Abortion, Capital Punishment, & Just War

I am not sure what the Church’s exact view of capital punishment is.
However I still want to ask the question.
Is the position of the Church on these three areas relating to the value of human life morally and logically consistent?
One would think that to be consistent with the abortion view you would have to completely oppose war and capital punishment. That does not seem to be the case. How do you explain this inconsistency?

The 10 Commandments and Church teaching prohibit murder, the killing of the innocent.

Since an unborn baby is about as innocent as you can get, killing him or her is murder and forbidden.

Capital punishment is an act of the state to protect society from a particularly dangerous criminal (criminals can and do commit murder in prison and/or arrange murders on the outside through their confederates) and is punishing the guilty. That is not prohibited by Church law.

War is sometimes necessary in self-defense, see Just War Theory, and we have the right to kill in self-defense, both individually and collectively. The gov’t of a nation is the proper authority to determine the justness of a war. A soldier who kills in war is presumed to be acting in self-defense.

Hope that helps,

God Bless

It is logically and morally consistant.

The Catholic position recognizes that to deliberatly target and kill an innocent person cannot ever be morally justified.

Since the Catholic position is based on the defense of innocent life, it excludes those who have themselves relinquished the right to life by the commission of henious crime or those who are injured in defense against those who attack you personally, or those to who you are entrusted to defend.

That all sound very nice on paper, but things don’t seem quite so clear in the real world.
I believe the Church prohibits abortion under all circumstances.
We know that innocent people are and have been executed.
I am not an expert in the history of how and when the just war doctrine has been applied. However knowing what I do about human nature, and history in general, it seems unlikely that the doctrine has never been applied in questionable circumstances. It is understandable the acts done in the instinct of immediate self preservation are viewed differently. But the application of that caveat in this broader area might not bare careful scrutiny.

And this is where intent comes into the picture. In a capital punishment case, the intent is to end the life of a convicted criminal. Yes, sometimes the person is found later to be innocent and that is horrible but it doesn’t change the fact that the person was convicted and the intent is to execute a criminal.

In an abortion the intent is to end the life of an innocent human being. Nothing in an abortion case ever changes the innocence of that pre-born human being.

FWIW, I am strongly opposed to both capital punishment AND abortion but that doesn’t mean that there is a moral equivalence.

**From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC);

"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.(CCC 2267)”**

Search the Catechism here;

scborromeo.org/ccc.htm

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, Ora Pro Nobis Peccatoribus!

mark

**From the Catechism on “Just War” or Legitimate Defense;

"2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

  • there must be serious prospects of success;

  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. (CCC 2309)"**

The problem, however, is that this statement is incorrect. The traditional teaching of the Church never restricted the use of capital punishment only to situations where it was necessary to protect society.**

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.(CCC 2267)

"**This isn’t much better as it is merely an opinion based on perceptions of the penal capabilities of modern societies. Whether or not our society has the ability to render convicted criminals “incapable of doing harm” is hotly debated and very much an open question.

Ender

Thank you, Mark, for citing the Catechism. It is very clear on these subjects and that clarity helps to elucidate the consistency in Catholic teaching. The Church does not say that capital punishment or war can never be justified. (Abortion can never be justified.) They are permissible as a last resort for a just government where it is determined that there is no other way to keep society safe. Life is sacred. The sanctity of life must always be respected and protected. That is what the three teachings share. They respect life- even the life of the criminal- only killing when it is absolutely necessary to save other lives. The key difference is that, as has been said, the stated end of an abortion is killing an innocent. Both capital punishment and war can only be allowed to protect the innocent.

It is my opinion that capital punishment cannot be justified in the United States today.

I think that there is no specific view (not too sure, I shall admit) in the New Testament but Peter tells us: ‘Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called–that you might inherit a blessing.’
However, in Genesis 9:6 we see ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.’
Pretty contradictory views but anyhow, someone has already posted the view adopted by the CCC.

PREVIOUS POSTER SAYS—“It is my opinion that capital punishment cannot be justified in the United States today”…and that is the problem with some of the people who don’t like the death penalty. It is an OPINION, and it is NOT binding. Sure the pope doesntt like it, I know, but that is an opinion. The previous poster says it right. The church supported the death penalty for CENTURIES. Doctors, Popes, prior catachisms, all the way up to 1980 or later. Whether the death penalty can be “justified” is a MATTER OF OPINION, not Church dogma. The abortion teaching is BINDING and a Catholic can be refused Holy Communion if he or she is a politician and supports and advocates abortion funding. Now all you folks who want to eliminate the death penalty because you are also against abortion…fine…believe that, but Pope Benedict said, clearly, un-ambiguously, that Catholics may disagree on the death penalty, BUT NOT ABORTION. Read it:
“3. 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.”
The link is here
priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm
Can this be more clear??? Don’t combine abortion and the death penalty together in the area of “life.” Let me put it to you easy…What is it about the difference between the terms “guilty murderer” and “innocent baby” do you not understand ??

What is clear, as I pointed out before, is that the first sentence in 2267 is simply incorrect. I have not seen a single statement in any document by any pope, catechism, Early Father, Doctor of the Church, or notable theologian that supports this claim. As far as consistency, nothing could be further from the truth: 2267 pretty much repudiates everything that came before it. It is utterly inconsistent with traditional Church teaching. That is, it would be if was understood as doctrine. It makes sense only if it is recognized to be JPII’s comment about its use in current societies where - he believed - it did more harm than good.

The Church does not say that capital punishment or war can never be justified. (Abortion can never be justified.) They are permissible as a last resort for a just government where it is determined that there is no other way to keep society safe.

Actually, what the Church says is that what justifies ALL punishment is retribution - the need for justice - which is met when the severity of the punishment is commensurate with the severity of the crime. That point is made in 2266. Surely we can’t believe what was stated in 2266 is nullified in 2267. Protection is a secondary objective; the primary objective is retribution, that is: justice.

Life is sacred.

How do we know this? Isn’t it because we are told “Man is made in the image of God?” Do you know the context for this statement?

It is my opinion that capital punishment cannot be justified in the United States today.

It is justified everywhere as the just punishment for the crime of murder. This was true in the past, is true now, and will be true in the future because the severity of the crime cannot change because, as you said: life is sacred.

Ender

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.

*Pope Benedict XVI

Sorry maybe I’m not following this well, but… you’re saying one line of the catechism is incorrect because you’ve never seen it in any “document” (in which you include the catechism)?

Actually, what the Church says is that what justifies ALL punishment is retribution - the need for justice - which is met when the severity of the punishment is commensurate with the severity of the crime. That point is made in 2266. Surely we can’t believe what was stated in 2266 is nullified in 2267. Protection is a secondary objective; the primary objective is retribution, that is: justice.

I don’t see where it says that protection is a secondary objective. Again, I may be missing something here. I definitely think that the Catechism can seem self-contradictory if taken in isolation (for example without further reading in regards to what it references), but in this case it seems pretty clear that capital punishment (i.e. killing someone, let’s not get hung up on the word “punishment” here) is only to be used as a last resort to protect other people. There is no direct contradiction with 2266 that I can see, and I would say that any explicit statements definitely supersede implicit statements.

I’m only making a point about what the text says, and I’m no expert… so please tell me if I’m missing anything here or if you’re simply making a statement that you feel the catechism is incorrect in 2267.

As for the “punishment for murder” argument… well you know “eye for an eye” was supposedly abolished with Jesus.

Not quite. I believe the statement is incorrect because I’m fairly certain that there is no statement in Church history to support it. It talks about the “traditional teaching” of the Church on this point but if that is true then where does such teaching exist? I cannot prove a negative statement so I cannot say with certainty that “no one in the Church ever said such a thing.” I can only say that there is no evidence that this is true.

*The most reasonable conclusion to draw from this discussion is that, once again, the Catechism is simply wrong from an historical point of view. Traditional Catholic teaching did not contain the restriction enunciated by Pope John Paul II. *(KevinL. Flannery S.J. , Professor, Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome)

I don’t see where it says that protection is a secondary objective.

2266 touches on the objectives of punishment but doesn’t address them fully. I does say, however, that* “The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.”* That is, the primary objective of all punishment is retribution - justice.

*The purposes of criminal punishment are rather unanimously delineated in the Catholic tradition. 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. *(Cardinal Dulles, 2001)

If retribution is the primary objective, then clearly protection, along with rehabilitation and deterrence, is secondary.

The third justifying purpose for punishment is retribution or the restoration of the order of justice which has been violated by the action of the criminal. We grant that the need for retribution does indeed justify punishment (USCCB, 1980)

The USCCB listed three objectives for punishment and retribution was the third. They made no statement about their relative importance. Interestingly they failed to include protection on their list, I suspect because they considered it as a subset of deterrence. I think this comment makes it pretty clear that “restoring the disorder” and “retribution” mean the same thing.

I definitely think that the Catechism can seem self-contradictory if taken in isolation (for example without further reading in regards to what it references)…

Most certainly - and this is what happens when people take 2267 to be the sole significant statement the Church has ever made on the subject. In fact the Church has made numerous statements on capital punishment going back at lease to Pope Innocent I in 405 … and not one of those comments supports 2267.

… but in this case it seems pretty clear that capital punishment (i.e. killing someone, let’s not get hung up on the word “punishment” here) is only to be used as a last resort to protect other people.

That is what is said in 2267. That is most assuredly not what was said for the nearly 2000 years leading up to JPII’s comments in Evangelium Vitae.

There is no direct contradiction with 2266 that I can see, and I would say that any explicit statements definitely supersede implicit statements.

2266 explicitly identifies the primary objective of punishment, and it is unarguably not protection. It is retribution, a fact not changed because the language used doesn’t make that point clear.

As for the “punishment for murder” argument… well you know “eye for an eye” was supposedly abolished with Jesus.

This is not quite true either. What the Church says is that the severity of the punishment ***must ***be commensurate with the severity of the sin (again, this is in 2266).

Ender

I think the truth of the matter is the American Catholic Bishops wanted to come out against Capital punishment but could not-they simply could not overturn 2.000 years of Church teaching based on their current “feelings”. So what we were left with was Catechism that has caused mass confusion among the Faithful as to exactly what the church teaching is. The saddest part is the multitude of Catholics who use this ambiguity to justify voting for pro-abortion candidates under the guise that supporting the death penalty is as egregious as supporting abortion.

I don’t think any credible argument can be made that the Church’s teaching in this area is not a mess. 2267 is not a development, it is a complete break with past doctrine and the only way I can understand it in light of everything the Church not only has taught but teaches today, is as opinion. It makes sense only as the prudential belief of JPII and the Magisterium that its use in today’s society is improvident. It is not immoral, it is simply unwise in that (from their perspective) it causes more problems than it solves.

*[size=2]Catholic teaching on capital punishment is in a state of dangerous ambiguity. The discussion of the death penalty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is so difficult to interpret that conscientious members of the faithful scarcely know what their Church obliges them to believe. Although the constant teaching of the Church has been that the state has a right to impose the death penalty, the Catechism declares that the actual circumstances in which capital punishment is legitimate are “practically nonexistent.” Moreover, the Catechism weaves doctrine so tightly together with prudential and factual judgments that it is not at all clear how much of its discourse on capital punishment actually is being put forward as binding Catholic teaching. *(R. Michael Dunnigan, J.D. J.C.L. - canon lawyer - 2003)
[/size]
Ender

This is not quite true either. What the Church says is that the severity of the punishment ***must ***be commensurate with the severity of the sin (again, this is in 2266).

I guess I’ve taken the combination of 2266 and 2267 to mean that capital punishment itself is never valid as punishment, and that 2266 was referring to punishment in general. But you’re right, I have no reason to assume this since this chapter is about when it’s ok to kill people. (I’m assuming this chapter doesn’t extend to other corporal punishment?)

Anyway as usual with the catechism I find it hard to understand the subtlety of the moral message. On the self defense issue it says that killing someone is ok because it was incidental to protecting your own life, but then the Church only allows abortions if they’re performed by removing the fallopian tube. It only starts to make sense when you read the referenced Aquinas work, and then due to the age of the work you start to wonder if Aquinas had been around today if he would have made more/different concessions.

This probably hinges on the idea of killing innocents vs… well that’s where I get lost, because I don’t know how I could determine the level of guilt of someone else. Everyone imagines an “aggressor” to be the “bad guy” but it’s not always that clear…

“In the thought experiment, there are two shipwrecked sailors, A and B. They both see a plank that can only support one of them and both of them swim towards it. Sailor A gets to the plank first. Sailor B, who is going to drown, pushes A off and away from the plank and, thus, proximately, causes A to drown. Sailor B gets on the plank and is later saved by a rescue team. The thought experiment poses the question of whether Sailor B can be tried for murder because if B had to kill A in order to live, then it would arguably be in self-defense.” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plank_of_Carneades

Both of the issues you mention here are examples of actions with double effects, one good and one bad and the Church has been very explicit about when such actions are allowable. There is one set of criteria that applies in both instances. The issue of capital punishment is different. It is not a question of self defense nor is it governed by the guidelines of double effect. Punishment is a different animal that is determined by its own set of rules.

Ender

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