Skip to comments.Death Penalty for the Innocent
Posted on 07/13/2004 9:12:13 AM PDT by Polycarp IV
Death Penalty for the Innocent
-- Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life
From the beginning of my ministry, I have preached and taught consistently against the death penalty (see www.priestsforlife.org/articles/capitalpunishment.htm ). I do not believe it should be used and have joined efforts to abolish it.
At the same time, there's a difference between capital punishment and abortion. Put simply, abortion can never be justified; capital punishment can sometimes be justified. Abortion is intrinsically evil, which means that no circumstances can ever make it right. Capital punishment, on the other hand, is evil when used in the wrong circumstances, but can sometimes be used in the right circumstances.
Capital punishment can never be carried out on an innocent person. That would defy its very definition. Abortion, on the other hand, is always carried out on an innocent person. Otherwise, that would defy its very definition.
In those rare circumstances where it has been justified, capital punishment was carried out precisely for the defense of life. Abortion, on the other hand, is carried out precisely for the destruction of life.
There is a substantial difference between a tiny child, growing in her natural environment, and a convicted criminal who poses a threat to the well-being of society. Yet more children are killed by abortion in America every five days than have ever been executed by capital punishment.
The Bible, and 2000 years of Catholic teaching, recognize the state's right and duty to protect its citizens, even by force. Romans 13:1-5 reads,
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. .... For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad...If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer."
In his encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II makes a clear distinction between a practical "no" to the death penalty and an absolute "no" to abortion. In regard to the state punishing wrongdoers, he writes, "the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non- existent" (56).
Then he goes on to say, in distinction, "If such great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment "You shall not kill" has absolute value when it refers to the innocent person." (57)
Simply put, "You shall not kill" applies even to the criminal, but with exceptions. "You shall not kill" applies absolutely to the innocent (born and unborn), without exceptions.
Can one still be pro-life and support the death penalty in certain instances? The answer is yes.
Comments on this column? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Priests for Life, PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314; Tel: 888-PFL-3448, 718-980-4400; Fax: 718-980-6515; web: www.priestsforlife.org
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Well...I think the article begs the question...of course the idea of capital punishment should be only in those cases where the defense of society is at stake. The question is one of scope! Many murders take place in the prisons by those who have murdered but are there for life because of the rejection of Capital punishment in their cases. Had they been executed, those who would have been otherwise murdered would have remained alive!
The problems arise in applying capital punishment in a way that those innocent but wrongly convicted might be spared. Hence imperfect though it is, we may well have to live with the cycles of appeals and re-appeals to make sure that each prisoner gets his or her fair shot in the system!
If you're looking at Old Testament law (thou shalt not kill) then there is clearly a difference between executions and murder. There were multiple words for "kill," each with a different meaning. The commandments use the verb for "murder an innocent," not the verb for killing in war, execution, self defense, or killing an animal.
Bravo. Excellent article.
I certainly agree with you. The 2 generations of "Hapiru's" that traveled with Moses certainly understood how the commandment regarding "kill" was to be interpreted.... far better than the Vatican does today! Those who corrupted the camps with abominable practises or who murdered in cold blood were executed and Israel's enemies were slain in war often by the direct power of God! The transcriber of the Mosaic code was an advocate of capital punishment!
Ultimately God's son died the death we all deserved for our transgressions of the law!
So you want to interpret the 10 commandments? Look how the ancient Israelites did so from their practices!
I pray for more priests like Father Pavone.
Vatican II paved the way to a politically correct Catholic Church.
Enough of this "seamless garment" babble.
Pope Pius XI "Those who hold the reins of government should not forget that it is the duty of public authority ... to defend the lives of the innocent ... among whom we must mention in the first place infants hidden in the mother's womb. And if the public magistrates ... do not defend them, but by their laws and ordinances betray them to death at the hands of doctors and others, let them remember that God is the Judge and Avenger of innocent blood which cries from earth to heaven" (Casti Connubii No. 67).
Pope Pius XII "Every human being, even the infant in the mother's womb, has the right to life immediately from God, not from the parent or any human society or authority. Therefore there is no man, no human authority, no science, no medical, eugenic , social, economic or moral "indication" that can show or give valid juridical title for direct deliberate disposition concerning an innocent human life - which is to say, a disposition that aims at its destruction either as an end in itself or as the means of attaining another end that is perhaps in no way illicit in itself. Thus, for example, to save the life of the mother is a most noble end, but the direct killing of the child as a means to this end is not licit..." (Pope Pius XII, Allocution to Italian Midwives, October 29, 1951)
This is a wonderful article. Could a Catholic explain why the Church holds "defense of life" is the only justification for captital punishment? It seems to me that simple justice requires capital punishment for some crimes--e.g. in the extreme, Usama Bin Laden.
While I agree totally with Fr. Pavone's statements about the killing of the pre-born, I do disagree with the following:
"... In regard to the state punishing wrongdoers, he writes, "the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non- existent" (56)."
I would simply say that Genesis 9:6 is PRESCRIPTIVE, not merely predictive. The death penalty for murderers is not primarily for the purpose of defending society, although that is one of its benefits. I think the primary purpose is to uphold the human dignity of both the murder victim and even the murderer himself. It is simply proportionate punishment, and anything less, such as saying that cases of its excercise as an absolute necessity are rare, is an affront to justice and to human dignity.
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