Reconciling CCC 2267 and CCC 2302

I was wondering how to reconcile CCC 2267 allowance of the death penalty in certain cases and CCC 2302 prohibition of willing one’s death. Furthermore, CCC 2302 appears internally inconsistent. It is simply a difficulty I am having which in no need has to rise to doubt, but I wish to understand proper justice. Here are the two provisions, bolded and underlined by myself to show my difficulty:

2302 By recalling the commandment, “You shall not kill,” our Lord asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral.

 *Anger* is a desire for revenge. "To desire vengeance **in order to do evil** to someone who should be punished is illicit," but **it is praiseworthy to impose restitution "to correct vices and maintain justice." If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin.** the Lord says, "Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment."

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor……

I. The Difficulties
One difficulty is that 2302 appears to say it is praiseworthy to have anger that is directed to maintaining justice by restitution (which I take to mean retribution), and such a desire is good because it does not necessarily have to be directed at the “desire vengeance in order to do evil” as retribution, if properly measured, is no evil. Likewise, a person can merit the death penalty, and thus it would seem that the person imposing it must have “a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor.” So the apparent contradiction would be that this is just and unjust, both by the fact that it is praiseworthy to desire retributive justice (a form of anger, though not necessarily one of passion) and the death penalty can be good in some cases.

II. My Proposed Solutions
My first thought is that what is meant by “If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin”, is that it prohibits one wishing the killing or wounding as an end in itself. And these things (wounding and killing) disconnected from justice are always an evil when done with knowledge and consent. Furthermore, an agent of the state carrying out justice perhaps could still sin in this way if that intention is also mixed in with the retributive desire. That seems the most logical explanation to me, but it seems odd that they did not use the word ‘intentional’ rather than ‘deliberate’, since ‘intention’, in context of the Catechism is basically defined to mean “the end in view” (CCC 1750). However, it is not a huge stretch to think that ‘deliberate’ here means ‘intentional’.

With the above in mind, another possibility is that perhaps since ‘deliberate’ qualifies the word ‘desire to’ which is further qualified by ‘kill’, it means the deliberate desire to intentionally kill is forbidden and not merely the desire to purposely kill for the sake of retribution, for the ‘desire to kill’ seems to mean the same thing as the desire to ‘intentionally kill’.

My other thought is that I have heard that the Catechism, though a sure norm for teaching the faith, is not completely infallible, so that’s another possibility (Hopefully that’s not a heretical view, or I shall drop it). However, I think the first two solutions are sufficient.

Any thoughts?

The Church doesn’t desire death for someone as Christ teaches mercy and repentance. We should give every person every chance to repent and reconcille with God. However, there are indeed many situations wherein the death of one may serve a greater good. For example, leaders like Hitler or Bin Laden who will still have influence even when in prison. And that influence will lead to the suffering of many. Its more of an act of mercy to those who will be victimized than a direct will to end another’s life.

Indeed, friend, the Church teaches mercy and repentence, but She also teaches retribution and justice as compatible and praiseworthy goods.

Too the specific point of reconciliation, the primary aim of punishment is retribution, but it ought to intend to be remedial as much as possible. Now even in thought of the death penalty, it may be more inclined to bring about a person’s repentance then a life sentence since it brings to the persons mind an assured end in sight. But, with that said, I do want to to specifically debate the merits (or lack thereof) of the death penalty, simply its possibility and reconciliation with 2302 along with 2302 internal reconciliation.

I don’t read these the same way you did. I don’t read it as “maintaining justice by restitution” as you say. CCC 2302 as quoted by you says: "…to impose restitution “to correct vices and maintain justice.” The restitution is imposed not out of anger and desired for vengence but in order to correct the vice and to maintain justice–that is to hopefully help the individual reform and make restitution for any harm he has caused. For example, if my son throws a ball through the neighbors window – there will be consequences that hopefully will teach him to be more careful in the future and there will be restitution–in the form of fixing my neighbors window.

I don’t believe restitution is retribution as you take it to mean–they are different. Restitution is that act of restoring or a condition of being restored. Retribution is recompense, reward or the dispensing or receiving a reward or punishment–this has nothing to do with restoring. I think we can’t lose sight of the restoration–the goal is restoring the person and the damage done. The goal of the punishment should be restoring the person while keeping society safe–not vengence or revenge. I don’t believe I have said this well but hopefully you can see what I am driving at. It’s like when the Church excommunicates someone–this isn’t done to try to hurt them, to make them pay their pound of flesh and because we’re angry with them and want to get them back–it is done to emphasize the severity of the error and to hopefully make them think about it and return to the Church–the goal isn’t to kick them out of the Church but to restore them to the Church.

With regard to the death penalty–it must be noted that it is to be used “when it is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the agressor” I would think you’d be hard pressed, at least in the USA, to make a case for it given this restriction. I don’t think the person imposing the death penalty–in this circumstance–must have a “deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor”. They are simply protecting society in the only way possible–and this could be contrary to what thet desire–they may desire another way to protect society–but simply have no option.

I don’t see a lot of difficulty with these passages–I don’t see the inconsistency that you do.

Peace in Christ,
Mark

I’m reading through these very quickly so maybe I’m missing something. But, I wonder if the problem that Dranu is having has more to do with the conflation of the concept of Justice as taught through the Church and as practiced by the Judiciary under the Consitution. They are surely related but not the same. Moreover, the concept of Justice varies widely throughout the world. The Church is a Universal insitution. To try and reconcile the teachings of the Church with only an American concept of Justice may be too narrow for the larger purpose of church teaching. And, it is not necessary for the Church to reconcile itself to the American Concept of Justice as it is in the early part of the 21st Century. Rather isn’t it for us as Catholics to reconcile our own understanding of what the Church teachines with the way that Justice is administered in the secular realm of the Judiciary. In case you missed it, I am touching on the problematic tendency of Americans to conflate their religious beliefs with their political beliefs and the administration of Justice in America has always been poltical.

I take " If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin." to be referring to the motives of the murder, not the goverment who would be taking the life of the murder.

I am not sure there is a difference. Is one not made whole again (at least in kind) by giving that person the proper reward for evil? CCC 2266 says the primary aim is “redressing the disorder introduced by the offense” and also that “Legitimate authority… has the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense.” Furthermore, if it were not retribution then the primary aim of punishment would potentially be null when a person is not penitent and does accepts his punishment willingly like the good thief on the cross. That would seem to mean that we ought not punish those who are not penitent but rather those who are since it will likely just make them more angry and sinful as it would be a sin to not receive punishment well (though maybe one may punish even if it does not fit the primary aim at all?). Furthermore, what are we to do with all that ‘eye for an eye’ talk and ‘day of wrath’ talk? What are we to do with Romans 13:4?

It just doesn’t seem to me that anger (in certain definitions of that term) and retribution are evil, but just that it is extremely easy to use them incorrectly. Furthermore, it seems like just to repent of my own sins I must hate my own act that proceeded from me, and since it proceeded from me I ought to be angry at my will and in some sense be angry with myself (even if I ultimately want whats best for myself). That type of anger does not seem evil, nor does it seem to be willing evil against the person as a whole who still has a chance to be redeemed. Finally, I can certainly see how the context of retribution towards humans in this life is different from the next since in this life there is ALWAYS hope for the person, so anger ought never extend to the person as a whole. It is more to the act and perhaps the specific will.

I don’t know, can you cite some teachings for me (I really want to know, this debate is more for my knowledge than to prove any point and I know I have a bias from my own personal experience).

Could be. I am studying law after all. I may be tainted :smiley:

And, it is not necessary for the Church to reconcile itself to the American Concept of Justice as it is in the early part of the 21st Century. Rather isn’t it for us as Catholics to reconcile our own understanding of what the Church teachines with the way that Justice is administered in the secular realm of the Judiciary.

Of course, I try to make myself the King’s good servant but God’s first. Brother, I am not interested in making “the Church reconcile itself to the American Concept of Justice” (at least not consciously). I am interested in educating myself on the topic of what the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church teaches and eliminating any subjective inconsistencies I have with it no matter how nice they may seem. The best place to do so is to tackle the difficulties I perceive.

Meditating and praying a bit more, I think my tone is slightly off on this (potentially seriously). Since one by sin merits more than just temporal death, but damnation, an unqualified retributive aim seems to contradict God’s will and thus must be evil, for God wills all to be saved (in this life). Restitution then seems to be slightly different in that the retribution is directed only at the sinner as a sinner but not to the person as a whole, even though the person as a whole might deserve more. Thus the probable meaning of CCC 2266 when it says “Legitimate authority… has the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense,” it likely just meant to say one cannot punish more than one deserves. The wrath referred to in Romans 13:4 likely means the wrath directed at the sinner as a sinner and the annihilation of that so that the sinner is to be destroyed, but not the person who sinned who still has hope and who’s salvation we strive for. Thus mercy trumps retribution in this life in a way (that is, the retribution is directed to the sinner as a sinner not as a person so has to free the person from his sin), but in the hereafter mercy is not possible so there is only room for complete retribution (which is a good in itself when mercy is unavailable).

As for the meaning of CCC 2302, I still think I am right insofar as I said:
it means the deliberate desire to intentionally kill is forbidden and not merely the desire to purposely kill for the sake of retribution, for the ‘desire to kill’ seems to mean the same thing as the desire to 'intentionally kill’,” except also that retribution must be limited to being directed at the sinner as a sinner and not as a whole person who we want to be utterly saved and if it goes beyond this it also extends into unrighteous anger.

An article on EWTN also seems to agree with this interpretation of 2302 (my emphasis):
On the other hand, unjust anger seeks to do evil to another for its own sake, the harm to body or soul that it entails. While one may desire, and employ, physical force for the sake of correction, restraint of evil and restoring justice, even if it entails injury and death, one may never desire it for its own sake. To desire some slight injury for an evil motive would be venially sinful. To desire grave injury or death would be gravely sinful. A Christian may never, of course, desire the damnation of the evil doer. Charity requires that we will the good, especially the ultimate good, salvation, for every human being.” --I would add that only legitimate authorities (like the state) can carry out some of these punishments, not the private person!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.