"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, October 05, 2011

Capital Punishment Heresy

For a good belly-laugh, check out Papa Shea's current justification for dissent from Catholic teaching, wherein he asserts that abolition of the death penalty is what Catholic teaching requires, and in support of his dissent has reference to this group of "American" Catholic theologians who *surprise* don't like capital punishment and call for its abolition.
This is your usual bunch of typical theo profs from mainstream American campuses, and yes, we all know what that means in terms of orthodoxy.

Among other observations these "theologians" make on their website are the following:
*Tea-partiers are "right wing" ideologues who are harming the common good by resisting raising the debt ceiling.
*The "Occupy" movement protesters are "supported by Populorum Progressio and CST [Catholic Social Teaching] in general.
*Asking "Are We All Michael Vick," we are told "to rethink our relationship with the factory farming of non-human [sic] animals".
*Decrying the "social sin" [sic] of the alleged criminalization of poverty and issuing "a call to restructure and expand the safety net", i.e., government benefit programs.
*Criticizing Abp. Chaput of Philadelphia for terming the battle over legitimizing homosex marriage "the issue of our time," arguing that instead, that issue is really local and global poverty.
* Regarding future federal budgets we learn that a "just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice [who else uses that euphemism?] by all, including raising adequate revenues [umm, would that be another euphemism?], eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly."
* In relation to the budget debate and our economic crisis, a Catholic should ask, "would you deny Jesus foodstamps" as a guide to the continued viability of our welfare programs.

So, we get the flavor, which is that this group is a pretty trendy bunch, and this of course follows in their treatment of the death penalty.

These college profs assert that with regard to the execution of Troy Davis, "serious doubt remains about Davis’ guilt." Well, the jury of seven blacks and five whites, the numerous state and federal courts who reviewed the case closely, and the facts of the case itself all give the lie to this assertion.

The college profs dramatically continue their "theology" by asserting that "the horrific legacy of lynching in the US casts its evil shadow over current application of the death penalty. Studies have shown that black defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty." Ummm, yeah, not so much. While blacks are more likely to be sentenced to death, in states like my Virginia there is no evidence of racial bias in capital sentencing. Since blacks commit more capital-eligible crimes, proportionally, than whites, the existence of a proportional disparity in execution rates proves exactly nothing.

Then comes this whopping bunch of outright lies:

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that “the sanction of death, when it is not necessary to protect society, violates respect for human life and dignity…” In earlier eras, Roman Catholic tradition acknowledged the necessity of capital punishment, in rare cases, to protect citizens from threats to the common good. In recent times, with more secure prison facilities that give us the means to offer such protection without executions, our church leaders have affirmed the need to eradicate the death penalty.
Where to start? First, it is flat out moral error to claim that the death penalty violates respect for human life and dignity, and to the extent that our Bishop's conference asserts it does, they are in direct conflict with 6,000 years of Judeo-Christian moral teaching, and with the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself which clearly admits of the moral validity of capital punishment, ("the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty") while delimiting the circumstances of its just application.

The profs then amazingly assert that in Catholic tradition the death penalty was limited to rare cases! I challenge the whole lying lot of these dissenters to produce evidence for the claim that the Church ever in the past as a universal principle urged that the death penalty be used only "rarely," much less that She ever viewed capital punishment as a mere tool for protecting society from threats. In fact, this is the novelty of the modern teaching that is precisely the bone of contention between orthodox Catholics and those who want to change the Church's moral teaching. You can see a summary of what the Church really used to teach here. Suffice it to say, the Church taught that capital punishment is not simply a practical, last resort necessity for the defense of society, but rather that its use is a vindication of the sanctity of life, a requirement of the Fifth Commandment, and a component of a truly just system of criminal punishment.

Lastly, these luminaries allege that it is because of our nifty modern secure prisons that we must cast off capital punishment. This of course is a reference to #2267 of the contemporary Catholic Catechism, which says,

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 definitively 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 non-existent."
But the problem is that this passage glaringly fails to identify precisely which "possibilities" exist for a modern state to render offenders incapable of doing harm (it certainly can't be suggesting solitary confinement for life, which would surely be viewed as cruel). And as we've catalogued at some length here, in the US at any rate, even life without parole does not render offenders harmless.

So in sum, the college profs Shea relies upon: 1) are not really engaged in theology at all, but in dime-store criminology and sociology, large parts of which they are flat out wrong about; 2) they are attempting to deceive people about what the Church has taught in the past, and about what it teaches now; and 3) they put their own, unwarranted, unsupported gloss on #2267 of the CCC, which nowhere explains what "possibilities" exist for rendering offenders harmless, but as I've shown, certainly can not mean life without parole, which demonstrably does not render offenders harmless.

That a group of American college teachers and some American bishops think we ought to get rid of capital punishment does not in my mind trump the perennial moral teaching of the Church.

I can only hope that Papa Shea and his ilk will stop their dissent on this issue and return the bosom of Holy Mother Church.


dudleysharp said...

REBUTTAL: “A Catholic Call to Abolish the Death Penalty”
by Tobias Winright at Catholic Moral Theology blog

From: Dudley Sharp

Mr. Winright has admitted that his source for some his information was the Death Penalty Information Center, a well known anti death penalty group. The best that can be hoped for is that Prof. Winright and his unnamed co-authors, simply and blindly, repeated the nonsense from DPIC, without fact checking and they have, thus far, refused to correct.

1) Troy Davis’ many claims were “smoke and mirrors”, as detailed by the federal judge, in the 2010 decision, concluding Davis was not innocent. The evidence for his guilt was overwhelming, as are the many deceptions of the Save Troy Davis Campaign (1).

2) The Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act does not and cannot create “the legal conditions for executing a man whose guilt was not established­ beyond reasonable doubt.”.

3) Many studies find that there is no disparity by race of either the victim or defendant in death penalty cases. In addition, white murderers are twice as likely to be executed as are black murderers, with whites being executed more quickly (2).

4) It is untrue that “Since 1973, 138 persons have been exonerated from death row. . ..”. Several reviews, inclusive of one by the NY Times, find that from 25-40 actual innocents have been “identified­d and released” from death row during that time, or 0.4% of those sent to death row. The evidence supports that innocents are more at risk without the death penalty (3)

5) For 2000 years the Catholic Church taught that the death penalty respects human life and dignity and is a just, appropriate­e and, sometimes, mandatory sanction for murder. The Church’s recent change is based upon an inaccurate­, secular prudential judgement, finding prison security a sufficient “defense of society” that use of the death penalty is all but unnecessary­ay. Forgiveness­ and love incorporate­e justice, inclusive of the death penalty, as detailed by Church teaching and reason (4).

Other bits of their misinformation were not addressed.


dudleysharp said...


1) Troy Davis & The Innocent Frauds of the anti death penalty lobby
Dudley Sharp, sharpjfa@aol.com

The Troy Davis campaign, like many before it (1), is a simple, blatant fraud, easily uncovered by the most basic of fact checking (1).
The 2010 federal court innocence hearing found:

" . . . Mr. Davis is not innocent: the evidence produced at the hearing on the merits of Mr. Davis's claim of actual innocence and a complete review of the record in this case does not require the reversal of the jury's judgment that Troy Anthony Davis murdered City of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail on August 19, 1989." (2)

"Ultimately, while Mr. Davis's new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors." (2)

"As a body, this evidence does not change the balance of proof that was presented at Mr.
Davis's trial."(2)

"The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value." (2)

None of this came as a surprise to anyone who actually followed the case, in contrast to the Save Troy Davis folks who were, willingly, duped.

1) a) "Troy Davis: Worldwide anti death penalty deceptions, rightly, failed",

b) "Troy Davis fairly convicted, not 'railroaded' "

2) "Innocence Hearing", ordered by the US Supreme Court, US DISTRICT COURT, in the SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA, SAVANNAH DIV.,RE TROY ANTHONY DAVIS, CASE NO. CV409-130

2) Rebuttal to the death penalty racism claims
Dudley Sharp

a) "Death Penalty Sentencing: No Systemic Bias"

b) "The Death Penalty and Racism The Times Have Changed", Washington Post reporter Charles Lane, The American Interest, Nov/Dec 2010,


d) Race, Sentencing and the death penalty.
much more . . .

3) The 130 (now 138) death row "innocents" scam

4) a) "Death Penalty Support: Christian and secular Scholars"

b) Christianity and the death penalty

c) Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty,

much more upon request

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

There's only one problem with your analysis, Prosecutor: When it comes to capital punishment for murder, heresy has become orthodoxy. If JPII and Benedict reflexively either condemn the execution of murderers or appeal for clemency (as JPII did with Timothy McVeigh), then they are making the CCC irrelevant.

It's obvious that abolition is their real focus; the CCC's wording on this topic is nothing but a rhetorical fig leaf to justify their activism.

Here's a piece I wrote for Front Page Magazine when the Vatican condemned Saddam Hussein's justified execution:


As far as Shea is concerned, he's nothing but a bully who's doing a fantastic impression of a false prophet. I shudder to think what this fellow would have been like if he worked for the Gestapo, the KGB or the NKVD.