Life, Not Death

How we choose to respond to events of inexplicable violence both reflects and shapes our values. In an interfaith prayer service on April 18, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., said of the Boston Marathon bombings: “In the face of the present tragedy, we must ask ourselves: What kind of a community do we want to be?”

In Boston, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could receive the death penalty if found guilty of the bombings on April 15 that claimed three lives and injured at least 260 others. Meanwhile Dr. Kermit Gosnell, whose grisly murder trial ended this month, could suffer the same fate. According to a grand jury report, Dr. Gosnell committed hundreds of acts of infanticide at a Philadelphia abortion clinic; babies were born alive and viable only to have their spinal cords snipped. Most of these heinous acts, however, cannot be prosecuted because of a statute of limitations or because files were destroyed. Dr. Gosnell therefore faces just four counts of first-degree murder and one count of third-degree murder—the latter case is that of a Nepalese refugee who was oversedated while awaiting an abortion.

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Many people, justly outraged by these coldhearted crimes in Boston and Philadelphia, believe that if convicted, Mr. Tsarnaev and Dr. Gosnell deserve the most serious penalty available. Massachusetts forbids the death penalty, but Mr. Tsarnaev was charged in the federal system, which allows for it. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, told CNN on April 21 the Boston bombings are “just the kind of case” the death penalty should be applied to. Seventy percent of Americans, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, agree with Mr. Schumer.

The reason for this popular support of the death penalty is not solely a desire for retribution. Many believe the death penalty demonstrates ultimate respect for the lives of victims by sending an unambiguous message that such grave crimes will not be tolerated. Others, however, see the rancorous cycle for what it is: appalled by murder, some call for even more death. This cycle of violence affects all of us.

Public officials have the right and duty to dole out a punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. But punishment, in the Catholic tradition, in addition to helping restore public order, also has a remedial purpose. Blessed John Paul II wrote in “The Gospel of Life” (1995) that punishment should offer the offender “an incentive and help to change his or her behavior and be rehabilitated.” If the guilty party accepts the punishment, it helps atone for the wrongdoing. Therefore, Blessed John Paul explained, what we choose as punishment “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.”

This raises an obvious question: In what places are public authorities actually incapable of safely and effectively incarcerating those convicted of serious crimes? Almost nowhere. “Such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent,” John Paul wrote. This indictment of the death penalty, admittedly a development in the Catholic moral tradition, is now shared by a growing number of Catholics.

Robert P. George, writing about the Philadelphia case for First Things, rightly asked all people who identify as pro-life to support sparing the life of Dr. Gosnell. “No matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in wickedness, Dr. Gosnell is also ‘our brother’,” wrote Mr. George, “a precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart.” Some might dismiss this aim as completely unrealistic, but “if there is a God in heaven,” Mr. George wrote, then “there is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.”

The Catholic position on the death penalty reflects deeply held beliefs about the sacredness of the human person and what kind of world we want to live in. Pope Francis, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, said, “Life is something so sacred that not even a terrible crime justifies the death penalty.” This undoubtedly applies to the cases of Mr. Tsarnaev and Dr. Gosnell.

At the interfaith prayer service, Cardinal O’Malley shared the prayer of Pope Francis that the people of Boston “be united in the resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good.” In the face of darkness, the easy choice might be a form of justice marked by revenge—an “eye for an eye.” But when Cardinal O’Malley invited us to consider what kind of community we want to be, he offered his own view: “It cannot be violence, hatred and fear.” We agree. Our response must be life, not death.

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Leonard Villa
4 years 6 months ago
If you are going to speak about the Catholic position on the death penalty you ought to quote the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" which notes that traditional Catholic teaching provides for the death penalty. Blessed John Paul II added a caveat: 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. "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.' It is a question of fact for those responsible for the common good, whether bloodless means are sufficient to protect the populace from fanatic terrorists intent on killing human beings. The Pope did not specify what are the means of the State that effectively represses crime, rendering the criminal inoffensive and allowing for redemption. I presume he means prison. The latter portion of the papal remarks is simply a judgment of the Pope on the current scene which again has to be verified by prudential judgments of those responsible for the common good. Weakness, real or perceived, in the face of terrorism begets I think more terrorism. Public authority has the moral obligation to provide for the security of the people against an enemy intent on destroying the populace. A case can be made I think that the Boston bomber goes beyond the ordinary criminal and takes on the character of the government defending the population from an enemy-aggressor.
Anne Grady
4 years 6 months ago
The death penalty is barbaric - it may stop terrorism, it may not but it is immoral, like war. What is happening now at Guantanamo is barbaric as well.
mike garner
4 years 6 months ago
I totally agree Anne. No one should take the life of another including Government. [I think] it is a horrible thing which really should be abolished in this more enlightened world.
Dudley Sharp
4 years ago
The biblical foundation for the death penalty is found in Genesis 9:5-6 and is based, specifically, upon "shedding blood". 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." 2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous." The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. the law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere. "An 'innocent' person." 2258 "Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being." "An 'innocent' human being" Always and everywhere there is the prescribed sanction of "For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning.... "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.", which, is confirmed in the Council of Trent, that execution represents paramount obedience to that commandment. "paramount obedience"
Stephen Kusterer
4 years 6 months ago
In the particular case of the Boston bomber, the death penalty may turn him into a martyr to some fanatics. Whereas imprisoning him may relegate him to eventual public obscurity.
Dudley Sharp
4 years ago
Stephen: With or without martyrs, terrorists will murder innocents because that is what they desire to do. We all know that. We already know that imprisoned radicals radicalize others. Prison is a great place to recruit, something that we have known for a very long time. Executed terrorists never harm and murder, again, something we have also known for a very long time. How many innocents have been murdered by escaped or released terrorists? Probably countless.
Beth Cioffoletti
4 years ago
All life is sacred. As far as I know, this is the very ground of our Faith - Incarnation - God is with us. How can we ever know and teach the innate sacredness of our lives if we condone any kind of killing? I am on my way now to stand before the local cathedral in silent protest as the state of Florida kills Darius Kimbraugh at 6pm (11/12/2013). There will only be a handful of people there. Our witness is to publicly oppose the public killing that is being done in our name. I don't know if my standing there does any good - I've been at this for more than 30 years and the executions continue - I only know that my Faith demands that I stand there. I cannot stay home and act like it's not happening. I'm a shy person and don't really like to be "out there", but this is something that my conscience tells me is non-negotiable. I have to speak up, express my opposition. Otherwise I've cast my lot with the crowd that claims that life is expendable - and if that is the case, what hope is there for me or anyone else?
Dudley Sharp
4 years ago
. Beth: The foundation of death penalty support, within the 2000 years of Catholic teachings, has been and remains reverence for life. 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." 2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous." The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. the law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere. "An 'innocent' person." A Quaker biblical scholar provides a very Catholic like discussion: Dr. Gervas A. Carey: " . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect." (p. 111-113) “. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” "A Bible Study", Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.
Edward Thiery
4 years ago
Another good reason for being against the death penalty is that death is too good for many, the easy way out, such as those involved in child pornography, molesting, and trafficking; being irredeemable, they should rot in prison until the devil takes them. However, I might be willing to bend the rule in the case of spammers and malware writers.
Michael Barberi
4 years ago
It is indeed appropriate to defend life and oppose death, even in cases of horrific crimes. It is natural, especially for loved ones who have lost a child to a pedophile or those innocent lives murdered by terrorists to cry for justice and even death for the perpetrator.. However, a life sentence without the possibility of parole is a hell on earth and most fitting for horrific crimes. Some many never be rehabilitated or believe in repentance, but justice in the next world for these people will be far beyond any punishment in this world, including death. What is often lost in these conversations is the fact that many voluntary human acts were proclaimed to be moral and right for centuries, yet today are immoral. The stoning to death of adulterers and the severing of limbs for certain crimes, come to mind as one reads the Old and New Testament. If you believe in Catholic exegeses, God killed Onan because he was practicing coitus interruptus! This was one interpretation, but the one that the RCC continues to profess as truth. For centuries, it formed the basis for the prohibition against any form of contraception, even when this was based on bad biology (e.g., the belief that the male seed housed the essence of humanity and the only role of the woman was her vessel as an environment for growth). For centuries, spilling the male seed on the ground or in any other place that was not fit for procreation was immoral and akin to quasi-homicide. Thanks to God that our understanding of truth has changed as our knowledge of scripture, tradition, reason and human experience has grown through scholarship in all the sciences, theology, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, et al. To wit, when it comes to violence, our response must be life, not death. Perhaps in the future our response to other acts of morality/immorality will be different.
Dudley Sharp
4 years ago
Michael: For more than 2000 years, there has been Catholic New Testament support for the death penalty, based in justice and redress, as proclaimed by Popes, Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, church leadership, biblical scholars and theologians that, in breadth and depth, overwhelms any teachings to the contrary, particulalry those dependent upon secular concerns such as defense of society and the poor standards of criminal justice systems in protecting the innocent.
Michael Barberi
4 years ago
Dudley, If we accepted your philosophy supported by the Catholic historical context and what popes and bishops proclaimed as truth, think about how the world would be like if all of past teachings were never changed or reformed? We would have usury, slavery, no freedom of religion, the torture of heretics, to name a few. Many teachings proclaimed as truth were eventually reformed for good reasons. Today, in particular the teaching of JP II, capital punishment is not forbidden in all cases but is seriously, if not essentially, being called into question as unjust, excessive and immoral. Society is protected and justice is upheld when people commit horrific crimes and are sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are some cases where innocent people have been unjustly sentenced to long prison terms including life. We do not have a perfect criminal justice system, but it is superior to many other systems throughout the world. Our system of justice is under continuous efforts of improvement, albeit slow and tedious and imperfect. The question about punishment is about proportionality and appropriateness tempered with mercy and justice. This is a debatable issue and there are many other factors that must enter into the decision in capital punishment cases. For me, I choose life rather than death but remain open to exceptions.
Dudley Sharp
4 years ago
Michael: Thank you. Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., considered one of the most prominent Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century. "There are certain moral norms that have always and everywhere been held by the successors of the Apostles in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Although never formally defined, they are irreversibly binding on the followers of Christ until the end of the world." "Such moral truths are the grave sinfulness of contraception and direct abortion. Such, too, is the Catholic doctrine which defends the imposition of the death penalty." (2) "Most of the Church's teaching, especially in the moral order, is infallible doctrine because it belongs to what we call her ordinary universal magisterium." (2) "Equally important is the Pope's (Pius XII) insistence that capital punishment is morally defensible in every age and culture of Christianity." " . . . the Church's teaching on 'the coercive power of legitimate human authority' is based on 'the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine.' It is wrong, therefore 'to say that these sources only contain ideas which are conditioned by historical circumstances.' On the contrary, they have 'a general and abiding validity.' (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1955, pp 81-2)." (2)
Michael Barberi
4 years ago
Dudley, It is easy to lump various teachings under one rubric called the absolute truth, especially by traditionalist theologians. For every prominent traditionalist theologian with an opinion, there are several other prominent revisionist theologians with the opposite opinion. These modern labels of traditionalist and revisionist are disparaging and should be eliminated in modern discourse for they do not give justice to legitimate philosophical and theological disagreements, often causing a profound division in the RCC. This is particularly true when JP II called contraception among responsible Catholic married couples who want no more children for good reasons, a false, evil and destructive love. It would be irresponsible to say HV is a moral truth with the same hierarchy of truth as "direct abortion". Even the definition of "direct abortion" is controversial and highly disputed even among prominent "traditionalist theologians" such as Germain Grisez (e.g., I refer you to the infamous Phoenix case). The Church in its official capacity has never formally proclaimed Humanae Vitae (HV) neither definitive nor infallible. HV has been argued by traditionalist theologians and some Bishops as infallible, but that is different than an official papal or CDF proclamation. No respected scientific organization has concluded, or offered any evidence whatsoever, that contraception is a major cause of direct abortion and divorce or the other ills of modern secular society. The Church likes to interchange the words correlation with causation without any footnote of caution in the name of truth. The principles that underpin HV are based on the philosophical anthropology, personalism and symbolism of Karol Wojtyla/JP II, found in his teaching Theology of the Body. HIs philosophy on marriage and procreation has its roots in the mid 1950s when Karol Wojtyla/JP II was a professor, later to be refined and published in his 1960 book Love and Responsibility. At that time, no pope, bishop or theologian ever spoke or written about a "unitive and procreative dimension of the marital act that cannot be separated by humankind under any circumstances". This was not a constant teaching of the Church but a novum. I could easily quote chapter and verse in argument over these many issues. However, they would lead us far afield from the major point of this article. FYI...The ordinary universal magisterium is defined as all the bishops of the world speaking in one voice with the pope on a particular teaching/issue to be definitively held as infallible. This means that if something is proclaimed to be the definitive and infallible truth, at any time in history, then no future pope or ecumenical council can reform the teaching. So much for the doctrine of usury, that was written in Scripture as Divine Law, taught as truth for centuries, proclaimed by two popes in two papal bulls and supported by 3 ecumenical councils…..until it was responsibly reformed in the 1500s. To wit, capital punishment has been proclaimed morally right by the Church for centuries. Even Thomas Aquinas believed so, whose ethical method the Church follows today on other moral issues. JP II changed this teaching on capital punishment for good reasons. I support this revision, but I also support the reformation of certain other teachings for good reasons. This does not make me a victim of individualism, relativism or the evils of modern age.
J Cabaniss
4 years ago
I don't think you adequately distinguish between doctrines and practices. Practices are reformable, doctrines not so much, and surely not to the point of reversal. Nor will capital punishment ever be defined as immoral: "The death penalty is not intrinsically evil. Both Scripture and long Christian tradition acknowledge the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances. The Church cannot repudiate that without repudiating her own identity." (Archbishop Chaput) You assert that "society is protected and justice is upheld" by life without parole sentences. I assert that it is not and if it was merely a matter of asserting our opinions debate would be useless. There may be prudential reasons to oppose capital punishment - which is why I believe JPII opposed it - but the moral arguments for its use, which the church has supported for 20 centuries, demonstrate that, absent practical reasons, the just punishment for at least the crime of murder is the life of the murderer.
Michael Barberi
4 years ago
Your claim "Practices are reformable, doctrines not so much, and surely not to the point of reversal" is not supported by history. Usury, slavery and the lack of freedom of religion were all taught as truth by popes and bishops for centuries but reformed to the point of reversal. When popes issue papal bulls and ecumenical councils issue proclamations as truth, they have the force of doctrine. We do agree that capital punishment was morally acceptable for centuries and it was not a doctrine per se. My point was that many things proclaimed as truth by the hierarchy have been reformed for good reasons. You are entitled to your opinion about the death penalty. I stand by my opinion that society is protected and justice is upheld in a murder case when the punishment is life in prison without parole. This does not mean that capital punishment/death is never permitted or immoral. However, the Church's position on capital punishment today has changed dramatically compared to its past teaching. According to JP II capital punishment is only morally permitted in rare cases. Nevertheless, the real punishment for a non-repentant murderer of the innocent will not be what they may experience in this life, but in the next.
J Cabaniss
4 years ago
To take just usury, you misstate the church's position. The church in fact still condemns usury; what has changed is her definition of just what that means. Nor is it true that when popes issue bulls they have the force of doctrine. A papal statement, even in an encyclical, is not necessarily doctrine. The reference to slavery is even more problematic as there was never a doctrine that upheld it. You may argue that the church was slow to utterly condemn it but that is a different position and doesn't aid your argument. The church's position on capital punishment is different: it was addressed by the early Fathers and has been taught unchanged throughout her entire history, something not true of any of your examples. The church's position on capital punishment today is not that it is immoral but that it does more harm than good. That is, her opposition is prudential, not moral.
Michael Barberi
4 years ago
If changing the definition of usury is what the Church can do, then they can change other teachings such as the definition of contraception. How do you define what moral teachings can and cannot be reformed? Those that are definitive? I call your attention to the fact that category "definitive teaching" was only introduced, imposed upon, the Church by JP II's 1998 Motu Proprio Ad tuendam fidem. The term definitive was explained as not infallible but irreformable. I ask you: What teaching can be said to be irreformable and not infallible? This new category of teaching is highly controversial and disputed. Make no mistake about what I am saying. There can be moral teachings that should never be reformed, such as the prohibition against killing the innocent. I would also add slavery (note that the Church for centuries distinguished between "just slavery and unjust slavery" until slavery per se was condemned by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. I would also call your attention to Pius IX's proclamation in 1866, just after the bloody U.S. Civil War, that slavery was not against Divine Law and not forbidden…followed by a supporting proclamation issued by his Holy Office. If slavery is not a doctrine, then what is it? Did not the many papal encyclicals/bulls proclaim this voluntary human act justified as moral truth that encouraged this intrinsically evil human practice to continue for centuries? Do you really want to debate this teaching as not doctrine because in your opinion it was the mere error of humans, even popes, despite the fact it was issued as a teaching to be held? In ancient times through the 14th century, the definition of usury was clearly written in Scripture as Divine Law. Many essays have been written about it and if you want to debate it, I suggest you and I take it off-line. If an encyclical is not necessarily doctrine, then please enlighten me since papal bulls and encyclicals have been used for teachings such as usury, slavery and contraception. Notice that Humanae Vitae (HV) never mentioned Scripture (e.g., Genesis and the Onan Story) in support of the teaching on birth control. This encyclical redefined contraception as an injunction whereby the marital act had two dimensions that could not be separated for any reason. The "inseparability principle" was a novum and was never a constant teaching of the Church. No one that I am aware of considers HV a non-doctrine. Was this because from the time of Onan to through the 14th century, spilling the male seed on the ground or in a place not suited for procreation was considered quasi-homicide? To say that capital punishment should not be changed because it is different in that the early Fathers addressed it, and has been taught for centuries is contradictory to the fact that many other teachings have been addressed by popes, ecumenical councils and bishops and taught for centuries as well…only to be revised, redefined, reformed and changed for good reasons. It is perplexing that you say that the Church's position on capital punishment is based on a prudential judgement of do no harm, or more evil, and it is not a moral issue. Theologians as well as Aquinas would argue against your interpretation since he used the example of killing a person to safeguard justice (capital punishment) to demonstrate the role of ends/intentions and circumstances in the "morality" of voluntary human acts, and not merely the material-physical act itself. How do you defend your definition of the Church's view on capital punishment that it does more harm than good? Who is harmed? God? The murderer? Society? The sanctity of life? My point is that when it comes to "a just and prudential punishment" in capital cases, life in prison without the possibility of parole is appropriate, just and merciful. I choose life rather than death but do not condemn death in rare cases.
J Cabaniss
4 years ago
I agree with you that we should not discuss here the issues of usury, slavery, etc even while I disagree with your understanding of the nature of those teachings. In regard to capital punishment, its use was supported by virtually all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church (including Aquinas). In fact the first opposition to its use within the church did not appear until Evangelium Vitae in 1995. For all of the preceding centuries the teaching was the same: a State was morally justified in employing it (for at least the crime of murder). My comment about the prudential nature of the opposition to capital punishment applies solely to statements made since EV. All of the significant statements made prior to then went to the doctrine itself and the Scripture and Tradition on which it was based. It is a moral issue but prudential reasons have always been recognized that could properly override its use in particular instances. As to the current opposition, it appears to be based on an understanding of how it is perceived by the societies that inflict it and that, in modern societies, it is seen to be simply an exercise of state power; it is an act that has become severed from its moral justification. The (perceived) harm done then is to the society that uses it as it is believed to do nothing more than reinforce the culture of death so predominate in modern states. As I said, this is a prudential objection. You state that life without parole is appropriate, just, and merciful but you provide no argument to support that claim. Since this is the heart of the moral question regarding its use, simply asserting that your opinion is true is not very compelling. I don't believe any moral objection to the use of capital punishment can be found.
Michael Barberi
4 years ago
The issues of usury, slavery, etc, and the authority of the Church to reform/change teachings that are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture/ Divine Revelation, inclusive of the doctrine of infallibility and its interpretation, what teachings are necessary to support definitive teachings of faith, et al, profoundly divides the RCC today. The disagreement, both philosophical and theological, has lead most Catholics, theologians and many priests to non-reception of certain teachings for good reasons. The subject of this article is not the place to debate all of these issues, but I was not the least convinced by your argument. The issue under consideration is about the moral species of voluntary human acts, such as the act of killing a person to safeguard justice (capital punishment). As I mentioned, it is a moral issue and all voluntary human acts are based, in part, on right reason which is a prudential judgment. However, there are many moral factors that determine the morality of voluntary human actions, per Aquinas, namely end/goal, intention, circumstances and act/object. The use of the word "culture of death" is a talking point that is both ambiguous and often used in an inappropriate and unsubstantiated (extreme) description of some human behaviors found in Western secular society….such as direct abortion. The problem is that this description, the culture of death, is used to paint just about any act that the Church has deemed to be under its rubric…such as contraception. The problem is that there is no evidence whatsoever that demonstrates contraception causes or leads to direct abortion. Direct abortion is morally indefensible but the definition of direct and indirect abortion is highly disputed, even by the most prominent of traditionalist theologians such as Germain Grisez, not to mention Martin Rhonheimer, and most theologians who are often called revisionists. I call your attention to the infamous Phoenix case. Hence, your argument that capital punishment reinforces "the culture of death" is specious. Back to capital punishment. I do not deny the use of capital punishment, nor do I call it immoral. I choose life rather than death unless there are no other options that will protect society from the murderer/criminal. Your argument in justification of capital punishment...that the teaching has been taught from the earliest of times to 1995... ignores our God-given ability to better understand truth through our continued knowledge of the world, the human condition, the sciences, theology, anthropology, Scripture, philosophy, et al. I ask you: How long does a teaching have to be taught as truth to be infallible? A century, two centuries, 10 centuries? Your argument about not changing a teaching using time as a factor is contradicted by history and common sense. The leadership of the Church has – from the beginning – considered itself competent to ‘bind and to loose’ when it sees fit to do so. The clearest example of this is found in Acts15 where there is discussion about whether it is necessary to be circumcised before one can become a Christian. As a result of the so-called ‘Council of Jerusalem’, regarding the ‘sign of circumcision’ that set apart the people of God, their advice to the gentiles was, “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” That was it, the sum total of what was left over from the 613 stipulations of the Hebrew law that were to be ‘imposed’ on the converts. So much so for the fact that these 613 stipulation were taught for centuries as righteous, truthful and binding….but reformed! We will have to agree to disagree about capital punishment. It is not immoral to choose life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, some societies carry out capital punishment with little regard for the possibility of innocence. In cases where the evidence is overwhelming, how is society harmed by life in prison without parole, or how is society protected by death when there are other ways to protect society? Again, I don't have any issue with capital punishment in certain cases. You don't need a convincing argument to choose life rather than death provided that all relevant factors are wisely considered.
J Cabaniss
3 years 12 months ago
While I disagree with pretty much all of your points regarding what teachings are or are not reformable, on the relevant topic I think we are agreed: there are no moral objections to the use of capital punishment. (Clearly its use can be abused but that's not the issue.)
Michael Barberi
3 years 12 months ago
I appreciate our dialogue. However, asserting that you merely disagree with pretty much all of my points without any scholarly argument is not a convincing rebuttal and does not move the conversation forward. Unfortunately, you missed a good deal of the larger argument. God bless.
J Cabaniss
4 years ago
The problem with this position is that it requires us to accept that church Tradition was wrong for nearly 2000 years, which is not the minor hiccup you portray it as. If we can so easily dismiss such an ancient and unreformed teaching why would we believe that any teaching is unchangeable? There are many people strongly opposed to capital punishment but this argument attacks not just that practice but the very basis of Catholic faith. "... sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked together that one cannot stand without the others." (Dei Verbum #10)
Dudley Sharp
4 years ago
An "eye for an eye" is not vengeance, but created a demand for proportional justice within the bible, as opposed to the harsher punishments of the past. Within a full look at Catholic teaching, the death penalty is a good and is merciful. The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-death-penalty-mercy-expiation.html

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