Capital Punishment

I was having a discussion with a protestant friend on Capital Punishment recently. And I of course argued against it. Because it’s my understanding that in the 21st century it is not permissible according to the Catechism because of high security prisons. The only reason (in my understanding) that capital punishment is OK is if there’s a possibility they may escape and commit more crimes. But that is highly implausible nowadays, at least in America.
I said that we should let God be the judge and that if they have life in prison they have the rest of their lives to potentially repent. But if we execute them, while in a state of sin, we are in effect sending them straight to hell.

But then she brought up this passage, and I must admit it’s very compelling for justifying Capital Punishment. Is she just misinterpreting it? Because if not I don’t see a way around agreeing with her on it:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
ROM 13:1‭-‬4 ESV

Well, she’s got a point. Governments have the God-given right to defend their citizens, even to the point of taking lethal action against those who would take the lives of the innocent, therefore, it’s the right and duty of governments to decide when and under what circumstances they will employ the death penalty. The Church does not dictate to governments what they can and cannot do in this regard–neither can she do so in any other matter over which government has a lawful right. It’s a complex issue, with no firm way of approaching it, which makes it so hard to nail down.

There are and must be mitigating rules as to what crimes are punishable by death and who can be subject to such an extreme punishment for crimes. Even governments recognize this, especially now days. That answers the question of who can be executed well enough in most cases.

Some offenses are so heinous that states deem them beyond excuse, and so do employ the death penalty–not as a determent, but rather in justice for the victim(s) of such crimes. And while a prisoner may die unrepentant, s/he usually has years to make themselves right with God awaiting execution, whereas their victim(s) generally had seconds to do the same.

In most cases it is possible to keep someone locked up for life instead of employing the death penalty, but the Church cannot rule it out because the death penalty isn’t intrinsically evil, since it’s punishment of criminals as cited in the Scripture passage you quoted, not the intentional killing of innocent persons.

Indeed, classically in theology, the State has the right to take a human life in cases of necessity – either from within through its police powers or from without through its power to wage war. These powers, however, must be exercised according to morality…and it is the Church and not the State that has ultimate authority in matters related both to faith and to morals. They are both in the province of the Church’s Magisterium.

As the Catechism writes:
*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 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 nonexistent.**”*
Excellent catechetical resources to understand the Church’s position on this matter, which is the object of much theological reflection precisely by the College of Bishops and its head, may be found here, at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops

Directly under the banner of the bishops: The Church’s Anti-Death Penalty Position

Fortunately, the number of countries in the family of nations that use the death penalty are very few and diminishing.

One of the challenges is that there are some prisoners that have escaped from high security prisons and killed again. There are also prisoners in confinement that have murdered other inmates and prison staff. Prisons like the Federal Supermax Prison in Florence Colorado are designed to keep the most dangerous criminals confined, but at fairly substantial costs. If ADX Florence was built today it would cost somewhere between 100 - 130 Million for the 400 or so prisoners incarcerated there. That does not include the roughly 80-100k/year for each inmate that will be generally be confined for life.

In the US those costs are manageable, but there are many countries where basic needs such as clean water cannot be met, so building a supermax type prisons are simply impractical.

The biggest question is what to do with those that show repeated escapes with a history of violent crime? If you cannot guarantee their incarceration then a government has to weigh if the regrettable taking of one life is the prudent course for saving tens or even hundreds of other lives.

I certainly hold that state executions should be almost nil, but I do see places where there are no other choices short of a box of concrete poured around them. In cases such as those, death would seem to be preferable than to dump someone into a modern day equivalent of an oubliette.

If she used that passage to justify the behaviour of an evil dictator what would you say? The Bible needs to be put in context. This clearly refers to just laws and authority. Since the question is whether or not CP is just the passage is irrelevant.

I used to be against it given that it no longer seemed to be needed for self defense and because recent popes have personally been against it, but as matter of doctrine, given Biblical use of it and past authoritative statements by the Church, it can be justified as appropriate punishment. Maybe it’s fine if a country outlaws it, but denying that a country has a right to do so seems problematic in terms of doctrine.

The government of Indonesia sentenced two Australians to death.
The government of Australia said that was wrong.

Which authority is to be obeyed?

The government in whose country the crime was committed. That doesn’t mean Australia cannot protest and work for the release of its citizens, of course it can. Still, Australia can’t force Indonesia to hand over their prisoners unless they are willing to go to war.

Actually – thankfully! – we live in a more civilised world than that.

Australia certainly can protest and petition for the release of its citizens. But working in concert with other members of the family of nations, there is opportunity to bring tremendous forms of influence against nations who would execute foreign nationals…especially nations which wish to have favorable economic relations, visa opportunities and so fort with prosperous nations that have a more progressive view of criminal justice.

The barbaric practice of capital punishment, which Pope Francis has on a number of occasions said now can never be justified, is an excellent issue to work with less enlightened governments to help them see that their attitudes can occasion the infliction of policies upon them to help them adjust their behaviour. There is much that can be achieved without the need of going to war.

Actually, of those working on the issue theologically…within the College and within the theological advisers the College has turned to in this most recent phase of clarification…I am not acquainted with anyone who says the State does not have the right to defend itself, including the taking of life in principle. That is in fact a canonised principle.

That is not, however, an absolute. The Church still retains the prerogative, in view of her role regarding both faith and morals, to determine when the moral criteria for the exercise of the right can no longer be morally sustained in application…just as it is not doctors who determine the morality of medical procedures, it is theologians who specialise in that sub-field.

As the Magisterium has said, today the threshold is so high as to be “virtually non-existent.” Tomorrow (figuratively, not literally) the College of Bishops will give further help to government authorities to understand how really non-existent “virtually non-existent” actually and truly is.

Thankfully, this is true in our times. At one time, though, nations were basically on their own, unless they had powerful allies. Still, the principle stands that foreigners are under the authority of the government of the country in which they are, so Indonesia would be within her rights to execute the Australians, but let’s hope, as you say, that can be averted.

The barbaric practice of capital punishment, which Pope Francis has on a number of occasions said now can never be justified, is an excellent issue to work with less enlightened governments to help them see that their attitudes can occasion the infliction of policies upon them to help them adjust their behaviour. There is much that can be achieved without the need of going to war.

Well, Father, with all due respect to you and to Pope Francis, the death penalty, in some cases, is more humane that locking someone up with violent criminals in a prison where such persons may not have adequate protection. Prison is not a day school, after all, it’s a very, very bad place to spend 20 to 30 years or more, having to watch one’s back day in and day out. Prisons have predatory criminals who prey on others weaker than themselves who have no others to stand between them and such people, and the guards can’t possibly protect all inmates all of the time. If it were me, I’d rather know my time in prison was going to be brief, even if ending in death, than endure decades living in such a hell. I’d have access to a confessor for my spiritual needs before my execution date–at least here in the USA. Still, no one ought to be sentenced to death without proper safeguards of their rights, and knowledge that they are definitely guilty of the crime. Capital punishment ought to be the very last resort, the very last.

Indonesia would have the right to prosecute any crime that took place in that country…also Indonesia is a Muslim country so I’m not sure of their position on Capital Punishment.

Preaching Christianity is a crime in some provinces of Indonesia.
I don’t think that is their ‘right’.

It’s their right to make preaching Christianity a crime, but the death penalty for foreigners is a bit too steep, I agree. :slight_smile: I looked up the story. They were convicted of drug smuggling and executed in 2015. I don’t know if they were actually guilty or not, but I do think that was excessive punishment and that deportation would have been better. Still, anyone who breaks a country’s laws should expect to have to pay whatever price that government decides appropriate, whether it’s appropriate or not. Only people with a death wish yank on a tiger’s tail, i.e., if the consequences are more than a person wants to pay for the crime he shouldn’t do the crime.

The question is whether the relevant government (Indonesia) made a good decision. Ultimately, the morality of a (well intentioned) decision to impose capital punishment comes down to a question of prudential judgement. “Is this what we need to do;…will this action do more good than harm”?

The objections of the Australian Government in this particular case had more than the usual level of moral weight I think because those executed had so demonstrably changed their ways following the several years of incarceration. They had become agents of positive change themselves.

True, they had changed their ways and hearts, however, they were still guilty of the crime(s) they committed. Changing after the fact doesn’t negate the punishment of the crime unless the person is eligible for parole. If they had changed their ways/hearts, at least they were more ready to meet God than they were when they committed the crimes. I’m not saying that governments cannot and should not take change of heart into consideration, but then there have been many jailhouse conversions that lasted until the day of release and no longer. And justice for the crime still has to be satisfied. We Catholic ought to understand this principle since we believe in purgatory, in which we pay the temporal consequences of our sins if not satisfied before death.

I’ve no quarrel with that. The observation about prudential judgement (first part of my post) balances the State’s right to use capital punishment (morally), (and may not be much influenced by the individual criminal’s conversion at all). Of course, it is “their” prudential judgement, not ours that is of relevance.

Indonesia executes Australians who are drug smugglers…yet it does nothing to its own citizens who smuggle asylum seekers into Australia…in fact if they reach Australia the boats are confiscated and burned…the Indonesian crew are returned to Indonesia…if the boats are intercepted before they reach Australia they are turned back to Indonesia…and Indonesia has the temerity to protest to the Australian government rather than admit their own ineptitude in halting the smuggling from their own country…there are some in Australia who even suspect that Indonesia deliberately turns a blind eye to the smuggling rather than accept responsibility for it.

It seems to me there is big difference between smuggling asylum seekers and drugs, don’t you think? :hmmm:

Yes there is…at the same time the smugglers are doing it for money…not for any humanitarian reason…some of the asylum seekers have drowned on the open seas

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