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What Does the Church Teach Concerning Capital Punishment? Comments

The question of capital punishment within the Catholic Church is a thorny one, and it is difficult within the cacophony of competing voices to sort out the current state of the Church's teaching. The Church's teaching that relates to the intentional killing of an innocent human being by either public authority or a private actor is certain.The teaching of the Church on the killing of a malefactor-specifically as found in Pope John Paul II's ... Continue Reading

31 - 37 of 37 Comments

  1. Andrew
    2 years ago

    @Dliodor: With all due respect, your position is untenable. The Church teaching prior to EV was that capital punishment by public authority of malefactors was not a violation of the Fifth Commandment. That teaching is, from a practical and virtual standpoint, monolithic. You want an analysis of Church Fathers, theologians, Popes, canonists, moral theologians, look at my blog entries over the last two weeks, and you will see the common authorities discussed.
    Nowhere, nowhere in EV does that teaching change. Pope John Paul the Great clearly distinguishes between the absolute value of innocent life and those guilty of capital offenses. This is perfectly in tune with traditional teaching which the Pope in no wise adulterated in EV. There is no way to find in EV the proposition that capital punishment in a society which can defend itself against the malefactor through penal means is always wrong, i.e., is intrinsically evil. No language supports that. If that were so, then why did Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) state in his letter to the American Bishops on July 3, 2004 (and I quote in full): "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 . . . he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities . . . to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible . . . to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about . . . applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia." Was Cardinal Ratzinger (as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) a dissenter? No where does Ratzinger support your extreme position. If your position were right--that capital punishment when other means to protect the common good are available is intrinsically evil--there is no way a Catholic could be "worthy of communion," much less exercise "legitimate diversity" or "still be permissible . . . to have recourse to capital punishment."
    To construe EV the way you do would be to upend established teaching and would call into question all other moral teachings of the Church which have equal weight as the notion that the public authority has the authority to put a malefactor to death for grievous offenses and violations to the common good (murder, treason, and and so forth). It would suggest that the Church, in her canon law, in all her seminaries, in all her theologians, in her doctors, in Innocent I, Innocent III, Pius XII had taught that something intrinsically evil was a moral good. What, then, was the Church not protected all these centuries from teaching error in faith and morals?
    In exercising the preference of mercy (which is a good), you are choosing one good (mercy) over another good (justice). That's why opting for capital punishment, when justly applied by public authority, can never be an intrinsic evil as you believe. It can only be a decision of one good over the other, with mercy, I believe, nearly always and in the circumstances you mention the better good.
    I appreciate your comments and your zeal, but I have struggled with this question with great effort, and I believe that I have made a bona fide effort to reconcile what I believe to be irreformable traditional teaching (which relates to the order of justice) with the teaching of EV and the CCC (which relates to (the order of mercy), all with the added clarification of Cardinal Ratzinger. If it is dissent to listen to Cardinal Ratzinger and take his words to heart, then I suppose I am a dissenter. But then so was he. And this is quite an insupportable statement.
    Again, thanks for your comments.

  2. John D
    2 years ago

    This article was too long and convoluted for the typical person to read and grasp. A simple explanation is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Read CCC 2267

  3. Dliodoir
    2 years ago

    Counselor, your point is lost. . .or I suggest purposefully hidden. John Paul The Great was very clear, mercy should be extended unless to do so would put the general public at harm. In modern day America, and in the West generally, there is NO circumsatance where the public could not be properly and perpetually protected from the threat of harm from a particular malfeasor. Ergo, by the reasoning of John Paul The Great there is NO circumstance where capital punishment is "necessary." And yet, just as we have too many Catholics rationalizing that abortion is justifiable there are too many Catholics that cling to the myth that capital punishment is justifiable. Stop trying to justify your dissent. Own the fact that you disagree with the teaching of the Church OR accept the teaching of the Church. The lesson is very clear. . .unless presented so that it is not so that some people can feel better about their rejection of the truth. Abortion is murder and it is always wrong. Capital punishment where society can be protected by other means is similarly ALWAYS wrong.

  4. Andrew
    2 years ago

    @Vance: Your comments on "institutionalization" are interesting in that you suggest that punishment by incarceration sort of tapers off. This would suggest that the trade off in retributive office is greater than what I suggest in my article. It's a good point.
    @J. Bob. That particular justice for the victim and his family (as opposed to justice in view of the common good) is unmentioned in my article, and is something that would have to be weighed. I would counter with the fact that some families get more closure by exercising mercy upon the wrongdoer, yet that is not the case for all.
    Again, it is reasons like these that inform the discretion and mercy involved in the application of the death penalty and so make it an argument as to what should take precedence: the good of justice or the good of mercy.
    For my part, justice seems to be a more natural inclination for me than mercy, and so I have to work at letting mercy have a little preferential treatment, as it were.

  5. J. Bob
    2 years ago

    Speaking of justice, what about the victim and associated family?

    They seem to get lost in the verbal debate, but their pain will be there for the rest of their lives.



  6. abey
    2 years ago

    Jesus Spoke about hell in the eternal, so that is what the ultimate Capital punishment.is, again to the words "Fear not the ones who harm the body (refers to life in this world) but fear the one who can kill the body & destroy the soul in hell(to the next life). For that what Jesus Christ says it is, nothing more or nothing less, unlike mans sayings & doings living by speculations.

  7. vance
    2 years ago

    God has called for the Death Penalty for murderers for a reason. Justice! If there is no justice, you have no civil society. What is justice? It is all of us being held accountable for our actions and behavior. If there is no accountability, then you have no rule of law. If one wants to keep score on murders vs executions, it would murders 10,000.000 to 100 executions. When was the last execution in your state? You probably don't remember. Life in prison is no punishment. I know people who work for the state prison system. Incarceration is only punishment for 'Newcomer' inmates for their first 6 months. After that time, they become "Institutionalized'. This means that the inmates acclimate to their environment and their new environment becomes their new normal. Everyday is their own. They have no stresses from responsibilities that come with keeping a job, raising a family, and paying bills. They are like birds in a cage. They are well fed, get excellent medical treatment, and have recreation to keep them fit and entertained. No Capital Punishment, No Justice.


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