The Humanism of|
John Paul II
On Death and Life (IV)
Refuting the tall tales being spread from Rome to Texas on the total humanizing of the death penalty.
"Let's be clear: I am not merely using the Old Testament. The New Testament supports capital punishment just as much. What I'm using the Old Testament for is showing that God positively commanded the death penalty, and that therefore it cannot be evil. It was not optional for the Israelites to carry out the death sentence. They couldn't say to God, "Well, we'll put the guy behind bars for life. That'll do. No shedding of blood. We support every human being's right to a natural death." NO WAY! "
This is part IV of my exposition of true Catholic teaching on the death penalty. I will now examine a few more common objections to the death sentence and then proceed with the attempts of the Newchurch to change the Catholic doctrine into an outright opposition to the death penalty.
(5) "In the book of Genesis, Cain kills Abel, but God puts a mark on Cain so that nobody will kill him. This shows God does not approve of capital punishment."
Any argument that suggests that God does not approve of capital punishment as such is ridiculous because of God's clear instructions to punish by death certain criminals, as evidenced in chapter 22 of the book of Exodus. God cannot positively command something that is evil, for that would contradict His divine perfection and benevolence. Hence, capital punishment is a proper from of punishment in the eyes of God.
Now, it is true that in Genesis 4, God shields Cain from being killed by putting a mark on him: "Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the earth, and from thy face I shall be hid, and I shall be a vagabond and a fugitive on the earth: every one therefore that findeth me, shall kill me. And the Lord said to him [Cain]: No, it shall not so be: but whosoever shall kill Cain, shall be punished sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, that whosoever found him should not kill him. And Cain went out from the face of the Lord, and dwelt as a fugitive on the earth at the east side of Eden" (Genesis 4:14-16).
So, what do we make of this? Whoever would kill Cain would be punished sevenfold. Does this not sound like a complete opposition to capital punishment on God's part, for even a severe a crime as murder? No, it cannot, as I already suggested, because God would not later sanction that which is evil: "He that striketh a man with a will to kill him, shall be put to death" (Exodus 21:12). Here God decrees the death penalty. The death penalty therefore cannot be wrong or else God, Who is all-good and all-holy, could not command it. It is true that in the case of Cain, God specifically wanted men not to kill him, but it seems to me that the reason why is a mystery which will not be revealed until the Coming of the Lord.
(6) "God allowing the death penalty in the Old Testament proves nothing. God also allowed slavery and divorce, for instance, and that's wrong."
Several very important things here. First, while God allowed divorce, slavery, and polygamy, none of these were positively commanded by God, totally unlike the death penalty. So capital punishment is in an entirely different moral class. For instance, in Exodus 21:2, the Sacred Scripture says: "If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years shall he serve thee; in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing." Note here that God is not commanding the Israelites to have slaves (servants). Rather, He is merely implicitly permitting them to have slaves. The verse here talks about the regulation of slaves and therefore is an implicit endorsement of slavery. But this is a far cry from God commanding the Israelites to have slaves. This difference is important because the death penalty, unlike slavery, is firmly commanded by God, not merely permitted.
Secondly, what is referred to in other translations as "slaves" is more correctly rendered as "servants," as the Douay Bible has it. When we 21st century people think of slaves and slavery, what comes to mind right away is the horrible atrocities committed by white men against blacks in the United States mostly during the 1800's. But this is not the kind of slavery we read about in the Sacred Scriptures. God asked the Israelites to treat their servants well. Also, as pointed out in Leviticus 22: 10-11, the servants or slaves had some privileges which even some Israelites did not.
In order to understand slavery in the Bible better, it is important to keep in mind that, in a sense, we are all slaves, namely, either slaves to good or slaves to evil. The man who thinks he is "free" by doing whatever he wishes, especially sin, is deceiving himself. He is a slave of his own passions, a slave of sin, a slave of the devil (St. John 8:34). We, however, must be slaves of Christ and of virtue.
With this in mind, let us approach Leviticus 25:44-46: "Let your bondmen, and your bondwomen, be of the nations that are round about you: And of the strangers that sojourn among you, or that were born of them in your land. These you shall have for servants: And by right of inheritance shall leave them to your posterity, and shall possess them for ever. But oppress not your brethren the children of Israel by might."
To understand this better, we must remember that Israel was the chosen nation, and the other peoples were not. Being a servant to an Israelite was actually a great grace, at least supernaturally speaking, for one was introduced to the true religion. If they were circumcised, then the servants themselves were considered Israelites, via "adoption." In other words, nothing better could happen to a pagan than to be made a servant in Israel! As a friend of mine put it, "Better to be a doorman in Heaven than a manager in hell!"
The issue of slavery in the Bible is quite complex and deserves more space than we can give it here. However, due to space constraints, I must end it here and move on.
Quickly, regarding divorce, of course Christ our Lord explained the permission - not command! - of divorce in the Old Testament Himself in St. Matthew 19:7-8.
(7) "You can hardly use the Old Testament to endorse capital punishment, because capital punishment was decreed for such things as kidnapping, striking a parent, breaking the Sabbath, adultery, etc."
Let's be clear: I am not merely using the Old Testament. The New Testament supports capital punishment just as much. What I'm using the Old Testament for is showing that God positively commanded the death penalty, and that therefore it cannot be evil. It was not optional for the Israelites to carry out the death sentence. They couldn't say to God, "Well, we'll put the guy behind bars for life. That'll do. No shedding of blood. We support every human being's right to a natural death." NO WAY!
Secondly, in answer to the question, the fact that God decreed the death sentence in punishment towards particular sins and crimes that no longer receive the death penalty, is irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is only the morality of capital punishment as such. That is, I am only concerned with defending the death penalty as a legitimate, moral, and God-commanded type of punishment. It is wrong to oppose capital punishment as such, as many people in the Novus Ordo establishment are now doing. When death is an appropriate means of punishment does not have any bearing on whether it is in principle. God, being all-good, would not command capital punishment, for instance, for petty theft or an insignificant lie. I would think His goodness demands that the punishment be somewhat proportionate to the crime or sin committed. Therefore, what crimes and sins should receive the death sentence is entirely dependent on the will of God, so the fact that certain sins or crimes no longer receive the death sentence now because of the will of man is not much of an issue.
There are many incidents in the Old Testament where God withdrew His graces because of the weakness of the people such as Ezechiel 20: 25-26. Remember, from all time man and the angels were given free will. In the times of the New Covenant God speaks through His Church (St. Matthew 18:18; St. Luke 10:16; Ephesians 3:10), and the Church therefore, by Our Lord's charge in Matthew 16: 19, has the authority to relegate what sins should receive what kind of punishment. Of course, here we're supposing something that is virtually absent nowadays, namely, the union between Church and state under the Social Kingship of Christ.
IV. The Newchurch's Attempts to Change Catholic Doctrine
Before Vatican II, the Catholic endorsement of the death penalty as morally acceptable and appropriate for certain severe crimes was beyond dispute. The teaching had been carried over from the time of the Apostles all the way to Pius XII's death in 1958. But then came John XXIII. Then came the encyclical Pacem In Terris. Then came Vatican II. And of course the rest is history. With its overemphasis on man and a distorted view of his dignity, the Novus Ordo establishment started to make capital punishment, perennially endorsed by the Church, a "life issue."
So, for instance, we heard Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., make the following statements back in April of 2002:
"When Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia publicly disputes church teaching on the death penalty, the message he sends is not all that different from Frances Kissling disputing what the church teaches about abortion…..[although abortion and the death penalty] don't have equivalent moral gravity, the impulse to pick and choose what we're going to accept is exactly the same kind of 'cafeteria Catholicism' in both cases" [quoted from http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/20020410.htm].
This is simply outrageous! Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic who was raised before Vatican II came around, did nothing other than uphold that which every Pope in the Church upheld until 1958! Now he is equated with a pro-abortion apostate by the name of Frances Kissling! This is beyond disgusting. This is beyond offensive. Justice Scalia is merely upholding perennial Church teaching, but due to the innovators, modernists, and humanists, he is now almost universally derided as a dissenter! Archbishop Chaput should be ashamed of himself. He is quite right in condemning Frances Kissling and the pro-abortion lobby that calls itself "Catholic." I'm glad he's speaking out against abortion. But you see, in the Novus Ordo, speaking out against abortion comes with a price. You also have to speak out against capital punishment, something in a completely different moral category. This is how the Newchurch works. All the good things you want to do as a cleric come with a trade-off. Want to say the traditional Mass? Gotta say the New Mass too. Want to oppose modernism? Gotta claim that it's everywhere but in the Vatican. Want to believe in Fatima? Gotta believe that the Third Secret has been revealed and that it's all a thing of the past. Thank God we have traditional orders like the Society of St. Pius X who refuse to play this game.
But let's get back to the issue at hand. The Newchurch has tried to make capital punishment a "life issue," i.e. to put it on a par with the issue of abortion. How can this be? What happened between 1958 and now that turned things around so drastically? The answer: Vatican II happened. John XXIII happened. Paul VI happened. John Paul II happened. That's what happened.
The Newchurch does not distinguish innocent life from guilty life. Rather, it's all the same human life now with the same dignity. There is no difference. And that's what John Paul II calls the "Gospel of Life." In reality, it's humanism. How deep this humanism now sits in the Church I have laid bare in a previous series on Vatican II and humanism.
Now, I am not suggesting that Vatican II changed the teaching on the death penalty. Rather, Vatican II, with its exaggerated view of man and his dignity, was the catalyst for humanism to be injected into the modern Magisterium. And as we know, every encyclical of John Paul II has tons of references to that council. So, Vatican II was the starting point of the New Humanism, and with John Paul II, capital punishment is now entirely condemned, as he indicated in a speech in 1999 in Missouri. But even if, for the sake of argument, we should grant that the Pope is not entirely against capital punishment, the American hierarchy certainly understands him this way, and everyone who can read between the lines does. Therefore, we have the bishops of Texas, for instance, saying the following:
"Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States in 1976, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have repeatedly condemned its use as a violation of the sanctity of human life. Capital punishment, along with abortion and euthanasia, is inconsistent with the belief of millions of Texans that all life is sacred" [from http://www.cjd.org/paper/cappun.html].
What do we have here? Three unacceptable and reprehensible errors:
(1) Capital punishment is put on a par with abortion, thus making the death penalty an intrinsically morally reprehensible crime.
(2) Capital punishment is declared immoral on the grounds that it violates the sanctity of human life.
(3) The opposition to capital punishment is based on the majority of what Texans believe.
In contrast to these errors, the truth is that:
(1) Capital punishment is not a crime, and certainly not one like abortion, but was commanded by God in the Old Testament and is endorsed in the New Testament. To suggest that God can positively command evil is blasphemy. The death penalty is not a sin or a crime, but instead a morally acceptable type of temporal punishment which the Church has always affirmed until 1958.
(2) Capital punishment does not violate the sanctity of human life, any more than any other type of temporal punishment violates the dignity of human life. Per this reasoning, we would have to conclude that even doing so much as imprisoning people is wrong. Besides, capital punishment is executed on the guilty, not the innocent (that is, executing an innocent person is a grave moral evil), and those guilty of heinous crimes like murder have lost their right to life in virtue of their crime.
(3) What most Texans believe is irrelevant. A Texan majority does not make the moral law. God does.
Let me now quickly go through the rest of the bishops' statement, interjecting comments where appropriate:
"It is important that we address this issue at this time. Since 1975 Texas has executed more than 100 men, some of whom were mentally retarded or mentally ill
[Comment: Being mentally ill should not absolve one from being executed. If the mentally ill person is truly not responsible for the crime in virtue of the mental defect, then the person should not be declared guilty in the first place. Hence, the question of the execution of the mentally retarded should not arise.-MD]. We currently have more than 400 men and women on death row
[Comment: That says a lot about crime and law enforcement in Texas; it doesn't say anything about the morality of executing the guilty].. We sympathize with the profound pain of the victims of brutal crimes, nevertheless, we believe that the compasssionate [sic] example of Christ calls us to respect the God-given image found even in hardened criminals
[Comment: We must forgive them, indeed; but they do not escape their temporal punishment, by means of which they can actually exterminate much of the temporal punishment due to their sins.-MD].
"We must now take bolder steps to change the attitude of the American people regarding capital punishment as a means of dealing with a complex issue. It is unfortunate that a large majority of Americans, including Catholics, support capital punishment as a means of dealing with crime, even in light of strong evidence of its ineffectiveness, its racially-biased application and its staggering costs, both materially and emotionally
[Comment: Whether or not capital punishment is effective in terms of deterrence is irrelevant, since that is not the primary purpose of the punishment; on the other hand, capital punishment, we know, is very effective in rendering the aggressor harmless.-MD].
"Captial [sic] punishment has not proved to be a deterrent to crime. States which have the death penalty do not have lower rates of violent crime than states without the death penalty. All other western democracies have abolished capital punishment and have lower rates of violent crime
[Comment: As above. And I think it is quite questionable whether democracies without capital punishment do indeed have lower crime rates. Either way, deterrence is not something too important here, and deterrence can never be proved or disproved because one cannot measure what's not there.-MD].
"The imposition of the death penalty has resulted in racial bias. In fact, the race of the victim has been proven to be the determining factor in deciding whether to prosecute capital cases. Of those executed, nearly 90% were convicted of killing whites, although people of color are more than half of all homicide victims in the United States. More than 60% of the persons on death rows in California and Texas are either Black, Latino, Asian or Native American
[Comment: It is horrible of course that some people are not fully prosecuted because they are white. However, what matters here is whether those who are on death row are truly guilty-whether or not they happen to be members of other so-called "races" is irrelevant. The only thing to be deplored here is that certain whites are not prosecuted - not that other races are.-MD].
"In the State of Texas, it costs $2.3 million on an average to prosecute and execute each capital case as compared to $400,000 for life imprisonment
[Comment: So, what's that an argument for or against? That we shouldn't prosecute people? I never understood why executing somebody has to be this expensive. Why can't they just shoot the offender with one bullet and it would be over and done with? Be that as it may, if they're concerned about money, the Catholic bishops should lobby for making executions cheaper, not for getting rid of them.-MD].
"Tragically, innocent people are sometimes put to death by the state. It has been proven in 350 capital convictions over the past 20 years that the convicted person had not committed the crime. Of these cases, 25 people were executed before their innocence was discovered
[Comment: That is unacceptable and tragic indeed. But to get rid of the death penalty would be the wrong thing to do. Instead, make sure that the justice system works better. Otherwise, you might as well abolish ALL sorts of punishment because you might convict the wrong guy. The real solution here is to work on the system, not the punishment.-MD].
"Capital punishment does nothing for the families of victims of violent crime other than prolonging their suffering through many wasted years of criminal proceedings. Rather than fueling their cry for vengeance, the state could better serve them by helping them come to terms with their grief
[Comment: Feelings of vengeance must indeed not be fueled. In fact, they are sinful. But that still says nothing about the morality of the punishment itself.-MD]. We applaud the work of support groups of victims' families who have joined together to work toward reconciliation and rehabilitation of the people who caused tragic loss in their families.
"While human logic alone seems to support the abolition of the death penalty
[Comment: Oh, give me a break!-MD], as moral leaders we call for alternatives because of its moral incongruity in today's world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, '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.
"'Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm--without definitely 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 nonexistent'
[Comment: Well, the new Catechism is wrong, but I'll address that next time.-MD].
"In our modern society, we have means of keeping an offender from harming others. Although in previous times people of faith have employed capital punishment, today we have the ability to realize better the principles of mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love for all people, as evoked in the Hebrew Scriptures by the Prophet Ezekiel: 'As I live, says the Lord GOD, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man's conversion, that he may live. Turn, turn from your evil ways'
[Comment: Of course God doesn't desire the death of the sinner. But He nevertheless sends souls to hell. It's called justice. The Scriptures also say that God desires all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), and yet not everyone will be saved (St. Matthew 22:14). My goodness, what kind of exegetical ability do these bishops have. Here the bishops are basically accusing God of not being merciful, loving, and forgiving enough.-MD].
"We believe that capital punishment contributes to a climate of violence in our state. This cycle of violence can be diminished by life imprisonment without parole, when necessary. The words of Ezekiel are a powerful reminder that repentance not revenge, conversion not death are better guides for public policy on the death penalty than the current policy of violence for violence, death for death
[Comment: Yada, yada, yada….-MD].
"As religious leaders, we are deeply concerned that the State of Texas is usurping the sovereign dominion of God over human life by employing capital punishment for heinous crimes.
[Comment: You've got to be kidding! God Himself commanded the death penalty. And the Church has taught its morality for 2,000 years. So, what are you talking about, "usurping the sovereign dominion of God"??-MD]. We implore all citizens to call on our elected officials to reject the violence of the death penalty and replace it with non-lethal means of punishment which are suffient [sic] to protect society from violent offenders of human life and public order."
All of this, again, taken from http://www.cjd.org/paper/cappun.html.
I just wish the bishops were as concerned about abortion and Catholics voting Pro-Life as they are about the rights of murderers and other heinous criminals. But of course that would be politically incorrect.
Anyway, we've come a long way. More on the new teaching on capital punishment next time, when we will examine John Paul II's teachings and the new Catechism.
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
MID-SUMMER HIATUS ISSUE
July 15 - September 1, 2002
volume 13, no. 104
Mario Derksen's young and refreshing TRADITIONAL INSIGHTS