"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Nino Has it Right

Someone named Mike at Crime and Federalism has repeated an old canard about Justice Scalia which holds that he is not really a good Catholic because while he opposes abortion and supposedly acts on this religious belief in his professional capacity, he ignores or positively violates the Church's teachings about subjects like just wage and the death penalty.

Now it's hard to attribute mere ignorance to someone who knows his way around blogdom. It surely would not have been difficult for Mike to find a source like this one which lays out briefly the various levels of authority involved in Church teachings. He might have taken particular note of the following passage:

We must also keep in mind the distinction of three things: 1) doctrine; 2) laws; 3) prudence. The doctrine is protected by the promise of Christ, as above. Laws, not from the Holy See, but from Bishops, could contradict the Church, e. g. , by ordering bad textbooks for Catholic schools. But as to the third item, prudence or good judgment: there is no promise of Christ, no claim by the Church, to protection in prudence. Hence it is not wrong to think or even say some things are not done prudently. And if a Pope gives a practical decision on something in which morality is concerned, that is not the same as giving a teaching on a given matter.
The prudential or "practical decision" part of this passage is key to understanding Scalia's posture about the death penalty. If Mike had looked a little further into the matter, he might have found that Cardinal Avery Dulles succinctly shows that there is (and can be) no change to the Church's teaching about the morality of the death penalty. There is indeed a new emphasis on more narrowly using this penalty only when it is truly necessary to protect society from agression by the offender; however, as Cardl. Dulles explains, this new emphasis is a prudential (there's that word again) judgment by the Pope, not a magisterial prounouncement that would bind all Catholics on pain of sin.

Nevertheless, as I have attempted to show repeatedly, there is really no conflict between the way the death penalty is administered in this country and what the Church actually teaches even on this new prudential level (not to be confused with what individual laymen, clerics, bishops, or groups of bishops may wish the Church taught).

Viewed either way, Scalia is justified in upholding the death penalty: the new emphasis is just that, a prudential emphasis, not a new moral teaching and therefore is not binding like a teaching on faith or morals would be; and regardless, our practices in this country conform with even this new prudential emphasis.

Mike apparently thinks he's found a "gotcha," look-at-the-hypocrite-Catholic moment, but all he's really shown is his own shallow idiocy.


Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Tom, you're absolutely right about the nature of "prudential" judgements. Unfortunately, most Catholics are ignorant about what the term "prudential" really means, and blithely accept the revisionist nonsense concerning capital punishment as doctrine (cf, Mark Shea).

I blame Arsebishop Chaput of Denver for this. Chaput's response to Scalia's public doubts raised in 2001 equated the justice to Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice, the pro-abortion group. Making such an equation is grotesquely irresponsible and despicable. I have yet to see a public apology from Chaput and, until he makes such an apology for slandering a thoughtful, faithful, Catholic, I will have no respect for him nor give credence to anything he says publicly.

OTOH, Tom, you are wrong in saying that Catholic teaching concerning capital punishment has changed. The late Pope himself, during a 1999 address in St. Louis, called capital punishment "cruel and unnecessary" (a categorical condemnation if there ever was one). Cdl. Renato Martino reinforced this idea in an address to the UN later that year:

“Abolition of the death penalty … is only one step towards creating a deeper respect for human life. If millions of budding lives are eliminated at their very roots, and if the family of nations can take for granted such crimes without a disturbed conscience, the argument for the abolition of capital punishment will become less credible. Will the international community be prepared to condemn such a culture of death and advocate a culture of life?”

As I'm sure you know, the USCCB announced in 2005 a campaign to end capital punishment in the U.S. If the teaching on capital punishment has not changed then why has Rome yet to discipline the USCCB on this matter?

Cdl. Dulles deserves profound respect but he has to perform quite a lot of academic and rhetorical gymnastics to justify the position that the Church's teaching has not changed. Not only has it changed but it contradicts and effectively repudiates centuries of teaching from Scripture and Tradition on the issue.

I suggest you read my piece from Front Page Magazine, "Sympathy for a Devil," concerning the response of two Vatican prelates to Saddam Hussein's execution and the whole problem of the revisionist attitude toward capital punishment:


Sarah said...

Tom, I'm so glad you posted on this!! It drives me nuts when I read some MSM thing saying "the Church opposes capital punishment." That and anything having to do with limbo . . .