Thursday, February 28, 2019

Catholics & The Death Penalty

Catholics & The Death Penalty:
Critical Dismay:  The Catholic Church's Latest (2018-19)
Death Penalty Catechism Amendment

The numbered paragraphs, 1-5, are since the latest language/amendment, interspersed with earlier quotes, == captured, in italics == .

"The normal moral reason for upholding capital punishment is reverence for life itself. Indeed, this is the reason why scripture and Christian tradition have upheld it, a fact which suggests that, if anything, it may be the abolition of capital punishment which threatens to cheapen life, not its retention." J. Budziszewski, Catholic Scholar, Jan. 25, 2002 conference, Pew Forum, titled "A Call for Reckoning: Religion and the Death Penalty"

1) Magisterial Irresponsibility, by Catholic theologian Steven Long, 10/18 (1)

"For the earnest believer, the derogation of the doctrinal patrimony of the Church on (the death penalty)—as though Scripture, tradition, the consensus of the Fathers, the teaching of Aquinas, and the teaching of all papacies up to the present had been swept away—is in its way as saddening as is the derogation of spiritual and moral integrity in the case of Theodore McCarrick."

“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." “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.” 
from Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, appointed by SPJPII,  “Capital Punishment and the Law”,  Ave Maria Law Review, 2007 (30 pp), 


"There are four reasons for viewing this (2018) revision critically and with measured dismay."

The first concerns the “dignitarian” ­premise  . . .  the assertion that we now understand human dignity better than did earlier epochs of the Church, especially in so far as we now know that felons retain human dignity despite their crimes."

"In the Catholic tradition, it is the dignity of the human person—not its denial—that undergirds the legitimacy of capital punishment."  

" Genesis 9:6 identifies the imago dei as the very reason for the penalty: “Whosoever shall shed man’s blood, his blood shall be shed: for man was made to the image of God.”

" . . .  the Church has always affirmed, and has never denied, that the felon executed for a grave crime possesses human dignity, the imago dei ordered to, and specified by, noble goods in nature and grace." 

"It is this dignity of the human person that guarantees that no earthly suffering, including the need to suffer death as a penalty for grave crime, can of itself prevent anyone from attaining the highest good of union with God. Human dignity also merits the sternest protective legal sanctions, potentially including the death penalty."

" The Church has also held that the human dignity of the innocent merits the most rigorous defense, potentially including punishment by death for those who wrongfully assail the human dignity of others."

" . . . it is both historically and doctrinally false to suggest that the Church has in the past failed to understand that unrepentant felons retain their natural human dignity."  " . . .  it is untrue that the Church has not properly understood human dignity until the modern period."

Sharp: This is a clear, obvious error in the amendment -  an error repeated, often, by Pope Francis and other Church leadership, for many years,with no plausible excuse, for them, or the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), making such an error.


Saint (& Pope) Pius V, "The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder." "The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent" (1566).

  the revision " . . . is being presented and publicized in a misleading way . . .  its widespread reception as abrogating prior teaching, the prudential character of this small insertion in the Catechism ought to be made clear - the lowest level of ­doctrine—prudential admonition—lacks the central and defining nature of the higher tiers of Catholic teaching. Not to make clear the prudential character of the insertion escalates . . .  the danger of needless division, beyond the immediate matter of the death penalty."

Sharp: Pope Francis and others present the amendment, as if it binding teaching for all Catholics, when it is, clearly, not only prudential in nature, but false, and, thus, any Catholic can disagree with the teaching and who may recognize the obvious, which that it is, in fact, error.


"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)." "Capital Punishment: New Testament Teaching", Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., 1998, 

Thirdly, the " . . . reason why this revision of the Catechism is objectively problematic is that the language of the conclusion about the death penalty appears violent and excessive" suggesting "that the penalty is essentially unjust . . .", ". . .  the prudential antecedents make this conclusion impossible."

"To speak of the death penalty as an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”—taken in itself and apart from its prudential antecedents—suggests a wholesale break with tradition."

"There is an ultra vires excess in this formulation that is likely to be misunderstood and assimilated wholly to secular humanitarianism. The rhetoric of the conclusion, if predicated on the prudential reasons given, ought to be prudential. But the language used does not sound prudential and is inordinate. This exacerbates the confusion and is a grave defect. It ought to be corrected."

Sharp: "impossible".


"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." ("Capital Punishment: New Testament Teaching", Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., 1998

Fourth, the prudential " . . . claim that new discoveries about the nature of penal sanctions and new methods of detention do away with further questions concerning the protection of society from the wicked, or the deterrence of crime (to say nothing of changing the essential justice of the death penalty itself), is false."

Sharp: This has been an awful, willful falsehood, by the Church, for, at least 21 years (2), very much in the historical character of the Church with Her sex scandal cover ups, at the same time. Since the first amendment, in 1997, it has been obvious that the Church, willfully, refused to expose the realities of criminal justice practices, thereby very often, causing additional harm to innocents and lying to their flock. (2). This refusal is most egregious, in the exposure of the Church's cover up of the sex abuse scandal, now, also, intentionally, not disclosing the realities of criminal justice systems (2), another slap in the face to the truth and innocent victims.

"It does not aid the pastoral mission of the Church when those responsible for handing on this tradition seem to join in the dismantling of their own theological heritage."

Pope Pius XII: "When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live." 9/14/52.

NOTE:  Long details God's specific biblical killings, here, whereas some say that God would not kill -  Long replies: 

"This would come as a great surprise to Onan (Genesis 38:10), the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12:29), Pharaoh’s army (Exodus 14:28), Aaron’s sons (Leviticus 10:2), Korah (Numbers 16:32), David and Bathsheba’s baby (2 Samuel 12:14-15), Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:16-17), Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 13:20), Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:14-15), Ezekiel’s wife (Ezekiel 24:16), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10), Herod (Acts 12:23), and the many, many others scripture tells us were killed by God." (3)


and Cardinal Avery Dulles states

"In the Old Testament the Mosaic Law specifies no less than thirty-six capital offenses calling for execution  . . .  considered especially fitting as a punishment for murder since in his covenant with Noah God had laid down the principle, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6). In many cases God is portrayed as deservedly punishing culprits with death, as happened to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16). In other cases individuals such as Daniel and Mordecai are God’s agents in bringing a just death upon guilty persons." (4).

Some opposing capital punishment " . . . go on to assert that a life 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. In a humanistic religion expiation would of course be primarily the converting of a man to other men. On that view, time is needed to effect a reformation, and the time available should not be shortened. 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." )"Amerio on capital punishment ", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007,


2) AN APPEAL TO THE CARDINALS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, various esteemed religious authors, First Things, 8/15/18 (5)

" . . . to teach that capital punishment is always and intrinsically evil would contradict Scripture. That the death penalty can be a legitimate means of securing retributive justice is affirmed in Genesis 9:6 and many other biblical texts, and the Church holds that Scripture cannot teach moral error."

"The legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is also the consistent teaching of the magisterium for two millennia."

"To contradict Scripture and tradition on this point would cast doubt on the credibility of the magisterium in general."

It has been recognized that the amended 2267 avoids the full Catholic teachings on the purposes of punishment, which are (1) defense of society against the criminal; (2) rehabilitation of the criminal, (3) retribution or the reparation of the disorder caused by the transgression . . . some authorities list (4) deterrence as a fourth purpose of punishment [Dulles, "Catholicism and Capital Punishment"]."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

3) Prof. Joseph M. Bessette, claremont mckenna college, LETTERS, First Things, 12/18 (6)

" . . . as surely as night follows day, when Pope Francis speaks on doctrinal matters, confusion results. " . . .  so it is with the pope’s August (2018) revision to section 2267 of the Catechism. Although taught by the Church for two millennia as a legitimate punishment for grievous crimes (and employed by the Papal States under six different popes more than 500 times in the nineteenth century alone), capital punishment is now “inadmissible,” and therefore the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

" . . .  Steven A. Long, in “Magisterial Irresponsibility” (October, 2018), interprets (this revision) as essentially a prudential judgment “susceptible to falsification,” and therefore one with which faithful Catholics may respectfully disagree."

"For reasons never explained, the last three popes and many of the world’s bishops have decided that the death penalty does not deter murder. This crucial empirical matter is simply ignored. Yet, as Edward Feser and I show at some length in By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed, the case for deterrence is strong: both because many criminals modify their behavior in light of criminal sanctions and, perhaps more important, because the death penalty powerfully teaches that murder is a great wrong, leading most people not even to consider killing another human being."

"  . . . the Catechism has been enlisted to preempt the lawful authority of public officials in a way that jeopardizes the lives of the innocent. This is not, you might say, your grandfather’s Catholic Church."

"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 judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers." St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146. 

4) Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., st. louis, missouri, LETTERS, First Things, 12/18 (6)

"Francis asserted, shockingly, that the death penalty is “in itself contrary to the Gospel—in sé stessa contraria al Vangelo” (emphasis added)." " . . . it is false doctrine—a monumental papal error to which Catholics should not assent."

"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 judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers." St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146. 

5) Sharp:  Think about this 

For more than 2000 years, there has been Catholic support for the death penalty, from Popes, Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, church leadership, biblical scholars and theologians that, in breadth and depth, overwhelm any teachings to the contrary (7).

Now, in 2018, Pope Francis and others are saying that the greatest of all Catholic Popes, Saints, Doctors of the Church, biblical scholars and theologians, were dead wrong for over 2000 years and that those most revered figures are theologically, morally and intellectually inferior, by finding the death penalty not just admissible, but, sometimes, obligatory, merciful, part of Holy Scripture, and that it, specifically, recognized the dignity of man and was just - all very well known teachings (7).

All of a sudden - POOF - those 2000 years of teaching are thrown in the trash heap by the more learned teachers of 2018.

It is that absurd.

Genesis 9:5-6: "Indeed for your own lifeblood I will demand an accounting: from every animal I will demand it, and from a human being, each one for the blood of another, I will demand an accounting for human life. Anyone who sheds the blood of a human being, by a human being shall that one’s blood be shed; For in the image of God have human beings been made."

1) Magisterial Irresponsibility, Steven Long, First Things, 10/18

2)  Catechism and State Protection 

3)  See 
(13) "Unnatural Lawyering" within:

By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment 

4)  CATHOLICISM & CAPITAL PUNISHMENT, by Avery Cardinal Dulles, First Things,  April 2001,

5) AN APPEAL TO THE CARDINALS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, various authors, First Things, 8/15/18, 


7)  See Catholic teachings within

The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

All Catholics May Support The Death Penalty

Four Catholic Journals Indulge in (anti death penalty) Doctrinal Solipsism, Steven Long, THOMISTICA, March 5, 2015,

Rebuttal of Four Catholic Publications Call For End to Capital Punishment


Sister Helen Prejean: Does Truth Matter?:
Dead Man Walking & The Death Penalty