Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Catechism and the Death Penalty

The Catechism & The Death Penalty
Dudley Sharp

Review of: 2258-2267, ARTICLE 5, THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church": PART THREE: LIFE IN CHRIST, SECTION TWO: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, CHAPTER TWO: "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF", The Roman Catholic Church. Most recent amendments, copyright  2003 11 04

All Catechism text begins with the paragraph number. All else are my comments or others, as noted.

I start with 2267, because it is most problematic.  2258-2266 start about 2/3 down

CCC 2267

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." (2260), which, is confirmed in the Council of Trent, that execution represents paramount obedience to that commandment.

Paramount obedience is primary.

What we have today, in 2267, is the Church making every possible effort to avoid such paramount obedience to eternal teachings and to replace that with a human reliance on incarceration systems.

2267 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. "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.' [John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 56.]

The last sentence so, obviously, conflicts with known reality, one is staggered by its irresponsibility.

The reality is that  it is "very rare, if not practically non-existent.'"  for the State "to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it."

Measured recidivism in the US is at about 80%, within 5 years of release (4a), yet we don't solve about 90% of crimes, so the recidivism rate is much higher, likely close to 100%.

Both SPJPII and CCC were dead wrong, as they would have known if they had cared one wit about additional harm to innocents. Clearly, they did not. There is no other explanation - this in the absolute middle of the horrendous priest sex abuse scandal.

It defies any type of rational consideration.

In addition, no such traditional teachings exist.

"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" ." (7)

"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."(7)

The fact that such teachings do not exist is a real problem and this radical change, which appears to have sprung out of very thin air.

What we have is an error, inexplicably, transferred from Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae into the Catechism, with no effort at fact checking, within either document. Astounding.

Even if such teachings did exist,  2267 could hardly be more misleading.

The traditional teachings of the Church neither exclude recourse to the death penalty nor so restrict it as to make it, virtually, useless, as EV and the framers
of 2267 invent.

Much more often, biblical instruction and tradition insist on the death penalty being imposed, describes those many sins/crimes for which it shall be imposed and, otherwise, reviews the legitimacy of the death penalty, all of which this very same CCC describes as primary.

The works of biblical scholars and theologia
ns through today (2014) provide a foundation of death penalty support which, in breadth and depth, overwhelms the writings in conflict with that support. This is reinforced with both the word and deeds of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit in the New Testament  (see paragraphs/references 1-4, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, within Reference 2 and see also 5, below). The extraordinary limitations on the death penalty, imposed by the imaginings of 2267, conflict with reason, reality and established Church teachings.

There is an obvious conflict between:

(a) the ill conceived 2267 "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude . . . recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor." and

(b) 2267 rendering the aggressor “INCAPABLE OF DOING HARM” and 2265 the “common good” “REQUIRES” an unjust aggressor be rendered “UNABLE TO INFLICT HARM”, which is in concert with 2260 “If ANYONE sheds the blood of man, by man SHALL his blood be shed.” “This teaching remains necessary for ALL TIME" --  all of which contradict (a). My CAPS for emphasis.

The contention that the new limitation in (a) above is a product of evolving teaching is in error. Instead it conflicts with well known teachings. (review all of Reference 2, starting with 1-4, therein and see also 5, below).

It is hard to imagine how the Church subverted an eternal teaching, described by Her as primary, and replaced it with a prudential judgement, based in the secular considerations of prison security, admittedly secondary or tertiary in nature, and, in so doing put more innocents at risk by exposing them to the worst of the unjust aggressors, murderers.

Obviously, living murderers put more innocents at risk than do dead murderers (4).

This change is one of prudential judgment, neither prudent nor an exercise of proper judgment.

Is it a prudential judgment when we are discussing subverting primary and eternal teachings and replacing them with secular ones, with well known errors?

What is to prevent the Church from doing that, repeatedly, if this error is not corrected, now?

Such obvious conflicts shouldn't exist within any Catechism and show how poorly considered and constructed is 2267.

2267 continues: "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."

Consider this newest recommendation:

(a) "If bloodless means are sufficient"  (2267) in this eternal context:

(b) "If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed." (1) "This teaching remains necessary for all time." (2260)

and (a)'s obvious intended negation of the Genesis passage and also has additional conflicts within its own document, just as one section above.

(c)  the "common good" "requires" an unjust aggressor be rendered "unable to inflict harm". (2265) as well as within 2267, itself, as rendering the aggressor “INCAPABLE OF DOING HARM”.

The Catechism is stating that "The common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm" (2265) except that we should rarely, if ever, render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. There is an obvious contradiction.

This Catechism decides that an eternal biblical mandate should be overruled by a poorly considered dependence on current penal security. Astounding.

With another version of the Catechism the Church uses "non lethal means" instead of "bloodless means". It reflects the exact same problems, while trying to escape that specific language negation of Genesis. The meaning and negation of Genesis are the same.

Does the absence of death penalty better correspond with "the common good and with the dignity of the human person"?

In the first part of this Catechism, the document makes the opposite argument. 

"Catholic teaching on capital punishment is in a state of dangerous ambiguity. The discussion of the death penalty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is so difficult to interpret that conscientious members of the faithful scarcely know what their Church obliges them to believe."  "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by Canon Lawyer R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, Sept 14, 2003

Commensurate punishments, by definition, better correspond to the common good and human dignity and the absence of a commensurate punishment injure both the common good as well as human digni
ty . . . and there is no doubt that the Church has always found the death penalty to be a commensurate punishment for murder, and other crimes, and that execution represents "paramount obedience" to the fifth commandment.

A confirmation on why it is primary. 

With Numbers 35:31 there is: "You shall not accept indemnity in place of the life of a murderer who deserves the death penalty; he must be put to death." 

Deserves as in justice, redress, retribution. Primary.

When it comes to commensurate or proportional sanctions, of course we can disagree on what that may mean, prudentially. However, with murder and its proper sanction, we are instructed, as reviewed, with Genesis, Numbers and traditional Church teachings that the proper sanction for murder is execution.

There exists the clear conflict between (1) this unprecedented and unjustified restriction on the death penalty and (2) "Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm" found earlier in this same Catechism.
Which is it? Is the Church going to require "rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm" or is the Church going to require that we do everything except render the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm?

Inexcusably absent from consideration, within the Catechism, is any specific discussion of harm to "innocent" murder victims and potential murder victims and the effects on their earthly and eternal lives when we give known murderers the opportunity, too often realized, to harm and murder, again.
 It is as if the Church didn't consider that executed murderers cannot harm, again, but that livings murderers can and do. Stark realities escaped the Church's and EV's review (4).
 Why has the Church chosen to depend upon widely varying and error prone incarceration systems, when the reality is that so many innocents are caused further suffering by known unjust aggressors, because of the failings in those systems (4)?


In addition, had EV been, properly, thought through, it would have concluded that innocents were better protected with the death penalty and that the death penalty is, therefore, a greater defender of society and, as such EV would not have created the errors which were then wrongly put into the Catechism.

2267 continues:  "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).

These pronouncements, within 2267, reflect zero knowledge or concern about the reality of violence within prisons and the fact that prison systems, worldwide, allow unjust aggressors to re offend over and over, again.

The "non-existent"  statement, within both EV and the CCC, shows an indifference to unjust aggressors harming, repeatedly. 

This is such a poorly considered prudential judgment as to negate any "prudential" moniker or any reference to judgment.

Do a GOOGLE search for  --  priests sex offender  -   there are 800,000 hits - note how many priests are known repeat offenders

Cases whereby the unjust aggressors harm and murder, again, in prison, after escape or improper release or with no incarceration are way too common (4)  -   the factual opposite of the Church's incomprehensible finding that such cases are "very rare, if not practically non existent", a factual error so profound and obvious that it is clear that fact checking was avoided in both EV, as well as in the Catechism, showing zero concern for innocent victims.

The Church and Pope John Paul II made no prudential judgment, here, but instead, made a factual assertion which was entirely false, with zero fact checking and showing little interest - a grossly irresponsible judgment ---  this at a time when both the Church and PJPII were in the midst of a horrendous moral  scandal of priests being allowed to sexually assault children, repeatedly.

One would think that would make both the Church and PJPII highly sensitive to crime victims and their offenders being allowed to re offend, but, instead, it appears this was all, completely, forgotten within the CCC. Staggering.
A Google search of --  recidivism crime worldwide  -- produced 4.76 million hits, within 0.21 seconds. Try it.

Let's look at "the means at the State's disposal" and the willful ignorance of anyone that would state that repeat offenders are "very rare, if not practically non-existent." 

The Catechism and EV are, hereby, using the secular standard of penal security as a means to outweigh the teachings based in justice, balance, redress, reformation, expiation, all of which are primary, within 2000 years Church teachings.

All villages, towns, cities, states, territories, countries and broad government unions have widely varying degrees of police protections and prison security. Murderers escape, harm and murder in prison and are given such leeway as to murder and/or harm, again, because of "mercy" to the murderer, leniency and irresponsibility to murderers, who are released or otherwise given the opportunity to cause catastrophic losses to the innocent, repeatedly, when such innocents are harmed and murdered by unjust aggressors, over and over, again. (4)

Incarcerated prisoners plan murders, escapes and all types of criminal activity, using proxies or cell phones in directing free world criminal activities. All of this is well known by all, with the apparent exception of the authors of the Catechism and EV (4).

Some countries are so idiotic, reckless and callous as to allow terrorists to sign pledges that they will not harm again and then they are released, bound only by their word, a worthless pledge resulting in more innocent blood (4).

It has always been so.

The Catechism, as does EV, avoids the many realities whereby the unjust aggressor is given so many opportunities to harm again and does so. Do the authors of the Catechism and EV have no grasp of reality and history? (4)

Apparently not. Hard to believe, as the Church was embroiled in the priest sex horrors at this exact time.

It is as if the Church was unaware of Her disastrous problems of the last 5 decades, when violent sex offenders were allowed to re victimize innocents over and over, again, inside the Church.

It appears the Catechism's (& EV) authors never considered the reality of such suffering (3&4).

Here are the known realities of all unjust aggressors, murderers and other violent offenders. 

They can morally/criminally/spiritually:
1) improve, becoming slightly better, harmful people or a saint and everything, in between.
2) Stay the same, bad for them and bad for us
3) become even worse, more dangerous to all.

It is unconscionable that the Church would embrace the suffering of the innocent, again, by protecting the guilty, again, putting both the innocent and the guilty at risk, again.

It is as if She gave zero concern to the suffering of the innocent.  How else do we explain both the Church and PJPII stating that the additional suffering of innocents is all but non existent, when the facts are so, obviously, to the contrary? How could this happen?


All of those foundations for protection are better met with the death penalty than by lesser sanctions. 

There is no greater rehabilitation or restoration than with salvation, within the context of expiation, as reviewed, above and below.

The complaint that this Catechism has removed just retribution (and therefore, balance, redress, correction, etc.) from punishment is based upon the reality that 2267  has allowed an improper and inaccurate evaluation of secular penal standards to dominate over just retribution, which is primary and She has introduced traditional teachings that do not exist.

While the first sections (through 2266) detail the importance of retribution, the later section (2267) provides little time for justice, which must dominate the utilitarian aspect of protection. The Church miscalculates in 2267 and fails to realize the rational reality that innocents are more protected when murderers are executed, even though the Church enforces that reality within 2265.


"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."

The Church has gone from "paramount obedience" to avoiding that obedience.

Paramount obedience is also primary.

“The new edition of the Catechism revises the section on capital punishment. This was not a development of doctrine. It was, however, problematic for placing a prudential judgment in a catechetical text, more problematically so than in an encyclical like Evangelium Vitae."

"Paragraph 2266 of the Catechism names the primary consideration of retribution, but No. 2267 ignores it.”

"There are times when the state needs capital punishment in order to save society." “This is Christian doctrine.”

“The cogency of Catholic apologetics crumbles when reason is abandoned for sentimentality in consequence of philosophical idealism and subjectivism.”

“Absolute rejection of capital punishment weakens the cogency of pro-life apologetics.” “As the Church's teaching on contraception cannot "develop" in a way that would declare its intrinsic evil to be good, so the right of a state to execute criminals cannot "develop" so that its intrinsic good becomes evil. “

“The pastoral commentary of the Church guides moral method, but the prudential calculus, in punishment as in the declaration of war, rests in the civil government whose authority pertains to natural law and is not granted by the Church."

"To propose otherwise under the guise of doctrinal development would be a species of clerical triumphalism that post-Enlightenment humanists claimed to abhor.”

“On Capital Punishment”, Fr. George Rutler National Catholic Register, March 24-31, 2002
I would inquire of Father Rutler, and others, How is it not a "development of doctrine" when  primary eternal teaching of the Church are relegated to secondary or tertiary status by secular standards of prison security which, by logic, must, now, be primary? I am not speaking of the prudential judgment based upon security systems, but the conundrum of replacing primary teachings with secondary or tertiary ones, now, making them later primary.

We have another obvious conflict between two standards:(a) "PARAMOUNT OBEDIENCE" to God (Trent, 1566) vs man's accomplishments within the error prone criminal justice system (2267, Catechism, amended 2005).

There is this additional problem:

2267: "without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself".

The Catechism finds that we should end the death penalty in order to provide alternate sanctions "without definitively taking away from him (the unjust aggressor) the possibility of redeeming himself" (2267).

The Catechism states that the wrongdoer redeems himself. The biblical/theological realities  find that all wrongdoers can/should seek redemption, but that God provides redemption to the wrongdoer by His grace. 

 Wrongdoers can only seek redemption, they cannot provide it to themselves. Again, a poorly written section. 

The Catechism is stating that the God invoked sanction of death takes away the possibility of redemption. Think about that. There is nothing to defend such a claim, in such a context.

All of our sins have us die "early". Is there a case, whereby God has erased the possibility of our redemption, solely because of our earthly and "early" deaths? Such an interpretation is, in context, flatly, against God's message and cannot stand.

The biblical record, its interpretations, the Magisterium, tradition  and virtually all knowledgeable Christian scholars and laymen find that the universal blessing that God gives us is that we all have the opportunity of being redeemed "before we die". 

The death penalty does not/cannot take that away anymore than does a car wreck, cancer, old age or any other "earthly" and "early" death, meaning all deaths, because of our sins. We all die "early" because of our sins.

Do all of those early and earthly deaths remove the possibilities of our redemption? Of course not. All Christians know what the Passion means.

It is as if the Church had, completely, forgotten the meaning of St. Dismas' death, his words exchanged with Jesus and the promise to come (8), the perfect example of expiation and restoration, via the criminal's accepted sanction of death.

Thus, the Catechism, wrongly, finds that all "early" deaths, meaning all earthly deaths, negate the possibility of our being redeemed. Such is an astonishing claim.

In God's perfection, we suffer an "early" death, because of our sins. The Catechism wrongly tells us that our "early" deaths takes away the possibility of our being redeemed. It can't and does not. God gives all of us the opportunity of redemption, in His grace, before our earthly and early deaths, no matter what that death may be.

Some opposing capital punishment ". . . go on to assert that a li should not be ended because that would remove the possibility of making expiation, is to ignore the great truth that capital punishment is itself expiatory."(10)

"In God’s religion, on the other hand, expiation is primarily a recognition of the divine majesty and lordship, which can be and should be recognized at every moment, in accordance with the principle of the concentration of one’s moral life.”  (10)

A interesting, similar  observation by a protestant Christian layman:

"One offensive aspect of this objection is the puny view of God that underlies it. God may be able to turn a murderer into a Christian if we give Him 30 years to do it – but not 30 days? Only by disobeying God can we populate His Kingdom for Him? It begins to sound a little like, "Let us do evil that good may come." (11)

"If we spare those that God has commanded us to exterminate, we can't pretend we did it for His glory! The question once again is shown to be: What did God say? with the follow-up, Will we obey? What God said is clear: Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man. (Genesis 9:6) He didn't say that to the Jews (there were no Jews yet); He said it to Noah and his family – to the entire population of the earth." (11)

 ". . . 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." Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: (p. 116). Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey. A Professor of Bible and past President of George Fox College, Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992

St. Thomas Aquinas: "The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgment that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers." Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.


CCC 2258-2266

The biblical foundation for the death penalty is found in Genesis 9:5-6 and is based, specifically, upon "shedding blood" and the recognition of the sanctity of life, as man is made in the image of God. The Noahic covenant is for all peoples and all times.

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."

"Do not slay the innocent and the righteous."  "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"

2262 In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, "You shall not kill," and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.

The type of killing being discussed, here, is the illegitimate type, meaning with anger or hatred, the intentional killing of innocents, as well as many others, not the just prescription of death for murder. We also have the distinction between personal obligations to defend innocents and the obligation of the state to defend their citizens.

A more full review: : "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment." (from CCC, Article 5, THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT, MT 5:21-22)

Jesus was actually raising the bar in the Sermon On The Mount, teaching that having hatred in out hearts provided the proper punishment of eternity in hell, obviously a much more severe sanction than an earthly execution for murder, which may offer the blessing of expiation for sins, as detailed below.

As with "But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna." Matthew 5:22 NAB

With 2263, it is clear that both defense of individuals and the state are described and that both refer to the common good requirement of rendering the unjust aggressor incapable of doing harm, which can only be accomplished by death, as living murderers can and do harm and murder, again (4).

2264 "If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.... Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's."

This is specific to dealing with unjust aggressors. This would exclude an unjust aggressor, who is not bound "to take more care of one's (unjust aggressor's) own life that of another's (the innocent, intending victim)."

The degree of force, against the unjust aggressor, needs to be considered and proportional and that, knowingly, using too much force is unlawful or illegitimate and sinful.

This with the acknowledgement that we will make some errors in this regard, unknowingly, in the heat of the moment or with criminal sanctions, and that if we err, we need to err on the side of  greater protection of innocent lives, meaning an error in degree must be that which better protects the innocents and society from unjust aggressors, not the degree of error that is more likely to allow unjust aggressors to harm more innocents, additionally (4), as with 2267.

We will see in 2267, how the Catechism has reversed this, by requiring all efforts to protect unjust aggressors, at the cost of more innocents harmed (4).

2265: "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm."

This supports my commentary, just above, about a matter of degree.

Self defense, by individuals and governments, is a grave duty, responsible for defending ones own life, the lives others and the  lives of citizens by government, from unjust aggressors.

"The common good" "requires" that an unjust aggressor be rendered "unable to inflict harm".  The definitions of "require" and "unable" are clear in meaning and in context.

It is a rational truism that only dead murderers are "unable to inflict harm".  Living murderers harm and murder, again, way too often (4), in prison, outside of prison, using proxies, as well as after they escape or are improperly released, if they were incarcerated, at all (4), with such injuries and murders numbering hundreds to thousands per day, worldwide (4).

Unable to inflict harm is the same as impossible to inflict harm, only possible by the absolute incapacitation of the aggressor - by definition, the death penalty. Is that what the Church intended? I say no.

However, the Church must conclude, as reason does, that only dead unjust aggressors are "unable" to harm again and that we are "required" by the Church to render them "unable to inflict harm", instead of putting more innocents at risk, as instructed by 2267.

The Church must solve the conflict between 1) we are "required" to render the unjust aggressor "unable to inflict harm" (2265), a requirement which can only be met with death and 2)  that we must not use "more than necessary violence" (2264). Clearly, there are differences between immediate self defense and legal incarceration or execution of criminals. However, there are also problems with the CCC instructions, here, which are in conflict.

Clearly, the Church is aware that living unjust aggressors, as murderers, do harm and murder, again, within all circumstances, and executed unjust aggressors, as murderers, do not harm and murder, again, ever.

2266: "The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good."  

There is a real question, as to the State's efforts,  as recidivism, solely, with released criminals, is 80% in the US, within 5 years of release (4a), not including those unjust aggressors not caught or those caught but not incarcerated, guaranteeing that the recidivism rate is much higher.

The "common good" "requires" an unjust aggressor be rendered "unable to inflict harm." 2265

2266: "Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime."

Biblically, theologically, traditionally and rationally, the death penalty is "commensurate with the gravity of the crime" of murder. It is arguable that a sentence less than death, for the crime of murder, is an abdication of the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime" (Genesis 9:6, Numbers 35:31, Council of Trent, various Popes, Saints, 2000 years of traditional teachings, etc., as reviewed).

There are numerous passages within the New and Old Testaments where the imposition of the death penalty, in the Words of God, Jesus, or in the context of the Holy Spirit, and within Church teachings are mandatory, proportional and/or commensurate. These works provide a foundation of death penalty imposition which, in breadth and depth, overwhelms the recent writings so restricting its imposition. (as within 2267, EV and Reference 2, below).

2266: "The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation."

Redress is"primary"

see  The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation, below.

The Catechism states: "The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense." 2266  This is a specific reference to justice, just retribution, just deserts and the like, all of which redress the disorder.


We must first recognize the guilt/sin/crime of the aggressor and hold them accountable for that crime/sin/disorder by way of penalty, meaning the penalty should be just and appropriate for the sin/crime/disorder and should represent justice, retributive justice, just deserts and their like which "redress the disorder caused by the offence" or to correct an imbalance, as defined within the example "If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed." "This teaching remains necessary for all time." (2260)

Such is primary.

To "redress the disorder"  has various, relevant meanings  --  to make amends, to correct the imbalance, to set right, to remedy or to rectify, for individuals as well as society, even reform, all of which may be used in the context of justice, just retribution and/or just deserts (and similar concepts), all of which have relevance in the context of the religious . . .

and which are primary

The PRIMARY, eternal teachings, of Catholic death penalty support have actually existed since the Genesis 9:6 passage (2260), which is for all peoples and all times, with the same eternal teachings being reinforced through Jesus, within his human life, then through the Holy Spirit and, uninterrupted,  to Pope, Saint and Father Clement of Rome through today, all based within justice and the ultimate respect for life, in God's image, which overwhelms and subdues any teachings based upon utilitarianism,  "defense of society" and the current status of prison security.

When it comes to reform, the second sentence is important:

2266: "When (the offender's) punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation."

see  The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation, below.

The reformation and correction of the offender is a hoped for, even expected, component of justice or just deserts.

However, unlike the imposition of redress, justice or just retribution, which is mandatory and primary, the reformation and/or moral correction of the offender will be voluntarily accepted or rejected by the offender, as a consequence of free will and grace.

Retributive justice, just deserts and redress are primary and must be imposed. The correction or reform of the offender will be accepted or rejected by the offender.

The Catechism agrees, with:

2266 ending " . . . Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender."

see  The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation, below.

" . . . as far as possible . . . " concedes that this is a sometimes proposition.

It is the same with God and his flock, as it is with parent and child. When a parent sanctions or punishes their child, they hope and often expect that such will bring about reflection, reform, redress and correction and, often, it does. It is a foundational within sanction and redress.

Therefore, the "primary" foundation must be that we impose sanction based upon the evidence that the offender is guilty of the wrongdoing and because of that wrongdoing, we impose sanction, based upon justice (and its many similar considerations) and because of that justice, we reap the benefits of that justice, which include the protection of society through incapacitation, deterrence and many other benefits, inclusive of the hope and expectation that some offenders will seek reform/redemption/ correction/ expiation, as a reflection in sanction and a product of grace.

All of which are part of redress, which is primary.

A crucial element of that justice, which is reformation/correction of the offender, will always remain, a hoped for, sometimes expected, but voluntary expression of free will by the offender, which may also provide, the immense value of expiation, when the punishment is "voluntarily accepted" (2266) by the offender.

Voluntary acceptance has four components. The offender/aggressor is guilty of the offense, the aggressor pleads guilty to the offense, the aggressor accepts the sanction imposed and the aggressor does not appeal the sanction imposed. Anything short of that appears to negate voluntary acceptance and, thus, expiation.

This is a dilemma for  all Christians opposed to capital punishment or other sanctions and for any Christian defense counsel who represents criminals and for spiritual advisors to criminals. It seems they must advise their clients of the incredibly important expiation component in voluntary acceptance of their punishment, that anything less than that voluntary acceptance may sacrifice that expiation, which may negatively impact the prospects of their eternal salvation.

Expiation, a product of  God's grace, will be seized upon or rejected by the offender, based upon their own free will and that grace. It is arguable, as per Aquinas and Augustine, that the death penalty is better apt to provide that correction and is, therefore, more in tune with the eternal aspects of the wrongdoers salvation (see paragraphs/references 3 and 4 within Reference 2 and also 5, below).

Romano Amerio: "The most irreligious aspect of this argument against capital punishment is that it denies its expiatory value which, from a religious point of view, is of the highest importance because it can include a final consent to give up the greatest of all worldly goods."

"This fits exactly with St. Thomas’s opinion that as well as canceling out any debt that the criminal owes to civil society, capital punishment can cancel all punishment due in the life to come. His thought is . . . Summa, 'Even death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment due for those crimes in the next life, or a least part of that punishment, according to the quantities of guilt, resignation and contrition; but a natural death does not.'  " (Paragraph 3, Reference 2)All we can do is hope and, in some cases, expect, that beneficial reformation will be sought by the wrongdoer, although we cannot force it upon them.  And, in this religious context, such reformation will result in expiation and redemption, through the grace of God.

see  The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation, below.


Footnotes are located, here: