Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pope's Erroneous Call For End To Death Penalty AND Life Imprisonment

As most Marylanders know, the State of Maryland last year abolished capital punishment of deadly criminals (the execution of innocent babies goes unabated, however).  I wrote two pieces that both excoriated the Maryland Catholic Conference and demonstrated why they actually violated Church teaching in their effort to abolish capital punishment.

In their efforts to abolish capital punishment, both on their website and during testimonies in Annapolis, the MCC stated that Maryland would be able to protect its citizens through the use of life imprisonment without parole in lieu of the death penalty.  I've saved screen shots of two of these and will post them after the jump break so as not to take up too much space in the main screen.

However, Pope Francis today made clear his opposition not only to the death penalty, but to life imprisonment.  He said "life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty".  So he just contradicted Archbishop Lori and the Maryland Catholic Conference.  He made the latter appear to be a bastion of conservative common sense - that's quite an accomplishment!

More seriously, though, he spoke in disregard to Evangelium Vitae and the hundreds of years of Church teaching.  He seems to impute motives of "violence and revenge" to governments who employ these means.  I've no doubt that some corrupt regimes do precisely that; however, to issue a blanket denouncement of life imprisonment - and the death penalty for that matter - is simply irresponsible.

What also seems to be disregarded is that governments have a solemn duty to protect their citizens from unjust aggression - including that which arises from other citizens.  That is an overriding concern, and in fact one that must rise above the "redemption" of one criminal.  So without at least life imprisonment, just what does His Holiness think should be done with those violent criminals who simply won't be "redeemed"?  Do I hear crickets?

Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes we must disagree vociferously with our Church leaders in matters of "prudential judgment".  Clearly this is one of them.  I link now to excellent points by Vox Cantoris.

Again, the MCC writings are below this jump break.


  1. Current Problems: Catholic Death Penalty Teaching
    Most recent Catechism (last amended 2003)

    1) The first sentence from CCC 2267, being:

    "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."

    Response from two Catholic scholars:

    "The most reasonable conclusion to draw from this discussion is that, once again, the Catechism is simply wrong from an historical point of view. Traditional Catholic teaching did not contain the restriction enunciated by Pope John Paul II" ."

    "The realm of human affairs is a messy one, full of at least apparent inconsistency and incoherence, and the recent teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment—vitiated, as I intend to show, by errors of historical fact and interpretation—is no exception." (1)

    PJPII states that we can use the death penalty only "when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor."

    Not only is this a rational error, it conflicts with 2000 years of Catholic teaching.

    As taught in this very same CCC, redress, justice and just retribution are primary and eternal. Public defense is secular and utilitarian and, therefore must always be secondary to the primary, eternal truth of justice. Yet, both the CCC and SPJPII are stating that we must replace eternal truths with secular utilitariansim. Obviously an error.

    Furthermore, SPJPII, somehow, only lists one of the Catholic Church's four foundations for sanction, neglecting all others - another error.

    A significant rational error is that SPJPII attempts to erase execution if it is not the "only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings". There is nothing within reason or Catholic teachings that says we must either include or exclude a method of sanction, based upon other alternatives for those sanctions.

    As described within the very same CCC (2259-2266) we must chose those methods which best protect the innocent from unjust aggressors. In many cases, of course, that includes the death penalty, which better protects innocents than do lesser sanctions, in three ways (2) and is a sanction which more corresponds with justice, the primary function, in some cases.

    Both the utilitarian and eternal truths of capital punishment are conflict with SPJPII's pronouncements.


  2. contd

    2) The middle sentence within CCC 2267:

    "If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person."

    Flannery and Remick's comments apply, here, as well. Read it.

    The traditional, philosophical and eternal teachings remain the same, that the Church has and does recognize that the imposition of the death penalty is based upon the sanctity of life and in conformity with the dignity of the human person (3), both innocent murder victim and the guilty unjust aggressor/murderer. That cannot have changed.

    Then, of course, we have this, demonstrating how completely bizarre this new teaching is:

    Also within the same CCC as 2267, we have CCC 2260: "For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning.... Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image." "This teaching remains necessary for all time."

    SPJPII says if "bloodless means are sufficient" than we must shun the death penalty. If our concern is protection of innocents, SPJPII would have said, "We will use that sanction which best protects the innocents", but he didn't. He only used a "sufficient" standard, when he should have used a "best" standard, if protecting innocent lives is your primary concern and if a sanction commensurate with the crime which, in many cases, both for utility and justice, will be the death penalty (2&3).

    3) Factually, we know that the last sentence from CCC 2267 is false:

    "Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.' [John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 56.]

    In fact, the overwhelming evidence is that, given all known realities of the State's actions to repress known unjust aggressors, that the proper protection of innocents from unjust aggressors is, extremely often, not the case (4), as we all know (4).

    "Putting more innocents at risk, by known unjust aggressors and putting those same known unjust aggressors at greater eternal risk, by allowing them to harm more innocents, as we know many will do." is what this new Church teaching does (4).

    The factual support for this is overwhelming, as is, easily, found with fact checking (4).

    In addition, sinners do not redeem "themselves", a truly bizarre statement. Redemption comes from the grace and mercy of God.

    1) "Capital Punishment and the Law", Ave Maria Law Review, 2007 (30 pp), by Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (since 2002) and Ordinary Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome); and Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics andCulture (University of Notre Dame)

    2) The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues

    3) The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

    4) Catechism & State Protection


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