The Death Penalty


#1

I know the Church has said the death penalty is absolutely wrong in all cases, except only when a country has exhausted it’s resources… but my friend has shown me some biblical resources that support the death penalty. Can you help explain.

Acts 25:11
New International Version (©2011)
If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!"

Romans 13:4
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Genesis 9:6
New International Version (©2011)
"Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.

Thanks!


#2

The Church does not deny that one who has murdered has forfeited his right to life. The Church merely says that when non-lethal means are sufficient to protect society then charity obliges the state to use them.


#3

The ancient world did not have the resources we have today to incarcerate dangerous criminals indefinitely. Genesis 9:6 reflects that.

Acts and Romans both acknowledge the civil authority to mete out punishment. They do not necessarily endorse the punishment.


#4

From the Catechism 2267:

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 very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

The full article states that Catholic teaching does not rule out recourse to the death penalty if no other way of protecting human life possible.


#5

In addition, though the wisdom of holding such a view in opposition to the Pope and Bishops is debatable, then-Cardinal Ratzinger has stated that it is possible for Catholics to disagree with the prevalent view on the death penalty:

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.

priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm

The death penalty is not wrong in principle, the position is rather that it has no place in the modern civilized world.


#6

Also in support of the death penalty:

“It is lawful to kill when fighting in a just war; when carrying out by order of the Supreme Authority a sentence of death in punishment of a crime; and, finally, in cases of necessary and lawful defense of one’s own life against an unjust aggressor.” (Catechism of Pope St. Pius X)

“Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.” (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

“Even when it is a question of someone condemned to death, the state does not dispose of an individual’s right to life. It is then the task of public authority to deprive the condemned man of the good of life, in expiation of his fault, after he has already deprived himself of the right to life by his crime” (Pope Pius XII, Speech of Sept. 14, 1952)


#7

The Church does not state that the death penalty is morally wrong in all cases.

The Church has always maintained that the state has a right and even a duty to execute criminals when it is the only means of protecting society.

What the Church is saying today is that, in modern society, the protection of society does not require execution and therefore, charity states that we should not execute people and therefore give them every opportunity to repent of their sins and be saved.


#8

It appears that the church’s recent opposition to the use of capital punishment is practical rather than moral. The position is surely a modern one but it is not a more civilized one.

Ender


#9

How would we explain Genesis 9:6, which was stated in the original post,

It is a command from God to shed the blood of those who shed blood.

Thanks


#10

It is a precept of right rather than a precept of obligation.


#11

And not all OT laws apply since Jesus was the new covenant and the new law. It is the same reason that we do not keep kosher any longer.


#12

Actually that only applies to the mosaic laws. The Noaich covanent with mankind remains in effect.


#13

Dear CatholicGeek1,

Cordial greetings and a very good day.

Legitimate distinctions must be made, dear friend, between legislation given to Israel as a theocratic state under Moses and the more universal revelation given to mankind through Noah. Noah stood at the head of a new human race after the Flood and stipulations of the Noahic covenant, such as the permission to meat, the promise of no further universal flood and the death penalty mandate, applied not just to Noah and his family or to some limited ethnic group, but, in principle, to all mankind.

It is, dear friend, the reference to man being created in God’s image in Genesis 9: 6 that gives the rationale for the death penalty. When violence in the form of murder is done to a man, it is in effect and outrage against Almighty God and such murderous violence demands retributive justice to redress the disorder caused by the offence. “For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty” (CCC, para. 2266, added emphasis mine). Moreover, since there has been no suspension of man being made in the image of God, the rationale for the death penalty in Genesis 9: 6 is as true today as it was in the days of Noah. It follows that while the detailed provisions of the criminal code of Israel are no longer binding under the New Covenant, the mandate, and it is a mandate, requiring the death penalty for murder remains one of continuing validity.

St. Paul describes (Rom. 13: 4) the civil authority as “the minister of God” because it is charged with a function which has been explicitly forbidden to the private individual (cf. Rom. 12: 17a, 19). The state, dear friend, has been delegated the right and duty to be “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil”, which includes the infliction of death penalty for murder in accordance with the original God-given mandate (Gen. 9: 6). In point of fact, the sanctity of life actually validates the death penalty for the heinous crime of murder, besides restoring a disturbed moral balance.

Unfortunately, dear friend, in our post-Christian age the whole concept of retributive justice is no longer fashionable and men have come to see capital punishment as evidence of the dehumanization of a society that officially kills its members. It is also said that plain revenge is the real motive behind demands for wanting the death of perpetrator of murder. Certainly, one must concur that that is not a worthy Christian motive for any action, not just capital punishment, but that is not the reason why the Church in its constant teaching has always held the death penalty to be morally licit and permissible.

God Bless.

Warmest good wishes,

Portrait

Pax


#14

Dear Spinster,

Cordial greetings and a very warm welcome to the world of CAF. Do hope you find your time here informative and spiritually enriching.

Jolly splendid citations, dear friend, that are unambiguously clear. Thankyou for those, which rather compliment what I said in my previous post.

God bless.

Warmest good wishes,

Portrait

Pax


#15

Herein lies the problem. That’s not what the Church teaches. While there is so much information about this online, in a nutshell the Church teaches that a punishment must be proportionate to the gravity of the crime. However, it is always preferable to use the least harsh punishment that is commensurate with the gravity of the crime. Hence, the Church pleads that the death penalty should not be used since there are ways to effectively punish criminals today without giving up the chance for their conversion. This is why the Church speaks out decisively against the death penalty today.

Acts 25:11
New International Version (©2011)
If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!"

The punishment must be proportionate to the crime. While death is not preferable (and the Catechism says (for practical reasons) that today if death can be avoided it must be avoided), the Church has always believed that it isn’t morally wrong per se to execute someone if the punishment is commensurate with the crime. Of course, in St. Paul’s case, he was clearly innocent, but recognizing that capital punishment isn’t per se wrong, he was accepting of it if deemed necessary if he was guilty (which he knew he wasn’t).

Romans 13:4
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

God demands justice. Doesn’t someone who commits a crime (regardless of what it is) deserve to be punished in some way shape or form? I don’t see this directly addressing CP anyway. :shrug:

Genesis 9:6
New International Version (©2011)
"Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.

Thanks!

Particular commands like the one found in Genesis 9:6 - “If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” - have a poetic character that indicates an original purpose that was not legal in intent. Such verses convey a pedagogical purpose removed from the sphere of literal legal applications - Archbishop Gregory


#16

The passage says: “*Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man **shall **his blood be shed”. *It does not say his blood *may *be shed so what is your basis for claiming it is an option and not an obligation? Why should we believe the words don’t mean what they plainly say? Can you cite anything the church has written that supports your assertion?

Ender


#17

Dear Ender,

Cordial greetings and a very good day. Jolly well said.

The Genesis passage is a divine command that was intended to be taken, not in some poetical sense, but in a literal sense and, as far as I am aware, has always been so interpreted by Holy Mother Church. As the highly regarded* A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture *says (commenting on Gen. 9: 6), “So, too, permission is given to take the life of a murderer: by man shall his blood be shed” (p. 191, Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd, 1953). As someone said concerning the proper elucidation of Sacred Scripture: “When the plain and obvious sense makes good sense be careful not to make it nonsense”. There is no warrant, dear friend, for interpreting this text in some poetical sense when it is clear that traditional Church teaching has always understood it in the plain and obvious sense.

What we have in Genesis 9: 6 is a charge given to man by God to execute the death penalty and the verse enunciates the reason why this extreme measure is to be exacted, namely the fact that man is made in the image of God. Moreover, dear friend, the death penalty has permanent relevance and validity since there has been no abrogation of man being made in the image of God and never will be. No, there can be no doubt that this verse establishes capital punishment as the just retribution to be meted out to the man who wantonly and wilfully takes the life of his fellow, made in God’s image.

God bless.

Warmest good wishes,

Portrait

Pax


#18

Interpreting scripture literalistically is what Protestants do.


#19

It should be apparent that some passages mean exactly what they say; the question is: is this one of them? If you look at what the church has said about it the answer would appear to be yes.(Chap 5, 2) How doth the Scripture teach that willful murder is revenged?
*… God’s own voice doth testify. Whoever shall shed man’s blood, his blood shall be shed also, for to the image of God was man made. *(St. Peter Canisius, A Sum of Christian Morality)
Do you have any citation that suggests the church understands this passage to mean other than what it says?

Ender


#20

The passage means what it says, namely that a precept of right is established.


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