Is the death penalty really inadmissable?

Just to be clear, I am only proposing this question, not answering it.

It seems to me, from what I have seen of this topic, is the discussion getting off in the weeds. In my opinion, not that it is worth much, the question is about justice. I have explained this point in other posts and will not repeat it all here. If the criminal owes a debt of justice, as the Catechism seems to indicate (see below), then, the question, I suggest, is if this debt is ever such that justice demands the death penalty.

“Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense” (CCC 2266).

The discussion here, however, is so far afield (e.g. papal authority, infallibility, etc.), that I have not been able to engage anyone in a careful, logical and consistent way. Such a discussion requires humility (open to being wrong) and a willingness to take the time to think through all this and study it. It is hard work.

So, at this point, I am of the opinion that any further discussion of this topic is not likely to be fruitful, but only an occasion for pride.

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Inadmissibility has been expressed, now if it was only explained perhaps we could understand what it means. As for dissent, there may be a sense in which that is what is happening, but that is not the sense in this case. Specifically, dissenting from an opinion is not the same as dissenting from church teaching, which is what you are suggesting is what is going on here.

The assertion has been made by myself and others that Francis’ comments, even in his encyclical, represent his prudential judgment. Given that disagreeing with such a judgment, even from the pope, can be valid, such a disagreement does not in fact constitute dissent from church teaching, your dictionary definition notwithstanding.

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Regarding the debt of justice, there is no doubt that this is exactly what is involved. It is justice that justifies and validates punishment.

A penalty is the reaction required by law and justice in response to a fault: penalty and fault are action and reaction. Order violated by a culpable act demands the reintegration and re-establishment of the disturbed equilibrium…" (Pius XII)

…the question, I suggest, is if this debt is ever such that justice demands the death penalty.

We know that justice demands a penalty with a severity commensurate with the severity of the crime (CCC 2266). We also know that the church has always accepted capital punishment as a just punishment for (at least) the crime of murder. (We either accept that or believe that the church has been acting and supporting what is unjust for 2000 years.) It seems, therefore, that capital punishment satisfies that requirement of a just punishment. This still doesn’t answer your question and distinguish between what may be applied and what should be applied.

Unlike other crimes whose severity can increase or decrease depending on circumstances, the severity of intentional murder is at a level where the death penalty is always commensurate (which is not to say it is always required). How, then, are we to decide when justice requires the application of such a penalty?

As far as commensurate severity goes, it is always just. The severity of murder cannot become less, the severity of the punishment cannot become more, it was just in the past so it is just today. There is always the question of whether the punishment is good for the society as a whole, but that is a situational issue which we can ignore for this discussion (even as we accept that it is a valid concern).

So: how do we decide whether it is mandatory or optional? I think an argument can be made that it is mandatory; I’m not sure an argument can be made that it is optional except on “harm to the common good” grounds, which we are (at the moment) ignoring.

On the mandatory side we have God’s rather explicit and uncomplicated command:

"Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed…" (Gn 9:6).

God then explains why he gave this command: “…for in the image of God He made man.” That is, the murderer forfeits his life because the crime he committed is so heinous. I think the Council of Trent echoed this in discussing the fifth commandment.

The necessity of explaining this Commandment is proved from the following. Immediately after the earth was overwhelmed in universal deluge, this was the first prohibition made by God to man. I will require the blood of your lives, He said, at the hand of every beast and at the hand of man.

In explaining the commandment Thou shall not kill, Trent states that “The just use of this power [to execute], far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder.”

As I said somewhere up thread, we have lost our sense of the true outrage of murder.

I am not inclined to debate or question the quality of your arguments. I get what you are saying. In a very general sense, I agree with you in principle. The main difference is I would not go as far as you.

The Church, it seems, should not be promoting the death penalty, or promoting any type of penalties (not implying you are saying this). This is the business of the state, not the Church, to decide such things. The idea, that, given the present state of affairs, utilizing the death penalty is judged inadmissible, is a reasonable position. The Church can propose this, but the state has the right, and is ultimately responsible, for making that determination.

Inadmissibility is reasonable, even if only for the fact that the implementation of the death penalty is fraught with problems. It happens that people with life sentences are later found to be innocent and released. Executing one of these innocent persons would be a grave injustice. There is also our society’s loss of a sense of true justice. Executions run the risk of being revenge. People with this mentality (hatred) should never be on a jury where the death penalty is involved. I am sure you aware of these sorts of problems. There is also the question of conversion. For example, take the murderer of Maria Goretti and his conversion. Of course, one’s eminent execution could also serve as a moment of conversion. The point is that there are rather serious issues with implementing the death penalty. I am not in favor of the Church arguing for the death penalty, but, instead, for maintaining clarity on two important principles.

The first: “Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense” (CCC 2266).

Whether or not this duty means that the state must execute someone is a judgment for the state to make, not the Church. The second principle is justice. If prison is not paying a debt of justice, but only protecting society, then there is no basis for putting any criminal in prison who is unable to repeat their crime or similar one. I gave an example, in detail, elsewhere here using the Enron scandal. Those men who engaged in this massive accounting fraud would never be able to do anything like this again. If justice is not involved, then there is no reason to prosecute them. Such men going about society unpunishment would certainly wound the common good. What would such a thing teach society about the virtue of justice? If these men are not to pay the debt of justice, then, no one is. Law teaches, and this injustice would be bad for this reason alone, but it is also offending to human person himself to allow injustices like this in society.

The unprecedented thing is that two years of the Extraordinary Magisterium has rendered about 1980 years of Magisterial teaching into dissent. The proponents of the new teaching are using words like “contrary to the Gospel”.

I will wait patiently until it is defined what “inadmissible” means, because a novel term has been introduced to moral theology prior to its being defined.


When it’s actually more cost-effective to imprison even the vilest offender for life than to go through the appeals and stays and whatever else involved in an execution and when we want people, even awful, undeserving people to have as much time and opportunity as possible to repent and come to know Jesus, why would we for a second think that it’s moral to snuff out their life and cut short the time that they have to make amends with the Lord? How is killing someone ethical? There are plenty of times in the OLD Testament where capital punishment is called-for, but where in the New Testament is that a thing (other than by pagans/Romans)? Capital punishment is nothing more than state-sanctioned vengeance. There’s nothing moral about it.

That interpretation has come through a very narrow lens though. For about 150 years, Christian countries have been abolishing the death penalty based on a growing awareness of its offense to human dignity. In all that time, pre Vat II and all, no papacy has addressed that as failing justice. Especially since the Catholic Church has played a significant part in prison ministry and the road to abolition in all those countries. Come to the US however, there is a unique belovedness of the death penalty that’s been sustained by a palpable revenge. Trent addressed that in the context of the fifth commandment as a powerful motive for murder.

“As the desire of revenge is almost natural to man, it becomes necessary for the pastor to exert his utmost diligence not only to instruct, but also earnestly to persuade the faithful, that a Christian should forgive and forget injuries; and as this is a duty frequently inculcated by sacred writers, he should consult them on the subject, in order to be able to subdue the pertinacity of those whose minds are obstinately bent on revenge, and he should have ready the forcible and appropriate arguments which those Fathers piously employed.”

Revenge is never a justification for celebrating the killing of a human being. It renders it murder.

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Remember that this is not new. It is a reformulation of "practically nonexistent ", as in something which should no longer exist in practice. This has been around 30-40 years. It was one of the first Catholic teachings I dissented from.

This admonition is addressed to the individual since the individual is forbidden to exact vengeance for an injury. The State however, has an absolute obligation to punish even as the individual is commanded to forgive. This is why the catechism states (2266): “Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties…” Do not conflate the rights and responsibilities of the individual with those of the State.

For God promulgates the holy law that the magistrate may punish the wicked by the poena talionis; whence the Pharisees infer that it is lawful for private citizens to seek vengeance; just as from the fact that the law said, “Thou shalt love thy friend,” they infer that it is lawful to hate enemies; but Christ teaches that these are misinterpretations of the law, and that we should love even our enemies and not resist evil, but rather that we should be prepared, if necessary, to turn the other cheek to him who strikes one cheek. And that Our Lord was speaking to private citizens is clear from what follows. For Our Lord speaks thus: “But I say to you not to resist evil, but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, etc.” (St Bellarmine)

No not at all, but I do attribute positive change & the correction of errors to be in line with the growth or evolution of human knowledge, we simply didn’t know any better back then. As I said previously the Church changes with time, which is why we don’t burn heretics at the stake anymore & this is only one example, there are many others such as the era of Inquisition, Crusades & the persecution of Paganism & science hundreds of years ago etc. We simply don’t do that anymore do we?

The correction of errors could be the wrong word, as it may have been appropriate 500 years ago, but this is why there are subtle changes to doctrine over time. When we study such ancient knowledge we are more than likely interpreting it with an eye that is current for the time it is being red.

It is difficult to deny that ancient knowledge is continually evolving & changing to reflect humanities collective knowledge at the time of interpretation. Humanity once believed the world was flat, as well as the sun revolving around the earth as the earth was the center of the universe.

Galileo was condemned by the Church & imprisoned for heresy & lucky to escape execution for his new knowledge of the universe - 1632 Dialogues On The Two Chief World Systems. All because it was contradictory to Church Doctrine at the time, modern science has since proven Galileo correct & rightfully so, Church Doctrine has changed to reflect this new knowledge.

Yesterday is not 500 years ago, the passage of time has everything to do with the evolution of humanities collective knowledge, which is subtle over time. All traditions have foundations that remain the same through out history because they are tried & true, however not all aspects of tradition have remained the same over time.

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Yes. Not reporting and not paying California sales tax of seventy five cents on a used book bought from Nevada and then shipped to you in California.

What does it mean when the Pope says: “There can be no stepping back from this position" ?

However, the Pope says that the Church cannot step back from this position, No? If the position were prudential, could you not step back from it?

Yes, and I understand that, and while it is surely true that times and the church do change, morality does not, so simply because some things can change clearly does not mean change is limitless. There has to be an argument that the doctrine on capital punishment can change, and what the limits are to such change.

The correction of errors could be the wrong word, as it may have been appropriate 500 years ago, but this is why there are subtle changes to doctrine over time.

If what is valid is based on circumstances then are we not discussing prudential issues rather than unchangeable doctrine? Morality has not changed in those 500 years, so if was appropriate morally then it is just as appropriate today even if it was prudentially more reasonable then.

CCC 1958 “The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history.”

Morality - the natural law - is not dependent on humanities collective knowledge. I think your opinion of what can change over time is a little more plastic than mine.

All traditions have foundations that remain the same through out history because they are tried & true, however not all aspects of tradition have remained the same over time.

Sacred Tradition is more than mere “tradition”, like Christmas at Grandma’s. It is an essential aspect of who the church is.

“It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others.” (CCC 95)

That doesn’t appear to be quite your perception of the significance of it. Unless you want to assert that all doctrines are “mere” traditions then you have still not made an argument that capital punishment can be changed to the point that what was considered moral yesterday should be considered immoral today.

If it is not doctrinal then it is surely changeable.

The teaching on torture has changed.

OK. So the moral law never changes and the natural law never changes and God never changes His mind? Is that right? But we read in the Bible:
Leviticus 19:28, "You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.”
Does God still command such or did God change His mind and does not command that anymore?

Doctrine is the entirety of the system, includes fundamental foundations such as the things that are proven to be true or not proven untrue as well as all the additional teachings, knowledge & philosophy that extend to strengthen the foundation.

Of course it changes, morality as a principal is eternally the same, but the aspects of morality are in constant change. It is difficult to deny this when we can all see the changes when looking at the way things where done centuries ago, especially in regard to law, science, art & religion

I have already provided one famous example of a morality shift caused by evolving knowledge at the time of Galileo & there are so many other examples. To many people humanity has a barbaric & extremely thin moral history, however with the advancement of our collective knowledge, over the centuries, morals are different today.

If morals don’t change, then why are many moral issues, that were acceptable centuries ago, no longer acceptable? Do I need to provide more examples? Morals change because humanity is constantly evolving its sentiment towards right & wrong, this happens because our knowledge is also constantly changing.

I can see your point regarding ancient sacred practice being relevant today & yes I agree that the foundations are sound & still morally acceptable today. Tradition is still sacred tradition, but it is hard to deny the changes of any tradition whether it be sacred, masonic, spiritual etc. History proves that ancient knowledge is built upon over millennia, tradition gives us the foundation that is constantly tweaked, added to, subtracted from, or simply changed to strengthen that foundation.

I love our Catholic Religion & its traditions, it is beautiful & filled with love for each other, however I am not blind to the fact that many of its practices in the distant past are extremely shady when compared to today’s practices.

Are all non-infallible doctrines changeable? Your comment here suggests you believe that they are.

Does God still command such or did God change His mind and does not command that anymore?

This is another of the “some things change so the morality of capital punishment can change too” arguments. Is it your position that literally every non-infallible doctrine is subject to error and reversal, because if not you have to address the specifics of what is involved with claiming the doctrine on capital punishment can, and has changed. You should also be willing to fully recognize the nature of the change, and whether change (development) can include complete reversal of the doctrine.

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Do you believe in the principle of the ‘common good’. Do you believe there is a collective ‘social conscience’ that has authority to denounce injustice and demand justice of our leaders?

Since Ender is Catholic, I expect him to answer yes, but because I know you, Motherwit, I expect you to assert those terms to denote and connote something totally other and different than either I or Ender would define according to the Church.

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My understanding is directly aligned with Church teaching and as I cited, the Compendium that makes our obligation clear.

Is the death penalty really inadmissible?

Not to be a little bit sassy, but…

Define ‘inadmissible’. :wink:

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