Sister Camille on the Death Penalty

From our friend Camille D'Arienzo, RSM, who works with those on death row. 

Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the accused 9/11 perpetrators in a civilian court near Ground Zero has ignited a national debate over whether the accused Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his companions should face a military or civilian court.  Other concerns include the safety of the city, the opportunity for propaganda and the possibility of acquittal, based on waterboarding the men experienced in Guantanamo.


One matter not being debated is Mr. Holder’s determination to urge the prosecution to seek the death penalty for these mass murderers.

If the destruction perpetrated here had occurred in London, Paris, Rome or any other European city, the death penalty would not be debated either.  It is not allowed in nations that form the European Union.

If the death penalty were forbidden here, life without parole would at very least deprive these mass murderers of presenting themselves as martyrs and us as their killers.

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Bill Bordas
7 years 11 months ago
At the risk of appearing un-Christian, I believe that Sister Camille's description of life without parole as "at very least depriv(ing) these mass murderers of presenting themselves as martyrs and us as their killers" is the only compelling reason for not seeking the death penalty. These animals did not engage in any handwringing debate about the morality of murdering nearly three thousand people (one of whom, at his desk in the Pentagon, was me), and I do not see why we should, either.
Robert Burke
7 years 11 months ago
Bilbo, it precisely because we are NOT "these animals" that we should not be seeking the death penalty. There is more than just the utilitarian reason (keep them from becoming "martyrs") not to kill them.
Pearce Shea
7 years 11 months ago
Indeed, the Catechism is pretty clear on this point, stating even that the death penalty is generally not in line "with the concrete conditions of the common good and... in conformity to the dignity of the human person" (2267). I would suggest that it is not only an un-Christian impulse to characterize a person as an animal and suggest they be put down like one, it is downright opposite the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Bill Collier
7 years 11 months ago
There are many good reasons, both religious and secular, for the U.S. to ban the death penalty, but one that resonates for me is that we shouldn't continue to be members in good standing in a club that includes such enlightened and democratic board members as China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. The Europeans have it all over us on this issue. The deterrent effect of the death penalty is highly questionable, innocent people have almost certainly been executed, and justice can be adequately served by life sentences without parole. As RP Burke notes, true personal and societal enlightenment on this issue is abandonment of a barbaric practice.
Brian Thompson
7 years 11 months ago
I think especially with these criminals, we should refuse to execute them. Not only because they would then be viewed as martyrs, but also because this woudl be a grand moment to make the statement: "what they did was so evil, killing the defenceless, we don't even have the authority to do it to them."
william bannon
7 years 11 months ago
    I believe fully in the death penalty and find the current catechism position theology lite in its non reference to any research done by John Paul II (I believe in the death penalty as did the good thief and most Popes from the time of the canon ( and ergo...Romans 13:3-4) till Pius XII affirmed it in 1952 while having more secure modern penology than we do now...if you have been watching MSNBC or the History station on prisons).  But while believing in it and that with most human beings, it promotes repentance far more surely than growing old in prison watching low grade TV, with these Islamists I think life sentences are more likely to promote repentance because they want death now in their hurry to get to Paradise as martyrs and as carnal beings with access to houri.  Death would not be good for them in respect to repentance while with most murderers it would be spiritual good.
Dudley Sharp
7 years 10 months ago
The newest Catechism makes so many errors in regard to the death penalty that it hardly seems relevant when looking at the biblical, theological, traditional and rational support for the sanction, which is found for about 100% of the history of the Church, as opposed to the 12 convoluted years with this new, secular based interpretation.

Furthermore, the prudential judgement aspect of the teachings also mean that good Catholics are free to provide their own judgement in calling for more executions, if their reasoning so finds.

While jailed, terrorists are likely to spread their brand of hatred and thus sow more seeds for murder and, therefore, even under the strict secular structure provided by the Catechism, we can see that such murderers still qualify for death, based upon the danger they still pose while alive.

There is also the problem of how many al Qaeda terrorists have escape from prisons in Iran and Yemen, as elsewhere, which exposes the Catechism's weakness in it's dependence on the state's secular imperfection of security.

"The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent" (1566)
"The just use of this power (execution), 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."

"PARAMOUNT OBEDIENCE" to God vs the newer Catechisms references to man's accomplishments with the criminal justice system.

"Death Penalty Support: Modern Catholic Scholars"

"Pope John Paul II: Prudential Judgement and the death penalty"
Dudley Sharp
7 years 10 months ago
No, the death penalty would not be allowed in the European Union.

However, the majority of those living in European Union countries support the death penalty for horrible crimes.

That support is based upon justice.

Those favoring the executing of Saddam Hussein (French daily Le Monde, 12/2006{1}),
Great Britain: 69%
France: 58%
Germany: 53%
Spain: 51%
Italy: 46%

US 82%

We are led to believe there isn't death penalty support in England or Europe. European governments won't allow executions when their populations support it: they're anti democratic. (2)

(1) The recent results of a poll conducted by Novatris/Harris for the French daily Le Monde on the death penalty shocked the editors and writers at Germany's left-leaning SPIEGEL ONLINE (Dec. 22, 2006). When asked whether they favored the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, a majority of respondents in Germany, France and Spain responded in the affirmative.

(2)An excellent article, “Death in Venice: Europe’s Death-penalty Elitism", details this anti democratic position (The New Republic, by Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/31/2000).


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