Skip to comments.Protecting Life By Taking It Away (Jeff Jacoby Raps Catholic Church's Defense Of Murderers Alert)
Posted on 12/11/2005 11:38:29 PM PST by goldstategop
Last month, by a vote of 237-4, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a pastoral statement calling for an end to the death penalty. The 20-page document -- "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death" -- makes a number of claims. Among them: that the execution of murderers "violates respect for human life and dignity," that it fuels a "cycle of violence [that] diminishes us all," and that "we have other ways to punish criminals and protect society." The bishops acknowledge in passing that Catholic teaching has never banned the death penalty outright or declared it "intrinsically evil." Nevertheless, they insist, since the modern state "has other non-lethal means to protect its citizens, the state should not use the death penalty."
They aren't breaking new theological ground. Pope John Paul II made a similar argument about the death penalty in his 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)." But the new document is shockingly blunt in brushing aside the suffering of the victims, or the viciousness of the murder, as irrelevant to the question of capital punishment. "No matter how heinous the crime," it says, "if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so."
Executing killers, in other words, has nothing to do with justice. No act of murder, however calculated or cruel or catastrophic, requires as a matter of sheer decency that the murderer make atonement by forfeiting his life. In the world according to bishops, the death penalty never balances the scales of moral judgment. Timothy McVeigh shouldn't have been executed. Ted Bundy shouldn't have been executed. Not even Osama bin Laden, with the blood of thousands on his hands, would deserve to be executed if we had him in our power.
This is what it means, the bishops claim, "to reject a culture of death, and to build a culture of life." Their pastoral statement closes with a quotation from Deuteronomy 30: "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live." Choose life, that is, by keeping murderers alive.
But is that really what Deuteronomy teaches? Does God frown on the death penalty even when it comes to the worst killers in our midst?
I am neither Catholic nor a theologian, and I wouldn't presume to teach religion to a bishop. On the other hand, the new statement's authors write that their purpose is to "encourage engagement and dialogue" on a subject about which "people of goodwill disagree." In that spirit of dialogue and goodwill, then, some reflections:
The point of view the bishops express is sharply at odds with the Judeo-Christian tradition in which American law is rooted. It is no coincidence that the United States is the only advanced Western nation in which (some) murderers are still put to death. The United States was founded by religious believers; its culture to this day remains deeply influenced by faith and the Bible. And on this point, biblical tradition is unambiguous: For premeditated murder, death is an appropriate punishment.
No passage in the Bible -- Old *or* New Testament -- disapproves of the death penalty, which is why the bishops do not cite one. The Sixth Commandment (in Catholic reckoning, the Fifth) is clearly no bar to capital punishment. The penalty for those who violate "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13) is made explicit just a few lines later: "Whoever strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21:12). The text goes on to specify that this applies only to deliberate murder, not unintentional killing. Accidents are not capital crimes. But for a willful killer, there can be no sanctuary: "Take him even from My altar and put him death" (Exodus 21:14).
Similar declarations appear in all five books of Moses, nowhere more dramatically or universally than in Genesis. Speaking to Noah after the Flood, God enjoins him -- and through him, all of human society -- to affirm the sanctity of human life by making murderers pay the ultimate price for their crime. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has man been made" (Genesis 9:6). *By man shall his blood be shed.* Scripture could hardly be more explicit, yet the bishops make no mention of Genesis 9:6. They deride the idea that we can "teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill."
Of course American law is not governed by biblical quotations. But our legal system *is* deeply influenced by Judeo-Christian morality -- the same moral framework to which the bishops' statement appeals. And Judeo-Christian teaching has always been clear: When murderers keep their lives, human blood is cheapened. That is why reverence for life and capital punishment belong to the same ethical tradition. Civilized communities have not only the right but the responsibility to execute murderers. It may be a difficult responsibility to carry out. It may involve an assertion of moral authority that modern thinkers condemn.
But easy or not, popular or not, the duty is ours to perform. The protection of human life is a grave obligation -- never more so than when it involves taking a life away.
(Denny Crane: "I Don't Want To Socialize With A Pinko Liberal Democrat Commie.Say What You Like About Republicans. We Stick To Our Convictions. Even When We Know We're Dead Wrong.")
It isn't that complicated, get people to stop snuffing out worthy lives and we will stop pulling the plug on theirs.
Keep in mind that this is from the USCCB, who are generally a bunch of lefties.
This is not the official teaching of the Catholic Church.
I hope so, but sometimes there are juries involved too.
Maybe there is wisdom, or at least a loophole, in this statement. If "society" in some emasculated European country believes that it can "protect itself without ending a life", they should do so. If a somewhat more "robust" society such as ours believes that the only way to stop the violent ethno/social sub elements of a "diverse" and "liberal to the point of licentiousness" culture from murdering each other (and threatening those who may otherwise wish to live in peace and harmony) is by the deterrence of capital punishment, Amen!
As far as First-World nations go, we are the most religious. Europe is steeped in secularism.
"But the new document is shockingly blunt in brushing aside the suffering of the victims... No matter how heinous the crime," it says, "if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so."
This characterization of the document and interpretation of the principles at hand is overly simplistic.
That said, the Catholic Church does not universally oppose the death penalty. As has been pointed out by another poster, the USCCB is not a remarkably orthodox group, and they are hardly the crown jewels of the Church. Theologically conservative (a.k.a. most loyal to the Church) priests and theologians tend to be more supportive of capital punishment, at least in the United States.
I'm anti-abortion and for capital punishment, but I do agree capital punishment should be reserved only for people who committed the worst crime, e.g., repeated killing with intention and less likely to be 'rehabilitated'. I believe some people--even some of the murderers--may seriously repent, can be rehabilitated, be allowed to live, and perhaps do good works from prison. But I also have utilitarian motive: why do I have to pay for the worst murderers' free lodging, food, and health insurance?
Apparently the bishops are believers in Dalmatian theology.
The Bible is inspired in spots. And they get to pick which ones.
There are those who want to cheapen human life and one way to do that is to uphold the cause of murderers. That is why you not only hear leftists say that such and such a murderer should not be executed, you also hear many leftists treat a murderer like a celebrity and demand that the murderer be freed. They wash themselves in the blood of murder victims and then smugly declare to everyone, "I'm clean!"
Don't know about the execution of MURDERERS, but the execution of INNOCENT people is a real problem and DNA evidence just freed a dozen or so people from death rows.
In theory at least I've got nothing against hanging somebody like Manson or Dennis Rader. Here's the problem: I'd want at least two or three changes to the system before I could feel good about capital punishment anymore.
1. The criterion of guilt should be "beyond any doubt, whatsoever". "Beyond a reasonable doubt" doesn't cut it for capital punishment; you can't unhang somebody.
2. The person in question would have to represent a continuing danger should he ever get loose again. That would seem to eliminate this dude out in Ca. who helped found the Crips for instance. It would certainly not eliminate Manson, Rader, or Paul Bernardo as candidates.
3. I'd want to get rid of the present adversarial system of justice and replace it with some sort of inquisitorial system in which the common incentive for all parties was to discover the truth of the matter.
The biggest problem would be finding some sort of an ironclad and foolproof set of criteria for determmmining "guilt beyond any doubt whatsoever". You'd get judges and prosecutors wanting to tell you somebody like Sarah Johnson in Idaho was guilty beyond any and all doubt, while that is simply less than obvious to all observers.
They expected DNA testing to eliminate the prime suspect in felony cases in something like one or two percent of cases and many people were in states of shock when that number came back more like 33 or 35%. That translates into some fabulous number of people sitting around in prisons for stuff they don't know anything at all about since the prime suspect in a felony case usually goes to prison. Moreover, in a state like Texas which executes a hundred people a year or whatever it is, that translates into innocent people being executed on a fairly regular basis.
That means, to me at least, that a murdering scum like Tookie will do anything to escape his fate, including writing unread children's books and false conversion to one religion or another.
The prisons are full of "innocent" BS artists like this. What makes Tookie so special?
And welcome to Free Republic, sir and/or madame.
Well, I've got no problem with eliminating the death penalty, if the replacement is the surgical severing of the spine below the (I think) seventh vertebra--such that the perp loses all use of his arms and legs (and other things).
He can live, but he damned sure won't be able to hurt anyone else---EVER.
"Life without parole" doesn't protect other inmates and prison guards from such slime.
The Bishops as a group are certainly without any credability at all, after the way they hid from their responsibility to protect Children abused by Criminal Homosexual Priests hidden for decades and decades.
I believe they are taking this position to deflect the horror of their actions in the abuse scandal and they are trying to regain some of their previous authority while the Catholic Church is emptying faster than water through a seive.
The New Catholic Catechism allows for Capital Punishment except when the State can otherwise protect its citizens from harm. Please don't depend on the state.
I grew up thinking these guys were the end all, be all,that thinking came from a good Catholic education.
I now believe the Bishops as a group are a bunch of self absorbed, self aggrandizing, Bloviating Hypocrits not worthy of the Trust of the Faithful.
Fire them all and start anew, lock up the ones involved in shifting Homosexual predator priests.
Great article , great post.
Jacoby is no doubt a Protestant obsessed with bashing anything that comes from the Catholic Church. I get really tired of the constant attacks on my church.
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