"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, June 14, 2017

Fisking Mr. Shea, Part IX

Mark Shea began this series to tell us why and how the Church has “developed” it’s teaching on the death penalty to assert that abolishing the death penalty is the only true Catholic position.

But now, in the latest installment, we learn that after all, as Pope Benedict said (as quoted at the top of this blog), there can indeed be a legitimate diversity of opinion on the death penalty in the Church.

Mr. Shea actually cites the very words of Benedict. But, he says, “Benedict did not say ‘You can ignore the Church on the death penalty and still be a good Catholic.’” Now, as with many of his assertions, this one smells strongly of straw-man. The main project of this blog has been to demonstrate that a just and measured use of the death penalty, like what we have in the US, is in total conformity with even the last ten or twenty years of Papal commentary on the death penalty.

I’m happy to report my agreement with Mr. Shea’s admonition that:
it is not an exercise of “prudential judgement” to say, “The Church is just dead wrong about the death penalty. In fact, we need to fight the Church’s teaching and make sure the death penalty is inflicted to the maximum extent possible and battle to make sure this development of doctrine is ignored as error.”
I don’t know anyone who thinks capital punishment must be inflicted “to the maximum extent possible.” Just the right amount will do, namely when it’s required to protect us from offenders who seem very likely to continue to be violent, or when the justice of a given case cries out for it. There are plenty of examples to be had of both kinds of cases.

But what Mr. Shea has claimed in various places, is that the Church magisterially teaches that Catholics must support abolition. He assumes and gratuitously asserts, as I’ve noted earlier in the series, that the call for abolition is in fact a magisterial teaching of the Church.  But the burden is his to demonstrate the binding, magisterial nature of Francis' and some bishops’ claims that the death penalty ought to be abolished. His mere insistence is not proof.

Abolition is not magisterial teaching, of course, and Mr. Shea tacitly acknowledges as much when he shifts gears and spends his entire column claiming that some unknown, unidentified Catholics oppose the Catechism’s position that because of unspecified “improvements” in penology (we’re left to assume), capital punishment should only be used “rarely.”   

Yet I know of no Catholics who deny the Catechism’s position that, *if* we could keep offenders from killing other inmates, guards, prison staff, or escaping or being pardoned so they could kill or harm again (the condition precedent in the Catechism and John Paul II’s own teaching), then we would need have recourse rarely, if ever, to the death penalty.

I do know of Catholics, like myself, who both seek to reconcile the new teaching with the old, and respectfully question what to make of this new position ignoring the whole question of justice, and focusing solely on public safety. I think it’s fair to ask the Church to clarify what has become of the justice consideration which weighs so heavily in the 6,000 prior years of Judeo-Christian teaching on this subject.

Pope Benedict could, as Shea acknowledges, admit the possibility of diversity of opinion about application of the death penalty precisely because abolition is not a magisterial teaching. Whether circumstances render the death penalty virtually inadmissible (the “new” or “developed” teaching) is precisely what we have Christian freedom to have a diversity of opinion about.

So, if Benedict could clearly foresee reasonable disagreements about the existence of circumstances which might render the death penalty more or less permissible (a position never specifically rejected by Francis), why can’t Mr. Shea accept the Pope’s teaching and stop insisting that Catholics must insist on abolition?

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