Can a Catholic Still Maintain the Death Penalty?

I do not believe these terms are synonyms: “morally evil” and “moral evils”. The former describes the objective act. The latter categorizes the kind of evil emanating from the act.

We agree that an erroneous conviction is an objectively evil act, i.e., a morally evil act. Categorizing the subjective culpability of the actor(s) does not change the morality of the act. One may believe that the evil effect is a moral evil (culpable actor) or physical evil (no one to blame) but that’s a distinction without a difference with respect to the morality of the act.

CCC#1793 If - on the contrary - the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.

I don’t think identical is a correct description. The difference is not dependent on the category of evil, moral or physical, but on the gravity of objective evil effected by the act. For instance, these two acts are not morally identical:

  • A traffic court magistrate coerces a $10 fine for a wrongfully issued parking ticket.
  • The state executes an innocent person wrongfully convicted of murder.

Perhaps I’m missing the importance of categorizing the type of evil emanating from executing an innocent person. If so can you pinpoint the importance of doing so?

The point stands: This would make all erroneous convictions morally evil.

No, we don’t. I am willing to call it a physical evil, but not a moral one.

One may believe that the evil effect is a moral evil (culpable actor) or physical evil (no one to blame) but that’s a distinction without a difference with respect to the morality of the act.

I think this defines all mistakes and errors (at least those that harm someone) as morally evil. If that is so then term is really without meaning as it doesn’t differentiate between inadvertently harming someone and deliberately doing so.

Nor does CCC 1793 apply; that refers to an altogether different type of error. If the conscience is ill formed and a person thereby chooses wrongly he may well be accountable for his error. In that case he has chosen something he should have known was wrong. In the case of an error in judging a matter of fact there is no “he should have known better” issue. There is no morally evil act in such a circumstance.

“When we do a thing for a good and lawful purpose, if thereby we unintentionally cause harm to anyone, it should by no means be imputed to us.” (Augustine)

Perhaps I’m missing the importance of categorizing the type of evil emanating from executing an innocent person. If so can you pinpoint the importance of doing so?

What is important is understanding the difference between an inadvertent act with tragic consequences, and a deliberate act leading to the same end. Your argument erases that distinction by calling them both morally evil.

Doesn’t matter personal opinion on the matter. As Catholics, we are suppose to believe in what is in the Catechism, and the Catechism says the death penalty can never be used. End of story.

Is it? Which Catechism has the most weight? The most recent? Why that one?

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Are you arguing that the state’s execution of an innocent person is not an evil act?

If not then are you arguing that the state’s agents are not causally responsible for the intrinsically evil act of directly killing an innocent person?

If so then are you arguing that, therefore, Catholics can still maintain the death penalty?

Where are you trying to go with this notion of distinguishing physical vs. moral evil?

We have Aquinas and the catechism teaching that invincible ignorance (which is essentially the moral defense of the state’s agents whose acts directly kill an innocent person) does not make a morally evil act good. The act remains evil.

As I posted earlier, your argument about the kind of evil – moral or physical – can only make sense in the abstract. The teaching is that the guilt of the prisoner must be “fully” determined before capital punishment may be morally employed. I submit that that condition cannot have been met in all concrete cases in which the state executed an innocent person.

So then everyone who allowed the death penalty in the past died in sin?

(Of course not, but this shows the danger of oversimplification.)

I am unhappy with the way you use terms. Knocking into someone and causing him to spill coffee on himself might qualify as an evil act, but bumping someone accidentally and doing it deliberately are entirely different actions, a difference your use of the term disguises entirely.

“Evil act” implies a morally evil action; a sin. That you use it to describe physical loss (hurricanes…spilled coffee) is a source of confusion, and the fact that you deliberately use it without qualification is disturbing.

So, to answer your question: I do not consider the inadvertent execution of an innocent person a moral evil. There is no moral question involved.

If not then are you arguing that the state’s agents are not causally responsible for the intrinsically evil act of directly killing an innocent person?

Of course the state is causally responsible for the death. What I reject is the notion that (a) this represents a moral failure, and (b) that the inadvertence is intrinsically evil.

If so then are you arguing that, therefore, Catholics can still maintain the death penalty?

Yes, of course.

Where are you trying to go with this notion of distinguishing physical vs. moral evil?

It is necessary to distinguish what is accidental from what is intentional. It would be wrong to label someone an “evildoer” who inadvertently causes injury to another person, yet that is precisely where your argument leads.

For in the moral, as in the physical order, the species is not constituted by that which is accidental. Now, in the moral order, the essential is that which is intended, and that which results beside the intention, is, as it were, accidental. (Aquinas ST II-II 39,1)

We have Aquinas and the catechism teaching that invincible ignorance …

Their use of that phrase has no relationship to the way you use it. There are certain actions that are forbidden, where it can legitimately be said “He should have known better”. That assuredly is not the case in a trial where in fact the truth cannot be completely known by anyone. Natural Law may be written on our hearts, but the knowledge of John Smith’s guilt in the murder of Mary Jones is not.

The teaching is that the guilt of the prisoner must be “fully” determined before capital punishment may be morally employed. I submit that that condition cannot have been met in all concrete cases in which the state executed an innocent person.

This debate would have been much more straightforward had you started here. This is simply an opinion; it is not a moral or theological argument based on church doctrines.

The error in your thinking continues to be an attempt to meld two separate fonts of morality – moral object and intention – into one and give primacy to intention, i.e., making morality entirely subjective. As the Catechism explains but you continue to ignore is that the criteria that determines an evil act and a sin are completely different. The former are objective criteria and the latter subjective criteria.

#1750 The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.
#1857 For a sin to be mortal , three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.

Secondly, you appear to wish to define a human act which is neither good nor evil. That is impossible.

#1749 Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil.

While I cannot help that you are unhappy or disturbed by the Church’s teaching on the morality of human acts, all I can do is provide magisterial citations for you to consider:

If the object of the concrete action is not in harmony with the true good of the person, the choice of that action makes our will and ourselves morally evil, thus putting us in conflict with our ultimate end, the supreme good, God himself (Veritas Splendor, p 72).

Awkwardly, the above claim fully supports Pope Francis’ teaching. The universals in the Natural Law are known to all with certainty, e.g., “Thou shalt not Kill”. The particulars, e.g., John Smith killed Mary Jones, are not. Therefore, one may not transgress the Natural Law with an uncertain conscience.

No, not an opinion but Church teaching:
#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

An untruth can never be fully determined to be other than what it is, i.e., false.

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