Thursday, June 17, 2010

Two questions

With the firing squad execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner less than two hours away, I want to ask two questions here:

1. Does the execution of Mr. Gardner meet the conditions specified in the Catechism for the use of the death penalty?

2. Is the use a firing squad today "cruel and unusual" as a method of execution?

Comment thread open for discussion.

UPDATE: Comments now closed.

52 comments:

  1. All I know about his particular case is what the linked article states. So I would say it's unlikely that his case meets the criteria laid out in the Catechism; but I'm not in a position to make a definite judgment.

    As to the "cruel and unusual" charge against a firing squad, I would think just the opposite. A firing squad is almost certain to be quick and deadly. For that matter, a guillotine is perhaps the most painless mode of execution, but it is stained by its association with the French Terror.

    From what I understand, lethal injection really only keeps the spectators from witnessing the pain and trauma that is being inflicted on the prisoner.

    If we're going to execute people, then it seems to me that we should witness the full effect of our judgment: firing squads seem a good way to do this, as does hanging or beheading. I'm more wary of "modern" methods such as lethal injection, that hide the violence being done.

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  2. Isn't it interesting how the news story forgets to tell of the heinous crime the guy committed. Let us recap.

    "Prisoner Ronnie Lee Gardner was transported to Salt Lake's old courthouse.

    He was there on charges stemming from a robbery and shooting death the year before.

    But as he entered the building, Gardner suddenly grabbed a gun left in the courthouse by an accomplice.

    An ABC 4 reporter described what happened next:

    "By the time the shoot-out at Met Hall was over, one attorney was dead, one guard was wounded and Ronnie Lee Gardner had a bullet hole in his lung."

    Gardner was given the death sentence in November of 1985.

    But that was just the beginning of a 25 year legal fight, an effort that includes multiple Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    But one who did not live to see Gardner's execution is Nick Kirk.

    Kirk was the court bailiff who Gardner shot a quarter century ago.

    Badly wounded, Kirk would not return to work for half a year.

    He passed away just before Christmas in 1995.

    His last few years were marked by a pain that never went away, emotional pain and pain from a bullet lodged in his stomach.

    Before he died, Kirk told ABC 4 about that day in April of 1985.

    "When I started to turn around, that's when I seen the gun that Ronnie had. Before I could do anything, he shot me, pushed me against the wall and I went down on my knees."


    So in short, was the death penalty a just penalty? The answer is yes it was. It was most certainly not a cruel or unusual punishment. Again, you should expand your horizons of understanding just punishment past the few sentences in the Catechism.

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  3. 1. Clearly, no. Gardner was imprisoned for 25 years. He was no longer a threat to society. There may be a small number of people who cannot be kept from harming society while imprisoned (perhaps (and only perhaps) certain mobsters, heads of terror cells, others who commit treason, and a few other very narrow categories of wrongdoers). Gardner was not among these groups.

    2. The firing squad is certainly unusual in 2010, but I doubt that it is cruel. I am not a physician. But, it seems as if death is close to instantaneous. Further, Gardner chose that method (he could have chosen a more modern technique, which Robert correctly notes may be more cruel).

    Gardner committed a heinous crime. His evil acts ended the life of an innocent person and forever changed the lives of countless people in painful ways.

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  4. "He was no longer a threat to society. "

    Just because he is not a threat to those outside the prison does not mean that he cannot be sentenced to death. There is the act of retribution that needs to be included to restore the moral order and satisfy outrage for the crimes committed against innocent lives and against God Himself. Although the State can choose to act in a merciful manner, it is not required to do so when such heinous crimes are committed against humanity. It not only for the protection of others in society, it is also for the expiation of the crime committed. This has been stated by many Popes.

    Pope Pius XII said, "When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault..."

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  5. @Matthew:
    There is the act of retribution that needs to be included to restore the moral order and satisfy outrage for the crimes committed against innocent lives and against God Himself.

    There you go on the necessity of retribution again. Though I'm a bit confused that you follow with:
    Although the State can choose to act in a merciful manner, it is not required to do so...
    From your previous arguments, I had taken you to be saying that retribution is indeed a necessary and indispensable part of justice and therefore of the State's responsibility.

    I am glad to see that you agree that the State may use less than the maximum extent of its powers.

    That said, I would ask you: In what way does retribution restore the moral order? It does not return what was taken. It does not restore right relationships. It does not resolve conflict. What, then, is the difference between "retribution" and "vengeance"?

    One last thing. You say:
    It not only for the protection of others in society, it is also for the expiation of the crime committed.
    But, at least in the quotation from Pius XII (do you have a reference for that, please?) my understanding is that it is for the expiation of the condemned man's fault; that is, the prisoner may accept his execution as a penance. But I don't see how the execution "expiates" the crime itself.

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  6. Robert says, "I had taken you to be saying that retribution is indeed a necessary and indispensable part of justice and therefore of the State's responsibility."

    It is necessary. The State however can decide what that just retribution will be. It can decide to merciful if it so chooses, depending if whether or not it can accomplish what it is required to accomplish by the merciful punishment. It does however not have exercise that mercy.

    Robert asks, "In what way does retribution restore the moral order?"

    It attempts to restore to the innocent person and society what was taken by the unjust aggressor's actions. In short it attempts to render what is due to someone. It also attempts to deter others from committing crimes of the same nature in the future. When the punishment given by the State is in proportion to the crime that was committed, then it is doing its job. If the State feels that it can accomplish these things with a more merciful punishment then it can choose to do so. This however is a very fine line to walk, since exacting lenient punishments all of the time, often does not deter those who are not disposed to virtue, for they have little fear of the punishments that will be given to them in the future if they choose to commit a crime. This is why the Death Penalty is not something that needs to be completely abolished, but used with great prudence, and in my opinion more expediently, for the intended ends I mentioned above.

    The Pope Pius XII quote was from an address given Sept 14th, 1952.

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  7. In my opinion, no execution in the United States today would meet the criteria of Catholic moral theology summarized in CCC 2266 and 2267. In particular "The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor." (2267)

    Identity - DNA testing has exonerated enough convicted people to make this a serious question.

    Responsibility - Moral and psychological aptness to bear responsibility is not easily assessed.

    Most importantly in my eyes, killing criminals is not (and please remember that I am limiting my comments to the US) "the only practicable way" to protect society.

    I correspond with a number of Death Row inmates. Of those I know, only one claims to be innocent and he was arrested with a corpse alongside him and other physical evidence linking him to the murders. I am not saying that these are just high-spirited lads who were led astray. Many people who have been condemned to death committed horrific crimes and are likely to commit them again if they ever come back into society.

    As long as society has a way to keep them incarcerated, however, I cannot find in Catholic teaching any justification for killing them.

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  8. Matthew:

    Thanks for the Pius XII citation. I'll look the quote up in its context.

    You write:
    It [retribution] attempts to restore to the innocent person and society what was taken by the unjust aggressor's actions.

    I thought that this was the goal of restitution. So, if I steal from you, I am obliged to return to you what I stole. But in some cases proper restitution is impossible. It is impossible to return or restore what is taken from a victim of murder, for example, or rape, or slander.

    It is in these latter cases, I think, that "retribution" is sought. But this is not the same as restitution. It does not restore what was taken. Rather, it takes from the perpetrator what he took from the victim. (Sometimes, it takes more, going beyond the "eye for an eye" limit.)

    This does seem to me to be a common desire. When restitution is impossible, retribution takes its place.

    However, from a Catholic and Christian perspective, we are called to turn the other cheek and walk an extra mile. We are counseled against (and perhaps even forbidden, though I'm not prepared to make that argument just now,) retribution.

    I expect that you'll reply that the individual cannot morally exact retribution, but the State has an obligation to.

    This is exactly where my question lies. What is the ratio or the reason or purpose or end of the State's authority? What is its final cause?

    Absent a reason the State runs by different moral laws than the individual person, I argue that the State is bound by the same morality as each of us. Therefore, I don't see a role for retribution in the actions of the State.

    I hope my argument is clear. I'm looking forward to your reply.

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  9. Robert writes, "Absent a reason the State runs by different moral laws than the individual person, I argue that the State is bound by the same morality as each of us. Therefore, I don't see a role for retribution in the actions of the State."

    This is certainly a fallacy since the State is an authority separate from individual authority. Retribution is a clear dogmatic teaching that the Church has always taught in relation to just punishment. It is not restitution that we are only interested in. It is not enough just to give back the merchandise that someone has stolen. Do you think that society would run civilly if you just made criminals return their stolen goods and then they get to go free? The common sense answer is no. There would be a crime spree like no tomorrow if the State was in the business of just making people give back what they took. Retribution not only attempts to restore what was lost, but it attempts to render what is due to them and society, which includes a form of punishment. You seem to have this complex of not wanting to acknowledge that a just punishment should be exacted for crimes committed against the innocent and against the state. You make it seem as if all is well as long as you can give back what was stolen, then you can let the criminal go on his merry way.

    In cases like murder, the crime is so heinous that the retribution must be extreme in an attempt to return what is due to the innocent and to civil society. This is not a matter of not turning the other cheek. I would love to see how society runs in your State. A guy steals a car from someone and you catch him, and then you turn the other cheek, making him give back the car. All is well right? Some guy like Richard Ramirez rapes and murders 13 innocent women and little girls, then laughs about it in the courtroom after he's caught. No worries guys, we have him in jail where most people are safe from him, justice is served? I don't think so. I would not want to live in a society where there is no retribution for the crimes committed. Crimes as heinous as these deserve to have just punishment exacted. He should have been amputated from society 20 years ago. As it stands now, he has been able to avoid his death sentence, get married in prison, have visitations with his wife, all the while the families and society that suffered for his crimes have not received justice. This whole notion of the criminal benefiting from being spared his life has been a complete failure in this case as well. He is non-repentent.

    Cardinal Dulles gives an outline of the definition of what retribution is. Maybe this will help you understand it better.

    "In principle, guilt calls for punishment. The graver the offense, the more severe the punishment ought to be. In Holy Scripture, as we have seen, death is regarded as the appropriate punishment for serious transgressions. Thomas Aquinas held that sin calls for the deprivation of some good, such as, in serious cases, the good of temporal or even eternal life. By consenting to the punishment of death, the wrongdoer is placed in a position to expiate his evil deeds and escape punishment in the next life. After noting this, St. Thomas adds that even if the malefactor is not repentant, he is benefited by being prevented from committing more sins. Retribution by the State has its limits because the State, unlike God, enjoys neither omniscience nor omnipotence. According to Christian faith, God "will render to every man according to his works" at the final judgment (Romans 2:6; cf. Matthew 16:27). Retribution by the State can only be a symbolic anticipation of God's perfect justice."

    Suggested reading:
    Right and Reason: Fagothey

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  10. You may want to check out this article on Aquinas and the State. It is the best article I have found on the net that explains it in a short concise manner. Maybe it will help you understand the difference between the State and individuals. Enjoy!

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/aqui-pol/

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  11. Mr. Bellisario wrote: ". A guy steals a car from someone and you catch him, and then you turn the other cheek, making him give back the car. All is well right? Some guy like Richard Ramirez rapes and murders 13 innocent women and little girls, then laughs about it in the courtroom after he's caught. No worries guys, we have him in jail where most people are safe from him, justice is served? I don't think so. I would not want to live in a society where there is no retribution for the crimes committed."

    I will take the time to read more about Aquinas and the State and I will look for a copy of Right and Reason. In the meantime, you may find me simplistic but I do not see anything in Catholic doctrine and moral theology that allows the individual or the State to perform functions that are reserved to God.

    In another place he writes: "Do you think that society would run civilly if you just made criminals return their stolen goods and then they get to go free?"

    A bit of a red herring, isn't it? We are not left with a false choice between killing criminals and releasing them. There is another possibility, that of incarceration - and in the case of capital crimes, incarceration for the rest of their natural lives. Deprivation of liberty, of privacy, of freedom of association, of the ability to work, and much more. This is also retribution, is it not?

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  12. Nunty wriites,"In the meantime, you may find me simplistic but I do not see anything in Catholic doctrine and moral theology that allows the individual or the State to perform functions that are reserved to God."

    It does so as best as it can. Do you disagree with Cardinal Dulles' explanation of the principle above?

    Nunty writes,"There is another possibility, that of incarceration - and in the case of capital crimes, incarceration for the rest of their natural lives. "

    Yes that is a possibility, but for some crimes it is not a fitting just punishment. There are other considerations that need to be weighed as well. For more on that you may want to read an article I wrote on the subject.

    http://catholicchampion.blogspot.com/2010/06/keeping-death-penalty-alive.html

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  13. It should be a straightforward matter to produce a dogmatic declaration for a dogmatic teaching. Someone who disagrees doesn't know what the word "dogmatic" means.

    Of course perhaps Matthew simply made a typo, and meant "doctrinal" not "dogmatic". The problem with conceding that though is that the Catechism is itself a Magisterial statement of doctrine, a "sure norm" under the Apostolic authority of the Pope who promulgated it.

    At the end of the day there are some Catholics whose personal hermeneutic amounts to "Catechism, schmatechism". It seems to me that argument isn't a very effective corrective for that particular malady.

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  14. What are you talking about Zippy? Are you even a part of the same conversation we are having? The things I have talked about here are part of the natural law, and they are dogmatic principles that have been given over and over by the Church in many Encyclicals. They will never change. You simply cannot just read one line out of the Catechism and call yourself an expert on the subject of the authority of the State and just punishment. Try reading the Encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII and maybe you will learn a bit about the natural law and immutable teachings of the Church.

    Here is an interesting quote from Pope Leo XIII

    "What has been said of the liberty of individuals is no less applicable to them when considered as bound together in civil society. For, what reason and the natural law do for individuals. that human law promulgated for their good, does for the citizens of States. Of the laws enacted by men, some are concerned with what is good or bad by its very nature; and they command men to follow after what is right and to shun what is wrong, adding at the same time a suitable sanction. But such laws by no means derive their origin from civil society, because, just as civil society did not create human nature, so neither can it be said to be the author of the good which befits human nature, or of the evil which is contrary to it. Laws come before men live together in society, and have their origin in the natural, and consequently in the eternal, law. The precepts, therefore, of the natural law, contained bodily in the laws of men, have not merely the force of human law, but they possess that higher and more august sanction which belongs to the law of nature and the eternal law. And within the sphere of this kind of laws the duty of the civil legislator is, mainly, to keep the community in obedience by the adoption of a common discipline and by putting restraint upon refractory and viciously inclined men, so that, deterred from evil, they may turn to what is good, or at any rate may avoid causing trouble and disturbance to the State."
    Pope Leo XIII "Libertas"

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  15. That word, "dogma": you keep using it, but it doesn't mean what you think it means.

    Maybe what you mean to say is that your own personal spin on things is an irreformable doctrine, perhaps, despite what the Catechism states explicitly - which (what the Catechism explicitly states) isn't, as far as I can tell, in any way in conflict with your quote from Leo XIII.

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  16. We are talking about principles here of the State's authority and just punishment. Where did I say they conflicted? Either contribute something useful to the subject at hand or do something else.

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  17. When it comes down to it, there is nothing that the State did in this case that was immoral. It used a proportionate punishment for the crime that was committed against innocents to restore and keep the moral order of society. This conclusion is based on the immutable teaching of the Church that has been proclaimed in many encyclicals and documents. Just because many in the Church today think that the State should be more lenient in applying just punishment does not imply that those States that do not are doing anything immoral.

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  18. Matthew, weren't you banned here? I seem to remember banning you not that long ago.

    Tell you what--be nice, and you can keep posting on this thread. But "nice" doesn't mean telling Zippy to go do something else just because in *your* mind he hasn't responded to you adequately.

    Nobody said that the State applying just punishment = doing something immoral. The question at hand is, Is the use of the death penalty necessary in a case where the convicted criminal is no longer a threat to society, and can be quite effectively incarcerated for the remainder of his life?

    I say it isn't. You appear to be saying that it is, that retribution *requires* the State to take the life of the criminal, and that this is clear Church teaching.

    Now, if that's not what you are trying to say, then perhaps we could start from there: Matthew, do you think the State is *required* to execute people? You've mentioned murder, but you've also mentioned rapists. Can you clarify for the sake of discussion what you think is the kind of crime for which the State *must* execute the criminal?

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  19. I never said the State was "required" to do so, and I never tried to imply that. If you read back in my statements you will see that I said just the opposite. Did you skip over that part? In fact here is what I wrote in this very thread, "Although the State can choose to act in a merciful manner, it is not required to do so when such heinous crimes are committed against humanity."

    So in short, I said that the State did nothing wrong, nothing cruel or unusual in this case, and acted in accordance with the natural law and within the confines of dogmatic Church teaching. I was pretty clear in stating this.

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  20. Either contribute something useful to the subject at hand or do something else.

    My "contribution" to the present thread is limited to pointing out that you aren't using the term "dogmatic" correctly; and that from a confused ecclesiology we probably ought to expect confused assertions and conclusions.

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  21. Well, actually, Matthew, what you said there was that the State was not *required* to act mercifully.

    I think that what you are saying is that in certain crimes, the state ought to execute, but may choose to act mercifully.

    What the Catechism seems to say on this is a bit different, though--and that's where the question as to whether this execution was necessary based on the Catechism's recommendations comes up.

    Understand, no one here is saying that all executions are immoral or that the State lacks the legitimate authority to execute. The question is merely whether this particular execution of a man who already was no longer a threat to society was *necessary*.

    Since the gentleman in question died this weekend, it is clearly a merely academic exercise to wonder whether he needed to die for his crimes, or not.

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  22. "The question is merely whether this particular execution of a man who already was no longer a threat to society was *necessary*."

    He was still a possible threat to those around him in the prison, so him no longer being a threat to anyone is not absolutely true. As far as him "needing " to die, that is up to the State to decide based on its authority to decide what is the best punishment to restore and keep the moral order, as well as what is best for the common good of society. In my personal opinion, the State acted justly and within proper moral guidelines.

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  23. In my personal opinion, the State acted justly and within proper moral guidelines.

    You are as entitled to your opinion as anyone else.

    But note, by descending to the level of opinion, you have admitted that this is a matter meriting some dispute. That means, other people are also entitled to their opinions, just as much as you are.

    By using "dogmatic" rhetoric above, you convinced many readers - myself included - that you considered this a matter of indisputable truth, and that those who disagreed with you were ignorant or even recalcitrant. If this is not what you meant, then consider how your words have been taken.

    And, as Red said, be nice. This is not your blog. You don't have the right to tell people to go away. Do that all you want on your own blog, but on our blog please be polite and respectful.

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  24. For the record, my own opinion is that I am in no place to render an opinion on the matter, being too ignorant of the facts of the case.

    As I said, in terms of meeting the Catechism's requirements, it seems unlikely to me. But I base this on only the most general understanding of the justice system in the U.S.A.

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  25. In the meantime, let us all pray for the repose of Gardner's soul.

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  26. Robert writes, "By using "dogmatic" rhetoric above, you convinced many readers - myself included - that you considered this a matter of indisputable truth, and that those who disagreed with you were ignorant or even recalcitrant. If this is not what you meant, then consider how your words have been taken."

    Rhetoric on what? The principles the Church has laid out concerning the natural law and the State? I am talking about the principles here the Church has used to define dogmatic moral issues. They are not up for debate. In other words, you cannot remove retribution from the equation in just punishment. That was my point. You seemed to imply that it is not part of the equation of just punishment. I am not sure what Zippy is even talking about, and it seems to me he is just looking for something to argue about. I am not interested.

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  27. The question is merely whether this particular execution of a man who already was no longer a threat to society was *necessary*.

    The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor." (2267)


    Even if we accept the possibility of a further development in moral teaching, the problem is that despite the Catechism's claims, this is not the traditional teaching of the Church. How many of you are are actually arguing that it is the traditional teaching of the Church? Even Christian Brugger would admit that the traditional teaching of the Church does not rest upon the just use of the death penalty being only when "the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor."

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  28. In other words, the premise is flawed.

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  29. Maybe the problem is with the word "traditional".

    I think I can speak for Red and Zippy that "Tradition" trumps "tradition". That is, the core of the faith passed on through the magisterial office of the Church trumps whatever practices have developed here or there, no matter how many tests of time they have withstood.

    So, I think we're in a period of time where the Tradition is becoming more clear about the particular case of the death penalty. That means that some traditions will fall to the wayside.

    As to retribution being an eternal tenet of natural law, I still have not seen where you get that. Granted, I haven't read Brugger or Fagothey. I haven't even read the website you recommended, (though I probably will as soon as I post this). But I've read a good chunk of Thomas, and I just don't see it. Nor does it appear in the Catechism or the Compendium of Social Teaching, that I've been able to find. I wish I had more time to read more deeply, but I do the best I can with what I have.

    So, if you have a clear statement of the place of retribution in natural law, please don't hold back.

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  31. Find a copy of Right and Reason and go to pages 338-340.

    “Punishment in the strict sense has three functions, one looking to the past and two looking to the future. As looking to the past, punishment is retributive because it pays back the criminal for his crime, gives him his just deserts, reestablishes the equal balance of justice which has been outraged, and reasserts the authority of the lawgiver which the criminal has flouted.” Fr. Fagothey continues on to explain the other two functions which pertain to the future, which are for the purpose of correction and deterrence. Unfortunately, these two are the only two functions commonly recognized by many in the Church today. All of them are necessary and are based in the natural law. The Church cannot change these principles.

    Finally Fr. Fagothey rightly says that retribution can never be abolished from the principles of just punishment. "Retribution may not be uppermost in mind, but it must be present; otherwise the infliction of any punishment is morally wrong." Think about that statement. He continues, "Guilt calls for retribution, and this is what gives us the right to inflict punishment so that it is not the use of an evil means to a good end. We may then also make the punishment corrective and deterrent as additional functions." Keep this in mind when looking at the death penalty.

    I implore you and others to rethink your positions on this subject. This particular book was the standard used in seminaries for years, and I was given a copy by a priest who used it as a textbook when he was in the seminary, and he still says that the book is the best on the subject concerning Catholic morality. If you reject the retributive aspect of punishment, then you had better let all of the criminals go free on the street.

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  32. If Matthew's position - whatever it is - is a dogma of the Church, that means that it has been expressly defined in an infallible proclamation by the Magisterium of the Church. So I don't know why a discussion is even necessary: simply produce the express infallible proclaimation of the Magisterium.

    If it isn't a dogma of the Church, though, then by all means refer to non-Magisterial textbooks.

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  33. Again, it seems to me that he puts retribution in place of restitution. Does Fr. Fagothey address this? Does he make a distinction? If so, what is the role of restitution as distinct from retribution (or vice versa)?

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  34. Do you even understand the difference between the two? I already explained this before a few entries back. They are two completely different terms Robert. Did you read what I posted, and did you read what Fr. Fagothey defined it as? I am done here, since you refuse to do any work of your own on this. Zippy, there are things that are defined by the ordinary and Universal Magisterium which are rooted in the natural law. There does not have to be an infallible proclamation by the Church in one document some place in order for a teaching to be infallible. I thought you understood Catholicism and the different ways it is able to define infallible teaching. I guess not. It is useless to discuss this topic any further over here since no one is going to discuss this topic rationally. Go to Amazon and buy "Right and Reason" and read it from cover to cover.Maybe you will learn something.

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  35. As I mentioned before, Matthew - and this has been my only "contribution" to the thread - you aren't using the terminology correctly. A dogma of the Church is an irreformable doctrine which has been solemnly and explicitly defined in an explicit infallible act of the Magisterium. A doctrine is simply a truth of the faith: there are few dogmas of the Faith, but many doctrines. Some doctrines are dogmas (in which case one can easily produce the solemn definition by the Magisterium). Some doctrines are irreformable under the ordinary Magisterium even though they are not dogmas. And still other traditional doctrines are reformable (like Limbo for unbaptized infants, for example).

    My point in this thread - my only point - has been that, substantive subject matter aside, your use of terms like "dogmatic" is incorrect. If the opinion you are expressing were dogmatic, as you have repeatedly claimed, it would be a trivial matter for you to produce the solemn definition (from, say, the canons of an ecumenical council).

    I happen to agree with Alexander (this is my first brief foray into the substantive subject matter of the thread) that the principles w.r.t. the death penalty taught in Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism are more restrictive than had been traditionally understood by most Catholics before those Magisterial documents were issued. That would only be a problem though if the permissiveness of the previous understanding were - its permissiveness - an irreformable doctrine. Doctrines have been clarified throughout the history of the Church, often with the result that the moral law is in fact less permissive than many thought prior to the clarification. There isn't anything alarming in that: it has taken place the entire history of the Church, and there isn't something so special and unique about our place in history that this sort of clarification is prevented from occurring during our lifetimes.

    That - the fact that EV's death penalty doctrine is less permissive than most Catholics thought prior to its issuance, the fact that it contains prior doctrine but extends its requirements in charity - in itself does not constitute an argument against the truth of it. In order to argue against Evangelium Vitae's principles, one would have to make the case that it is contrary to irreformable doctrine. It is most definitely not contrary to a dogma of the Church, so that case would have to be made based on a claim of infallibility resting in the ordinary Magisterium. In order to advance that claim, one would have to understand infallibility, the ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium, and other ecclesial matters -- matters which someone who does not know how to use the term "dogmatic" properly does not understand in the first place.

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  36. Zippy writes, "As I mentioned before, Matthew - and this has been my only "contribution" to the thread - you aren't using the terminology correctly."

    Again I am not going to argue over something that is a non-issue. All you ever do is look for something to fight over. I am not interested. The fact is, the morality that is derived from the Natural Law is infallible and will never change. The Church's teaching concerning just punishment is rooted in the Natural Law and therefore the principles that the Church had used over centuries to define just punishment will never be changed. This includes the retributive aspect of just punishment, which can never be removed from the equation of just punishment. Therefore anyone arguing for the complete and total prohibition of the death penalty is not in accordance with the principles of Natural Law.

    The authority of the State, given to it by God to govern men has the job of discerning when it needs to be used. Those who are on this crusade to try and force all States to abandon the use of the death penalty completely are an obstacle to the right of the State and its duty it has to retaining the moral order. It is one thing to to ask the States to use a more merciful punishment if it can, and another to try and force them to do so against its better judgment in retaining the moral order. The Catechism is nothing more than the opinion of the Church at this time, it is not making a dogmatic statement on this issue.

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  37. The fact is, the morality that is derived from the Natural Law is infallible and will never change.

    Morality derived from that natural law is true, yes, most certainly. And what is true yesterday doesn't become false today, etc.

    Your blustery attempts to coopt various authorities in support of your own opinions - including in this particular thread your incorrect use of the term "dogmatic" - reflect a near complete ignorance of ecclesiology though.

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  38. The Catechism is nothing more than the opinion of the Church at this time, it is not making a dogmatic statement on this issue.

    Shorter Matthew: "Catechism, Schmatechism".

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  39. Again Zippy it seems that you are the one who is ignorant of what is and is not dogmatic or how things are defined dogmatically, not me.

    Shorter Zippy, for every line in the Catechism: Catechism, "Dogmaticism".

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  40. Be nice, Matthew.

    I really appreciate Zippy's clarifications, esp. in regard to the difference between dogma, irreformable doctrine, and reformable doctrine. These sorts of clarifications are especially helpful when we're discussing issues like these.

    Matthew, two things. First, nobody here is arguing for the total abolition of the death penalty as something immoral; we've been over that. The principles "the State has the right to execute criminals," and "the State should exercise this right with great care, in situations where it is necessary to protect society, and preferably very rarely if at all," are not mutually exclusive.

    Second, where in natural law-derived morality does punishment = retribution = putting the criminal to death? Even if everyone here agreed that punishment = retribution, it does not follow that the only just retribution is the death of the criminal, even in murder cases.

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  41. I'm posting this comment for "Nunty," who has been having difficulties posting. I've heard from others about these kinds of problems, too, but unfortunately have no control over the comment software.

    Here's "Nunty's" comment:

    (I've been having a lot of trouble posting comments, so I apologize if I seem to be lagging behind at all.)

    Matthew wrote: The Catechism is nothing more than the opinion of the Church at this time, it is not making a dogmatic statement on this issue.

    Matthew, the CCC sets forth both dogma and doctrine. Here, we are discussing doctrine. Are you asserting that the Catechism does not speak with the authority of the Magisterium? That question is off-topic in this thread, but I would be very interested in learning how you got there. (I understand that you have your own definition of dogma and doctrine, but for the purposes of this discussion it would be much easier if we all used the accepted definitions, the ones that Zippy summarized for us.)

    One of the easy traps to fall into in this kind of discussion is that of making a caricature of the other side. As Red stated, none of us in this discussion are arguing for the complete abolition of capital punishment. Some of us are arguing for the State's moral duty to place extremely tight controls over the exercise of that right.

    Also following Red's recent post, I am interested to know from what you derive the retribution = death penalty equation in natural law.

    (Sister C, sometimes known as Nunty)

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  42. Get a subscription to the Thomist online and read Steven A Long's treatment of the subject.

    EVANGELIUM VITAE, ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, AND THE DEATH PENALTY

    Steven A. Long
    University of St. Thomas
    St. Paul, Minnesota

    He agrees with my premise for the very reasons that I addressed here on this blog. Below is a snippet from the article.

    "From a Thomistic vantage point, the reductionist inter-pretation of Evangelium vitae is difficult to reconcile with Catholic tradition, because this tradition must consider the political state as providentially bound to acknowledge and imple-ment a morally transcendent order of justice. So long as Catholics do not become contract theorists or Hobbesians, they must conceive the state as executing an order of justice that transcends it in origin, majesty, and truth. Only on such a ground does punishment as a righting of moral imbalance make sense. This is, implicitly, the trouble faced by largely secular societies that aren't themselves any longer sure why they should punish if society may be otherwise physically protected.(32) But this does not appear to be an option consonant with Catholic belief. Hence the reductionist major premise seems to embrace an instrumentalist view of the common good that is, finally, incompatible with the infliction of any punishment save on grounds that appear remarkably utilitarian. It appears a fortiori to follow that this cannot count as an authentic reading of the encyclical.

    Finally, the moral ratio of punishment itself seems endangered by the effort to sever the encyclical's reasoning from tradition. The merely intratextual and prima facie reading of Evangelium vitae regards the divinely delegated authority of legitimate states to manifest justice through the imposition of penalty as falling under the same logical lens with acts of self-defense by private parties. But formally to commingle private, individual acts of self-defense with the political community's exaction of justice is seriously problematic."

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  43. No question that there are liberal modernists who attempt to interpret Evangelium Vitae incorrectly (and self-servingly), in a manner which rules out the death penalty altogether. By the same token there are other sorts who attempt to interpret the restrictive language of Evangelium Vitae as a nullity. As the saying goes, there are many ways to be wrong and only one way to be right.

    Nobody here, as far as I can tell, has even remotely suggested that punishment is or should be justified on utilitarian grounds or anything like them. Evangelium Vitae doesn't suggest anything of the kind (not even "prima facie", as far as I am concerned).

    Rather, in a manner remarkably similar to Magisterial treatment of the Just War doctrine, EV suggests that just cause is only one of several criteria which must be each independently met in order for a particular execution - not any punishment whatsoever, but execution specifically - to be morally licit.

    Generalized commentary on punishment, which does not address EV's teaching on execution as a means of punishment specifically, fails to even engage the subject matter. It is easy to see this when you realize that every word of the quoted commentary can be accepted as dogma (though obviously it isn't dogma) without concluding that execution as a particular means of punishment is ever licit, let alone is licit in an unrestricted sense once it is determined that the condemned deserves it.

    What specific means of punishment is acceptable in a given case is always in part a prudential judgment. For example, if keeping a convicted criminal deserving of death imprisoned for life were so practically burdensome on the resources of a community that thousands of people would (say) starve to death as an immediate consequence, it would be imprudent to choose life imprisonment over death. As in the case of war, there are principles which apply to making those prudential judgments in charity and in truth. Evangelium Vitae on its face takes as a given that in justice the criminal deserves death, and then teaches additional criteria which must be met in order for the death penalty to be the right prudential choice; similar to how the just war doctrine teaches additional criteria beyond merely just cause - taking just cause as a given - for a decision to go to war to be a morally right prudential choice.

    So all of the commentary about reductive interpretation and utilitarianism is a straw man argument against EV's restrictive language. In order to validly argue against EV's restrictive language one would have to contend that there are no principles of prudential judgment which apply to sentencing a criminal to death (death specifically as opposed to other possible punishments), once it has been determined that death would in itself be a just punishment. One would have to argue that once it is determined that he deserves death, literally nothing else matters; because if other things do matter, and EV teaches (with the full Magisterial authority of a Papal encyclical) principles with respect to some of the important ones, there isn't any argument left to make.

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  44. I'll be sure to tell Dr. Long that Zippy says he is addressing a straw man. I'm sure he cares.

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  45. In the very first sentence of my previous comment I mentioned the sort of folks against whom it would not be a straw man. You can probably find plenty of them at places like dotCommonweal. However, in this discussion, the one you are participating in right here and now, it is a straw man; because it attacks positions which, as far as I can tell, nobody in this discussion holds.

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  46. I am posting another comment for "Nunty," who is unable to post directly to the page:

    MB: I'll be sure to tell Dr. Long that Zippy says he is addressing a straw man. I'm sure he cares.

    It is very frustrating to try to have a substantive discussion when one of the participants insists on misinterpreting the remarks of others. You are clearly not unintelligent, Matthew, so I can only conclude that you are intentionally drawing attention away from the substance of the argument. What a shame - it is often the minority opinion (as yours is here in this discussion) that animates a discussion.

    Of course, if we cannot agree on basic definitions like dogma and doctrine we will just continue to talk at each other without any real communication.

    Let me try to state your position to see if I understood you correctly. You seem to be saying that we who believe, based on on the relevant paragraphs in the CCC, that the State should severe limit its right to carry out the death penalty are mistaken because the CCC is just a reflection of current thought in the Church and does not have Magisterial authority.

    Have I understood you correctly?

    Sister C ("Nunty)

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  47. Actually the thought of the current Church heirarchy is to abolish the death penalty completely. This is where the principles that are laid out in the Catechism and EV eventually lead. Try reading the official documents of the USCCB and the Vatican like the Intervention by H.E. Archbishop Renato R. Martino, which was endorsed and published by the Vatican. The principles they are using are flawed and they are now arriving at trying to completely abolish the death penalty. Dr. Long is saying that this is not sound Catholic teaching and those who are trying to abolish the death penalty are not in accord with Tradition capital T. As you can see below, the aim is not to only limit the death penalty, it is their intent to possibly completely abolish it altogether. My argument is that this takes away the State's ability to determine when it is necessary to carry it out for the common good.


    From Intervention by H.E. Archbishop Renato R. Martino

    "For over two decades the international community has pursued the issue of restricting and abolishing the death penalty. The need for a moratorium on the death penalty is gaining momentum, as is reflected in the recent resolution adopted by the Commission on Human Rights ( 1999/61 ) of 28 April 1999. The Holy See Delegation welcomes the initiative for a resolution, under item 116a, on the reduction and possible abolition of the death penalty, and expresses its appreciation to all who contributed to this initiative."

    Again the USCCB using JPII's document writes,

    "As we approach the next millennium, we are challenged by the evolution in Catholic teaching on this subject and encouraged by new and growing efforts to stop executions around the world. Through his powerful encyclical, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), Pope John Paul II has asked that governments stop using death as the ultimate penalty. The Holy Father points out that instances where its application is necessary to protect society have become "very rare, if not practically nonexistent."2 In January 1999, our Holy Father brought his prophetic appeal to "end the death penalty to the United States, clearly challenging us to "end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."3 Our Holy Father has called us with new urgency to stand against capital punishment."

    So I am not, nor is Dr. Long using a straw man argument. Those who are following the document at face value end up calling for the complete abolishment of the death penalty, and I refuse to accept their faulty reasoning. Their reasoning is flawed because as I have stated earlier, the reason for just punishment is not just to keep others in society safe from a convicted criminal, it is also to punish the criminal for the crime they committed and it must be rooted in retribution. I have never argued that the State has to exact the death penalty, but only that it does so prudently. Therefore it is my conclusion that no Catholic should be calling for the absolute end to Capital punishment as those I have quoted are doing. The State needs to decide when it will use this method of punishment. The principles laid forth by the Tradition of the Catholic Church, which is also rooted in the Natural Law can never be changed, that is my argument.

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  48. Three observations:

    1) At least now the cat is out of the bag, so to speak: Matthew's rhetoric is explicitly directed toward rejecting the authoritative Magisterial teaching in Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism, as many of us have doubtless suspected. His approach is all about finding ways to make nonsense of Magisterial teaching rather than making sense of it.

    2) There isn't anything inconsistent in simultaneously holding that (a) the death penalty is not always and everywhere in principle immoral, and yet (b) the death penalty should be abolished completely as a routine policy carried out by modern criminal justice systems. Just because X is not intrinsically immoral in every conceivable case it doesn't follow that X is definitely the prudent routine policy choice in any actual cases.

    3) Even so nobody in this discussion has, that I have seen, advocated abolishing the death penalty completely.

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  49. Again Zippy, not every line in the Catechism or an Encyclical is an infallible proclamation. You need to learn how the Church defines doctrine, and dogma. In case you didn't know, not every line in an encyclical is a doctrinal or dogmatic statement. If you want to be eudcated on this subject perhaps try reading Dr. Long's article on the matter. He sees the same problems with the current modern mentality to compeltely abolish the death penalty that I see.

    Zippy, you are also cnteadicitng yourself here. You attack me for going against the bishops and their attempts to abolish the death penalty, then in the same breath you say, "Even so nobody in this discussion has, that I have seen, advocated abolishing the death penalty completely." So which way do you want to go? Do you agree with the Vatican and the USCCB and their attempts to coerce all States to abolish the death penalty or not? I have already made my postion clear, I do not, for the reasons stated above. Either you do or you don't. I just love how you come here and redicule anyone who points out these isssues by sitting back and pontificating as if you are the Magisterium and yet you won't come out and say what you believe on the subject. Do you go along with the current postion of the majority of bishops who want to compeltely abolish the death penalty? Yes or no. If you say yes, then fine but you have to explain why, beyond "The Catechism says it so I belive it". If not then you are in the same boat that I am in. Which is it going to be? Are you going to answer or just continue attacking me?

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  50. I believe my work here is done.

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  51. Matthew, Zippy has made his position clear. I think I have too, as have others. What we are saying is simply this: the Church is not now, nor will she ever, declare the death penalty immoral or unjust in principle. But she may, and does, exhort her children to consider whether the death penalty is necessary given modern society's ability to protect against the aggressor without needing to take his life, and given the Church's strong tradition of calling for mercy.

    The US bishops are calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States. Their position, as I see it, is that the death penalty is no longer necessary in our nation, that a culture which promotes execution as a solution to crime (as our politicians often do) is not a healthy one, and that our committment to life is strengthened by this extension of mercy to the guilty while at the same time insisting on the protection of the lives of the innocent unborn. While one can certainly disagree with the bishops on prudential grounds (though I do not), one ought not to mischaracterize what they are saying as a contradiction to the Church's long-expressed belief that the State does have the *right* to execute justly.

    I think there is a nuance here that you simply aren't seeing, Matthew. What is wrong with agreeing that justice permits the execution of (some of) the guilty, while working towards the abolition of execution for (most) convicted criminals? The first admits that the State may find itself in the unhappy position of actually needing to execute a person whose known crimes and actions make him a continuing threat to society. The second points out how often innocent people have been executed, how often the execution of the guilty depends on the financial or social status of the criminal or on his race, and how, in dozens of other ways, the recourse to execution in 21st century America strains justice to the breaking point by failing to take seriously the Christian call for mercy or the Catechism's gentle guidelines for the use of execution?

    You, yourself, have said you don't think execution is, generally speaking, *required.* Therefore, aren't we really just disagreeing about the judicious use of the death penalty, with some of us suggesting that "rare, if practically nonexistent" should be the standard, and others--mostly you--suggesting that the death penalty should continue to be used as it is today in America, more or less?

    In other words, no one here is disagreeing concerning the *morality* of the death penalty (generally). The debate is one over the prudent and judicious use of the death penalty--and in this kind of debate, there is no need to refer constantly back to doctrines etc. because we are all on the same page as far as the intrinsic nature of the death penalty--that is, that justly used by the competent authority it is not immoral.

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  52. Okay, Matthew, your last comment crossed the line--again. I'm closing down comments on this thread. Bye now!

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