capital punishment


#1

Last week I politely excused myself from a conversation that my fundamentalist in-laws started concerning capital punishment. I was not sure about the Catholic teaching so I immediately went to the CCC when I got home and came to a better understanding. Then a local Catholic newspaper reported some information about it because in the state which I reside it will be decided soon whether a person in this state will receive the death penalty. Now I have a much better understanding where the Church stands on this issue. Getting back to the conversation I excused myself from, my sister-in-law is very much for the death penalty and believes that people who commit murder should receive this punishment (with some exceptions). She mentioned how in the Old Testament God punished people for the wrong they did. This was her arguement for the death penalty. My question is this: did God permit people to kill people for the crimes they commited, and if so why do we not practice this form of punishment today. I’m not suggesting that we do. I just want to understand better why the way things were done in the Old Testament days don’t apply to today. Thanks for any input.

KGM


#2

I’ll just throw the generic response here…Jesus said “love your enemies”. It’s not very loving to kill someone is it?


#3

Capital punishment isn’t *intrinisically *evil. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the most prudent option in every circumstance. The Church thinks that the circumstances today, by and large, call for the use of non-lethal means of punishment instead.

Check out Cardinal Avery Dulles’s “Catholicism and Capital Punishment” for a good discussion.


#4

There is no defensible reason for capital punishment in America.

  1. In less organized/stable societies it may be necessary to protect the greater public if secure facilities are not available or the rule of law is weak and prisoners have a good chance at escape. Not applicable here. The Al Capone days are long gone.

  2. Unfair economic burden. It’s been a while, but my long time understanding is that the amount of extraordinary money spent on a capital case exceeds the cost of lifetime imprisonment for that individual. And yet there are STILL cases where convicted men are later found to be innocent of the crime.

  3. Deterrence. Baloney. No sociological evidence exists that the death penalty provides any more deterrence than lifetime sentence without parole.

  4. Vengeance. Banned for all christians. But, IMO, the real motivator behind Joe Average’s stance on the death penalty. Don’t get me wrong. After seeing some news reports, my emotional response is to want to be the guy who pulls the switch myself. But that doesn’t make it right. Again, IMO, Hollywood movies are the reason so many Americans buy into the DP. Almost ALL action/adventure movies use this formula; 1. Villian commits unspeakable acts and generally demonstrates a total lack of humanity. 2. Hero struggles against Villian. 3. Hero saves the day as, against all odds, he gains the chance to spectacularly kill the monster (who has no redeeming human qualities) and save the world (or heroine, or innocent kids, etc) Real life is not this way. Even killers have a soul and are not beyond redemption.

The only thing I ever heard out of a pro-DP apologist was this challenge: “So many on death row have strong conversion experiences. So few in general prison life do. Might not the certainty and proximity of being put to death for their crimes be causing these men to face up to their sinfulness and repent?” I have no idea of the relative statistics, but would enjoy hearing from anyone who can support or refute this idea.


#5

Hello KGM:

There is so much one could say on this issue that I will only make a few observations.

  1. The Catholic teaching has not essentially changed. The Church has always taught that the state has the right to exact the death penalty of convicted criminals because of “capital” crimes. She still teaches this.

  2. As I understand it, the present Pope has inserted language to the effect that the state should not exact this penalty if there is any other way of handling the criminal, and he observes that in most modern states there is indeed another way (i.e., incarceration). Thus he concludes that the death penalty should be rare, if not non-existent, in modern societies.

  3. Note however that the Church here, after stating the moral principles, still leaves the issue up to the state: Is there any other way in the present circumstances? Note that while it is the Church that has the right and the wisdom to enunciate the moral principles it is the state (i.e., we laymen) that has the unique expertise to judge in any particular instance whether there is in fact any other way besides exacting the death penalty.

  4. It thus seems clear that it is the state, not the Church, that has the greater expertise to decide in particular cases: it is the state that has criminologists, it is the state that can monitor the seriousness of crimes, it is the state that has to pay for the prisons and the appeals. So in any particular capital case there is not only the issue of Catholic teaching (which is, remember, that the state sometimes has a right to exact the death penalty), but also a prudential judgement (should this right be exercised in particular cases?).

  5. Thus there is plenty of wiggle-room for Catholics in particular cases on this issue. It seems even the Pope’s judgement in a particular case (as, for instance, when the Vatican commonly makes a plea for clemency for a condemned murderer) could be questioned: granted his right to enunciate the moral principles, is the Pope’s prudential judgement not capable of question? Does he know all the facts and the local situation?

  6. Take the execution of Tim McVeigh, for instance. The federal government obtained the death penalty because of the horrific results of the crime, and because it was terrorism. It seems to me that while our society can perhaps successfully incarcerate lone murderers terrorism is so much more serious a threat that it needs the tool of capital punishment to handle it. Also, if this was not true when the pleas for McVeigh’s life were made, can we not say that things have changed now after 9-11?

  7. Now, if in doubt about exacting the death penalty I would prefer to err on the side of the Church, which is the side of mercy. So I oppose the death penalty for simple murderers, as I think that while it is the more horrific murders that spur the outcry for capital punishment it is precisely these that would tend to show that the murderer is crazy, and therefore, possibly less guilty by reason of insanity? Think of Dahmer and various child-molesters – are these guys playing with a full deck? If they were perhaps insane when they murdered, how can we execute them?

  8. Also, we might find that it is cheaper to keep these murderers in jail than to pay for all the appeals and delays. And then, DNA evidence has proven too many condemned criminals innocent. Furthermore, as a pro-lifer I have found that justice in US courts is far from guaranteed to those who are out of favor with the ruling class, be they black, or poor, or pro-life. We Christians need to think twice before we give ultimate power to courts that have approved the murder of over 45 million of our fellow Americans.

  9. We Catholics are called to apply the teaching of the Church to our situation. As you see that’s not always easy to do. So, what else is new?

Regards,
Joannes


#6

Thanks for all the responses, but I feel my question still was not answered. My fundamentalist sister-in-law seems to have a strong conviction for the use of the death penalty. She seems to agree that there are exceptions to who should and should not be put to death, but I don’t think she would agree with the Catholic point of view that if in fact the state is capable of dealing with the criminal by means of incarceration they should. Her arguement stems from the fact that in the Old Testament times people were put to death for crimes they committed. She believes that a person should recieve the punishment which fits the crime as was the case in the OT. My question is this: if in OT times people were given punishments to fit the crime why would she believe that now in the NT times the same premises should apply? I believe the answer has a lot to do with the fundamentalists interpretation of the bible. From a Catholic point of view what changed from the time of Jesus that would have us use this form of punishment much less? What I lack is an understanding of the Old Testament practices and when and if they all apply to us today. Another example of this is the fact that most fundamentalists believe in tithing 10% of their income every week which is explicitly stated in the OT. Catholics believe in offerings but don’t adhere to a strick 10%. I’m not intending tithing to be part of this thread. It just helps to use another example to explain my confusion. There may come a day where I need to defend the one, true, Catholic and apostolic Church and I want to be prepared with not only an understanding of my faith, but an understanding of where she is coming from. I think this might help. Are there any fundamentalists out there who could explain your point of view on the death penalty? Thanks again.

KGM


#7

[quote=manualman]There is no defensible reason for capital punishment in America.

[/quote]

Sure there is and if anyone searches for other threads, they will find where it has been defended.

You have done a good job of showing most of the classic reasons for capital punishment and are quite correct that they are not good reasons. The only reason the catechism states is acceptable is for societal protection.

There was one thread in particular about how prisoners at a super-max prison at Pelican Bay were still involved in serious criminal activity. When we can safely incarcerate for life all who have murdered and continue to pose a trheat, then we will have no legitimate (according to the CCC) use for the death penalty.


#8

Hello KGM:

The mere fact that in the Old Testament someone was put to death for some offense doesn’t necessarily mean that that same penalty obtains today. The reason is that if anyone says the Law of Moses and laws existing before Moses have to be proven to apply to us before it can be proven that we have to follow them. But we are not Hebrews or Jews and so are not subject to the Law of Moses or to earlier laws. The burden of proof lies on him who says that we are subject to them.

We are subject to the Natural Law that is written on our hearts. That’s how we know that we are bound by the Ten Commandments. We are also bound by the law of Christ which is taught by the Church He founded. That’s how we know that remarriage after only a civil divorce is forbidden, but that dancing and drinking alcohol in moderation are not. It’s the Church’s interpretation of Scripture we ultimately must follow, not that of some self-appointed preacher or Bible student.

Christ preached mercy and forgiveness and His Church is the only one who can be sure of His teaching. So we must follow His Church when she teaches, just as we would follow Christ – because she is His Mystical Body, and we know that He said to His Apostles “He who hears you hears Me.”

Regards,
Joannes


#9

I’ll try to take a crack at this, KGM. I’m a convert to Catholicism who grew up in a fairly fundamentalist environment, so hopefully I can help you out with some of this.

You said the question was:

if in OT times people were given punishments to fit the crime why would she believe that now in the NT times the same premises should apply?

That’s probably isn’t the best position to come from - the RCC herself has, in earlier times with closer ties to various states, facilitated the execution of individuals - imprudently, most likely, but that is another discussion - and clearly, the ideas of justice in the OT still apply today. What has changed is not the standard, but, as others have said, society itself.
The basic position in both OT and NT times is this: Just punishments must be proportionate to the crime - and eye for an eye is fine, a life for a life is fine, but when we start taking lives for eyes, we have a problem; we are being unjust in our application of punishment.
In the past, both in OT and NT times, states have been in a position where it is necessary for their survival that capital punishment be practiced - OT law, in particular, leaves little room for mercy to be shown in capital cases because of the clearly articulated need to keep Israel pure and holy (not to mention the practical impossibility of certain lesser punishments for a fugitive people). However, justice does not demand that we take the full measure of punishment we are allowed. Your sister is correct in that the individual who commits murder has forfeited his right to exist. However, when it is not necessary to take a life, even OT law will say that one should not, even if it would be within one’s rights in other circumstances - one good example is in Exodus 20 or so (I’m being very lazy today and I refuse to reach over and find it) where a thief caught at night may be killed by the homeowner in protection, but not in the daytime (when, presumably, it is not necessary to kill in defense).


#10

If she’s going to cite OT sources, tell her adulterers and children who back sass momma’ need to be put to death too. Jesus was executed, and he prayed;

“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
“Love your enemies”, “Pray for those who persecute you”.

If a criminal or suspected criminal can be handled any other way, the death penalty is morally wrong.


#11

[quote=manualman]4. Vengeance. Banned for all christians.
[/quote]

So you feel that people who commit murder as a crime of passion shouldn’t be imprisioned? After all, they are not a danger to society at large, and statistically they’re very unlikely to do it again. So the only reason to lock them up is “vengence”.


#12

Dear All,

The death penalty has never been the purview of the Church. It has always been the purview of the State. Even during the gory days of the Middle Ages, the punishment of heretics depended on the laws of the State in which the sentence was passed. Many civil authorities burned heretics, but some imprisoned them, some banished them, some gave them some severe corporal punishment. The Church is pro-life, and she is a voice of reason. So there is a tug of war between the needs of the State (as she perceives them) which is the competent authority in the area, and the spiritual desires of the Church. Sometimes the Church wins, sometimes the State wins, sometimes the twain meet.

Personally, I am for life imprisonment with no possibility of parole, with a lot of alone time (i.e., solitary confinement) with a Bible. However, I do believe that facing death is indeed a deterrent.

God bless,

Greg


#13

one day, we as a people of God will find that the answer to killing is not more killing… :cool:


#14

Death Row Stats,
tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/deathrow.htm

Sister Prejean
pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/

Supreme Court
pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/procon/


#15

[quote=KGM]Thanks for all the responses, but I feel my question still was not answered.
[/quote]

Can I share a personal illustration?

In 1965 when I was nearly 6 yrs old, my 19-year-old sister went to the Univ. of Florida to visit our brother and her soon-to-be fiance. While they were at dinner at a local college hangout, she went to the bathroom, which was up some stairs and at the back of the restaurant. She surprised an ex-con who was trying to open up some lockers with a knife. He stabbed her and she died that night. She was a beautiful soul who loved Jesus and I know she flew into His arms. It was a horrible time for my parents and my older brothers and sister (ages 14 to 20).

The man was convicted of 2nd degree murder. I still remember his face from the newspaper. He spent 10 years in prison and we found out he had been released when a reporter called my mother and asked her how she felt that her daughter’s killer had been released. I recently found out that the man died of cancer several years ago. When I heard (and I’m not trying to sound pious) I genuinely hoped he had found Christ. The Lord had allowed me to forgive the man and healed me of any consequences of unforgiveness. It was a great blessing brought on only by grace.

My parents are both with the Lord and they were devout Catholics. I don’t recall ever hearing them express any desire for vengence or any desire that this man be executed. For my part, although I had to deal with the difficult memories and effects of being a child under such circumstances, I have never been an advocate of capital punishment for the simple reason that if I had been given the opportunity to pull the switch, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let his sin make me want to kill.

Sure, when I hear of some horrible crime, my first thought is “I hope they fry the guy,” but it’s not how I really feel deep down. When Ted Bundy was executed in Florida, I was living in Tallahassee at the time, where he had killed several young woman at FSU. I was saddened and sickened by the “party” atmosphere. There were actual parties all over town counting down the hours and minutes with great drinking toasts in celebration when the execution occurred.

I think that capital punishment brings out the worst in us. Victims are not truly satisfied in the end and people detached from the victim end up celebrating the killing of another human being. That can’t be good for us. Also, the process of executing someone does not foster forgiveness in the victims. And, as all of you who have been deeply wounded by something probably know, forgiveness is mostly for the forgiver, not the forgiven. Unforgiveness is a cancer that kills our soul and capital punishment is no remedy.

I hope this helps with your sister-in-law.

Blessings


#16

[quote=Timidity]So you feel that people who commit murder as a crime of passion shouldn’t be imprisioned? After all, they are not a danger to society at large, and statistically they’re very unlikely to do it again. So the only reason to lock them up is “vengence”.
[/quote]

Nope. Deterrence is legit for this one. The knowledge that killing the object of your rage will likely result in imprisonment is a real deterrent. Some argue that CP is more so, but states not having the death penalty do NOT have different murder rates.

So imprisonment of such people is necessary for the protection of society at large.

Besides all that, I am suspicous of any statistics that say that someone with so little self-control as to commit murder in a rage won’t do the same again if put in a similar situation again.


#17

[quote=manualman]Deterrence is legit for this one. The knowledge that killing the object of your rage will likely result in imprisonment is a real deterrent.
[/quote]

I think that true crimes of passion (i.e., lack of control) are immune to deterrence, so this arguement wouldn’t justify imprisonment as anything other than vengence.

The arguement wasn’t mine, in any case. It was from one of the Catholic Supreme Court Justices (Scalia, I think).

And, for the record and at the risk of losing my “Conservative in good standing” card, I think that capital punishment is completely unacceptable because of the way American justice works. When I lived in Illinois I saw no fewer than three death row prisoners cleared by DNA evidence. There is just too much risk in executing an innocent man.


#18

sometimes, for the sake of justice, bad people have to be killed…actions have consequences and all…The death penalty is Biblical and the Church has always taught that it is moral if used justly.

Socialists and liberals tend to want to outlaw use of the death penalty…not Christians


#19

Hello KGM,

When Jesus is talking about tying a mill stone around a purpatrators neck and drowning him in the sea, he relates it to cutting off a portion of the body and throwing it into Gehenna. In Old Testament stonings, God uses the terminology of cutting people off from the body of people by stoning them. Jesus tells His Church that if Her hand, eye or foot is Her undoing She should cut it off and throw it into Gehenna. Jesus tells His Church, it is better for Her to enter into heaven with out a limb than to have the whole body of the Church cast into hell.

Their is also the power to cut people off from the life of the body of the Church spiritually. The Jews refer to this as KARET. Jesus gave His sworn oath that He would hold sins bound in heaven of anyone whom Apostolic Successors hold sins bound on earth. When Jesus holds you bound to your sins in heaven is their any other destination for you than to be cast into Gehenna? Why would Jesus give Apostolic Successors the power to hold sins bound of culprits which puts them to eternal death, which is infinitely deadlier than state physical capital punishment? Again to protect the body of Christ’s Bride the Church on earth.

Please visit Throwing Stones

**NAB MAT 18:5 **
"Whoever welcomes one such child for my sake welcomes me. On the other hand, it would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believes in me, to be drown by a millstone around his neck, in the depths of the sea. What terrible things will come on the world through scandal! It is inevitable that scandal should occur. Nonetheless, woe to that man through whom scandal comes! If your hand or foot is your undoing, cut it off and throw it from you! Better to enter life maimed or crippled than be thrown with two hands or feet into endless fire. If your eye is your downfall, gouge it out and cast it from you! Better to enter life with one eye than be thrown with both into fiery Gehenna.

NAB MAR 7:9

He went on to say: "You have made a fine art of setting aside God’s commandment in the interests of keeping your traditions! For example, Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and in another place, ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.’ Yet you declare, If a person says to his father or mother, Any support you might have had from me is korban’ (that is, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. That is the way you nullify God’s word in favor of the traditions you have handed on."

**NAB JOH 20:20 **

At the sight of the Lord the disciples rejoiced. “Peace be with you,” he said again. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said: “Recieve the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound.”

Anathema

Benedict XIV (1740-58–De Synodo dioecesana X, i) cites the anathema maranatha formulated by the Fathers of the Fourth Council of Toledo against those who were guilty of the crime of high treason: “He who dares to despise our decision, let him be stricken with anathema maranatha, i.e. may he be damned at the coming of the Lord, may he have his place with Judas Iscariot, he and his companions. Amen.”

Quoted from newadvent.org/cathen/01455e.htm

Peace in Christ,
Steven Merten
www.ILOVEYOUGOD.com


#20

[quote=Joannes]Hello KGM:

  1. It thus seems clear that it is the state, not the Church, that has the greater expertise to decide in particular cases: it is the state that has criminologists, it is the state that can monitor the seriousness of crimes, it is the state that has to pay for the prisons and the appeals. So in any particular capital case there is not only the issue of Catholic teaching (which is, remember, that the state sometimes has a right to exact the death penalty), but also a prudential judgement (should this right be exercised in particular cases?).
    [/quote]

However, the prudential judgement the Church teaches has to do with the safety of society and the security of the prison, not the cost of imprisonment vs appeals and execution. Nor does it have to do with the seriousness of the crime, nor the presence or absence of criminologists. the question is, can the citizenry be safe with this individual incarcerated (and here, citizenry must include other inmates)?

[quote=Johannes]5. Thus there is plenty of wiggle-room for Catholics in particular cases on this issue. It seems even the Pope’s judgement in a particular case (as, for instance, when the Vatican commonly makes a plea for clemency for a condemned murderer) could be questioned: granted his right to enunciate the moral principles, is the Pope’s prudential judgement not capable of question? Does he know all the facts and the local situation?
[/quote]

It can be reasonably presumed that at least in Canada and the United States, imprisonment of a convicted murderer will be in a facility capable of securely housing them; the technology exists; if the prison has not been built, would you suggest that there is a dollar figure large enough that the State would be justified in executing rather than building?

{QUOTE=Johannes}6. Take the execution of Tim McVeigh, for instance. The federal government obtained the death penalty because of the horrific results of the crime, and because it was terrorism. It seems to me that while our society can perhaps successfully incarcerate lone murderers terrorism is so much more serious a threat that it needs the tool of capital punishment to handle it. Also, if this was not true when the pleas for McVeigh’s life were made, can we not say that things have changed now after 9-11? Tim’s execution should be viewed paralell to the group that first bombed the World Trade Center, albeit largely unsuccessfully. One was executed, the other wasn’t. Safety of the citizenry was not the deciding factor.


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