Capital punishment...again


Your attempts to shut down discussion of this topic are disappointing.

I didn’t say he made that claim; I was asking whether you were making it.

What have I said to you other than insistently ask that you answer a direct question about what the change means? That would have simplified this entire debate, and how can you say you are in agreement with what Pope Francis has said if you can’t or won’t explain what his words actually mean? How can I be in dissent from something that is unclear?



Excellent question, which I think was addressed by Cardinal Dulles.

Since the Christian revelation tells us nothing about the particulars of contemporary society, the Pope and the bishops have to rely on their personal judgment as qualified spiritual leaders in making practical applications. Their prudential judgment, while it is to be respected, is not a matter of binding Catholic doctrine. To differ from such a judgment, therefore, is not to dissent from Church teaching.

This certainly seems to say no, if it is a prudential judgment then dissenting from it is not in fact to dissent from Church teaching. He also said in the same article, however…

…they are morally accountable if they disregard the prudential judgment of the hierarchical leaders, who speak with authority even when they are not handing on the word of the Lord

…so it appears that while disagreeing with a prudential judgment can be legitimate we should be very wary about doing it.

Even apart from capital punishment this is a question well worth pursuing.



That’s what I originally thought. Thank you for the clarification Father.



And you were correct.

You are very welcome, @twf.



That dispenses with your claim that question of applying the death penalty is not a moral judgement.



I don’t think so. I think what Dulles was saying was that we must give our “hierarchical leaders” the benefit of the doubt, and not simply disregard their judgments, but to investigate a topic on your own and to reach a different conclusion can be legitimate. As I said, if I believe not using capital punishment is harmful, is it not a sin for me to do what I believe is wrong?



Right, but I don’t know by what competence that claim can be made. We can’t all be experts in everything. And the claim isn’t true. I read of prisoners hurting other prisoners and guards, ordering crimes from prison, and escaping all the time. And the US has some of the toughest prisons.

Which is what makes this difficult. It would seem a prudential judgment is in the Catechism.



There is quite a lot of duplicity going on in your position. Are you claiming that you disagree that current conditions warrant abolishing the death penalty in your state? That would be a legitimate position for a government responsible for the common good of their community. Or are you claiming directly opposed to the doctrinal position of the Church, that there are no cultural conditions that warrant abolishing the death penalty as harmful to the common good?



Yes, but not by those who have been executed with the death penalty.

In countries that have abolished the death penalty, there is no evidence that prison murders have increased.

Maybe not but they still happen as well as other serious crimes.

On the flip side, abolition of the death penalty has allowed for rehabilitation of some and more importantly justice for exonerees who have been vindicated by progress in science.

On one hand, I think it’s great that some have been rehabilitated and greater still if they have been converted to Christ, repentant of their sins, and trusting in Jesus’ infinite mercy and forgiveness so as to save their soul. Of course, the victim of a murder cannot be brought back to life so I think it must be a heavy cross for a repentant murderer to bear though not without hope and love and I would think that he/she would want to devote all their energies, works and prayers for the salvation of the soul they murdered though not excluding their own and others too. If a criminal converts and is allowed to live, they could devote the remainder of their life to meritorious good works if they are in the state of grace which may be beneficial for the salvation of not only their own soul but that of others and especially of somebody they may have murdered.

On the other hand, there have probably been some conversions in criminals on their way to execution by the death penalty too which penalty in these cases may also be satisfactory in some sense not only for the criminal but for other souls too such as one they may have murdered.

The point I’m making is that the quote from St John Paul II you cited is valid in those countries with a decent prison system for the people living in society outside the prison. But it appears to me that this argument fails in those cases of prison violence, assaults, and murder inside the prison walls which are still crimes and sins.



But we consider the Church an ‘expert’ in matters of human morality, and we accept her universal authority. No other entity comes near to the Church in its focus on object moral teaching. Perhaps the United Nations most closely resembles the global authority to demand a common agreement on moral society. But even the UN calls for a global moratorium on the death penalty.

Crimes happen in prison in death penalty states as well. To resolve that you would need to execute every prisoner based on potential for violence.



That isn’t the only factor influencing the Churchs position. There are also revelations such as those from the Innocence Project and other sources, that of the many on death row that have been proven innocent of the crime over time, an uncomfortable number were black. It raises the problem of systemic racism and other prejudices. The Church’s position is based on the best outcome overall for respecting the dignity of human beings and at this time, under all the varying conditions at play, she deems the death penalty to be unjust.



It may be difficult for the “legitimate public authority” to use its prudential judgment in light of the Church’s doctrinal development. But that public authority is the entity which the Church has left with the responsibility of discerning their own particular situation, and that’s how it was before the revision also. I don’t see the difficulty being in the teachings themselves, but in their applications.



I suspect you are making assumptions about what I believe that are unwarranted. I don’t imply things; I try to be precise and say only what I mean, neither more nor less.

The church has a long history of opposing specific applications of capital punishment; I have recognized that. Aquinas spoke of that, and I have never suggested I have any problem with it. There are two issues here: first, what does “inadmissible” mean? A lot of people interpret this to mean capital punishment is now intrinsically evil, but I do not believe that is the case. Second, is this assertion - whatever it means - a prudential judgment?

That it is a doctrinal assertion and not simply a judgment is supported by the clarifying letter from Cardinal Ladaria that states:

…the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine…

The problem is that the objection to its use contains judgments…

…modern society possesses more efficient detention systems, the death penalty becomes unnecessary as protection for the life of innocent people.

today capital punishment is unacceptable.

… it is to be rejected “due to the defective selectivity of the criminal justice system and in the face of the possibility of judicial error.”

…and I don’t believe judgments based on temporary conditions can be doctrine. Clearly there can be conditions that warrant a moratorium on the use of capital punishment; what I haven’t seen is an argument that capital punishment is intrinsically evil and thus immoral at all times and in all situations, and if that argument cannot be made then I ask again: what does “inadmissible” mean?



This is the central concern regarding this new declaration regarding the death penalty: does it oblige our assent (assuming we could agree on exactly what it means)? Here is one serious evaluation that suggests the answer is not as obvious as it has been proclaimed. The entire (Edward Peters) article is here.

The Church’s “extraordinary” magisterium, capable of binding the faithful in faith and doctrine, can proceed solely-papally or papally-episcopally ; but her “ordinary” magisterium, also capable of binding the faithful in faith and doctrine, can proceed only papally-episcopally . As Francis’ move on the Catechism hardly qualifies as papal-episcopal, and there being no such thing as an ‘purely papal, ordinary, magisterium’ (the term itself seems an oxymoron, implying that some significant points of Church teaching have been taught only by popes!), then Francis’ views on the death penalty might (I stress, might, given the infallibility concerns above) contribute to the Church’s ordinary magisterium but they do not, and cannot, control it.

How to sum up the traditional understanding of this matter so far? Maybe thus: If it’s not extraordinary, it’s at most ordinary, but if it’s ordinary, it requires popes and bishops around the world and over a long, long time , and not just a pope in a claim or two.

All of which is why the questions surrounding the death penalty impact not only that very important social and civil issue but also the Church’s understanding and operation of her own magisterium.



You are piggy backing your position which is one of dissent from Catholic teaching, on the position of all other opponents to abolition participating in this thread, who actually are disagreeing within the bounds of Church teaching. I can see why a theologian like Don Ruggero is passionately disturbed by it.



I have never seen or read anyone here claim that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. That appears to be your strawman. If something was not evil for a long time and is evil now, the only conclusion is that it is extrinsically evil today. Intrinsic means having the core nature of evil and can never serve any good purpose. So lets dispense with that strawman unless someone actually claims it here.

What the doctrine requires is as the Church has always taught, that the preservation of human life is the highest good because we are made in the image of God. Capital punishment has always been addressed in relation to that highest good as expressed by the fifth commandment. Hence, the doctrine requires that if capital punishment serves to impress that truth more deeply on society, it is legitimate. However, if capital punishment is actually serving to feed disrespect for human life and a ‘culture of death’, it must be forbidden.



That position was always implicit in the teaching on capital punishment as demonstrated by the Church’s acceptance of countries around the world abandoning the death penalty for more than a century now. The Church is impelled to clarify the doctrine now in response to the false claim that capital punishment can never be immoral in legal justice.



A faithful Catholic can be on either side of this issue and still be on firm ground. Capitol Punishment cannot be evil, otherwise God could not have commanded the Israelites to use it. On the other hand, modern technology allows us to house inmates for life and still keep society safe. This gives them the chance to repent, which is good.
There is no right or wrong here.

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Well no one has ever suggested that. It could be immoral for many reasons, but only in a specific case. Capital punishment is always a moral option for a government, so it cannot be immoral in and of itself, but it can be immorally applied. The option itself is not evil, but the application may be. However, the application cannot be universally immoral to any government. Every government at all times has the authority and moral right to apply capital punishment to many different crimes.



Is your position that all of the many countries in the world that have abolished the death penalty, and the Catholic Church calling for abolition of the death penalty, are actually the dissenters to Gods Will?


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