This raises an interesting question. Currently, there is a giant showdown over an abortion doctor in Nebraska who will soon begin performing late term abortions in Kansas, taking place of the doctor who was killed several months ago. There is a tremendous outpouring of Catholics protesting this.
I have seen no similar protest over the death penalty. Now, I recognize that abortion kills far more people, and (ideally), those killed on death row “deserve it” more–but Catholicism still opposes each act. Why the difference? I suspect it is because Catholics tend to be conservative, and non-Catholic conservatives overwhelmingly support the death penalty?
Killing by the state, is particularly onerous, because it is on all of our hands. We chose it. We pay for it. Also, the victim is conscious, consciously foresees (and despairs) at his or her fate. Further, the potential to outlaw the death penalty is much, much greater than to outlaw abortion.
Really, there is no sense in comparing which is worse, and this is not my intention–there is no value in debating whether pride or envy is worse–but certainly state sponsored executions are still a problem, and a solvable one at that, right? So why so little attention from Catholics? Or am I wrong that it receives less attention (which is very possible, I certainly haven’t conducted any studies!)?
Why isn’t there more catholic uproar over the death penalty?
My theory, for what little it is worth, is that most Catholics see the the church teaching on aboriton as black and white. There is no room for argument, and the church is very vocal and open about the truth of abortion.
When it comes to the death penalty, there is some open room for debate. Some catholics are for it and some are against it, but you don’t see pro death penalty catholic politicians shunned like you do pro-choice ones.
Maybe the church policy could be a bit more clear on the death penalty.
I am not Catholic but I found this in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
No. 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.”*
John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56. 69 Cf. Gen 4:10.
I agree, the catechism is really quite clear about the circumstances for the appropriate use of death penalty–there can be no serious argument that any recent execution in this country was made “to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor.”
I think that supporting the death penalty is an easy, natural position to have, especially when one is among others who support it. It is natural to want retributive justice when a heinous crime has been committed. Its much easier to be pro-life (babies are much more sympathetic figures than murders, after all). But Christ’s commands to us are to adopt the impossible position of love, and I think we tend to ignore this when it comes to folks we really dislike.
The person above me who quoted the Catechism has it right on. The reason there should not be quite an equivalent outpouring of protest is because the death penalty is not INTRINSICALLY evil, while abortion is; i.e. there CAN be circumstances where the death penalty is permissible, but abortion is NEVER permissible. (How much more in late-term abortions, which are that much more identifiably infanticidal?)
At the same time, there is a response to the death penalty among Catholics. I heard somewhere that when the death penalty was abolished in Nebraska, all of the lights at some famous edifice nearby the Vatican were turned on in celebration. So I think there is a formidable Catholic response to the death penalty; it’s just not as strong as the outrage over abortion because the death penalty CAN conceivably be permitted sometimes, whereas abortion cannot.
The Catholic Church: the death penalty & abortion are very different topics, morally & theologically.
Dudley Sharp, contact info below
Catholics in good standing can support the death penalty and even an increase in executions, if their own prudential judgement calls for it.
The Catholic teaching is that abortion is always an intrinsic evil.
Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger)
“stated succinctly, emphatically and unambiguously as follows”: “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.” (1)
“Catholics in Political Life”, Statement of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
It is the teaching of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, founded on her understanding of her Lord’s own witness to the sacredness of human life, that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified. If those who perform an abortion and those who cooperate willingly in the action are fully aware of the objective evil of what they do, they are guilty of grave sin and thereby separate themselves from God’s grace. This is the constant and received teaching of the Church. It is, as well, the conviction of many other people of good will.
To make such intrinsically evil actions legal is itself wrong. This is the point most recently highlighted in official Catholic teaching. The legal system as such can be said to cooperate in evil when it fails to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law. In the United States of America, abortion on demand has been made a constitutional right by a decision of the Supreme Court. Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good.
Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ
"Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed, in Evangelium Vitae, that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (EV 57). But he wisely included in that statement the word innocent. He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty. " “No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.” (3)
Fr. John De Celles, “What Ardent Practicing Catholics Do” (4)
"Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is … a grave and clear obligation to oppose them … *t is therefore never licit to … “take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.” “In other words: it is always a grave or mortal sin for a politician to support abortion.”
“Now, some will want to say that these bishops-and I- are crossing the line from Religion into to politics. But it was the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) who started this. The bishops, and I, are not crossing into politics; she, and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians, regularly cross over into teaching theology and doctrine, And it’s our job to try clean up their mess.”
"Some would say, well Father, what about those people who support the war in Iraq, or the death penalty, or oppose undocumented aliens? Aren’t those just as important, and aren’t Catholic politicians who support those “bad Catholics” too?
“Simple answer: no. Not one of those issues, or any other similar issues, except for the attack on traditional marriage is a matter of absolute intrinsic evil in itself. Not all wars are unjust — and good Catholics can disagree on facts and judgments. Same thing with the other issues: facts are debatable, as are solutions to problems.”
"Imagine if someone came in here and said “I’m a mafia hit man and I’m proud of it.” Or “I deal drugs to little children.” Or “I think black people are animals and it’s okay to make them slaves, or at least keep them out of my children’s school.”
“Are these ‘ardent practicing Catholics’? No, they are not.”
“And neither is a person who ardently supports and votes to fund killing 1 to 1.5 million unborn babies every single year. Especially if that person is in a position of great power trying to get others to follow her. Someone, for example, like a Catholic Speaker of the House, or a Catholic candidate for Vice President of the United States, or a Catholic senior Senator who is stands as the leading icon his political party. Like the proud and unrepentant murderer or drug dealer, they are not ardent Catholics. They are, in very plain terms, very bad Catholics.”
“But the reason I say all this is not because I want to embarrass them or even correct them — they’re not even here. It’s because of you. Because back in the 1850’s when Catholic bishops, priests, and politicians were either silent or on the wrong side of the slavery debate, they risked not only their souls, but the souls of every other Catholic they influenced. I cannot do that, and I won’t do that.”
(1) “More Concerned with ‘Comfort’ than Christ?”, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick: Catholic Online, 7/11/2004 catholic.org/featured/headline.php NOTE: Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II and delivered this with guidance to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
So, regarding the post above, are you saying that Catholics aren’t, in fact, against the death penalty? How are those quotes reconciled with the Catechism? I must say, one of the things that attracted me to Catholicism was the combination of being pro-life and against the death penalty…
You can be a Catholic in good standing and support or oppose the death penalty.
The foundation of the death penalty is found in Genesis and is, based, specifically, upon “shedding blood”.
The Catechism got rid of the"bloodless means" language that was, originally, in the Catechism and which was, specifically, referenced by Pope John Paul II(PJPII) in Evangelium Vitae (EV) in the context of the non amended Catechism.
Context suggests “bloodless means” was removed in the amended Catechism because of its obvious and embarrassing conflict with the Genesis passage.
The Catechism was amended, allegedly and specifically, to insert PJPII’s death penalty comments within EV, yet “bloodless means” was specifically removed from the original Catechism, even though PJPII referenced it in EV.
It appears that the amendment was used as a convenient method to remove the improper “bloodless means”, even though an amendment, truly based upon PJPII’s EV, would have required that it remain.
The 2267 amendment replaced it with "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 with the dignity of the human person. "
“Non-lethal” is simply a conspicuous way to avoid using “bloodless means”, but it is the exact same meaning and therefore, irreconcilably, contradicts Genesis.
Catechisms should not have such nonsense within them.
In addition, the “more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.” are a humanist base, not a biblical one.
Biblically, theologically and traditionally, the death penalty, certainly, is in keeping with “the common good and with the dignity of the human person.”
Even humanistically, we can see how execution is more in keeping with the common good and more supportive of human dignity.
More on that, below.
In 2265 we have “Legitimate defense can be not only be a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.”
To repeat: “the common good” “requires” that an unjust aggressor be rendered “unable” to cause harm."
With individual murderers such requirement is only met with the death penalty. Only dead murderers are incapable of causing harm - a rational truism.
In 2266: “The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good.”
The requirement is that the “common good” “requires” an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm." Again,with individual murderers such requirement is only met with the death penalty.
2266 continues: “Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense.”
Biblically, we know the death penalty is proportionate to murder.
2266 continues: “Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.”
Expiation, though a gift from God, must be seized by the guilty party. It is arguable, as per Aquinas and Augustine, that the death penalty is better apt to provide that correction and is, therefore, more in tune with the eternal aspects of the wrongdoers salvation. (See also, paragraph, numbered 3, within Reference (1), below)
From 2267: “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.”
That is, most certainly, not the traditional teaching of the Church. Such teachings include , among others, that when committing murder, the offending party has forfeit their right to live. (Reference 1)
In addition, there is a major conflict between 1) “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.” and 2) the “common good” “requires” an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm."
(1) states that use of the death penalty is just “if it is the only ‘possible’ way of defending human lives against the unjust aggressor”
(2) “requires” the death penalty as it is the only method of rendering an unjust aggressor unable to cause harm.
(1) deals with “possibilities” (2) with “requirements”.
In addition to the fact that “the only possible way” has virtually no support, requirements rule over possibilities.
This obvious conflict shouldn’t exist within the Catechism and shows how poorly considered this topic was.
To make more of a mess, 2267 continues: "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 definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself–the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are rare, if not practically non-existent.’ (NT: John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56)
More of the “possibilities” nonsense, connected to the “possibilities” addressed in (1), above.
It is such a poorly considered prudential judgement as to negate its “prudential” moniker. All jails, all prisons, all cities, all states, all countries have widely varying degrees of prison security. Even in the US murderers escape, murder in prison and are given such leeway as to murder, again, because of mercy, leniency and irresponsibility to murderers, who are released to causes catastrophic losses to the innocent when they are harmed and murdered by these repeat offenders.
Absent from the discussion is the harm to “innocent” murder victims and potential murder victims and the effects on their earthly and eternal lives.
Again, the only way to, humanly, make a criminal “incapable of doing harm” is to execute them. Rationally, there is no other way.
Then there is this: “without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself”.
The Church is, hereby, stating that the death penalty is “taking away from him (the executed party) the possibility of redeeming himself”.
The death penalty is God invoked. The Catechism is stating that this God invoked sanction takes away the possibility of redemption. Think about that. There is nothing to defend such a claim, in such a context.
All of our sins have us die “early”. Is there a case, whereby God has erased the possibility of our redemption, solely because of our earthly and “early” deaths? I suggest that such an interpretation is, in context, flatly, against God’s message and cannot stand.
The universal blessing that God gives us is that we all have the same opportunity of redeeming ourselves “before we die”. The death penalty does not take that away anymore than does a car wreck, cancer, old age or any other “early” death, meaning all deaths, because of our sins. We all die “early” because of our sins. Therefore, the Catechism, wrongly finds that all “early” deaths negate the possibility of our redemption. Absurd, if not worse.
In God’s perfection, we suffer an “early” death, because of our sins. The Catechism wrongly tells that our “early” deaths takes away the possibility of our redemption. In God’s perfection, that would seem absurd.
Furthermore, a unique benefit of the death penalty is that the offender knows the day of their death and therefore has a huge advantage over the rest of us and, most certainly over the innocent murder victim.
“. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: (p. 116). Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey. A Professor of Bible and past President of George Fox College, Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992
St. Thomas Aquinas: “The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.” Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.
I would suggest you read up on early penalology. This has been tried and has been found to be far crueler than execution. Not only that, keeping someone permanently in handcuffs would violate the the 8th Amendment i nregards to cruel and unusual punishment.
With all due respect, its a bit insulting to tell others to, in essence, educate themselves more on a particular subject, as if my current opinion is simply from a lack of education, and if only I had read what you had, I would have a different opinion. That isn’t argument. But moving on…
You bring up cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court has found a violation of the 8th amendment where there was the deprivation of medical treatment and “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs,” the use of excessive force against inmates, and the failure to provide sufficient food, sanitary housing, and safety from beatings or torture by other inmates or guards. Even indefinite periods in solitary confinement do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
But, of course, I was merely giving an option–chose any other you would like, such as indefinite solitary confinement. Or not even solitary confinement, but never letting people out of the bars of their cell. Or, if that is cruel and unusual, even having large, private prison-like suites, including treadmills and kitchens, for inmates who could be so dangerous as to kill others–according to the Justice Department’s own reports, this would surely cost less than the added expense of the sentencing phase of a death penalty trial. Of course, the Catechism does not say the death penalty is okay if its the only CHEAP way to protect others–even if such a solitary confinement suite cost much more than killing the inmate, it is still an alternative to killing them, and as such, we are bound to adopt it.
You raise a number of interesting points, but I think the bottom line boils down to your above assertion. Again, I disagree. Let us, for a moment, assume that the 8th amendment is not a problem–what if we gave the most dangerous criminals a shot every week in each arm which completely paralyzed their arms? Surely they are then “incapable of doing harm.” Or, as in my above post, we can consider lots of other ways–what about calming drugs, or drugs which make them very weak? It strains credibility to say such things are WORSE than being killed, and I would certainly rather live a life as a paraplegic who can read than be killed in lethal injection in the pursuit of rendering me harmless.
And putting back int he 8th amendment, we could always add another constitutional amendment allowing whatever form of incapacitation is devised. Consider, for example, the current debate over chemically castrating rapists (who voluntarily undergo the procedure, as part of a deal). I, and many others, think this is a terrific idea, and though it raises serious 8th amendment issues, this wouldn’t be a problem with an amendment. And, of course, Catholic morality is not limited to what happens to be legal in the civil society in which we find ourselves.
One cannot have an arguement/debate unless both sides are on the same page; sometimes that means educating one’s self in an area they are not familiar with. Your position of “just keep then constently in handcuffs” tells me you have read up on early penalogy methods; no big deal. There are many topics debated on these forums where someone else’s suggestion that I read up on a topic has broadened my knowledge & changeed my mind or reaffirmed my position.
If such changes are (1) possible and (2) would render the death penalty unnecessary, then we cannot support the death penalty because there are OTHER MEANS of rendering someone harmless. These other means may involve passing a constitutional amendment, though I sincerely doubt it would go so far, but nevertheless, other means exist.
But again, its really pretty absurd to assert that we, as a state, kill people to render them harmless against other prisoners. The person’s danger to other prisoners has NOTHING to do with the mitigating/aggravating circumstances used to determine whether a person should be killed (I say killed, just as we prefer “baby” over “fetus” in discussing abortion).
Further, this all ignores the idea that the Church has only said that the death penalty is permissible in such a situation (which, itself says is virtually nonexistent). It does not say such the death penalty should be used. Going off of what death penalty supporters are saying, the pros of the death penalty are that it keeps murders from harming other inmates. Is this really worth it? Worth the additional cost? Worth the chance of killing innocent people (I believe 17 people so far have been, beyond a doubt, cleared of any crime AFTER they were executed)? Worth the idea that our money and effort as a society goes towards killing people who are not causing us imminent danger?
Death penalty cases typically cost over a million dollars more than the equivalent non-capital trial. This isn’t just an abstract concept of whether some theoretical risk that a murder might harm again–its an actual drain on precious resources, over which we have been charged to be frugal stewards.
Well, I’m not sure what the topic here was exactly, but I’m pretty sure my last to paragraphs have strayed from it considerably…
And those situations have been remedied. PLease site the court cases saying indefinite solitary confinement does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment if you are aware of them, b/c none come to mind for me. I do know that was one of the many reasons Alcatraz was shut down.