Friday, October 27, 2017

On Revisiting the Death Penalty Question:
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

As a result of the significance of some recent news items on this matter, it apparently is necessary to revisit this subject anew. To quote myself from many years ago on this matter:

The pope's personal opinion is not required for grasping... What is required though are the doctrinal principles behind a limited usage of the death penalty -if its usage is advocated at all. The pope's opinion on the frequency of the usage are no more binding than his opinion that the Didache is "the oldest non-Scriptural Christian writing." (Something he mentions in the same encyclical earlier on if memory serves.) Whether it is or not is a matter of scholarly debate...

With regards to personal opinions, they are not the deciding factor as the pope himself noted after stating his opinion then following it up with a qualifying term such as "nonetheless." The principle being bound is what follows that word or its equivalent within the text. As this is so often misunderstood, I will reiterate it with emphasis:

All that requires submission is the principle enunciated in the Catechism about bloodless means being the required recourse whenever it suffices to remove the individual in question from being a continued menace to society.

Obviously this is a principle which will have a different application depending on the nation and the circumstances...

As I noted earlier, the pope's teaching has forced me to do an about-face on the matter...[Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa December 16, 2003)]


I can think of a few categories of people who could legitimately circumvent the rubric of mandatory non-bloodless means. Those people are the ones convicted of (i) treason or (ii) sedition. I also feel that (iii) serial murderers, (iv) drug dealers who target children, and (v) pornographers who target children. In my opinion, all of these deserve the death penalty. And at the same time, with these five categories, you would still have the 'rare if ever' situation present that should govern the application of the pope's teaching on restricting the use of the death penalty in society. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa December 16, 2003)]

As for the question of whether the use of the death penalty saves innocent lives, I have dealt with this matter before too and will cite from the pertinent posting at this time to avoid reinventing the wheel:

Readers of some time to this humble weblog are aware of your host's position on the death penalty. In doing a quick scan of the archives though, it does not appear that we have said anything in depth on the matter for a long time[...] so new readers may not be so familiar with it. To state it bluntly: I support it in some circumstances...

As a societal issue of contemporary relevance, the disputes over whether or not the death penalty should be used have a predictable pattern to them. While not indicative of an absolute on either side, generally speaking those who favour it tend to make arguments based on reason and logic and those opposed tend to do so on an emotional basis to which they add unconvincing arguments and manifest a kind of "faith" that their position is correct...

In the last five odd years there have now been documented about twelve different studies all of which reach the same core verdict: the death penalty saves lives. Anyway, as CBS News the other day published an article on the subject, it seems opportune to revisit this subject anew so here goes:

Death Penalty Deters Murders, Studies Say (CBS News circa June 11, 2007)

Of particular interest to me is this part of the text:

"Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it," said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. "The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect."

A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. "The results are robust, they don't really go away," he said. "I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?"

Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory — if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy away from murder).

To explore the question, they look at executions and homicides, by year and by state or county, trying to tease out the impact of the death penalty on homicides by accounting for other factors, such as unemployment data and per capita income, the probabilities of arrest and conviction, and more.

Among the conclusions:

Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14). The Illinois moratorium on executions in 2000 led to 150 additional homicides over four years following, according to a 2006 study by professors at the University of Houston.

Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor.

This should be common sense frankly but with too many people, they are deaf to this either because they do not possess common sense or because they place faith in certain authorities[...] who themselves are misinformed. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa June 14, 2007)]

As for my previous categories of exceptions to the rubric of mandatory non-bloodless means, I would revise the list a bit now. If recast in a new form it would read as follows:

I can think of a few categories of people who could legitimately circumvent the rubric of mandatory non-bloodless means. Those people are (i) convicted multiple or serial murders, (ii) drug dealers convicted on multiple charges who targeted children, (iii) sexual pedophiles convicted of multiple crimes of pedophilia, (iv) pornographers convicted on multiple charges who targeted children, (v) anyone who engages in or directs violations in the aforementioned areas who is already in prison. 

The above paragraph encapsulates my position as it has evolved since it was first publicly enunciated in a systematic form nearly fourteen years ago. My rationale for the changes above are as follows:

--In third world or totalitarian countries, it would be far too easy to kangaroo the court system and accuse folks of treason or sedition. For that reason, logic would mean to take that sword from their hands would mean to have to take it from every country's government's hands. As the desire to protect the innocent is my motivating criteria on all matters death penalty related, that is why I have come to see that those two categories I previously listed need to be omitted from the list of extraordinary circumstances.

--As for the broadening of two other categories, it is difficult to know where a murderer becomes a serial murderer so that means widening that category slightly to include all multiple incidents of murder. It is not that the murderer of a single person is deserving of being spared as much as seeking to make the use of the death penalty as rare as reasonably possible to ensure that we retain extraordinary circumstances here.

--Those who are convicted of drug dealing who have multiple charges of targeting children and convicted sexual pedophiles of multiple crimes of pedophilia are along the lines of my overriding principle of protecting the innocent. Children are the most innocent among us and those who would do this sort of damage to them in their most formative and vulnerable of years deserve the harshest punishment possible for their crimes as Our Lord made clear (Matt 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2).

--As for the final category, those who push the death penalty abolition and advocate for life in prison, if someone who is already in prison is still committing crimes and directing either drug cartels, gang activity, the murder of others, killing prison or security guards in prison, etc., then they obviously are not removed as a danger to society even behind bars and therefore must be removed from society definitively and permanently for the maintenance of just public order and the common good of society.

Even accounting for everything I noted above, it would still make the use of the death penalty very rare because I emphasize the word "conviction" in every example either explicitly or (as in the fifth example) by implication.

Now I can anticipate where this will go with some readers so lets address that elephant in the room right now:

When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question...

Even when collaboration takes place under the best conditions, the possibility cannot be excluded that tensions may arise between the theologian and the Magisterium. The meaning attributed to such tensions and the spirit with which they are faced are not matters of indifference. If tensions do not spring from hostile and contrary feelings, they can become a dynamic factor, a stimulus to both the Magisterium and theologians to fulfill their respective roles while practicing dialogue.

In the dialogue, a two-fold rule should prevail. When there is a question of the communion of faith, the principle of the "unity of truth" (unitas veritatis) applies. When it is a question of differences which do not jeopardize this communion, the "unity of charity" (unitas caritatis) should be safeguarded.

Even if the doctrine of the faith is not in question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions. Respect for the truth as well as for the People of God requires this discretion (cf. Rom 14:1-15; 1 Cor 8; 10: 23-33 ) . For the same reasons, the theologian will refrain from giving untimely public expression to them.{1}

I reference the above magisterial text because as I said previously, I anticipate the sorts of accusations that will come from some quarters. With all due respect to such folks, they are wrong in being critical of me for raising honest arguments and issues with regards to this kind of intervention in the prudential order. The principles outlined in footnote one above apply to magisterial documents and therefore it is even more applicable to statements from popes or other church leaders which are not themselves of a magisterial nature.

To be clear, I assent to the fundamental principle set down by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae on the issue of the death penalty.{2} Where there is a difference between myself and Pope Francis is in the application of the underlying principle. But to clarify further if anything I have already said in the body of this text or the footnotes is not sufficiently perspicuous:

  • I do not believe in a ruthless or bloodthirsty approach to the death penalty. 
  • I do not believe it is necessary for the sake of justice to have recourse to the death penalty.
  • I do hold to the principle that the death penalty should be legal but rare. 

However, even with those qualifications, I have some serious questions on whether or not Pope Francis or any of his recent predecessors has/had "taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of [this] question" (cf. Donum Veritatis 24) and with all due respect, until that is squarely faced and dealt with, their absolutist position on the matter is internally contradictory and I cannot pretend it is otherwise.

In accordance with magisterial teaching{3}, I do not present my own "opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions" (cf. Donum Veritatis 27). Nor do I go about "giving untimely public expression to them" (cf. Donum Veritatis 27). I strive indeed to be both respectful as well as discreet when publicly saying anything about these matters at all -that is part of the reason why I waited a few weeks for this issue to move out of the headlines before posting this material.

I cannot speak for others but I can say that the tensions between my view and that of Pope Francis "do not spring from hostile and contrary feelings" (cf. Donum Veritatis 27) and I am conscious of a right "to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented" (Donum Veritatis 30). As my prior writings on this matter spanning fifteen odd years should more than adequately demonstrate, I have sought on these as with all pertinent matters "serious study, undertaken with the desire to heed the Magisterium's teaching without hesitation" (Donum Veritatis 31). However, for reasons outlined above, on the issue of the practical stance of recent popes on the death penalty, "[my] difficulty remains because the arguments to the contrary seem more persuasive" (cf. Donum Veritatis 31).

I await such time as Pope Francis or anyone else in the church hierarchy, church theologians, church apologists, etc are willing to deal with the actual sociological and scientific realities on this subject and take them seriously. Until they do, their absolutist position is one which I cannot in conscience give my intellectual assent. I recognize however "the duty to remain open to a deeper examination of the question" (cf. Donum Veritatis 31) and ask of those who espouse the more absolutist position to likewise engage in an "intense and patient reflection on [their] part and a readiness, if need be, to revise [their] own opinions and examine the objections which [their] colleagues might offer [them]" (cf. Donum Veritatis 29).


{1} Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Instruction Donum Veritatis on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, Sections 24-27 (circa May 24, 1990)

{2} I explained it years ago in the following way:

[I]f the Church recognizes the licity of judicious use of the death penalty (which by its very implication means rare) and states that the end of this is preservation of life, then if the end can be achieved in other ways that do not involve the taking of life, that is the route we must tend to. In short, Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium vitae, points to the fact that we have many ways to protect society from offenders. Because of this, he states forcefully that the traditional Catholic principle that bloodless means whenever possible are to be utilized is to be retained. Whatever arguments we want to make about the application of this teaching, they must proceed from the principle of what is necessary to achieve the end that the death penalty historically has been used for: preservation of life.

"All things are lawful but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful, but not all things edify" sayeth the Apostle (i Cor. x,22-23). The same is the case with the death penalty in the vast majority of cases where it may apply from a theoretical standpoint. And while the pope has not set any strict schedule in stone on how this principle is to be carried out, there is a moral duty to inform oneself and to act accordingly. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa October 3, 2002)]

And again:

[W]hile the pope may personally think that the criteria for just use of the death penalty is "rare if not non-existent", he prefaces the next part of his encyclical with a key phrase "in any event". This is significant as I see it. Here is the text:

"In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person."

I do not see how the Church can come any closer to banning the death penalty then this...[Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa October 28, 2002)]

{3} See the material excerpted in the source referenced in footnote one.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

House Panels Probe Obama Administration Decision on Uranium Sale

Yet another Obama Administration scandal that comes out after the Resident left office!

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Welcome Home, ISIS Fighters, All Is Forgiven

In a nutshell: British officials on this subject are dumb as a stump!

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Why Guys Get Turned on When You Orgasm — and Why That's a Bad Thing

So Cosmo which has written tons of articles on women's orgasms and how to get more/better orgasms is now saying that its bad if somehow a man likes it when his woman orgasms? Implied message to guys: get yours and leave her hanging because "its bad" otherwise!


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Hannity Calls On Any Senator Not Willing To Bend The Knee To Follow Flake And Corker Out The Door

There is a reason I have long loathed Sean Hannity but in a nutshell: he is an unthinking lackey of President Donald Trump and I hate unthinking lackeys of any political persuasion!

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