Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Death Penalty, Catholicism, And Super-Max
Don't throw things at the monitor!!!

I had an interesting discussion with a good friend the other day concerning the death penalty. Anyone who's ever read what I've posted in the past, knows exactly where I stand on the DP. And my friend, he's against it BIG TIME. But that's OK. He's still my goomba.

For those of you who aren't aware, I follow the official teaching of The Church. I'm in favor in cases of extreme gravity and it should only be used rarely. You know... like those misunderstood souls who kidnap, rape, sodomize, and sexually torture little children to death.

But anyhow, my goomba pointed out 2267 of the Catechism which states in part; "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.'"

And like many of the anti-DP persuasion, he pointed out the so-called "Super-Max" prisons. The gist of his argument was essentially that said offenders can be put away for life and they will no longer pose a threat to the public at large. And all without the shedding of blood.

Like many in the anti-DP crowd, they specifically site "... given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime..." And by the State's disposal, Super-Max is exactly what they mean.

Here in the United States (as well as Canada, Western Europe, Australia, Japan, etc, etc) we absolutely have the means of constructing these Super-Max facilities. But what about the 3d World nations? Their idea of Super-Max is a double-mud-reinforced mud hut.

By the anti-DP crowd's own rationale, capital offenders in the 3d World should be put to death, right? After all, what reliable version of Super-Max is there in Burkina Faso, Myanmar, or Bolivia?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the "Devil's island" concept, myself. In island surrounded by shark infested waters. And populated with psychopathic sexual predators and mass murderers.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

You know I disagree with you on the DP, and would like to see it legistlatively (that is, not judicially) abolished in the U.S.

(In case that distinction isn't clear, I mean that I don't want courts to rule it unconstitutional; rather, I want anti-death-penalty legislators who have run on that position to pass laws doing away with it, which would then be signed by anti-death-penalty executives. More clear?)

This is not a matter of Catholic teaching, but a prudential question of whether we still need to use it. Reasonable people may disagree.

But Cavey my goomba, you asked: By the anti-DP crowd's own rationale, capital offenders in the 3d World should be put to death, right?

Right. This is, in my view, essentially a civil question. In countries that don't have the facilities to render such criminals no longer a threat without the use of the DP, I believe humane recourse the death penalty is appropriate. It's for the proper civil authorities in those countries to decide when that time has passed and then abolish the DP for themselves.

And that, God forgive me, is why I was in favor of Saddam being tried in Iraq.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Kevin Whiteman said...

Reasonable people may disagree.

That's one of the reasons as to why I like you so much, Paul.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

After all, what reliable version of Super-Max is there in Burkina Faso, Myanmar, or Bolivia?

I thought the military junta of Myanmar has made their country into a giant SuperMax...

Not related, but I'm not sure how else to bring the news on...the CaveBabe has brought forth a CaveBaby! Charles John Pawlak was born last night via C-section. Mother and baby are doing fine.

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I don't think we need to execute people here in the US. At least, not usually.

But your point about the 3d world is correct! Even if the societies in question can build such a facility, they really don't have the financial means to support it.

So, In the underdevelped places, hang 'em higher than Haman! Because there really is no other recourse that can be had.

Prudential judgment? Yeah!

by the same token, we should never kill our kids and old folks just because we can!

Mitch S.

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea that prisoners may be housed in such a way as to guarantee public safety is a myth. Many behind bars participate in criminal activity by their right to free speech. Criminal enterprises, including killings, are orchestrated behind bars. Also, by their right to be interviewed or publish, criminals are able to negatively affect society.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Al said...

On the Death Penalty. I would love to see it be banned completely worldwide. That being said:
1. My reading of the Constitution is that since it was acceptable at the time of the writing of the 8th Amendment there is no way that any Supreme Court Judge who is in his or her right mind (ie 1 who believes in original intent) could declare the death penalty unconstitutional. Maybe some applications under certain circimcstances that could be changed by legislation may be unconstitutional. But never a total ban.

2. Like Paul, I see no need for it in the USA & if it is done away with in the way he said.

3. But, there are some parts of the world where the DP IS (unfortunately) still the only way to protect society since they can't build Super Max style jails. In that case even though I do nae like it personally, under what the teachings of the Church say about protecting society, they are well within their rights to use the DP if they feel the need.

4. As for Saddam & Iraq. Under the above crtieria, Iraq was well within its rights to execute Saddam. & since we can't judge whether or not he repented, I have no idea where he is spending eternity. My opinion is that his dying once for all the people he killed was that he got off too easy. But, since a perosn can only die once (& since none of us has the power to bring someone back to life) there is no way he could die multiple times as he so-richly (if I am wrong, God forgive me), in my humble opinion, deserved.

4. As for anonymous' comment, do I detect the potential for a new reality series?

& as a semi-unrelated aside to that last point, I saw an article on the HotAir site about Cavemen & they type of women they liked:

Any comments "youse guys" about the veracity of that report? & are any of you going to be advisors for the new Caveman TV series?

2:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pope John Paul II: a pro-death penalty essay
by Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
(contact info, below)
October 1997, with subsequent updates thru 8/06

Pope John Paul II made significant errors within his Evangelium Vitae, with regard to the death penalty and, as a result, those teachings should not have been enterred into the Catechism. Please review.
In 1997, the Roman Catholic Church decided to amend the 1992 Universal Catechism to reflect Pope John Paul II's comments within his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). Therein, the Pope finds that the only time executions can be justified is when they are required "to defend society" and that "as a result of steady improvements . . . in the penal system that such cases are very rare if not practically non existent."
This is, simply, not true.  Murderers, tragically, harm and murder, again, way too often.
Three issues, inexplicably, escaped the Pope's consideration.
First, in the Pope's context, "to defend society" means that the execution of the murderer must save future lives or, otherwise, prevent future harm.  
When looking at the history of  criminal justice practices in probations, paroles and incarcerations, we observe countless examples of when judgements and procedures failed and, because of that, murderers harmed and/or murdered, again. History details that murderers murder and otherwise harm again, time and time again -- in prison, after escape, after improper release, and, of course, after we fail to capture or incarcerate them. 
Reason dictates that living murderers are infinitely more likely to harm and/or murder again than are executed murderers. 
Therefore,  the Pope could err, by calling for a reduction or end to execution, and thus sacrifice more innocents, or he could "err" on the side of protecting more innocents by calling for an expansion of executions.
History, reason and the facts support an increase in executions based upon a defending society foundation. 
Secondly, if social science concludes that executions provide enhanced deterrence for murders, then the Pope's position should call for increased executions. 
If  we decide that the deterrent effect of executions does not exist and we, therefore, choose not to execute, and we are wrong, this will sacrifice innocent lives and also give those murderers the opportunity to harm and murder again. 
If we choose to execute, believing in the deterrent effect, and we are wrong, we are executing our worst human rights violators and preventing such murderers from ever harming or murdering again - again, saving more innocent lives.
No responsible social scientist has or will say that the death penalty deters no one.  Quite a few studies, including 8 recent ones,  find that executions do deter. 
As all prospects for negative consequence deter some,  it is a mystery why the Pope chose the option which spares murderers and sacrifices more innocent lives. 
If the Pope's defending society position has merit, then the Church must actively support executions, as it offers an enhanced defense of society and greater protection for innocent life.
Thirdly, we know that some criminals don't murder because of their fear of execution.  This is known as the individual deterrent effect.  Unquestionably, the incapacitation effect (execution) and the individual deterrent effect both exist and they both defend society by protecting innocent life and offer enhanced protections over imprisonment. Furthermore, individual deterrence assures us that general deterrence must exist, because individual deterrence could not exist without it.  Executions save lives. 
Therefore, the Pope's defending society standard should be a call for increasing executions. Instead, the Pope and other Church leadership has chosen a position that spares the lives of known murderers, resulting in more innocents put at risk and more innocents harmed and murdered --  a position which, quite clearly, contradicts the Pope's, and other's, emphasis on defending society.
Contrary to the Church's belief, that the Pope's opinion represents a tougher stance against the death penalty, the opposite is true. When properly evaluated, the defending society position supports more executions.
Had these issues been properly assessed, the Catechism would never have been amended  --  unless the Church endorses a position knowing that it would spare the lives of guilty murderers, at the cost of sacrificing more innocent victims. 
When the choice is 1) sparing murderers, resulting in more harmed and murdered innocents, who suffer through endless moments of incredible horror, with no additional time to prepare for their salvation, or 2) executing murderers, who have on average, an additional 10 years on death row to prepare for their salvation, and saving more innocents from being murdered,  the Pope and the Catholic Church have an obligation to spare the innocent, as Church tradition, the Doctors of the Church and many Saints have concluded. (see reference, below)
Pope John Paul II's death penalty stance is his own, personal prudential judgement and does not bind any other Catholic to share his position. Any Catholic can choose to support more executions, based upon their own prudential judgement, and remain a Catholic in good standing.
Furthermore, prudential judgement requires a foundation of reasoned and thorough review. The Pope either improperly evaluated the risk to innocents or he did not evaluate it at all.
A defending society position supports more executions, not less. Therefore, his prudential judgement was in error on this important point of fact.
Furthermore, defending society is an outcome of the death penalty, but is secondary to the foundation of justice and biblical instruction.
Even though Romans and additional writings do reveal a "defending society" consideration, such references pale in comparison to the mandate that execution is the proper punishment for murder, regardless of any consideration "to defend society."  Both the Noahic covenant, in Genesis 9:6 ("Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed."), and the Mosaic covenant, throughout the Pentateuch (Ex.: "He that smiteth a man so that he may die, shall be surely put to death."  Exodus 21:12), provide execution as the punishment for unjustifiable/intentional homicide, otherwise known as murder.
These texts, and others, offer specific rebuttal to the Pope's position that if "bloodless means" for punishment are available then such should be used, to the exclusion of execution. The Pope's prudential judgement does not trump biblical instruction.
Most telling is the fact that Roman Catholic tradition instructs four elements to be considered  with criminal sanction.
1.  Defense of society against the criminal.
2.  Rehabilitation of the criminal (including spiritual rehabilitation).
3.  Retribution, which is the reparation of the disorder caused by the criminal's transgression.
4.   Deterrence
It is a mystery why and how the Pope could have excluded three of these important elements. In doing so, though, we can confirm that his review was very incomplete and, thus, improper. 
At least two Saints, Paul and Dismas, faced execution and stated that it was appropriate. They were both executed.
The Holy Ghost decided that execution was the proper punishment for two devoted, early Christians,  Ananias and his wife, Saphira,  for the crime/sin of lying. Neither was given a moment to consider their earthly punishment or to ask for forgiveness. The Holy Ghost struck them dead.
For those who erroneously contend that Jesus abandoned the Law of the Hebrew Testament, He states that He has come not "to abolish the law and the prophets . . . but to fulfill them."  Matthew 5:17-22.  While there is honest debate regarding the interpretation of Mosaic Law within a Christian context, there seems little dispute that the Noahic Covenant is still in effect and that Genesis 9:6 deals directly with the sanctity of life issue in its support of execution. (read "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).
"In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die (Mt 15:4; Mk 7:10, referring to Ex 21:17; cf. Lev 20:9). (Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, 10/7/2000)
Saint Pius V reaffirms this mandate, in the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), stating that executions are acts of "paramount obedience to this [Fifth] Commandment."  ("Thou shalt not murder," sometimes improperly translated as "kill" instead of "murder").  And, not only do the teachings of Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine concur, but both saints also find that such punishment actually reflects charity and mercy by preventing the wrongdoer from sinning further.  The Saints position is that execution offers undeniable defense of society as well as defense of the wrongdoer.
Such prevention also expresses the fact that execution is an enhanced defense of society, over and above all other punishments.
The relevant question is "What biblical and theological teachings, developed from 1566 through 1997, provide that the standard for executions should evolve from 'paramount obedience' to God's eternal law to a civil standard reflecting 'steady improvements' . . . in the penal system?".  Such teachings hadn't changed.  The Pope's position is social, not biblical nor theological. 
If Saint Pius V was correct, that executions represent "paramount obedience to the [Fifth] Commandments, then is it not disobedient to reduce or stop executions?
The Church's position on the use of the death penalty has been consistent from 300 AD through 1995 AD.  The Church has always supported the use of executions, based upon biblical and theological principles.
Until 1995, says John Grabowski, associate professor of Moral Theology at Catholic University, " . . .  Church teachings were supportive of the death penalty.  You can find example after example of Pope's, of theologians and others, who have supported the right of the state to inflict capital punishment for certain crimes and certain cases." Grabowski continues: "What he (the Pope now) says, in fact, in his encyclical, is that given the fact that we now have the ability, you know, technology and facilities to lock up someone up for the rest of their lives so they pose no future threat to society -- given that question has been answered or removed, there is no longer justification for the death penalty."  (All Things Considered, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, 9/9/97.)
The Pope's position is now based upon the state of the corrections system -- a position neither biblical nor theological in nature.  Furthermore, it is a position which conflicts with the history of prisons.  Long term incarceration of lawbreakers in Europe began in the 1500s.  Of course, long term incarceration of slaves had begun thousands of years before --  meaning that all were aware that criminal wrongdoers  could also be subject to bondage, if necessary - something that all historians and biblical scholars -- now and then and in between --  were and are well aware of. 
Since it's inception, the Church has issued numerous pronouncements, encyclicals and previous Universal Catechisms.  Had any biblical or theological principle called for a replacement of the death penalty by life imprisonment, it could have been revealed long before 1995. 
There is, finally, a disturbing reality regarding the Pope's new standard.  The Pope's defending society standard requires that the moral concept of justice becomes irrelevant.  The Pope's standard finds that capital punishment can be used only as a vehicle to prevent future crimes. Therefore, using the Pope's standard, the moral/biblical rational -- that capital punishment is the just or required punishment for murder -- is no longer relevant to the sin/crime of murder. 
If defending society is the new standard, the Pope has decided that the biblical standards of atonement, expiation, justice and required punishments have all, necessarily, been discarded, with regard to execution.
The Pope's new position establishes that capital punishment no longer has any connection to the harm done or to the imbalance to be addressed.  Yet, such connection had always been, until now, the Church's historical, biblically based perspective on this sanction.  Under a defending society standard, the injury suffered by the murder victim is no longer relevant to their punishment.  Executions can be justified solely upon that punishments ability to prevent future harm by the murderer.
Therefore, when considering executions in regard to capital murder cases, a defending society standard renders justice irrelevant.  Yet, execution defends society to a degree unapproachable by any other punishment and, therefore, should have been fully supported by the Pope.
"Some enlightened people would like to banish all conception of retribution or desert from our theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself.  They do not see that by doing so they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it?" (quote attributed to the distinguished Christian writer C. S. Lewis)
Again, with regard to the Pope's prudential judgement, his neglect of justice was most imprudent.
Some Catholic scholars, properly, have questioned the appropriateness of including prudential judgement within a Catechism. Personal opinion does not belong within a Catechism and, likely, will never be allowed, again. I do not believe it had ever been allowed before.
In fact, neither the Church nor the Pope would accept a defending society standard for use of the death penalty, unless the Church and the Pope believed that such punishment was just and deserved, as well.  The Church has never questioned the authority of the government to execute in "cases of extreme gravity," nor does it do so with these recent changes. 
Certainly, the Church and the Pope John Paul II believe that the prevention of any and all violent crimes fulfills a defending society position.  And there is no doubt that executions defend society at a level higher than incarceration. Why has the Pope and many within Church leadership chosen a path that spares murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives, when they could have chosen a stronger defense of society which spares more innocents?
Properly, the Pope did not challenge the Catholic biblical and theological support for capital punishment.  The Pope has voiced his own, personal belief as to the appropriate application of that penalty. 
So why has the Pope come out against executions, when his own position -- a defense of society -- which, both rationally and factually, has a foundation supportive of more executions?
It is unfortunate that the Pope, along with some other leaders in the Church, have decided to, improperly, use a defending society position to speak against the death penalty.
The Pope's position against the death penalty condemns more innocents and neglects justice.
 Please also refer to:

(1)  "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at
(2)  "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective" at
(3) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003
copyright 1997-2007 Dudley Sharp
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail sharp(at), 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

3:11 AM  
Blogger Bubbles the Terrible said...

The 'ReallyGoodPrisons=NoDP' position seems to demand that one regard other prisoners and their guards as citizens of another country and undeserving of any protection.

I've yet to hear of any Bishop courageous enough to address this minor detail. But then again, we no how concerned Bishops are with minors, and details.

4:31 AM  
Blogger Simon-Peter Vickers-Buckley said...

The problem is there are / is more than one justification for applying the death penalty 2267 doesn't speak to them. It leaves them untouched. The entire paragraph (it's history is well known) is a tendentious mix of questionable judgements which actually admit of no true objective universal principle ["Today" (not tomorrow?) "the means" (?) "disposal"(?) "the State's" (which, where, when?)]. When you base your entire decision to forbid capital punishment in the United States on this one ground (conveniently ignoring the others, which is hardly Catholic, but then again no one is pretending this is, it is part of a political agenda), not only does this display a certain contempt for the entirety of Catholic teaching on this unplesant question, it also contains within it the seed of it's own reversal. Pure positive law. I note the issue says nothing whatsoever about God's rights, His outraged Justice...I am not surprised. This "without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself" is simply horrible: no one can prove whether or NOT making people face their impending doom actually focuses their mind rendering them open to repent or not as moved by God. The idea is, "if you let them live (usually in rotten conditions,for life, subject to developing mental illneses, violence &c. which is sooo merciful and enlightened) they'll eventually come around and repent." Can you prove that? Of course not. Chances are, IMHO, they are less likely to come around as they harden their wills overtime. It is just another judgement call based on...on what? What is so astonishing, is that even if they do "repent" no one is then proposing letting them out, are they? After sin, the temporal punishment still remains, right? Even if they repent, they must still stay locked up? So the principal is conceded. Why is the temporal punishment - whether they repent or not - not death? Deterence, safety, retribution. We will ignore deterence as essentially unprovable empirically either way, and admit then, that we banish retribution to the far corners and now define safety as locking people up.

Now, let's be honest: no one would support this if they thought this was *NOT* God's Will. Is that fair? I think so. I say that, because if I had *first* said the opposite "I oppose this because I believe it is God's will shown over millenia that certain persons of a particularly brutal nature should always and everywhere be put to death" I might have been accused in this manner "who are you to say what is God's Will?" And who are you to reverse millenia with a novelty based on a wobbly one-legged stool?

8:47 AM  

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