort of killing, as if killing itself were intrinsically evil. And if they actually should indeed say something against abortion, it is usually because abortion involves killing, and not because it involves UNJUST killing.
As I end my treatise on the death penalty, let me offer some final observations. We always ought to keep before us the reason why capital punishment, commanded by God, is morally right. God Himself tells us: "Whosoever shall shed man's blood, his blood shall be shed: for man was made to the image of God" (Genesis 9:6). That's the reason: because man was made in the image of God! That's why a murderer must face an imposed death sentence.
Now, the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia quite correctly notes that the "advisabilty of exercising that power [of imposing the death sentence] is, of course, an affair to be determined upon other and various considerations" (s.v. Capital Punishment). This the Church has never denied. There may be factors in a given case that can spare a convicted killer from execution. I suppose an example of such a factor might be when the convicted killer is able to provide useful information for the catching of other criminals, such as is the case with one of the Al-Qaeda captures, who has given U.S. intelligence information about insider secrets and other planned attacks.