Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More thoughts on Capital Punishment

The Roving Medievalist last week posted A Rant on Capital Punishment. While I don't agree with him on several points, I do think that any Catholic who is pro-Capital Punishment needs to take seriously what RM has to say. Particularly, his point about people who seem to be. "Republicans before they are Catholics." If someone says to themselves, "I am X (Republican, Democrat, American, etc....) before I am Catholic. I will judge the teachings of the Church based on X," then they have BIG problems. The Catholic Faith comes first, last, and always. (An example of such dissent would be William F. Buckley's Mater Si. Magister Non, in which he dissented from Bl. John XXIII's teachings because they didn't jibe with his conservative views.)

Now on another point. The subject of Papal Infallibility is a very complex one. But suffice it to say that it does not extend to prudential judgments. John Paul II may well have been in error when he claimed that modern penal science made the death penalty no longer necessary as a protective measure for society. Saying this is not rejecting Church teaching or attacking Papal authority. And Benedict XVI used Capital Punishment as an example of where one could disagree and remain a good Catholic.

The principal problem I have with saying that the Catholic Church rejects the death penalty is that if it were true it would mark a departure from historical church teaching. Founded in Sacred Scripture, the Church has always taught that the state has the right (but not the obligation) to execute criminals in accord with just laws. Not just as a protective measure, but as a matter of justice. (Because John Smith murdered Bob Jones, his action merits the punishment of death.) The state may and perhaps ought to choose for whatever reason not to exercise this right, but one cannot accuse it of violating the laws of God if it does. It is simply wrong to say that, "Because you are a Catholic, you must oppose the death penalty." You may but you do not have to.

Now on to the arguments against the Death Penalty. I do not think that one can oppose it on the basis of a consistent ethic of life. Innocent human life is sacrosanct. Criminal guilt can forfeit that right. I do not see how support for the Death Penalty weakens the case against abortion in any meaningful way. I do not think one can argue either for or against it on the grounds of deterrent. You can find studies that go either way on this. Plus, to argue for someone's death based on its influence on others smack of treating a human being as a thing not a person. The only anti-Death Penalty argue that really gives me pause is the fact that the poor, men, and members of minority groups are more likely to be executed than rich white women. But as the moral maxim reads, "The abuse does not negate the use."

Please feel free to express your reasoned agreement or disagreement in the comment box.
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