The National Catholic Review
Mar 5 2015 - 6:00am | The Editors

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

The court took up the case in January after a year of three high-profile, problematic executions in three states. The court will likely issue a ruling by June. Our hope is that it will hasten the end of the death penalty in the United States.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, of Miami, and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, praised the decision, saying, “...the use of the death penalty devalues human life and diminishes respect for human dignity. We bishops continue to say, we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.” The chair of the Pro-Life Activities committee, Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, also praised the court’s decision to hear the case. “Society can protect itself in ways other than the use of the death penalty,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “We pray that the Court’s review of these protocols will lead to the recognition that institutionalized practices of violence against any person erode reverence for the sanctity of every human life. Capital punishment must end.”

We, the editors of four Catholic journals—America, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor—urge the readers of our diverse publications and the whole U.S. Catholic community and all people of faith to stand with us and say, “Capital punishment must end.”

The Catholic Church in this country has fought against the death penalty for decades. Pope St. John Paul II amended the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church to include a de facto prohibition against capital punishment. Last year, Pope Francis called on all Catholics “to fight...for the abolition of the death penalty.” The practice is abhorrent and unnecessary. It is also insanely expensive as court battles soak up resources better deployed in preventing crime in the first place and working toward restorative justice for those who commit less heinous crimes.

Admirably, Florida has halted executions until the Supreme Court rules, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has postponed all seven executions in the state scheduled for 2015 pending further study. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty until he has received and reviewed a task force’s report on capital punishment, which he called “a flawed system...ineffective, unjust, and expensive.” Both governors also cited the growing number of death row inmates who have been exonerated nationwide in recent years.

In a statement thanking Wolf, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said: “Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims.... But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living. When we take a guilty person’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture and we demean our own dignity in the process.”

Archbishop Chaput reminds us that when considering the death penalty, we cannot forget that it is we, acting through our government, who are the moral agents in an execution. The prisoner has committed his crime and has answered for it in this life just as he shall answer for it before God. But, it is the government, acting in our name, that orders and perpetrates lethal injection. It is we who add to, instead of heal, the violence.

Advocates of the death penalty often claim that it brings closure to a victim’s family. But advocates who walk with the families of victims, like Mercy Sister Camille D’Arienzo, tell a different story.

“I think of mothers who attend our annual service for Families and Friends of Murder Victims,” a program the Mercy sisters have sponsored for 18 years. “Asked what they want for their children’s killers, no one asks for the death penalty,” she said. “Their reason: ‘I wouldn’t want another mother to suffer what I have suffered.’ Their hearts, though broken, are undivided in their humanity.”

The facts of the case in Oklahoma—which echo reports from Ohio and Arizona—were especially egregious. Last April, the drug protocol failed in the execution of Clayton Lockett. Lockett moaned in pain before authorities suspended the execution; he would die of a heart attack later that night. Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said at the time, “The execution of Clayton Lockett really highlights the brutality of the death penalty, and I hope it leads us to consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether.”

The Supreme Court has agreed with Archbishop Coakley and will consider the issue. We join our bishops in hoping the Court will reach the conclusion that it is time for our nation to embody its commitment to the right-to-life by abolishing the death penalty once and for all.

Comments

Michael Slivak | 3/26/2015 - 8:13am

I agree with this article about diminishing the death penalty. No one truly deserves to die no matter what they did. The death penalty is in my opinion, the "easy way out". All the prisoner has to do is say goodbye to their family, if any in the picture, and lie down and die. They know that they can either do that or stay in prison for the rest of their lives, probably being punished and tortured for the rest of their days. I believe that if a crime that severe is committed that the prisoner should be summoned to jail for the rest of their lives and have to undergo harsher punishments due to the severeness of crime. This would then prevent the "easy way out" and the prisoner would have to deal with the awful consequences in effect for their crime. In the article, the quote from Archbishop Wenski from Miami "We cannot teach killing is wrong by killing" really reached out to me. This hopefully will spread the message to those who believe the death penalty is right. It is saying that if we want others to believe that killing is wrong, then why should we kill as a punishment? That statement completely backfires the death penalty and should make people realize that it does not make sense and is not a true punishment. Maybe if the death penalty is diminished less killings will occur because then we will actually be teaching that killing is wrong and there is a severe and long punishment awaiting. - Michael Slivak

Tom DiTullio | 3/24/2015 - 8:46pm

I do not believe the death penalty can be rightly justified. An accused person may have killed someone but this does not give anyone the right to kill them. I am not saying that it is justifiable that the person took the life of someone to begin with but that no one has the right to take the life of another person. It is wrong to take the life of another living thing but the matter cannot be resolved by repeating the actions that caused the issue to formulate. As the old saying goes, "Two wrongs do not make a right." It is degrading to be put to be brutally put to death when a much more humane, befitting, and deserving punishment could be administered instead.

Colin Donovan | 3/13/2015 - 1:14pm

The "State" is composed of human beings. Human beings who are on juries, who are judges, governors etc. decide on making and executing a death warrant, not some abstract entity. Granting, as the Catechism does, that the State for a sufficient crime and certain of the criminals guilt, may decree the death penalty, to be a morally good act it must still satisfy the unusual conditions for such an act: a morally good object (for this purpose granted as justifiable), a good motive and appropriate circumstances. If the motive and circumstances are insufficient then the goodness or neutrality of the object is vitiated and the act is evil.

The debate, therefore, should not be about the liceity of capital punishment as moral object, since that is affirmed by Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium, but about the motives and circumstances of today. This is where the arguments against have been placed by all recent Popes, and by the Bishops of the United States, with great unanimity. Yes, it’s a prudential argument, but it may also be prophetic.

Dudley Sharp | 3/11/2015 - 11:53am

#1 Rebuttal to the Op/ED

Hendel stated that she did forward to the other publications.

---------- Original Message ----------
From: Sharpjfa < sharpjfa@aol.com>
To: chendel@ncronline.org
Subject: Rebuttal: End to Capital Punishment
Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2015 15:52:13 -0500

To: Caitlin Hendel, CEO/President, National Catholic Reporter

Please forward to the Editorial Boards of America magazine, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, and Our Sunday Visitor

bcc: All editors NCR

Re: Part #1 Rebuttal to:

Editorial: Catholic publications call for end to capital punishment, NCR Editorial Staff, ncronline, Mar. 5, 2015

From: Dudley Sharp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Archbishop states: "We bishops continue to say, 'we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing'. "

Sadly, they do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Intro. Basic pro death penalty review:

The Death Penalty: Justice and Saving More Innocents
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-death-penalty-justice-saving-m...

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

The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-death-penalty-mercy-expiation....

See Catholic references within:

New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2014/01/new-testament-death-penalty-suppor...

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

4) Current Problems: Catholic Death Penalty Teaching
Most recent Catechism (last amended 2003)
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2014_10_26_archive.html

Dudley Sharp | 3/11/2015 - 11:56am

Part 2: Rebuttal to:

Editorial: Catholic publications call for end to capital punishment, NCR Editorial Staff, ncronline, Mar. 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCR: "In a statement thanking Wolf, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said: "Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. ... But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living. When we take a guilty person's life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture and we demean our own dignity in the process."

Sharp reply: The Archbishop is factually wrong on all points. It appears that about 95% of murder victims families, in death penalty eligible murder cases, support the death penalty (2). The Church's lack of support is obvious. The Church has a 2000 year history of support for the death penalty (3), which means support of the executed party, that mercy and expiation are crucial in that process, offering the greatest of restoration - salvation, as reviewed in detail (4). As Church teaching makes clear, executions counter a violent culture and fully recognizes the dignity of both the innocent victims and the unjust aggressors, which is why the Church's 2000 year history of death penalty support completely overwhelms any rejection of it (3). Here, again, a bishop neglecting Catholic teachings, which, specifically, conflicts with his dependence upon secular anti death penalty positions.

NCR: "Archbishop Chaput reminds us that . . . (it is death penalty supporters) who add to, instead of heal, the violence." Very much like "Mercy Sister Camille D'Arienzo: (mothers of murdered children) wouldn't want another mother to suffer what I have suffered.' Their hearts, though broken, are undivided in their humanity."

Sharp reply: This is common anti death penalty speak which is contrary to Catholic tradition, as well as the facts.

From 14,000 - 28,000 additional innocents are murdered by those known murderers that we have allowed to murder, again - recidivist murderers, since 1973, in the US (two different recidivism studies, from two different periods) (5). Countless murders and other violent crimes are committed, worldwide, every day, by those known unjust repeat aggressors that criminal justice systems have not properly restrained (Google search: crime recidivism)., both in complete contradiction to CCC 2267's ". . . very rare, if not practically non-existent" claim.

By not executing murderers we are encouraging and receiving more violence, more innocents harmed and murdered (5) and, quite clearly, have put the unjust aggressors much more at eternal risk (4), by allowing so many to harm, again, as we know many often do, and as per St. Thomas Aquinas and historical facts.

NCR: "Advocates of the death penalty often claim that it brings closure to a victim's family."

Sharp reply: It is unquestioned that execution brings closure for many (6); the closure of the end of the case, the appeals, with the accomplishment of justice in the cases and, from a compassionate standpoint, we all know that only execution provides the closure of preventing any possibility that the murderers will never harm and/or murder, again, as recognized within the latest CCC. Such is not only a great relief for those who wish to protect more innocents, but it is also a large step for those who care about the eternal salvation of the unjust aggressor, the most important restorative consideration.

NCR: 'The facts of the case in Oklahoma -- which echo reports from Ohio and Arizona -- were especially egregious."

Sharp reply: This is completely false (7) and just represents another example of the Bishops and these publications not fact checking, instead, blindly accepting anti death penalty nonsense, showing disrespect for the truth, as well as for the serious nature of the discussion.

Oklahoma's problems were ones of complete incompetence, not the drugs, as is well known. The evidence, in Ohio and Arizona, is that both executions took a long period of time, as per the nature of the drugs used (7), and that there is no evidence of suffering on the part of either murderer (7).

It is astounding how little these four publications and the Bishops care about the truth, a real problem for their readers and flock.

NCR: "We join our bishops in hoping the court will reach the conclusion that it is time for our nation to embody its commitment to the right to life by abolishing the death penalty once and for all."

Sharp reply: Again, just a thoughtless parroting on anti death penalty nonsense, with no recognition of Catholic teaching. Is this good for the Church and any Catholic?

The Church's death penalty teachings are that the execution of murderers is based within reverence for life and recognition of the dignity of the murderer, facts never mentioned anywhere within this op/ed, but well known by all those contributing to the op/ed.

The right to life, as the right to freedom, are based within a recognition of our commitment to the social contract, of being responsible citizens, who obey the law.

Violation of the law by unjust aggressor may result in incarceration or execution.

All sanctions are based upon that which we treasure - execution and life, incarceration and freedom, fines and money, community service and time/labor.
===========

Summary

Catholic leadership, inclusive of both Bishops and publications, has a unique responsibility to Catholic teachings and tradition, making this op/ed just another of many that have avoided both, along with fact checking.

Neither ignorance nor deception are welcome in any public policy debate. Both are, particularly, troubling when dealing with eternal matters.

How often has the Church taught that Truth is paramount? When has She not.

You have the means at your disposal to teach and discuss the Truth, That means has no value if you do not exercise them.

1) Saving Costs with The Death Penalty
h ttp://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/02/death-penalty-cost-saving-money.html

2) 86% Death Penalty Support: Highest Ever - April 2013
World Support Remains High
95% of Murder Victim's Family Members Support Death Penalty
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/11/86-death-penalty-support-highest-e...

3) New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2014/01/new-testament-death-penalty-suppor...

4) The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-death-penalty-mercy-expiation....

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

6) IS EXECUTION CLOSURE? Of course.
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/04/is-execution-closure-of-course.html

Murder Victims' Families Against The Death Penalty: More Hurt For Victims Families http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/04/victims-families-for-death-penalty...

The Death Penalty: Fair and Just
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/12/is-death-peanalty-fairjust.html

7) No "Botched" Execution - Arizona (or Ohio)
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2014/08/no-botched-execution-arizona-or-oh...

Tim O'Leary | 3/9/2015 - 9:35am

It may indeed be a good thing for our nation, in this time in its history, to end capital punishment, or severely limit it, for prudential reasons. A miscarriage of justice is the strongest reason to oppose specific cases. But also, the medicalization of execution is too akin to euthanasia, and hardly seems to be adequately retributive for particularly heinous crimes (killings associated with rape and torture, burnings, mass murders, killings of witnesses, etc.). It should certainly be very rare, possibly reserved only for situations where failure to execute puts society or a specific individual at risk (e.g. Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, and the ever expanding ISIS).

But, it is a departure from Catholic doctrine (and nearly all the popes, Councils and Doctors of the Church) to make the prohibition absolute and without the prudential component. To quote the Catechism in full (2267): "Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

This is clearly a prudential judgment, as the phrases "does not exclude recourse to" and "today" and "the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing harm." These words imply that yesterday and tomorrow might require a different prudential judgment, and in parts of the world where the state is unable to effectively prevent the criminal from doing harm (parts of Africa and in war zones), or if there is a breakdown of law and order in our nation, there could be a different moral calculus. Even today in the USA, the need for a witness protection system (where one has to be separated from all previous friends and even family for life) suggests the state is not fully able to fully protect the innocent witness from harm. And the subsequent killings of formerly convicted murderers (Willie Horton was a famous example when Al Gore first criticized Michael Dukakis for weekend furloughs for violent criminals in the 1988 presidential debates) also raise a doubt about the effectiveness of government protection of society from murder.

Capital Punishment should also not be raised to the level of abortion, given the unquestionable innocence of the victims and the sheer number of killings associated with that "peculiar institution." A position on Capital punishment should also not be as binding on a Catholic conscience as other non-prudential moral issues. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, when he was head of the CDF said the following:

"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

Robert Lewis | 3/7/2015 - 3:38pm

I am in favour of "retributive justice," right up to the point of delivering "capital punishment," but, at that point, I stop, because it is both the deification of the State, as well as the coercing of individual consciences into cooperating with the "deification of the State."
Once upon a time, I was opposed to capital punishment because I thought that it foreclosed forever the possibility of repentance for a convicted criminal, until a Calvinist acquaintance suggested to me that, if a convicted murderer would ever, in any future life, repent, God would most certainly give him the grace to repent in the closing days of his life. I could not argue against that, but, later in life, I have come to understand that the real damage that capital punishment does is to society in general, not to the condemned, and that it does no good to claim that some abstract entity called "the State" can legitimately enact such a punishment, which belongs properly to God, because it is irretrievable.
Perhaps I can explain the seeming paradox of my support for "retributive justice," and my opposition to the death penalty by citing my non-support of state-decreed "rehabilitation." I don't believe that a convicted criminal should be furloughed from his prison sentence because some board has met with him and determined that he has been "rehabilitated." I agree that justice--AND respect for the choice the criminal made to break the law--require that the full sentence be served. There is no way that some "board" can peer into a human being's soul and know that he has been spiritually and mentally transformed, through undergoing his punishment, into someone who could never offend again.
However, by the same token, no jury, "twelve good men and true," can "play God" by applying a sentence that is permanent. No punishment should be "permanent." Only God has the right to decree punishments that are eternal and which cannot be modified. It is a dodge to claim that "the State" may do what individuals may not, because, in order to inflict capital punishment on a human being, individuals must be drafted into the sentencing, and, worst of all, the executions of other human beings. I believe that the damage that is done by capital punishment to the most impressionable, particularly children, who may be rendered susceptible to an inclination to use violence as a solution to personal problems, is inestimable. I also do not believe that "closure" for survivors is actually effected by the enactment of an execution. I remember watching, with grim fascination, the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem. As someone who is one-fourth Jewish, I loathed the man and rejoiced in his destruction. On the summer morning that I learnt he had been hanged in Jerusalem, I built tiny scaffolds and hanged my toy soldiers. When the day was over, I was sick to my stomach and felt that I had been invaded by some destructive, alien force. I certainly did not feel good about myself or about what had been done in Jerusalem.
In place of "capital punishment," I would inflict a life sentence without any possibility of parole, accompanied by a requirement to "do penance" on every single anniversary of the victim's life--in front of the survivors, if they would consent to it, and if they could bring themselves to forgive the perpetrator. This would be a punishment that would certainly be "retributive" but also respectful of the sacredness of life, and of the limitations of one man's ability to peer into the soul of another. It would also leave open, with a proper respect for those limitations, the possibility of correction of error and the acknowledgment of human fallability in enacting justice.
Capital punishment, rather than being the enactment of human justice, is actually the deification of the State, and it is not compatible with the message of the Gospels, no matter what were the erroneous proclamations of the Church of previous epochs.
One thing that this issue fully reveals, on top of everything else, is that true Catholic orthodoxy is premised upon what Newman called "the development of doctrine." We are supposedly not fundamentalists or Biblical literalists, because we are supposedly led TOWARD the "Truth" by a "Holy Spirit" through the time-space continuum in which we are constrained to live. This is acknowledged and proclaimed by Christ Himself, in the so-called "Petrine Commission, when He said "What you shall bind on earth, I shall bind in heaven, and what you shall loose on earth, I shall loose in heaven." The Church of the past was in error over capital punishment, and the Church of Saint John Paul II has arrived at a fuller understanding of what must be the Christian attitude toward legalized murder.

Beth Cioffoletti | 3/6/2015 - 1:55am

The bedrock of Catholic teaching is that life is sacred. Taking another person's life is wrong, whether done in a crime or by the state in the name of punishment or "justice".

Here is the way Professor Dan Maguire discusses the Hebrew word for JUSTICE - tsedaqah - in his book, "A Moral Creed for Christians:

"The English word justice is thin broth compared to the favored Hebrew word for justice, tsedaqah. I experienced its emotive strength one time when I traveled from New York to Washington on a train with a charming old rabbi. We had a lively conversation about all the goods and evils of the world and I sensed in him a strong moral passion for justice, a passion seasoned with a very gentle spirit. As we parted, I said, “Sir, you have in your heart the true tsedaqah.” And he winced. I wondered about that wince for a long time. But the more I studied tsedaqah the better I knew that what I said to him was, “Sir, you have beating in your chest the very heart of God.” And his humble wince said, “Too much, too much.” That’s the power of the word."

J Cabaniss | 3/6/2015 - 8:45am

This is what I meant by valid (from a Catholic perspective) and invalid arguments. We know that life is sacred because God himself says it, but this information is given to us not as a simple assertion but as an explanation that the life of a murderer is forfeit because the life of his victim was sacred. "Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed, because man is made in the image of God" (Gn 9:6). You would reverse this to mean the life of the murderer is secured because his life is sacred.

As to whether the taking of another person's life is wrong, either the claim is incorrect or capital punishment is an exception to the rule that we cannot do wrong that good may come of it, because even this catechism allows its use when it is deemed necessary for protection.

Michael Snow | 3/7/2015 - 4:55am

God did not institute capital punishment for the first murderer, Cain. He did not require death for the murderer Moses (nor the murderer David). Numbers 35 gives us the reason for capital punishment: " You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it."

Christ made the full and final atonement, shedding His blood on the Cross. It is blasphemy for Christians to say that blood is still required.

Romans "13" needs to be read in context: https://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/romans-13-in-context-swo...

Michael Bradley | 3/6/2015 - 4:38pm

Pope Pius XII wrote:

"Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life."
– Address to the First International Congress of Histopathology of the Nervous System (14 Sep 1952)

And the Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches us:

"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."
– Part III, 5, n. 4 (1566)

Both texts seem to align well with Gen 9:6.

Beth Cioffoletti | 3/6/2015 - 11:12pm

Does the tit for tat style of justice truly preserve and secure human life? Or does it perpetuate violence?

There is the popular question: why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong? Because of justice?

Jesus' message of nonviolence asks us to back out of the pattern, and refuse to continue the violence.

"You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.…" Mark:5:38-40

J Cabaniss | 3/7/2015 - 12:15am

Forgiveness is the obligation of the individual, but punishment is the obligation of the state. I think you misunderstand what that passage means.

"when Our Lord says: “You have heard that it hath been said of old, an eye for an eye, etc.,” He does not condemn that law, nor forbid a magistrate to inflict the poena talionis, but He condemns the perverse interpretation of the Pharisees, and forbids in private citizens the desire for and the seeking of vengeance. For God promulgates the holy law that the magistrate may punish the wicked by the poena talionis; whence the Pharisees infer that it is lawful for private citizens to seek vengeance" (St. Bellarmine)

Beth Cioffoletti | 3/7/2015 - 8:33am

Could justice be a way to repair harm that has been done? Heal relationships within a community after violence has been inflicted upon it? The Hebrew interpretation of justice - tsadaqah - suggests this.

Or is "justice" a state condoned an even-ing of the score - you did this damage to me, now WE get to do it to you?

What do you make of the mass hysteria that accompanies public executions? Is this private vengeance given corporate approval? Or what is it, some kind of scapegoated cleansing?

(I googled "poena talionis", but still can't figure out what it is. Ultimate punishment?)

It is interesting to me that Jesus himself stopped an execution (the stoning of the woman) and was a victim of execution himself. Yet we carry on, usually using religion as justification for the killing.

J Cabaniss | 3/7/2015 - 9:22am

"Poena talionis" means retaliatory punishment, not unlike an eye-for-an-eye. Modern societies have become uncomfortable with this concept, but this is what the church teaches. I think what gets completely lost in discussions of (especially) capital punishment is what the primary objective of all punishment really is, and it is not, as one might assume from the catechism, the protection of society. It is in fact retribution - retributive justice. This is what is meant by the phrase "The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense." (CCC 2266)

So, yes, justice is essentially about evening the score. "Punishment is proportionate to sin in point of severity, both in Divine and in human judgments" (Aquinas). That is why the state has not only the right but the positive duty to punish offenders for their crimes, and the severity of the punishment is determined by the severity of the crime. "Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. (CCC 2266)

Beth Cioffoletti | 3/7/2015 - 1:49pm

Ugh.

Michael Bradley | 3/5/2015 - 9:41pm

I greatly respect Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Francis, but I think their pastoral insights and the teaching in the modern Catechism (1997) need to be considered as part of a longer view that fully integrates the magisterium of previous popes and councils. Two examples:

"Even when it is a question of the execution of a condemned man, the State does not dispose of the individual's right to life. In this case it is reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned person of the enjoyment of life in expiation of his crime when, by his crime, he has already disposed himself of his right to live."
– Pius XII, Address to the First International Congress of Histopathology of the Nervous System (14 Sep 1952)

"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.' (Ps 101:8)"
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part III, 5, n. 4 (1566)

See also Fr. George Rutler's article in Crisis Magazine, Hanging Concentrates the Mind (8 Feb 2013), and Avery Cardinal Dulles essay in First Things, Catholicism & Capital Punishment (Apr 2001).

--
Michael Bradley
@michaelsbradley

J Cabaniss | 3/5/2015 - 3:56pm

In arguing against capital punishment from a Catholic perspective it is necessary to understand which arguments are valid and which are not. It is certainly legitimate (if not necessarily accurate) to raise practical objections and claim it is “a flawed system...ineffective, unjust, and expensive.” Raising moral objections to its use, however, is altogether different. Given that throughout her entire history the church has recognized a state's right to employ capital punishment, if its use is immoral today it was equally immoral for those millennia when the church accepted it.

Nor is the argument that capital punishment "add(s) to the violence in an already violent culture" very persuasive. The Clayton Lockett example notwithstanding, there are few procedures more peaceful than euthanasia, as anyone who has had to have a pet put down can attest. As I said, there are valid reasons to oppose capital punishment, but the assertion that the procedure is violent isn't one of them.

Even the argument that the public, acting through the government, is responsible misses what the church teaches on this point. The responsibilities of the individual are very different than those of the state. Vengeance (which Aquinas defines as the infliction of a penal evil on one who has sinned) is forbidden the individual but is the obligation of the state.

What is entirely lacking in this article is any discussion of justice: what is the just punishment for the crime of murder? If anyone is curious why the church has from her very inception supported the use of capital punishment, that would be the answer. It is just.

Timothy Vickery | 3/10/2015 - 1:08am

"Nor is the argument that capital punishment "add(s) to the violence in an already violent culture" very persuasive."

I can assure you that argument is immediately palatable for those outside the United States, many if not most of whom would agree with the logic completely in the context of the United States especially. The status quo definitely could be argued to lend merit to the mentality that killing is a method of problem solving.

Tony Phillips | 3/5/2015 - 3:50pm

Individuals are called to forgive, but a government is called to provide justice. Some crimes are so heinous that capital punishment is the only decent response. To mete out lesser punishment would be to say, in effect, that the crime really wasn't all that bad. And that is barbarism.

It's not true that 'the Catholic church has fought against the death penalty for decades'. The church is not the hierarchy; it is all of the faithful. And there is no unanimity on this subject. These 4 papers are indulging in clericalism here.

It's also profoundly dishonest to twist the constitutional phrase 'cruel and unusual punishment' against the death penalty. The framers of the US constitution obviously didn't mean it that way. Nor should the question be decided by unelected judges, but by democratically elected legislatures or by referendum.

The hierarchy is wrong to call for a blanket end to capital punishment.

Timothy Vickery | 3/10/2015 - 1:05am

"It's also profoundly dishonest to twist the constitutional phrase 'cruel and unusual punishment' against the death penalty."

Not necessarily, especially when authorities can't guarantee that the killing will not contain a risk of being cruel and unusual, as in the case of accidents. Such an argument could certainly be made, and the founders to be consistent would have to hear and consider itt.

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