The Humanism of|
John Paul II
On Death and Life (III)
Refuting the weak arguments that are illogically proposed to eliminate capital punishment.
"Certainly, our Blessed Lord taught us to love our enemies and not to resist evil (cf. Matthew 5:38-39,44). But obviously He was referring to our individual disposition towards those who do evil to us. He is not talking about the state's justice system, which, as St. Paul tells us in Romans 13:1-4, has the authority and the right to execute those who have committed a crime worthy of death - and this authority and right comes from none other than God Himself!"
In this third installment on Catholic theology and capital punishment, I am going to respond to common Neo-Catholic arguments against the death penalty.
III. Responses to Anti-Death Penalty Arguments
In the foregoing two sections, we have already preempted and answered some arguments against capital punishment. But there are many more that can be made. Let's look at the most common ones.
(1) Christ is loving and forgiving; He would never approve of anyone being put to death. Just look at John 8:11.
As already pointed out, temporal punishment is justly inflicted on sinners and criminals and in no way infringes upon the virtue of forgiveness. John 8:3-11 says:
"And the scribes and Pharisees bring unto him a woman taken in adultery: and they set her in the midst, and said to him: Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery. Now Moses in the law commanded us to stone such a one. But what sayest thou? And this they said tempting Him, that they might accuse Him. But Jesus bowing Himself down, wrote with His finger on the ground. When therefore they continued asking Him, He lifted up Himself and said to them: 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.' And again stooping down, He wrote on the ground. But they hearing this, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst. Then Jesus lifting up Himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee? Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more.'"
What Our Lord demonstrates in this passage is His forgiveness, His clemency, and His mercy. As we have already seen in last week's installment, none of these divine traits exclude His justice, i.e. the fact that temporal punishment may still remain after a sin has been forgiven. Now, the interpretation of such a complicated passage ought to be left to scholars and not to folks like you and me, so I will quote here from the popular Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture by Dom Bernard Orchard (1953):
"The Law, as [the Scribes and Pharisees] combine its statutes, appointed the death penalty for adultery, Lev 20:10, and stoning was specified for the infidelity of a betrothed woman, Deut 22:24. The question : ' What sayest thou ? ' was meant to destroy the ascendancy of Jesus over the people. What the party expected was a sentence of mercy which would publicly brand Jesus as one who flouted the Law of Moses. Even a rigorous sentence would make him lose in the eyes of the crowds. [. . .] In his divine response to their persistence Jesus carried the matter into the secret tribunal of their own consciences : ' He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her ' . Jesus did not thereby announce a principle that sinful persons may not judge or punish a criminal, but he gave the accusers the discomfort of feeling their hypocrisy" (p. 997).
This last sentence is very important. Our Lord was not saying that sin should not be condemned or that the sinner should not suffer the just consequences of the prescribed law. Rather, knowing the hearts of those who wanted to trap Him, and knowing their self-righteousness, He took the opportunity to embarrass them and to expose their hypocrisy. Note how the Lord did not refuse to condemn her sin but her. In other words, He forgave her sin, which of course He had the power to do. He knew she was sorry, and so He remitted her sin, but He added as a condition: now go and sin no more. Here we see the Catholic requirement of a firm purpose of amendment when confessing one's sins.
Since Christ came to institute the New Covenant, in which we are no longer under the Mosaic Law, Christ our Lord freed the woman from the prescribed punishment for adultery: stoning to death. There was nothing wrong in and of itself in what the people stoning her were doing - after all, they were only acting according to the Law which God Himself had given them. Stoning an adulteress to death was not some evil punishment which the self-righteous had dreamed up - no, it was God's decreed punishment for adultery. But Christ our Lord came to free us from the Law, and so it is no surprise that He let the woman go without having to suffer death. But freedom from the Mosaic Law does not equal freedom from temporal punishment, as some might suppose.
The New Testament reminds us continually of temporal punishment we must undergo:
"For whom the Lord loveth he chastiseth: and he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons. For what son is there whom the father doth not correct? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards and not sons" (Hebrews 12:6-8).
Also, St. Paul uses the example of King David, who, as we saw in last week's installment, had to suffer temporal punishment (his son's death) after he had been forgiven of his sin of adultery, as a prefiguration of our justification in the New Covenant:
"As David also termeth the blessedness of a man to whom God reputeth justice without works: Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven: and whose sins are covered" (Romans 4:6-7). So, if our justification in the New Covenant is like to David's, which still demanded temporal punishment even after forgiveness, then we, too, may have to suffer temporal punishment after having been forgiven of our sins.
St. Peter, too, teaches that temporal punishment is part and parcel of our
holy Faith: "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal
glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself
perfect you and confirm you and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10; italics
added). Suffering is necessary to make it to Heaven. If we do not suffer
enough in this world in order to wipe out all our punishment still due to
sin, we will have to suffer further in the cleansing fires of Purgatory,
after which we will then see God face to face in eternal bliss.
When we look at Calvary, when our Lord hung upon the Cross next to two thieves, Christ did not fulminate against the death penalty, even though He was innocent! Even St. Dismas, the Good Thief who had been justly convicted of theft, accepted the legitimacy of this punishment: "we receive the due reward of our deeds" (St. Luke 23:41).
(2) "Justice cannot be served by more violence" (Most Rev. Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Denver, CO).
Archbishop Chaput here seems to be endorsing pacifism, the immoral notion that violence is never necessary and certainly never allowable. Such an idea seems contrary to Catholic teaching because violence is often necessary in order to defend oneself, one's country, one's religion, or one's children or family. To stand by non-violently while your child is being murdered is certainly immoral. Even though you might be "protesting" against the murderer while he tortures your child, if you do not use violent means - the only possible means to accomplish anything in this case - to ward off the offender, you are committing a grave sin. The non-violence mantra is more of the claptrap of the Vatican II mentality that has justified apologizing for the Crusades, when, in truth, the Crusades were very necessary for the recovery of Christian land and possessions, not to mention souls.
But perhaps I misunderstood Archbishop Chaput. Perhaps he doesn't mean that violence is never allowable. Perhaps he only means that justice cannot be accomplished by using violence. That is, maybe the archbishop wants to say that while violence is certainly allowable in certain circumstances, it's never allowable to bring about justice. Again, I offer the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto as evidence of the error of that thinking.
And, if he believes justice cannot be accomplished through violence, then how does he deal with the overwhelming evidence contained in the Sacred Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, which clearly suggests that justice is served precisely by violence? In Exodus 21:12, God commands that murderers be put to death. That is a perfect example of rendering justice to a murderer. And as it is, it involves violence. I have no idea how Archbishop Chaput even arrived at this insane idea that justice could not be served by violence. Where did he get this? To me, this seems an arbitrary claim that simply "sounds good" in the post-Hippie, pacifistic, and politically-correct liberal society we live in. Perhaps he's especially sensitive to the post-Columbine fallout since that tragic high school shooting occurred in the Denver area. In other words, I see simply no reason to accept as true the archbishop's claim that justice can't be served by violence.
In response to Archbishop Chaput's statement I would ask: Is he not familiar with the Communion of Saints? Webster's defines the word "militant" as 'Engaged in warfare; fighting; also combative; aggressive activity.' It is derived from the Latin word for 'to be a soldier' - militaris. Have you ever seen a soldier being prepared for non-violent means? How does he justify the Church Militant's cause and mission for the Church Suffering in harmony with the Church Triumphant if not for violence against sin? But then, the term 'Soldiers of Christ' has been lost in the shuffle since Vatican II along with so much else.
Certainly, our Blessed Lord taught us to love our enemies and not to resist evil (cf. Matthew 5:38-39,44). But obviously He was referring to our individual disposition towards those who do evil to us. He is not talking about the state's justice system, which, as St. Paul tells us in Romans 13:1-4, has the authority and the right to execute those who have committed a crime worthy of death - and this authority and right comes from none other than God Himself!
It seems appropriate to me to make a very important observation at this point. I have seen several TV documentaries about capital punishment in which the relatives of the victim are virtually craving the death of the offender, full of vengeance and in a bloodthirsty manner. This is wrong! Make no mistake about it. We cannot harbor such feelings for anyone. We must let go of all hate and desire for revenge. Anyone who craves the death of another person out of vengeance is committing sin - even if the person is as evil as can be. We are commanded to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. So let me make clear here that I am not defending such an attitude. Instead, I am defending the death penalty as a legitimate means of punishing a person guilty of a heinous crime. The punishment must be executed in a spirit of sadness, and we should greatly deplore it whenever we have to execute somebody. Most of all, we must pray for the person to be put to death, asking God to give him the grace of final repentance so that he might not suffer eternal damnation - no matter how evil the person is or what great evil he has done. I know this can be very difficult, but it is our duty to "forgive those who trespass against us." This is not optional. We must forgive those who have wronged us and others.
But as I pointed out before, forgiving the offender does not absolve him from the punishment about to be inflicted on him, even if it is death. In fact, if the offender's soul is properly disposed and in a state of grace, the acceptance of the death sentence can gain immense merit for this soul and wipe out a large part of the temporal punishment due to his sins-perhaps even the entire temporal punishment, so that he could go straight to Heaven without having to suffer the tortures of Purgatory.
But of course these are doctrines which the post-Vatican II world wants to ignore: merit, penance, justice, punishment, indulgences, and Purgatory. Once we eradicate these saving truths from our Catholic minds, not only do we cease to be Catholics, but we will also come to see the death sentence as totally reprehensible. See a connection here, anyone? But more on this in the near future, when I will go into the reasons why capital punishment has become such a thorn in the post-conciliar church's side.
(3) "Inflicting capital punishment on somebody violates his human dignity."
Not so. A murderer has already taken away his own dignity by his very act of murder, as both St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope Pius XII taught: "Although it be evil in itself to kill a man so long as he preserve his dignity, yet it may be good to kill a man who has sinned, even as it is to kill a beast. For a bad man is worse than a beast, and is more harmful" (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 64, art. 2); "It is reserved to the public authority to deprive the criminal of the benefit of life, when already, by his crime, he has deprived himself of the right to live" (Address to the First Int'l Congress on the Histopathology of the Nervous System, Sept. 14, 1952).
Of course, it goes without saying that once he has repented, in God's eyes he is no longer considered "worse than a beast" for he has been reinstated in God's good graces. Yet that does not mean he does not have to make reparation for the harm done. No matter how malfeasant man might be, he has the dignity given him as a child of God. This is a dignity owing to Christ's redemptive merits on the Cross and nothing man has merited on his own.
Unfortunately, in the post-conciliar church, "human dignity" is the be-all and end-all of all morality. Man is in the center, as I pointed out in an earlier series on Vatican II and the Gospel of Man. Especially with the pontificate of John Paul II, "human dignity" has become the buzzword for the Newchurch. However, this concept of human dignity is flawed and erroneous, because it supposes, contrary to previous Church teaching, as we have seen, that human dignity is absolutely inviolable and not subject to justice. Yet St. Thomas, for instance, teaches us that a man who has fallen from his dignity by a grave crime is even worse than the beast! Let John Paul II reconcile that statement with his humanistic agenda against the death penalty!
In truth, opposing capital punishment has nothing to do with "discerning the dignity of man." Cardinal Avery Dulles makes a very relevant observation regarding this, and it is worth quoting: "Many governments in Europe and elsewhere have eliminated the death penalty in the twentieth century, often against the protests of religious believers. While this change may be viewed as moral progress, it is probably due, in part, to the evaporation of the sense of sin, guilt, and retributive justice, all of which are essential to biblical religion and Catholic faith. The abolition of the death penalty in formerly Christian countries may owe more to secular humanism than to deeper penetration into the gospel" (from the April 2001 issue of First Things). Despite the Cardinal's liberal beliefs, his quote is indeed very well put!
Now, Cardinal Dulles is a relatively good cardinal compared to the rest, but he is nevertheless, and quite deplorably, a heretic, for he does not believe that the Catholic Church is exclusively identical to the Church our Lord founded (for evidence, cf. David Tracy et al., "Vatican II: The Work that Needs to be Done" in Concilium magazine [NY: Seabury Press, 1978], p. 91; quoted in John Vennari, Close-ups of the Charismatic Movement [Los Angeles, CA: Tradition in Action, 2002], p. 78).
In a later installment, I will examine more closely exactly what John Paul II has said about the death penalty. It started out as an opposition against the death penalty as unnecessary in our age and time, but it has evolved into a per se opposition because it supposedly violates human dignity, as we will see.
(4) "Capital punishment is often inflicted on innocent people because the judicial process isn't fair."
Of course, this is deplorable. Putting to death an innocent person is a horrendous thing to do and must be avoided at all costs. But this is irrelevant to my argument, or, better to say, to the Church's argument. Because I am defending capital punishment as such; I'm defending it in and of itself, as a means of punishment. Other factors, such as whether innocent people have unjustly been put to death, have nothing to do with whether or not capital punishment is morally acceptable when inflicted on the guilty. Of course we must be sure beyond doubt that the person to be executed is indeed guilty and deserves the punishment. Our judicial system needs to be cleaned up big time. No argument there. But, again, it's irrelevant when talking about the death penalty as such, when evaluating whether it can ever be used against an offender.
Some argue that capital punishment should be abolished to avoid ever again putting to death innocent people. But this argument is not a good one, because we would have to do away with all punishment in order to be 100% sure that we will never again convict innocent people. Let's remember that innocent people have not only been executed unjustly, but also received all sorts of other punishments, especially serving time in prison, sometimes even life sentences. But as deplorable as that is, it makes absolutely no sense to abolish punishments because some people may be convicted unjustly. We would have no penalties at all for anything because we might run the risk of convicting the wrong guy. No, this is not the solution. Because if we stop at capital punishment, if we do away with the death penalty, why not other punishments as well? Where should we draw the line without being arbitrary? No, the real solution is a clean-up of our justice system. That's where we need change, not in the penalties.
So much for this issue. More objections and responses coming in the next installment, plus the Novus Ordo establishment's attempts to change the Church's teaching on capital punishment. So, much ahead. May our Lord bless you.
Editor's Note: So many of the post-conciliar bishops today refer to those clinging to the true Roman Catholic traditions that were in vogue for 2000 years prior to the reforms of Vatican II as 'fossils,' 'dinosaurs,' 'old folks who will die off soon.' We beg to differ and offer as proof the youthful wisdom and enthusiasm of the younger generation in the Traditional Insights of Mario Derksen who exemplifies the thinking of many more young men and women today who realize the new thinking of the post-conciliar church does not add up to true Catholic teaching. Thus they long for those traditions so tried and true. His insight shows great promise, optimism and hope for the future of Holy Mother Church.
Note: [bold, brackets and italicized words used for emphasis]
For past columns by Mario Derksen, see Archives for www.DailyCatholic.org/2002mdi.htm
June 10-30, 2002
volume 13, no. 103
Mario Derksen's young and refreshing TRADITIONAL INSIGHTS