Tuesday, August 7, 2018

On Justice and the Death Penalty

From The National Review:
I agree that the test of one’s obedience to authority is whether you submit when you don’t agree. And if you had asked me point-blank about my opinion on the death penalty when I joined the Church, I would have said I thought it necessarily cruel and unjust, but that I defer to the Church. Gradually I did my homework and came to accept and appreciate how the Church’s thought on this fit with its other propositions. However, I never really thought it a pressing topic. Ideally, I believed, we would raise the standard for imposing the death penalty from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to moral certainty, and reserve it for the worst of the worst: murder, rape, and perhaps treason. However, given the iniquities of our justice system, ambivalence seemed justified, too. Even a civil moratorium had a certain prudential logic to it. The only part of the death-penalty argument I’ve ever taken up is to urge the abolition of lethal injection as an “unusual” punishment, corruptive of medicine.

The more urgent matter in our justice and penal system was the widespread tolerance of criminality and rape within prisons. Because the Church taught me that the retributive and rehabilitative aspects of justice are so intimately connected, the thought of plunging convicts into a state of violence, anarchy, and abuse struck me as utterly perverse. Doing something intrinsically evil to a human can never be a just punishment; it is just an additional crime.

1) Before the 1980s, the Church held that the death penalty is just and occasionally necessary, consonant with natural law, restorative of the common good broken by a heinous crime, and potentially redeeming of the offender, alerting him to the depravity of his crime, and giving him a chance for expiation of his guilt, before he meets the Judge of us all. The God that we meet in Scripture imposes the death penalty and directs others to do so. However, following the counsel of earlier Church Fathers and the precepts of mercy, clergy and religious ought not to participate as executioners, or to deliver death sentences as judges.

2) During and after John Paull II’s papacy, the Church held that the death penalty can be legitimately and justly applied by public authority, but depriving a man of his life may rob him of a chance to repent later. Because society can reliably deprive violent criminals of the freedom to hurt others, the use of the death penalty is harder to justify in many cases, and ought to be increasingly rare. (Read more.)

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