So yeah the Church cannot reverse its teaching on the death penalty and say that what is not intrinsically immoral is intrinsically immoral.A breakthrough! Not that it should be so difficult to get someone to admit what is patently obvious. And yet, our prodigal says,
Yes, and the point is, this practical, prudential judgment about when it is necessary or not, when it needs to be done, or not, is not a doctrinal one, it is one upon which reasonable people could disagree. Now who is in a position best to discern when concrete circumstances necessitate resort to the death penalty? Is it a local bishop, trained in theology, or philosophy, or canon law. who has a thousand duties proper to his office to which he must devote the vast bulk of his time and attention?So what? It can still say that it is unnecessary and need not be done.
Or is it the "Justice and Peace Ministry" of the diocesan chancery office, ordinarily populated with staff educated in social work, theology, or pastoral studies?
Or is it the bishops' conferences, which are unauthoritative collections of individual bishops aided by a permanent staff, also educated ordinarily in one of the aforementioned fields, with perhaps an administrative expert or two thrown in?
Or is the Pope himself who can judge the practical and prudential realities in the criminal justice systems of hundreds of states and countries, and come to sound conclusions, based upon his training in theology, philosophy, or canon law, the primary educational backgrounds of modern popes?
Or is it perhaps Mark Shea, or other semi-professional bloggers and "pundits" who achieve notoriety by attracting followers on the internet, and may or may not have any particular educational qualifications, and definitely have never worked in the fields of law enforcement, corrections, law, or penology?
I suggest that since, as Pope Benedict elucidated in the quotation which is cited in the masthead of this blog, there can be a legitimate diversity of opinion about application of the death penalty, i.e., it is an entirely prudential question as to when the circumstances are such as to call for the death penalty, that in fact lay Catholics and others who are actually in position to assess particular facts and circumstances and who have the professional knowledge, expertise, experience, and education to assess the complexities of our criminal justice system, are the individuals most qualified and in best position to assess whether the death penalty is reasonably called for in a given state or country.
This notion is not new, in fact, in the 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church it is recognized that:
568. The lay faithful are called to identify steps that can be taken in concrete political situations in order to put into practice the principles and values proper to life in society. This calls for a method of discernment, at both the personal and community levels, structured around certain key elements: knowledge of the situations, analyzed with the help of the social sciences and other appropriate tools.
The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility.
And as noted here before many times, it's a simple factual reality that the US is certainly not a place where we can render offenders harmless (the sole condition given under which we must dispense with the death penalty) through mere incarceration (or any other method that would be recognized as lawful and moral, for that matter).
So bravo to Shea for getting on board the Catholic teaching about the death penalty. But there are a few more points he also needs to be educated on.
Shea yet again repeats the lie that innocent people have been executed in the US since the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976, a lie that has been repeatedly and thoroughly debunked. Is it not the case that if the Left had one convincing case of a factually innocent person being executed, we would all know that person's name, there would be a Hollywood movie about him, and his name would appear in every high school and college text book as an example of a martyr to American injustice?
For good measure Shea throws in yet another oft-repeated smear of his that we shouldn't have the death penalty because some really bad countries do. As refuted here, the short reply is that the logical fallacy of association is not a convincing argument against capital punishment. Those countries presumably outlaw rape and murder, also, but I imagine Shea would not argue that's a reason to abolish our own laws outlawing rape and murder.
The good news is, we know Shea can learn. Let us hope he continues to do so.