"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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rendering Offenders Harmless, Part 48

8 California guards, 7 inmates injured in mass prison brawl at Pelican Bay state prison in California.
Several hundred of the prison's roughly 2,000 high-security inmates were in an exercise yard when two began fighting, she said. The melee began when the two prisoners refused to break up their fistfight despite guards' use of batons and pepper spray. Large groups of prisoners then ran toward the fight and attacked the guards. “We're encouraged that the officers weren't injured more than they were,” Thornton [the prison spokesman] said.
The Catechism tells us (#2267):
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 definitely 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 nonexistent."
What are these "possibilities" the state has for rendering offenders harmless? This, after all, is the condition precedent for not exercising the acknowledged right to resort to the death penalty.  Given all the examples I've cited of the failure of any possibilities I'm aware of to render offenders harmless, I have to conclude that whatever those possibilities are, since they are not effectual in the US, the limited, careful use of the death penalty we have in this country is in perfect accord with Catholic teaching.

Perhaps those who clamor for abolition could spend some time actually addressing the practical issues raised by the actual text of the Catechism, and show us which possibilities we have that would render offenders harmless. Until this is addressed, it seems that the abolition movement is just attempting to bypass the Church's stated teaching, not to implement it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fisking Mr. Shea, Part VI

Comes now Part 5 of Mr. Shea’s series about the Catholic “development” of the teaching about the death penalty, wherein we have been promised that we would see why and how this “development” requires us now to seek abolition of the death penalty altogether.

I wonder if we’ll get there, however, since this Part of the series again begins by conceding that “the Church grants a certain place for ‘retributive justice.’”

He then continues to argue that while Christians grant that “Caesar” has authority, we’ve always had a “certain unease with capital punishment” which led us, when we could influence public policy, to allow for punishments other than death for the crime of murder. Whereupon Mr. Shea quotes from some Church Fathers and disciplinary canons to the effect that penances could or ought to be imposed on those committing certain crimes, including murder.

Of course, what Mr. Shea breathlessly portrays as some kind of insight, that Christians do not, and never have, viewed the death penalty as required, but as permitted, is no news to anyone even facially familiar with the traditional view, which in the seminal 1916 Catholic Encyclopedia was described without fanfare as follows:
capital punishment is not contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church, and the power of the State to visit upon culprits the penalty of death derives much authority from revelation and from the writings of theologians. The advisability of exercising that power is, of course, an affair to be determined upon other and various considerations.

That said, the Church has never been hesitant or squeamish about the power of the state to execute where and when the circumstances were found appropriate, and the very Fathers he cite witness to this.

St. Augustine is representative of the views of the Church Fathers on the question, and he states that:
The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, for the representative of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to the Law or the rule of rational justice.

In another place, the great Father argues against the notion that the guilty should live in the hope of their conversion, stating that “inflicting capital punishment…protects those who are undergoing capital punishment from the harm they may suffer … through increased sinning which might continue if their life went on.”

Tertullian, in his De Spectaculis, ch. 19 and  De Anima, Ch. 56 says:
It is a good thing when the guilty are punished.  Who will deny this but the guilty?
But death that comes from the hands of justice, the avenger of violence, should not be accounted as violent.

But is it true, as Mr. Shea claims, that the death penalty “stuck in the Christian craw and never quite felt right?”

Not so much.

The Church obviously did not conduct executions, and left criminal justice to the “secular arm.” But in that age, certain serious offenses were dealt with by the Church’s penitential practices, which were, for serious offenses, standardized and not subject to the judgment of individual confessors. This practice still survives in the sins noted in Canon Law that are “reserved” to the local bishop or the Holy See.

The Church therefore was faced with situations where a murderer for whatever reason had been charged but not been executed, or perhaps never even apprehended or charged by the state, and who presented himself to the Church for sacramental forgiveness. What penance should be imposed when a murderer wishes to reconcile with the Church?

The fact that the Church accordingly established set penances for these offenders who had not been executed (the canons cited by Mr. Shea) is hardly evidence that the Church was hesitant about imposition of the death penalty as he asserts.

While this sidetrack to look at ancient Christian penances for murder is interesting, it does not support in the slightest Mr. Shea’s position that what the Fathers themselves viewed as a moral and just practice is now to be viewed as immoral and abolished.

But we’re patient, and will see what he comes up with next.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Fisking Mr. Shea, Part V

Some thoughts before turning to Mr. Shea’s fourth article promising to demonstrate the development of doctrine which requires abolition of the death penalty.

First, when we consider past developments of moral doctrine, such as the shift from prohibition of usury to a limited allowance of it; or of the approbation of slavery to the condemnation of it, we see generally that development does not happen in a generation, but over hundreds or more years. What death penalty abolitionists propose is going from full-throated approbation to absolute condemnation and abolition is less than one generation. Really, in less than 10 years, since the Catechism and the prior pope, Benedict, have, as we have seen, reiterated the moral legitimacy of the death penalty and the real possibility of its use.

Can a genuine “development” really happen in what would be in effect a blink of philosophic or theological “time?” It’s a question not asked, much less answered, by Mr. Shea.

Second, the real “development” if that’s what it is, in this area is that where Tradition and Scripture give primacy to the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the DP (congruent satisfaction and a vindication of the value of human life given in the Fifth Commandment), and the public safety/self defense/defense of society as a secondary justification, the “new” teaching of Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism references only public safety as a justification. The “new” does not expressly reject the philosophy and theology of the traditional teaching, it simply ignores it, passing it over in silence.

Is this the real development? Can it be called a conscious development when the prior teaching is just ignored? Can a moral doctrine be “developed” out of existence by mere silence? Overturned sub silentio?

Personally I was hoping against hope that Mr. Shea would address these real and interesting issues, but alas, thus far all we’ve been given is hyperbolic bombast about blood lust vs. mercy, a phony straw man opposition that exists only in his mind.

Indeed, so far, Mr. Shea hasn’t even established a change (a “development”). He admits several times the teaching of the CCC.  So to the extent he argues that the DP is inherently immoral and needs therefore to be abolished, he has not demonstrated that this novel view is an authoritative teaching at all which represents a development of some kind instead of an informal (and possibly erroneous) position held by various clerics and laity, and yes, maybe even by the current Pope. Again we are faced with the principle of non contradiction: the Cathecism, Benedict, and John Paul II’s teaching that “the DP is moral in limited situations” AND “the DP is immoral and should be abolished” can’t both be true at the same time.

One must be discarded; which one, Mr. Shea?

Perhaps his answer lies in the next chapter of his manifesto, which begins to approach these issues, mainly by arguing that we’ve just never really understood Scripture correctly, and all this stuff about justice that the Church Fathers and St. Thomas talk about is a bunch of karmic hooey.

First, the revision of the Church’s understanding of Scripture. He begins thus:
the words of Genesis 9:6 (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”) are best understood as a concession to human weakness, not as a positive command or ideal, like the Old Testament’s concession to human weakness in the matter of divorce. 

Best understood that way why? By what authority? What Church Father, Pope, or Catechism viewed this passage thus? It’s mere ipse dixit, not an argument. This interpretation ignores the plain language of command (“shall”), and conveniently omits the rest of the passage, “for in the image of God made he man.” Thus God indicates that murder is to be abhorred and punished not because of human weakness, or public safety, but to vindicate the value of a life made in God’s own image! As a former Protestant, Mr. Shea ought to know better than to cite Scripture incompletely to make a point.

Nor does his interpretation hold when other passages are considered, such as Numbers 35:33:
Defile not the land of your habitation, which is stained with the blood of the innocent: neither can it otherwise be expiated, but by his blood that hath shed the blood of another.

Note, categorical language about expiation, and the command “defile not.” Nothing about concession to bronze age weakness. And look at this capital punishment law for the Jews in Leviticus 20:9-20:
He that curseth his father, or mother, dying let him die: he hath cursed his father, and mother, let his blood be upon him. If any man commit adultery with the wife of another, and defile his neighbour's wife, let them be put to death, both the adulterer and the adulteress. If a man lie with his stepmother, and discover the nakedness of his father, let them both be put to death: their blood be upon them. If any man lie with his daughter in law, let both die, because they have done a heinous crime: their blood be upon them. If any one lie with a man as with a woman, both have committed an abomination, let them be put to death: their blood be upon them. If any man after marrying the daughter, marry her mother, he hath done a heinous crime: he shall be burnt alive with them: neither shall so great an abomination remain in the midst of you. He that shall copulate with any beast or cattle, dying let him die, the beast also ye shall kill. The woman that shall lie under any beast, shall be killed together with the same: their blood be upon them. If any man take his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother, and see her nakedness, and she behold her brother's shame: they have committed a crime: they shall be slain, in the sight of their people, because they have discovered one another's nakedness, and they shall bear their iniquity. If any man lie with a woman in her flowers, and uncover her nakedness, and she open the fountain of her blood, both shall be destroyed out of the midst of their people. Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy aunt by thy mother, and of thy aunt by thy father: he that doth this, hath uncovered the shame of his own flesh, both shall bear their iniquity.

These are commands of the Mosaic Law, the Divine ordinance of the God of Israel, not some kind of concession to weakness. Note, many of these crimes in no way affect the public safety or would need to be dealt with by death in order to defend the physical safety of society; they are purely punitive in the case of the sexual offenses listed. There is no mere pragmatic concession to an un-advanced society, but a command to purge even secret sins.

This entire effort to undermine the Scriptural support for the DP by appealing to the “mean” God of the Old Testament who had to be really tough on those unruly bronze age Hebrews, will not survive the fact that in the New Testament, far from moving away from the death penalty, Paul tells the Romans (Rom. 13:2-4):
Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist purchase to themselves eternal damnation. For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. . . For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is the minister of God: and avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.

If Christ could, as part of the New Covenant, abolish the Jewish concession of divorce (a fact Shea bizarrely cites to argue that DP abolition is a development), why then did He and His apostles not take the opportunity to abolish the supposedly “bronze age concession” of the death penalty?

And while, as Mr. Shea notes, God showed mercy to Moses and David after they committed murder, the Law was very clear about how murder was usually to be punished. Mr. Shea seems not to realize that there is a difference between God sparing Moses and David and what the ordinary course of justice should be for the Jews where God does not sit in civil rule of the state. King David was not at all confused, since he said, “I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.” (Ps. 101:8)

After attacking the Old Testament justification for the DP, Mr. Shea turns in passing to the philosophical justification for it, the virtue of justice:
Punishment is ordered toward redemption, not toward restoring some abstract karmic “balance of justice” somewhere in the universe to which God himself is subject.

Again, the assertion that punishment is ordered toward redemption is mere ipse dixit, unsupported by evidence or citation.

Is the natural virtue of justice now just a pagan “karma” as Mr. Shea sneeringly terms it? And if God is the author of natural law, why is it incongruous to expect that in the ordinary course of events, following natural law and virtue, including the demands of the virtue of justice, is in accord with the Divine will, not opposed to it?

In any event, that noted modernist, Venerable Pope Pius XII, back in the “bronze ages” of the 1950s, viewed things a bit differently:
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, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.

Address, 9/14/52.

Shea tries to bootstrap his Moses/David redemption trumps justice point by asserting another whopper unsupported by anything but his own say-so, arguing that Christ makes clear that “turn the other cheek” is the new way, and applies not just to individuals but to states. Thus, Shea claims, redemption is the ultimate goal of punishment, not justice, of which redemption of the offender is but one consideration.

Shea seems seriously to suggest by this that punishment has nothing to do with justice, or that inflicting a just punishment could be incompatible with redemption. It seems that Shea, by positing this newly discovered opposition of punishment and redemption is trying to get us to conclude that we could never execute offenders, not even for the Catechism’s public safety rationale, because after all, aren’t mercy and redemption more valuable than an indeterminate risk that a killer will kill again, or a lower-order consideration like justice (viewed as karmic revenge)?

Of course, under this revolutionary view, we could not punish murder even by life imprisonment, a sentence that seems decidedly to close the door on redemption and mercy. After all, if I murder, but am “redeemed” a year later, doesn’t “mercy” dictate my immediate release since punishment is ordered to redemption?  I wonder what Shea and his abolitionist comrades would suggest as the proper punishment, then, for murder?

St. Thomas, whose views have to be discarded by Shea to advance his novel theory, had this practical observation about redemption and the death penalty:
The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgment that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.

Summa Contra Gentiles III, 146.

But as with the Popes, Councils, and Fathers preceding the current Pontiff, we are to dismiss such authorities as hopelessly opposed to mercy and redemption. But I don’t see Shea’s newfound interpretation of Scripture and dismissing of justice as “karma” to be as persuasive an interpretation as this one given by the Fathers of the Council of Trent, expressly interpreting the Fifth Commandment:
Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.

As if to underscore this teaching, the Council Fathers urge as a remedy against violating this Commandment a reflection upon the evil of homicide, which is surely vastly more relevant to our murderous age than to theirs:
The enormity of this sin [of murder] is manifest from many and weighty passages of Holy Scripture. So much does God abominate homicide that He declares in Holy Writ that of the very beast of the field He will exact vengeance for the life of man, commanding the beast that injures man to be put to death. And if He commanded man to have a horror of blood, He did so for no other reason than to impress on his mind the obligation of entirely refraining, both in act and desire, from the enormity of homicide.

The murderer is the worst enemy of his species, and consequently of nature. To the utmost of his power he destroys the universal work of God by the destruction of man, since God declares that He created all things for man’s sake. Nay, as it is forbidden in Genesis to take human life, because God created man to his own image and likeness, he who makes away with God’s image offers great injury to God, and almost seems to lay violent hands on God Himself.

It seems then, very much in accord with both Scripture and right reason to execute some offenders (and I suspect the Fathers of Trent were familiar with Moses and David).

So who is wrong, Mr. Shea or the Fathers of Trent and their predecessors and descendants in the Faith?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Can a Catholic be a Death Penalty Case Juror?

So Mr. Shea is really hitting the capital punishment issue lately, and recently fielded a question from a reader asking “Would it be a sin if I sat on a jury and voted for the death penalty?”

To which Mr. Shea supplies the question-begging assertion that “killing people who do not need to be killed is grave matter.” He goes on to state what he views to be the division between “death penalty advocates” and the “approach of the church:”
the question the death penalty advocate is constantly asking is “When do we get to kill somebody?” (That, by the way, is the entire subtext of your letter.)
The approach the Church always takes is “How can we possibly avoid taking human life if at all possible?”  The whole thrust and approach is different and is ordered toward mercy and redemption.  The goal is not to cross all the ts and dot all the i’s and get through all the proper hoops so that (at last!) we can kill somebody and feel terrific about it.  The goal is to find a way toward seeing, if at all possible, that human life–yes, even guilty human life–might be spared and redeemed. 
But it seems to me that this view is asserting a "hermeneutic of rupture” when in fact there is a clear continuity between the official position of the Church (which even Mr. Shea references in his answer: the death penalty is admissible to protect society in certain cases) and the current use of the death penalty in the US—the only exercise of it sought by “death penalty advocates.”
And so the correct answer to the questioner is “yes, you may sit on a jury and you may vote for the death penalty.” Because you will be instructed by the Court like this (using my own Virginia as an example):
The penalty of death shall not be imposed unless the Commonwealth shall prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a probability based upon evidence of the prior history of the defendant or of the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense of which he is accused that he would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society, or that his conduct in committing the offense was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman, in that it involved torture, depravity of mind or aggravated battery to the victim.

Code of Virginia, § 19.2-264.4 (C).
In other words, the law permits death only where the offender is a continued threat (e.g., to prison personnel or fellow inmates) or that his crime reflects particularly aggravated circumstances that indicate the offender has no regard for life, which is another way of saying the safety of society cannot be reasonably assured with respect to such a person.

Mr. Shea labors mightily to show a breach between some in the Church who advocate abolition because they wrongly (and probably heretically) view the death penalty as immoral per se, and those who adhere to what he concedes is the actual formal teaching, that the death penalty is not inherently immoral, and can be resorted to in certain situations, such as those allowed by Virginia law. All in spite of knowing that the formal teaching of the Church creates no such breach.

It must be mentally and emotionally taxing to know what the Church really teaches, yet want desperately for it to be otherwise. Perhaps this explains some of the off-the-rails abusive rhetoric employed by Mr. Shea.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mr. Shea: Right All the Time?

Mr. Shea, taking a pause from his anti-death penalty series, opined about the latest remark by the Pope  delivered during a homily, wherein Francis, speaking of slavery, termed it a "mortal sin," and claimed that, like slavery,  capital punishment "for a time...was normal. Today, we say that the death penalty is inadmissible."

To which Mr. Shea modestly reacts, "I hate being right all the time." 

He then repeats his previously unsupported claim that "three popes, all the bishops of the world, and the rest of the civilized world" support abolition (untrue) and that supporters of the Catechism and all Catholic and Christian history are a mix of "Communist China, North Korea, a smattering of backward Islamic Bronze Age despotisms and the reliably wrong about everything postmodern America Right and its court prophets of conservative postmodern Christians both Evangelical and Catholic."

Now it's just false that three popes support abolition. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae and in the Catechism promulgated during his pontificate expressly reaffirmed "the traditional teaching of the church" which "does not exclude recourse to the death penalty-" admittedly, under much more stringent practical restrictions than the traditional teaching, which did not really enter into the contingent practical conditions which would render recourse to the death penalty unnecessary. 

Pope Benedict, of course, famously acknowledged, “There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty.” Got it? Applying the death penalty, which necessarily implies the traditional belief that capital punishment is perfectly moral under the correct circumstances.

So no, Mr. Shea, there are not three popes who embrace abolition or believe the death penalty is inherently immoral. What we're left with are some public but not magisterial statements from the current Pope expressing his view on the issue. Does it need explanation that not every public utterance of a Pope is doctrine?

As to “all the bishops” denying the morality of the death penalty, I’ll cite just one counter-example, which disproves the assertion: Cardinal Raymond Burke, in  a wonderful document about civic responsibility, said this:
Although war and capital punishment can rarely be justified, they are not intrinsically evil; neither practice includes the direct intention of killing innocent human beings. In some circumstances, self-defense and defense of the nation are not only rights, but responsibilities. Neither individuals nor governments can be denied the right of lawful defense in appropriate circumstances (CCC, Nos. 2265 and 2309).

As usual, Cardinal Burke perfectly and precisely lays out Catholic teaching. Why can’t Mr. Shea and his fellow dissenters accept this teaching?

The rest of Mr. Shea’s comments, alas, are like his former statements on this issue, positing a false choice between fighting abortion or supporting the death penalty, and claiming that Catholics merely want to slaughter people indiscriminately:
Forgetting, yet again, the “to natural death” part of the sanctity of human life, they will again siphon off all their time and energy from the battle against abortion to argue that we need to kill people who do not need to be killed and to strive to make sure that the largest gulag on planet earth makes sure to maintain a system of slaughter predicated on the insistence that it is better the innocent should die than that the guilty receive mercy–even though the guilty will be kept behind bars for life.
Of course, it should not need stating that since the US executes only about a "rare" number of .05% of killers in very limited circumstances, after fair trials and years of review by multiple different state and federal courts, it cannot credibly be claimed that mere bloodlust leads death penalty proponents to toss overboard any reasonable discernment of which cases call for the ultimate punishment. It’s a mere ad hominem smear and a mortal sin, if I can borrow that old fashioned term from Pope Francis, of calumny.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Fisking Mr. Shea, Part IV

In his latest installment arguing that the comments of Pope Francis and of some bishops and bishops’ conferences urging abolition of the death penalty because it is immoral is a “development” of doctrine, Mr. Shea turns again to the Old Testament.

He returns to his argument that 21st century rejection of the death penalty as a moral option is akin to the early apostles and Christians figuring out whether their Jewish forbears were in error
to circumcise their children and keep kosher. But, of course, they were not. Rather, what the apostles then (and the bishops today) recognise is that more light from God – and more understanding of light already received – changes things and deepens understanding. The apostles did not declare their ancestors in error at the Council of Jerusalem. Rather, they underwent a paradigm shift. 

So, as in his first article, Mr. Shea is equating 6,000 years of Judeo-Christian approbation of the moral quality of capital punishment with the temporally-bound dictates of the Mosaic ritual law. The equivalence is utterly lacking, of course. The Jewish ritual law bound the Jews under the Old Covenant. With Christ, and the New Covenant, it was very quickly clear to the early Christians that observance of “the Law” was not binding for Christians: baptism and the sacraments were the path of holiness under the New Covenant.

The question of the death penalty, however, is entirely different in nature. If, as the abolitionists claim, the death penalty is intrinsically immoral, it could never have been the subject of even permissive allowance, since to suggest so is to claim that God could sanction unjust killing. More fundamentally, recourse to the death penalty by Israel did not occur because it was a part of the ritual law, like circumcision and the dietary code. It was exercised by Israel (and I daresay all other ancient societies) because it is implicitly condoned in the Fifth Commandment and comports with the natural virtue of Justice.

If Mr. Shea is right, that the death penalty was merely permitted, like divorce, in the Old Covenant because of the “hardness of their hearts,” then one would expect that, like divorce, there would have been, very early in the Church, a strong movement against capital punishment, just as there was against divorce. Since it was a common practice that took many lives, one would think that Christ Himself might have condemned the practice, like He did in reference to divorce. But He was silent. Silent even when Dismas the “Good Thief” was hanging on the cross next to him and rebuked the other thief by stating “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." (Luke 23:40-41).

Now the Lord had an excellent opportunity at that point to teach all present and all posterity that Dismas was incorrect, that the death penalty is inherently evil and should be abolished. But He did not, because, frankly, that’s not His teaching and never was.

The false suggestion that there is a “mean God of the Old Testament” who was fine with bloodthirsty practices like the death penalty and a “merciful forgiving God” of the New Testament who would never approve of the death penalty is belied by Scripture itself, such as this passage from Romans:

Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist purchase to themselves eternal damnation. For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. . . For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is the minister of God: and avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.

 (Rom. 13:2-4)

Nor is this surprising since both Old and New Testaments refer to the death penalty not merely as an accommodation to blood lust, or a culturally conditioned practice due to a “bronze age” judicial system, but as an exercise of the virtue of Justice and a vindication of the importance and value of innocent life.

Mr. Shea then tells us,
 Time was when the Church affirmed that the death penalty is ‘retributive justice’ for murder. It is the punishment that fits the crime: ‘life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe’ (Ex. 21:23-25). Thomas Aquinas affirms this. So do a host of Magisterial authorities before Evangelium Vitae. 

Indeed the Magisterium does teach that the death penalty is in accord with the virtue of justice, as summarized here. Which is why any “development” argument for abolition has to account not only for the clear support for capital punishment in Sacred Scripture, but for the continuous support for it from the Church Fathers, through the schoolmen, through Trent, and through the unanimity of Catholic thought up to and including the pontificate of Pius XII, all of whom taught unambiguously that the death penalty is in accord with both the natural virtue of Justice and the Divine Law found in the Fifth Commandment.

While admitting this Magisterial teaching, Mr. Shea goes on to point out that,
A brief survey of the development of the Church’s thought is in order here, because the notion that justice demands the death penalty and goes unsatisfied without it is simply not supported by Scripture or tradition.

Now to the extent Mr. Shea is claiming that justice and the traditional teaching do not require the death penalty in all cases, he simply states the obvious. Recourse to the death penalty, just like which sentence to hand down for theft, is a contingent matter depending on many mitigating and aggravating factors, mercy being one such factor.

But to the extent Mr. Shea is claiming that we are free to ignore the virtue of justice and the traditional Scriptural view of capital punishment, and conclude that the death penalty is immoral (the abolitionist position), he can find no support in Scripture or the traditional sources of Catholic theology: the Fathers, the schoolmen, the Catechisms and Councils, the Papal teachings.

What then is his answer?
The primal will of God is not “Murderers must always die” or “Restore abstract karmic balance when blood cries out from the ground” but “Look for opportunities to show mercy.” Seen this way, the commandment to Noah to shed the blood of murderers is a indeed concession to human weakness, a last ditch effort to restrain human evil run amuck. It is not the goal to which we are to aspire, but the rough frontier justice of a raw Bronze Age culture.

So, having conceded that Sacred Scripture and Catholic tradition have always allowed for the death penalty, he claims that use of it is a concession to weakness, not a positive mandate.

But even if true (it’s not), it’s beside the point. To say, as the Catholic does, that the death penalty is a just and moral option for states to use in certain circumstances, is not the same thing as saying “justice and the Bible demand that every murder be punished by death.” Again, there has always been a recognition that circumstances, including mercy, might induce the state to impose a lesser sentence than death. There has been no “development” to this perennial view. Pope Francis did not invent or discover mercy. It’s always been one part of the equation is assessing whether in a particular case, capital punishment should be imposed.

In short, Mr. Shea presents a false choice: either it’s “God wants all murderers to die” or “mercy must be shown.” It’s false because he falsifies the traditional teaching, which has nothing to do with maintaining security in bronze-age societies (Pius XII, after all, reigned until 1958), but everything to do with the death penalty being, as the Council of Trent put it, “an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.”

But even if you set the equation in those phony terms, he has not shown how we get from “the death penalty is certainly moral in some contingent circumstances” (tradition) to “the death penalty is never moral, no matter the circumstances, because Mercy” (abolitionists).

Citing the abolition of divorce and the ritual Mosaic Law at the start of the Christian era is not a compelling argument, in my view, that 2,000 years of Church Fathers, theologians, and Councils somehow got it wrong when they teach that the death penalty is in accord with Justice and a vindication of God’s hatred of the crime of murder, whose perpetrators, as Trent put it, “almost seem to lay violent hands on God Himself.”

But we’re patiently waiting, and we’ll see what Mr. Shea comes up with next.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Brutal, Barbaric, and Diabolic

No, the title of this post is not quoting Mr. Shea describing the death penalty. It's actually quoting some judges in India affirming the death penalty in a vile rape, disembowelment, murder case:
India's Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for four gang rape convicts found guilty of sexually assaulting a 23-year-old paramedic who later died from her horrific injuries. Calling the December 2012 incident "brutal, barbaric, and diabolic", the top court said if any case warrants the death penalty, it is this one, rejecting the men's appeal against their sentences. 
It caught my eye for two reasons. First, it comes from India, which still has the death penalty. I found this interesting because Mr. Shea has repeatedly claimed that American recourse to capital punishment places us in a very shameful group of nations such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, and Islamic countries. But in fact, we’re also  in a group of nations not so easily dismissed as
primitive, barbaric, Islamic, or Communist. I think Japan, India, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Belize, St. Lucia, Jordan, and the UAE are not as easily be pigeon-holed.

 The second reason I found the article interesting is that the crime: rape, disemboweling, and murder, was horrendous and aggravated, as described by the court:
"She [the victim] was reduced to an object for their gross sadistic pleasures. They played with her dignity in a devilish manner," the three-bench court said in their judgement. "Little did she know on that cold winter night that her world would come to a devastating end...Convicts left the victim and her companion for dead, tried to run over them with the bus, looted them and shared the booty. During the attack, assaulters had thrashed the victim with an iron rod and pulled out her intestines. She died at a hospital 13 days later. "It was a devastating hour of darkness for the 23-year-old paramedic. The victim's parts were ruptured to give vent to the sexual desires. Lying naked, they shouted for help [and] as good fortune has it a night patrolling vehicle arrived," the judges said. 
The trial judge commented at the sentencing in 2013 that the case fell into the "rarest of rare category" which justifies capital punishment in India. It seems that this predominantly Hindu country has it just about right: executing the worst offenders in “rare” cases, language which echoes the Catechism.

Well done, India, and rest eternal to the poor woman who suffered this vile crime, and comfort to her family.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Fisking Mr. Shea, Part III

In “The development of doctrine, Part Two,” Mr. Shea, when he’s finished venting a bit about the unfairness of executing the “Arkansas 8” group of convicted murderers, observes what he finds to be an unusual phenomenon: the more one identifies as a pro life believer, the more likely one is to believe in the morality of the death penalty:
In short, the less you are a “good Catholic” in America, the more likely you are to support the Church’s actual teaching on the death penalty: namely, that it should be abolished. The more “prolife” you are (in the sense of “voting for Republicans in the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion as much as possible”) the more likely it is you oppose and even work to undermine the teaching of the Magisterium on the death penalty and call it an error and even a heresy. 
He notes that “even” in Australia, where capital punishment has long been outlawed, there is support for it amongst the population. That this should strike someone as surprising is surprising, since in the US, when the Supreme Court had judicially exterminated the death penalty for several years, support for it remained high. Why, surveys in that most Catholic of European nations, the land of Pope John Paul II and Evangelium Vitae, place support for the death penalty at around 70%. Clearly, there are some cases and some circumstances involving some offenders in which many or most people favor the option of capital punishment. Are they all Talibanic monsters who have bloodlust and are on the lookout for someone to offer in sacrifice? It just doesn’t seem likely. What seems more probable is that prolife Christians, and many others, understand the lengthy pedigree in the Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, and the constant teaching of the Church of the notion that in some cases, societies morally may resort to the death penalty.  

Finally, however, Mr. Shea begins his argument that there has been a “development of doctrine” with respect to capital punishment. He starts with the following correct statement:
The problem is this in a nutshell: For centuries, the Church affirmed the power of Caesar to execute capital criminals. 
And follows it immediately with a bafflingly false statement:
But since Evangelium Vitae, the Church has called for the abolition of the death penalty.
He then without irony accuses “traditionalists” of claiming that Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, have contradicted the traditional teaching and can be ignored. No citation is given to the “traditionalist” claims that these Popes can be ignored on the issue of capital punishment. The irony lies in the fact that Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II, and Benedict, all affirmed the traditional teaching, as did the Catholic Catechism authored under JPII’s reign. No “traditionalist” complained of a heretical departure from doctrine, because none occurred!

In fact, Mr. Shea ignores that it is precisely orthodox Catholics who have utilized Benedict's noted "hermeneutic of continuity" to argue that there has been no doctrinal change, only one of prudential emphasis in the concrete application of the unchanged moral teaching. It is Mr. Shea who is urging us to believe that there has been a doctrinal earthquake such that we must explain it is a "development." But to get there, Mr. Shea has to ignore the very Pope Benedict he claims believes in the doctrine of death penalty abolition, since Benedict, while a Cardinal in charge of Catholic doctrine, clearly stated,  "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."

What I suspect Mr. Shea is seeking to do is to crush any dissent from his abolitionist view, and what better way than to attempt to elevate abolitionism to the status of a doctrine? It's much easier to argue from authority than to do the messy business of proving that abolition is both consonant with Christian ethics, the Bible, and Tradition (it's not) and that it would make for a better society (it wouldn't).

Nonetheless, off he goes, and while making the obvious point that John Paul's statements in the Catechism and EV were not merely personal opinion, cites these very words of the Catechism that refute the idea that a “development of doctrine” requires death penalty abolition, :
2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.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 definitely 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.”
And well he should cite them, since they are merely the latest, definitive official, formal proclamations of the Church that capital punishment per se is perfectly moral and legitimate. Like any resort to force, however, and as the Church has always acknowledged, resort to such punishments should be made only in situations where they are truly necessary for the common good and public order. There is nothing truly new here.

By the very authority he cites, Mr. Shea then must at least implicitly admit that per se the death penalty is a moral option, and he does so by pivoting immediately to what he says is the true “development:”
Moreover, it is the teaching of the Church that the practical upshot of the “practical non-existence” of the need to execute is this: abolish the death penalty. That is the express demand of three popes and all the bishops of the world.
First, he cites no authority to demonstrate that John Paul II and Benedict XVI formally ("express") taught the “developed doctrine” of death penalty abolitionism, nor that “all the bishops of the world” have ever done so. Has there been a Vatican III called for this purpose? Did even Pope Francis author an encyclical, or a new Catechism wherein he lays out this new “doctrinal” mandate?

He cites no authority because there is none.

What he could cite are many statements from individual bishops and Bishops’ conferences calling for abolition. But neither these conferences nor the statements they issue are binding doctrine. If they were, belief in anthropogenic climate change, the minimum wage, and open borders would also have to be added to the Creed. Pope Francis has made comments about abolition, but has never thought to attempt to impose them as doctrine by way of a formal teaching, such as an encyclical or revision to the Catechism.

At the core, the problem Mr. Shea bumps up against in trying to shoehorn abolition into the Creed is the principle of non-contradiction. One cannot logically hold the position that the death penalty is per se moral (“the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty”) and simultaneously assert that “abolish the death penalty” is a moral absolute.

No, one must either “think with the Church,” and hold that executions are clearly morally permissible in certain circumstances, even if those circumstances might be “rare” (a word leaving much latitude for prudential judgment, as Benedict noted, since the “rarity” is premised upon the condition that offenders can be rendered harmless by unspecified “possibilities”); or one must be with the dissenters who reject that the death penalty can ever be moral and hence must, ipso facto, be abolished.

A true development of doctrine, Mr. Shea, cannot violate the principle of non-contradiction.

But we’ll see what he comes up with next time.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Fisking Mr. Shea, Part II

Mr. Shea’s defense of his view that the Church’s teaching on capital punishment has “developed” such that what was once a moral and licit practice is now immoral and must be abolished, continues in Part Two of his series in an Australian Catholic publication, the Catholic Weekly.

But before offering evidence of this “development,” he asserts, as he has before many times, that the U.S. “labours to keep itself on a list with Communist China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and sundry other Islamic despotisms to keep killing people on death row.” As I’ve pointed out before when Mr. Shea has resorted to this “argument:”
Shea also resorts to his old tactic of conflating the just and measured use of the death penalty as it is practiced in the Christian West, with the horrible excesses and murderous injustice of Islamic dominated regions, as though the due process, years of appeals, and extremely limited use of the death penalty in this country could be comparable to the wanton, reckless, and arbitrary use of barbaric methods of death imposed by the Muslims.
It's the logical fallacy of association and the bottom of the barrel resort for those who lack rational arguments.  In short, it's a cheap huckster's ploy and a demagogic device.  It's a losing argument's last resort.
But alas, it’s an old and recurring device that Mr. Shea still cuts and pastes into his articles.
Next, Mr. Shea veers off into a non-sequitur about a recent case in Arkansas, which he found noteworthy to identify as occurring during Holy Week, suggesting what, exactly, about the condemned killers?
During Holy Week this year, the Islamic Republic of Arkansas sought to slaughter eight men as quickly as possible for the highly principled reason that the chemicals used to kill men on death row were reaching their expiration date and needed to be use up so that good money did not go to waste.
Note the gratuitous smear, by which the people of the State of Arkansas, through their elected representatives, their Governor, and the juries and jurists who all combined to bring the accused to death row, are Islamists. But Mr. Shea does not inform his foreign readers about the facts of some of these cases, or about the laborious appeal process in the US (note the offense dates), as reported by the NY Times:
Mr. Williams killed a cheerleader at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in December 1998 but escaped from a maximum-security prison after a jury sentenced him to life the next year. A few miles from the prison, he fatally shot Cecil Boren, a farmer who was working in the yard while his wife was at church, and stole his truck. Mr. Williams led the police into Missouri in a high-speed chase before he crashed into a car, killing the driver. In 2005, he confessed to killing a 36-year-old man the same day he shot the cheerleader.
The only other executed Arkansas inmate in the current round of eight scheduled executions was Ledell Lee. According to the Arkansas Supreme Court summary (a case in which Lee did not contest the sufficiency of the evidence against him),
Twenty-six year-old Debra Reese was found brutally murdered in her home at 212 Cherry Street in Jacksonville on February 9, 1993.   She had been beaten some thirty-six times with a tire thumper, a tool resembling a baseball bat that her husband Billy, a truck driver, had given to her for protection while he was away.   Bruises on Debra's face and neck indicated that she had also been strangled.  Lee passed one of three crisp, new $100 bills the victim’s father had given her to pay a debt at a local business.
The NY Times also tells us this about two other of the "Arkansas 8" condemned murderers:
In 1995, Mr. Jones raped, beat and strangled Mary Phillips, who was 34, and beat and choked her daughter, Lacey, who was 11 at the time, to unconsciousness, but the girl survived. He has admitted guilt and said repeatedly that he did not want clemency.Mr. Williams [not the same as just mentioned], 46, kidnapped, robbed, raped and strangled Stacy Errickson in 1994, and has also admitted his guilt. Ms. Errickson, 22, had two children.
The challenge made to these executions is that use of the drugs involved might cause the inmates to experience pain, and thereby violate the constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. Ironically, the state resorts to use of lethal injections because after years of litigation by death penalty opponents, lethal injection is viewed as the most painless form of execution! You can see the method employed: litigate, get what you ask for, then litigate again, asserting that what you wanted before is now unacceptable. The people of a state can never win such a ratcheting form of argumentation. And lost in the years of litigation is the thought that perhaps the few moments or even minutes of discomfort or pain felt by the murderer is a very miniscule inconvenience indeed weighed against the terror inflicted on his victim, and the lifetime of pain inflicted on the victims’ families.

But Mr. Shea no doubt hopes that none of the facts of these crimes or the reality of the endless legal process and judicial review these cases undergo actually comes to the attention of his readers, because it does not fit the narrative that the US is Indonesia or North Korea. It's very difficult, indeed, to talk about what these criminals actually did, who their victims were, and how frequently the "system" is unequipped to render them anything close to harmless. The abolitionists cannot focus on the crimes themselves, or they lose the abstract sense of injustice they labor so hard to create.

And of course, none of this ad hominem, incomplete, off-topic treatment of the subject supports his theory that the abolitionist cause he and some unknown number of Western laity and clerics support is a “development” by which these executions run afoul of Catholic doctrine.

There’s more in Mr. Shea’s Part Two, but too often, the quick and dirty misrepresentations are left unrebutted because, frankly, they flow so freely in Mr. Shea’s writing. I’ll turn to the remainder of his piece in another posting.