September 2002
volume 13, no. 105

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The Humanism of
John Paul II
    Part Twelve:
    On Death and Life (V)

Since Vatican II irrational contradictions and catechetical cover-ups have incarcerated True Catholic Doctrine, specifically regarding Capital Punishment!

      The Catechism goes on: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means…."
      
    Here we go again! "Should"! What's a Catholic to get out of this? What kind of teaching method is this? The very purpose of the Catechism is to teach the Catholic Faith. With such ambiguous statements, only confusion can result. Practically speaking, what is a state to do according to this Catechism? May or may it not impose the death penalty? "Should" and "shouldn't" won't get us very far.


   The names this summer are familiar to anyone who has seen a headline or been within earshot of a radio or TV. Samantha Runnion, Rilya Wilson, Jennifer Short, Elizabeth Smart, Erica Pratt, Danielle van Dam, Casey Williamson - these are the names of beautiful little girls who were abducted this year and are either now dead or missing, with the exception of Erica Pratt, who, through a miracle, managed to free herself and escape, or else she too might have been a victim of sexual assault and murder.

   The news of late has been sickening, as we kept hearing of yet another child abduction, rape, and murder. How many more? Mind you, these are just the high-profile televised cases of child abduction, rape, and murder. Who knows how many there really are?

   I'm bringing this up in my fifth installment on the death penalty for obvious reasons-the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of little innocent children is a perfect example of a crime meriting the death penalty. That's right: death. And as I mentioned in my last installment, God commanded the death penalty for cases like these. I wonder: will anti-death penalty activists, including the Pope, be so bold as to publicly beg for the lives of the murderers of those little girls? The Pope asking the U.S. to spare the life of Timothy McVeigh was scandalous enough - but will he do the same for David Westerfield, for instance, supposing that Westerfield is given the death penalty for the murder of Danielle van Dam? Honestly, I doubt he will, or that anyone will, for that matter. I think those who usually go against the death penalty publicly will be silent for those cases involving the sexual abuse and murders of little children - because they know it will make for bad publicity. But this should tell them something. Every fiber in one's being should tell one that such crimes deserve death! And when the Natural Law is further endorsed by the Creator Himself commanding death for such people, the "we support every man's right to a natural death" position not only rings hollow but is in fact a rebellion against God! "Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Isaias 5:20), the Lord warned.

   In the U.S., most if not all of the states that have the death penalty either have lethal injection only or let one choose between lethal injection and some other method. Now, let me ask you something: why the big fuss about the death penalty? What better death could you think of than being put to sleep and having a Catholic priest at your side until moments before? I can't think of a better death to save your soul. You will know the exact time and date, and you will have ample means of making your peace with God. How could anyone consider this as violating the dignity of a person? It's the best death you could have. And of course we must greatly desire and pray for the repentance and conversion of anyone receiving the death sentence (or any other kind of sentence, for that matter), even people who have done great evil. And the family of the victim of the criminal must forgive the man to be executed: "For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences" (St. Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiving those who have sinned against us is not optional. It is necessary for salvation. As far as the application of the death sentence in the U.S. is concerned, I just wish that the litigation procedures were a lot swifter and more efficient than they are, because I have the feeling that it would be a much better deterrent for someone to know that if he kills someone today and gets caught, he could himself be dead as early as a few months from now. Wouldn't that perhaps deter these people further? I would think so. If David Westerfield or Alejandro Avila are indeed guilty of sexual assault on a child and murder, and if there are no further appeals, I would lobby for their execution as early as a week later. Why does the government have to put people on death row for so many years, sometimes even for decades? It makes no sense to me. I also don't understand the use of such complicated methods of killing. For Timothy McVeigh, for instance, they had to import several chemicals from who knows where plus the sedating stuff, and then they had to hook him up with that needle and all that, and I wonder: why? Why the all the cost? Why all the expenditure? Why not simply use one gun and one bullet and get it over with? One shot in the head would do.

   Anyway, I needed to write this little introduction because of the horrific events that had passed between this installment and my last one, namely the bombardment of news about missing children that had been abducted and were found sexually molested and dead. Let me get back now to where we left off last time, and start examining the novel teachings regarding the death penalty by Pope John Paul II and the New Catechism.

   The 1992 edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, declared by Pope John Paul II as "a sure norm for teaching the faith" and endorsed by the same as "a valid and legitimate and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion" (New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing Co., p.5), has the following to say about capital punishment:

    2266 Preserving the common good of society required rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason 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. For analogous reasons those holding authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge.

       The primary effect of punishment 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. Moreover, punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons. Finally punishment has a medicinal value; as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender [Cf. Lk 23:40-43].

    2267 If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and 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. [Cross-reference here to 2306]

   Now, compare this to the second (1997) edition of the New Catechism (quoting from the Modifications from the Editio Typica booklet, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1998):
    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. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. 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.

    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.

       Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who had committed an offense incapable of doing harm-without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself-the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent" [John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56].

   There is so much to say about both the 1992 version and the 1997 version that I don't know where to start. Let me, therefore, walk you through the whole thing, beginning with the 1992 version, from the very start, and interject my comments:
    "2266 Preserving the common good of society required rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason 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."
  Note here first that the only reason given for the traditional teaching is the preservation of the common good. Nothing in here about justice, retribution, and God's command. Secondly, the Catechism here says that "the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged…." - a merely factual statement about something in the past. Nowhere does the Catechism say, "Therefore the Church has always taught that…."-which would denote continuity of the perennial teaching. Instead, the Catechism only makes a statement about what the Church taught in the past, without approving or disapproving it. This is a perfect example of Vatican II ambiguity. One could read this in two ways: the traditional Catholic would understand this to mean that the Church now continues to uphold the traditional teaching, whereas the modernist might think this means that that was only the traditional teaching, and we've moved on now.
    Next: "For analogous reasons those holding authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their charge."
  Alright, but note that this has nothing to do with capital punishment. It addresses rather the right to self-defense, as in a just war, for instance.
    The Catechism further: "The primary effect of punishment is to redress the disorder caused by the offense."
  Note that this says something you may have been unaware of when you read it. It says the primary effect (not purpose!) of punishment is the redressing of the disorder caused by the offense. Now, let me ask you something. Besides the doubtfulness of this claim, why in the world should the Catechism talk about "effect" here? Wouldn't it be the perfect time and place now to address the purpose of punishment? Up to this point, the Catechism has not yet clearly said anything about whether capital punishment is right or wrong and why.
    So we move on: "When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment has the effect of preserving public order and the safety of persons."
  No argument there. But again we hear about effects, and still we have not been told about the purpose or morality of capital punishment.
    Next: "Finally punishment has a medicinal value; as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender [Cf. Lk 23:40-43]."
  Ah, here's the Newchurch's "should" morality. Such-and-such "should" be done. What's that mean? What kind of a moral authority says "should"? "Should" does not place a strict obligation on one. It is more of a "suggestion" or "encouragement," and this is precisely the kind of language we've heard from the Vatican since the Council (you know, things like "the Tabernacle SHOULD be placed in the center of the sanctuary"). Imagine a father telling his 16-year-old son that he "should" be home by 10 o'clock, or that he "should not" fornicate. When I was in high school, I remember a very powerful saying posted in dean's office: "If God had wanted us to be tolerant, he would have given us the 10 Suggestions." Exactly right! Very well put!

   But to get back to my original point, just what does the Catechism mean when it says that the punishment "should" contribute to the correction of the offender? Specifically, how is this supposed to work with the death penalty, the topic under discussion? Obviously, capital punishment does not have a medicinal value, and therefore it is not true to say that punishment as such has medicinal, or offender-correcting, value, and this certainly is not the primary purpose of punishment, in case anyone might think that. The only sense in which one could say that capital punishment can have rehabilitating value is that its swift execution might bring the offender to repentance and thus restore his life supernaturally, as I had suggested in an earlier installment.

    The Catechism goes on: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means…."
   Here we go again! "Should"! What's a Catholic to get out of this? What kind of teaching method is this? The very purpose of the Catechism is to teach the Catholic Faith. With such ambiguous statements, only confusion can result. Practically speaking, what is a state to do according to this Catechism? May or may it not impose the death penalty? "Should" and "shouldn't" won't get us very far.

   Come on, if you intend to make somebody a morally virtuous person, you don't tell him he "should not" commit sin. You tell him he "must not" commit sin. In my view, the simple reason why the New Catechism puts "should" in its sentence is because it would have clearly contradicted previous Church teaching by insisting that if bloodless means are sufficient, the state "must" spare the life of the offender. I think that's the only reason. But the desired effect is achieved nonetheless: everyone who reads "should limit" understands "must limit," at least in practical situations when the teaching is recalled.

    The sentence quoted above is concluded thus: "….because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person."
  Pardon my academic immaturity and ignorance, but what in the world are the "concrete conditions of the common good"? If they are so concrete, why are they not enumerated in the Catechism? Really, someone trying to figure out what the Church says about capital punishment will get nothing from this catechism, only ambiguous rhetoric that takes no real position and mixes facts with confusing insinuations.

   Oh, and the "dignity of the human person" argument. Of course. They had to put that in. "Bloodless means . . . are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person." What's that supposed to mean? There are two options:

(1) Bloodless means don't violate the dignity of the human person; and neither does capital punishment.

(2) Bloodless means don't violate the dignity of the human person; but capital punishment does

   Now, neither is tenable. And here's why. If (1) is true, then what's the fuss all about? If (2) is true, then the Catholic Church has violated the dignity of the human person for 2,000 years. Gee, did the Church not discover the dignity of man until Vatican II? Or, worse yet, until the 1992 Catechism? This is what the neo-Catholic has to admit if he wishes to push his anti-death penalty agenda.

   But the worst is perhaps yet to come. The 1992 edition of the Catechism puts a cross-reference here to 2306. What's paragraph 2306 say? You're not going to believe your eyes:

    2306 Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death. [Cf. Gaudium et Spes 78.5]
   This is simply outrageous! This is preaching pacifism! But pacifism, the notion that violence may never be used, is a moral evil. This paragraph says that people can be pacifists, whereas that's not true. For example, if someone attacks your little son or daughter with a knife, you don't stand by and wave a banner that says, "Please don't hurt her." Instead, you do everything you possibly can to protect your child, even killing the offender if necessary. Oh, yes, but that would entail "destruction and death," wouldn't it? Yes indeed, but destruction and death of the offender, rather than your innocent child!

   Let me again provide you with the link to an excellent refutation of pacifism by a Townhall.com columnist: http://www.townhall.com/columnists/donfeder/printdf20011107.shtml.

   To get back at paragraph 2306, just what in the world is meant by "those means of defense available to the weakest"? What is that? We are not told. Nor does the paragraph give the slightest hint as to how a pacifist could possibly harm the "rights and obligations of other men and societies." Perhaps the author of that passage didn't know either and just wanted to be on the safe side in case someone, like me, was objecting. Then we hear blah-blah about "legitimate witness" to the risks of violence that the pacifists supposedly bear. I can't believe it. And this, folks, is cross-referenced to the treatment on the death penalty! What utter claptrap. Oh, and what kind of authority is cited in the text? You got it! Vatican II! In fact, Vatican II only. On top of that, the document cited is one of the most pernicious of them, Gaudium et Spes.

   But, while this hippie catechism endorses pacifism, we Catholics must stick to the perennial truth beautifully expressed by the authoritative Roman Catechism, also known as the "Catechism of the Council of Trent," which states in no uncertain terms:

    "Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, 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."
   Did you read that? Capital punishment is an "act of paramount obedience"! Note that this says nothing about capital punishment only being an option because there ain't no effective penal system around. No, it has nothing to do with that. We're talking here about the death penalty as such, not as conditioned by circumstances, society, or the times, but as such.

   I see that I'm running out of space, so I must postpone my treatment of the 1997 version of the Catechism's stance on the death penalty till then.

   I think that a good exhaustive catechism should state, explain, and demonstrate:

  • what capital punishment is
  • that it is a moral option under certain circumstances;
  • that it is a moral obligation under certain circumstances;
  • why capital punishment is morally acceptable;
  • that the Church has always taught this and therefore continues to do so now!
None of this is done in the New Catechism.

  

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



September 2002
volume 13, no. 105
Mario Derksen's young and refreshing TRADITIONAL INSIGHTS
www.DailyCatholic.org
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