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October 4-6, 2002
volume 13, no. 109

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The Humanism of
John Paul II
    Part Thirteen:
    On Death and Life (VI)

Changing Doctrines

      
    "...the Council of Trent said that the just application of the death sentence,'far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to [the Fifth] Commandment which prohibits murder'! And now compare this to what the Pope says about the death penalty, calling it "cruel and unnecessary" and prohibiting the use of capital punishment altogether as inconsistent with the 'Gospel of Life.' It is absolutely baffling. Folks, this is not a 'development,' this is a corruption, precipitated by the new humanist religion that is being imposed upon us by the Newchurch. How ironic that the New Catechism itself should acknowledge that the 'supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh' (par. 675)!!!"
      Picking up where I left off last time, I would now like to examine the contents of the second, i.e. 1997, edition of the New Catechism with regards to capital punishment. I already quoted the relevant text, but I shall do so again now and interject my commentary where appropriate:
    "2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good."
What kind of sense does this make? This is a descriptive statement, not a proscriptive statement. In other words, the Catechism is saying here that the "efforts" of "the state" (which one?) do correspond to the requirement of protecting the people. But this would only make sense if it were a proscriptive statement, i.e. if the Catechism were saying here that the efforts of the state ought to correspond to the requirement of protecting the people. But it's not saying that. It's saying that this is already how it is. But, pardon me, this makes no sense whatsoever, since many countries have unjust laws. But even if the Catechism said "ought to" and made it a proscriptive statement, the sentence would still be misleading as the aim of punishment is not merely to protect the people from the offender.
    "Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense."
Right on! Finally, a really good statement. It's absolutely correct, and an improvement compared to the 1992 version of the Catechism.
    "Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense."
Absolutely correct. This is the proper correction of the error in the first edition which said that the primary effect of punishment is the redressing of the disorder introduced by the crime.
    "When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation."
Alright, more good stuff! Keep it going, absolutely correct.
    "Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party."
Compared to the 1992 version, which talked about "medicinal value," we now have "medicinal purpose"; and the "should" has been replaced by a forceful "must." This is to be applauded. The move from "value" to "purpose" is important, as "value," which denotes how something is, is open to the criticism that I gave in the last installment about the 1992 version, whereas "purpose," which denotes what something is for, is no longer open to that criticism. But at least in the English translation, what used to be rendered as "offender" has now become "guilty party," deliberately avoiding the issue of gender, thus pandering to the feminist movement. Saddening.

   Overall, however, up to this point, the 1997 version of the text dealing with capital punishment is a great improvement over the 1992 version. But, mind you, we all have to pay a price for that improvement. Because, watch out, here comes paragraph 2267:

    "2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person."
Ouch! Here is the core of the novelty. The Church teaching is being misrepresented here as though the only justification for imposing a death sentence were the defense and protection of human lives. This is not so. Ironically, the very same 1997 edition of this Catechism, just sentences earlier, had said that "legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense" and that "punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense" and that "when it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation" (par. 2266).

   HELLO?? As Christopher Ferrara so appropriately asked at this point, "Is not the death penalty a punishment proportionate to the offense of murder? Does it not redress the disorder caused by the offense? Does it not assume the value of expiation-indeed, the supreme expiation-if willingly accepted?" ("Bearing the Sword" in The Latin Mass, Summer 2001, p.79). Thus, the statement in the Catechism that the death penalty may only be imposed "when this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor" is out of sync with the traditional teaching and contradicts its very own principles that it had just enumerated a few lines earlier. It's amazing.

   The part of the quoted paragraph that says that if "non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person" is another big problem. First, the phrase "authority will limit itself to such means" is awkward to say the least. It is a descriptive statement, when it should be proscriptive, and it is blatantly untrue as well. The very fact that the death sentence is given and imposed in numerous countries proves that authority will not limit itself to non-lethal means to protect people's safety. Secondly, the sentence is a modified version from the 1992 edition, which says that "public authority should limit itself to such means" - a proscriptive statement. So why was "should" transformed into "will"? Your guess is probably as good as mine. The final statement, about the "dignity of the human person," was only minimally revised and retains its meaning, compared to the 1992 version. Thus, I have no comment to add to what I said about it in the last installment.

   So, to sum up, what's the essential difference between the 1992 and the 1997 versions of the New Catechism with regards to capital punishment? The core of the change in teaching is to be found in this sentence: "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor" (1997 Catechism, par. 2267). This replaces the 1992 edition, which said something quite different: "the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty" (1992 Catechism, par. 2266).

   This abrupt and total change in Church teaching from 1992 to 1997, over the course of a mere 5 years, is unacceptable. The new teaching is a novelty! It is wrong! But this is precisely what the neo-Catholics will tell you is nothing other than "legitimate doctrinal development." It is not! It is a corruption of the true teaching.

V. The Newchurch's Justification for Changing Catholic Doctrine on Capital Punishment

   So, what reason does the Newchurch bring up for changing the teaching on the death penalty? Just what happened within those 5 years between 1992 and 1997 that made this teaching "develop," as they would have it? The answer is very simple. We can point even to one specific day on which the "development" occurred. It was March 25, 1995. On this day, Pope John Paul II promulgated his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (EV), "The Gospel of Life." So, the question "What happened?" has an easy answer: "Evangelium Vitae happened!" Here are the relevant passages of this encyclical:

    Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform. (EV, 27)

    The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence." Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behavior and be rehabilitated.

    It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. (EV, 56)

   OK, ready for this? The statement that "modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless" without imposing the death sentence is a mere opinion of the Pope and not a matter of faith or morals and therefore outside the Pope's jurisdiction. He cannot possibly bind anybody to accept this claim. In addition, the statement erroneously presupposes that "suppressing crime" is the only purpose of punishment. We know that that's false, as the Pope himself, just 19 paragraphs later, as well as the 1992 Catechism say that one purpose of punishment is the redressing of the disorder introduced by the offense.

   Secondly, the addition "without definitively denying them the chance to reform" is specious as countless people have converted precisely because their end was near because of an impending death sentence. So, for instance, we already see this in the Good Thief St. Dismas, who hung upon a cross next to Our Lord, full of remorse, and recognizing that his execution was the "due reward" for his crime (cf. St. Luke 23:39-42). "Indeed," says Chris Ferrara, "the common experience of mankind is that nothing is more likely to provoke repentance in hardened sinners than imminent execution. The historic accounts of death-row conversions could be set forth endlessly. Even the proudly defiant Timothy McVeigh received the last rites of the Church only minutes before his execution. We do not know if [he] was saved, but who can say that convicted killers languishing in prisons which are sinkholes of immorality are more likely than a condemned man to receive the grace of final penitence?" ("Bearing the Sword," p.76).

So much for who gets a better chance to reform his life.

   In paragraph 56 of EV, the Pope says that "public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom." That's true, but, why are only "personal and social rights" mentioned? GOD'S rights have been infringed upon first of all, and by imposing punishment, the state also exercises God's Justice, as the state's punishment is part of the temporal punishment ordained by God to be inflicted on the offender. The imposition of punishment is also a matter of natural law, as nature itself has been thrown out of balance by a crime committed. Punishment brings back the equilibrium demanded by the God-ordained order of nature.

   Next, we ought to look at this statement in the encyclical EV: "It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society." No, this is by no means "clear." It is indeed clear that "the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated," and that, as the New Catechism says, the punishment must be in proportion to the crime, but it is not at all clear or even rational that the punishment "ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity." If the punishment is supposed to be in proportion to the crime, why in the world would the death penalty not be an option "except in cases of absolute necessity," which is an entirely vague and subjective restriction anyway?

   Finally, the Pope goes on to say that "today . . . , as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases [in which the death penalty can be imposed] are very rare, if not practically non-existent." Ah, there we have it, the so-called "development"! John Paul says it-and the doctrine develops! There you go. One sentence of John Paul II does the job. And what nice typical Vatican II phraseology: "very rare, if not practically non-existent." Karl Rahner would be proud! Saying something without actually saying it, that is a typical Vatican II talent. With this sentence, the Pope has basically condemned the death penalty for all intents and purposes, but without binding himself to a complete reversal of teaching, even though everyone understands it this way. The little backdoor of "if not practically" seems to give him the orthodox excuse should the need arise, eh? Clever. But traditional Catholics won't be fooled. The fact that John Paul II believes the death penalty to be intrinsically evil is clear from a homily he gave on January 27, 1999, when he was visiting St. Louis, MO:

    "The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."
There you have it! Pope John Paul II denies 2,000 years of Church teaching by saying that the death penalty is not a moral option. He finally stated bluntly what I had long suspected him to be really thinking about the death penalty.

   Note how the Pope makes capital punishment a "Pro-Life issue," namely, by saying that Catholics must be "unconditionally pro-life." As if the death penalty had anything to do with the Pro-Life cause! I will get back to this in next week's final installment.

   The novel movement that the lives of criminals of particularly heinous crimes ought to be spared is something the Supreme Pontiff calls "a sign of hope." It is sickening! Folks, it is clear that this is not Catholicism, this is humanism! The cult of man is being advanced here, not the true religion of God! I encourage you here to go back and look at what I wrote in the first installment about what the Church has traditionally taught about capital punishment. For instance, the Council of Trent said that the just application of the death sentence, "far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to [the Fifth] Commandment which prohibits murder"! And now compare this to what the Pope says about the death penalty, calling it "cruel and unnecessary" and prohibiting the use of capital punishment altogether as inconsistent with the "Gospel of Life." It is absolutely baffling. Folks, this is not a "development," this is a corruption, precipitated by the new humanist religion that is being imposed upon us by the Newchurch.

   How ironic that the New Catechism itself should acknowledge that the "supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh" (par. 675)!!!

   But I still ought to comment on the part in EV in which John Paul says that what makes the death penalty now unacceptable is the "steady improvements in the organization of the penal system." This claim, like the other one I already mentioned, is not within the sphere of faith or morals and is merely the Pope's opinion. It has absolutely no binding authority on any Catholic. Secondly, just what might those "steady improvements" be? Chris Ferrara raises some interesting questions regarding this: "Which 'steady improvements' in which 'penal system' make the death penalty unacceptable? May only societies with laggardly penal systems continue to execute convicted murderers in ordinary course? How many 'steady improvements' must prisons achieve before the death penalty [must become] 'very rare, if practically non-existent'? In short, the quality of prison systems seems a rather arbitrary and insubstantial moral criterion for deciding on [the] application of the death penalty. Why should prison conditions alone determine whether a convicted killer is granted clemency?"

   And most interestingly of all, Ferrara asks:

    "Why should only the death penalty be viewed strictly from the perspective of rendering the offender 'harmless,' when all other criminal penalties take into consideration just retribution, expiation, deterrence and aggravating factors such as the number of victims?" ("Bearing the Sword," p.78; italics given).

   Friends, the New Religion has been unmasked! The Newchurch is exposed! This humanistic nonsense has nothing to do with Catholic doctrine. It is humanism, plain and simple, and the pre-Vatican II Popes would have quailed in horror and utter disbelief if they had known in any vivid detail what the modernizers and innovators would do to Holy Mother Church, all the while being called "great," "conservative," and "thoroughly Catholic."

Mario Derksen

    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



October 4, 2002
volume 13, no. 109
Mario Derksen's young and refreshing TRADITIONAL INSIGHTS
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