Saint Thomas Aquinas

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Rick Perry: Why Abortion and The Death Penalty Are Worlds Apart

Why Abortion and The Death Penalty Are Worlds Apart
Matthew James Bellisario 2011

    In today’s Catholic media there seems to be much confusion in the realm of moral theology. Those who have abandoned the Church’s long held tradition of using Thomistic principles to shed light on moral theology, have fallen into error and no longer are able to discern the nature of an act in regards to morality. The internet has made it easy for anyone to market themselves as experts in Catholic theology, and once they work their way into the pop-apologetics realm, they can cause havoc. Take the ignorant and arrogant Mark Shea for example, who regularly makes a fool out of himself on his blog. He pontificates in matters of moral theology, of which he has no business engaging in, because quite simply, he has no idea as to what he is talking about half the time. In one of his latest rants he has made the issue of the death penalty tantamount to murder. He has also slandered the governor of Texas, where he blatantly accuses him of taking innocent human life.

    The problem for Catholics who do not study their faith in any kind of depth, is that they may read a mountebank windbag like Shea and think that they are obligated to follow his lead when it comes to voting on moral issues. This can become a problem, since one may mistakenly think that the death penalty is just as important of an issue as abortion. With the damage done over the past four years by the Big Zero administration, it is of the utmost importance for Catholics to vote him out of office. It would be a mistake for a Catholic to vote for the Zero, or a candidate who cannot win, over a Republican candidate who is against abortion, and yet supports the death penalty. Just in case you are wondering, the death penalty, when used in proper proportion as a means of just punishment, by a legitimate government, is not in any way an immoral act. Abortion, which is murder, is always immoral, period.

    The nonsense that we hear today which puts abortion and the death penalty on the same moral playing field is causing a huge problem in the realm of how the average Catholic comprehends moral theology. For instance, we have charlatans who are saying that if you are pro-life, you cannot be in favor of the state using the death penalty. They also have a track record of calling capital punishment revenge killing, which was refuted by Pope Pius XII, who by the way had no issue with the death penalty. “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.” So the Pius XII, like those popes before him, recognized that a person who takes a life can legitimately have his life taken in expiation for his crime. Likewise Pope Pius IV approved the following text, “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.”

    When we deal with the death penalty, we are usually dealing with guilty, heinous criminals. At least that is the case here in the US. We have very few criminals in the US being sentenced to death, and they are most often for the most heinous of crimes committed against innocents. Anyone with any common sense knows that the judicial system will never be 100%, but that obviously does not mean that we quit punishing criminals. I think it could also be argued that in the US, we have probably the lowest percentage of innocents being executed than ever before in the history of civilization. Prior civilizations simply did not have the means or even the system in place as we have, to verify the guilt or innocence of a man. The death penalty is rare in this country, yet the state should always have recourse to it for the redressing of heinous crimes.

    Finally, when we are dealing with crimes that have the ability to wreak havoc on society, such as multiple rape, murder, kidnapping etc, then the state has the right to use the means of the death penalty to restore the moral order. This has been the consistent teaching of the Church, and up until John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, which cannot hold up to the scrutiny of a reductionist reading, this teaching has never been officially challenged. Evangelium Vitae must be read in light of tradition in order for it not to be a complete contradiction to every pope’s statement prior to his. In light of such a reading, this would make the future protection of society only a secondary reason for punishment, not a primary one. The primary being for retribution, or as Pope Pius XII wrote, “in expiation of his fault.” That means that the criminal is not being punished primarily for the reason of him not being able to commit the same crime in the future, but for the crime that he committed in the past.

Let me also be clear on a point before Shea and his blundering buffoons again misrepresent me as being a “maximum death” proponent. I am not saying that the state should ever omit the act of mercy from its system of punishment. There may be times when a person is repentant and sorry for his actions, which then the state may or may not decide to forgo the just sentence of death, but it is never required to do so. Without justice, there cannot be mercy. So if we read John Paul II’s encyclical in light of tradition, we can only hold his reasons for using the death penalty as secondary in nature. Just because we can keep a criminal behind bars does not necessarily mean that the death penalty cannot be used. The redressing of the crime, or the expiation of the criminal always comes first, for the restoration of the moral order. Keeping him incarcerated to prohibit him from committing the same criminal act again is only secondary in importance.

    In summary, the death penalty is not an intrinsically evil act, and when it is carried out by a legitimate government, in proper proportion, it is not at all immoral to support. The governor of Texas, Rick Perry has done nothing immoral by allowing his state to continue using the death penalty. It is also not his job to go and retry criminal cases and decide who is innocent or guilty, to decide whether or not a just punishment for a crime should be carried out. He is not judge jury and executioner. Mark Shea and his gidrules like Red Cardigan are slandering the character of Perry when they accuse of him intentionally killing innocent human beings. The death penalty and abortion are not equal issues of importance when it comes to voting on morality. The Pope has never said that the two are equal, and that has never been taught by any pope or the ordinary magisterium. One act deals with innocent human life, and the other with those who are guilty for heinous crimes. One “gives security to life by repressing outrage and violence”, the other an abomination before God, do not equivocate the two. One act is murder, the other is just punishment, and as Pope Pius XII said forgoes, “the right to life.” Do not be fooled by the “seamless garment” nonsense, where the proponents of this foolish idea equate the two and then accuse you of not being pro-life because you support the death penalty. Below are three prior articles that I have written on this subject, which are well documented. These “apologists” who are hailing themselves as experts on this matter of moral theology by virtue of cutting and pasting a couple of lines from the new Catechism and one encyclical, are doing a disservice to Catholic moral theology. I would recommend reading Dr. Steven Long’s article on Evanglium Vitae, if you want to educate yourself on the matter. Do not let the Big Zero stay in office because the likes of Mark Shea tell you that these two moral issues are of equal importance. Nothing can be further from the truth.

As the great moral theologian Ralph McInerny once wrote, "Some have said that retribution is no longer part of the church's view of punishment. This is false. Some will speak as if there is an equivalence to be made between the life of a guilty and condemned murderer and an unborn child, and seek, on that basis, to link opposition to abortion and opposition to the death penalty. This too is nonsense, incubated in a society which, permitting some citizens to take the lives of other innocent citizens, sees a moratorium on the death penalty as a moral imperative...But keep in mind that protecting society is only the secondary purpose of punishment. If, however rarely, the state's right to take the criminal's life is legitimately exercised, only recourse to the primary purpose of punishment--redressing the wrong--can justify it. It will not do to say that locking Adolph Eichmann up will prevent him from continuing with the Final Solution and give him a chance to repent. By his crimes, Adolph Eichmann had forfeited own life. One life compared with six million seems risibly disproportionate, but it is the most that could be exacted from Eichmann, and it justly was."


Keeping the Death Penalty Alive

The Corrupt Theology of the Seamless Garment

Fr. Barron and the Death Penalty: A Refutation

22 comments:

Alan Aversa said...

Because this article is so good, I post it again; it is on Evangelium Vitæ by Steven A. Long of the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN): "EVANGELIUM VITAE, ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, AND THE DEATH PENALTY"

Matthew Bellisario said...

Thanks for posting that. I forgot it was available on the net. I should link it in the article.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Fixed! Thanks.

scotju said...

Mark Shea is always harping that the death penalty is against the magisterium. Yet I always notice that this "magisterium" seems to begin in the 1970's with Pope JPII. I can find no evidence that it existed before that time.
What is interesting is that the secular liberals have always been against the death penalty. They believe in rehabilatation. It's a damm shame most murderers don't grasp the concept very well, because it has been proven time and time again they are repeat offenders. And locking them up doesn't stop them from killing. They can and will kill fellow inmates and guards, and they can order hits on people outside the prison.
The gidrules (pickleheads, means fools, morons) like Shea&Co. live in a fantasy world. They have no understanding of the Scriptures, tradition or history. They have no understanding of the nature of crime. They weep profusely for the doomed criminal, but I have never heard anything about the victims. IMHO, they're nothing but a bunch of bleeding heart liberals passing themselves off as Catholics. Why don't they just man up, admit they're liberals, and quit pretending they're Catholic.

Neil Parille said...

Mark Shea is one confused person. He's obviously not a catholic. It's tempting to say his religion is papolotry, but that's not even correct. When is the last time you heard him cite, I don't know, Pope Pius 3 or Benedict 10? I guess he's a member of the Church of John Paul the Great and Benedict the Almost as Great.

If Benedict 16 said that Catholics should use BCE and CE for fear of offending non-Christians, Shea would be find a way to support it.

As his post about Perry makes clear, the guy isn't even able to make distinctions that a moderately intelligent 12 year old can make.

It's too bad that the guy has such a presence on the web. Why does someone who is sophisticated such as Jimmy Akin link to this chap's blog?

scotju said...

Neil, you're wondering, "Why does somebody who is sophisicated such as Jimmy Akin link to this chap's blog?" Neil, it was explained to me this way. The pop apologist crowd is a good ol' boys club. Irreguardless of how bad or incompedent a club member may be, he's supported by the others in the club. There's a lot of money and quite a few reputations that would be lost if they didn't cover each others bums. So Shea, as stupid and foolish as he is, as long as he toes the party line, (John Paul is great, there's nothing wrong with the new mass, traditionalists are schismatics, the death penalty is barbaric, so was the a-bombing of Hiroshema and Nagasaki) he gets a free pass. The only way he'll ever fall from grace is do do something that would threaten the unity of the club, and I think that might happen some day some, because he's becoming more and more erratic in his behaviour.

Neil Parille said...

But Akin is not as pro-JP II as Shea. He criticized JP II for kissing the Koran and I don't think he's a big fan of the Assisi events.

scotju said...

Neil, Jimmy Akin may not be as pro JPII as Mark Shea, but he's still a member of the Good Ol' Boys club. For example, on the Koran kissing, he's very reluctant to say JPII that the Pope was doing something that was really wrong. Most people who know what Mohammud was really like, were appalled by the act. Jimmy however offered multiple choices on why it happened. Hardly a yes or no answer!

Neil Parille said...

I think Akin said what the Pope did was wrong if he knew it was the Koran, even if the Pope meant it as a sign of thanks for the gift.

It's hard to say what happened there, although I assume the Pope knew it was the Koran.

bill bannon said...

    Development on a biblical issue when it is real is not abrupt but this area is typified by abrupt development....to whit...two Popes...Cardinal Bernadine...and Mother Teresa (God bless her for other things). That the last two Popes have called the death penalty "cruel" in lower venues (a 1999 USA speech and two letters) contradicts theologically even their faulty CCC #2267 which injects a prudential judgement into a catechism that modern penology is working just fine with life sentences only.  Is Mexico proof that no death penalty protects?  How about El Salvador: no death penalty, 79% Catholic and according to wiki, it is the number one worst murder rate country on earth;  Honduras is #2 worst and is  97% Catholic and has no death penalty; Venezuela is #4 worst and is 96% Catholic (no death penalty); Colombia. is 7th worst, 90% Catholic  (no dp).
      I sound anti Catholic.  I totally believe in Catholicism at the de fide level and am neither liberal nor traditional but a biblically conservative Catholic.  Worry not.  We could not fill a booth at your local steak house restaurant.
     How did two Popes convince the world media that Catholicism is against the death penalty?  They are surrounded by hierarchy and lower clergy and career Catholic writers who will not defend the sane understanding of Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13:4....ie....that the death penalty can't be "cruel" if God commanded it.....and as Avery Dulles has written, God commanded it over 36 times in scripture.  Neither John Paul nor Benedict has a traditional understanding of the inspired nature of the Old Testament.  Here is John Paul implying that the OT death penalties were not from God but from Jewish culture...Evangelium Vitae section 40:

       " Of course we must recognize that in the Old Testament this sense of the value of life, though already quite marked, does not yet reach the refinement found in the Sermon on the Mount. This is apparent in some aspects of the current penal legislation, which provided for severe forms of corporal punishment and even the death penalty."

      So God commanding death penalities in the first Person imperative...has morphed into "penal legislation" which is unrefined compared to the NT.  Except that John Paul forgets that God in a very unrefined moment has an angel not only kill Herod Antippas in Acts 12 but has his body eaten by worms.....and lol after the sermon on the mount.
And God after the sermon on the mount reaffirms the death penalty in Romans 13:3-4:

    " For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil.  Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, 4
for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.

    "Sword" is a synecdoche for all punisments up to and including what the sword does....kill.

     By John Paul's logic, Romans which was written after the sermon on the mount happened....is less refined than
the sermon on the mount.  Benedict in his recent letter on biblical matters talks the same modernist line on the OT in
section 42 Domini Verbum... where he implies that the OT dooms of certain tribes were not really from God as scripture says they were and as the entire 12 th chapter of Wisdom says they were.  Read it and weep.  This swiss cheese approach to the OT ( it has unfortunate holes) will last as long as no paid Catholic writers nor Cardinals nor Bishops speak up....and in the Catholic economic paradigm, their next meal, or where they live....is more likely felicitous to the extent that they are silent.  In 1521 they...the typical Catholic... were all silent on the Church burning heretics....now they are all silent on two Popes overturning Romans 13:4.  We have a problem with economically motivated silence.


     

Matthew Bellisario said...

I agree Bill, it is all about politics when it comes to these issues, and the bishops are more interested in their careers than they are about the truth.

Alexander Greco said...

Scotju, I don't believe I've ever watched a documentary film on prisons where there wasn't strong evidence to back up your claims here. Maybe Shea and his cosa nostra crew will say that these documentaries are produced by radical pro-deathers like National Geographic, and the film is scewed.

Alan Aversa said...

Corrected URL of Steven A. Long's "EVANGELIUM VITAE, ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, AND THE DEATH PENALTY:"
http://www.thomist.org/jourl/1999/994aLong.htm

Alan Aversa said...

Also, have you read this by Romano Amerio from his Iota Unum: "DEATH PENALTY"?

Alan Aversa said...

Cf. also Romano Amerio's chapter on the death penalty from his book Iota Unum and Antonin Scalia's First Things article "God’s Justice and Ours."

Also, from Edward Feser's blog: Pope Pius XII said that the death penalty's validity is not subject to cultural variation in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 47 (1955) 81-82:

"We also note that the Church in theory and in practice has kept the two forms of capital punishment (medicinal and vindictive) and that this is more in line with what the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine teach about the coercive power of legitimate human authority. One does not give a sufficient answer to this assertion, noting that the above-mentioned sources contain only thoughts that correspond to historical circumstances and the culture of the time, and that therefore one cannot attribute to them a general and always durable value." [Translated from the Italian]

Alan Aversa said...

In 2004, Card. Ratzinger wrote: "[...] it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. 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."

Matthew Bellisario said...

Thanks Alan. For all those "apologists" out there who quote JPII as if he made an infallible statement on the matter, I wonder why they dismiss Pius XII's statement?

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

I would like to add to the discussion my own article that I wrote for Front Page Magazine on the subject when the Vatican protested Saddam Hussein's execution:

http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=1463

As far as the Apologetics Mafiosi go, their problem is that they equate group identity with salvation, let alone orthodoxy. Salvation does not come through Christ's vicarious atonement but through obeying the "Magisterium" even when it issues contradictory information.

When it comes to capital punishment, people like Absp. Chaput (see my article for his comments on Supreme Court Justice Scalia) substitute rhetorical intimidation for sound reasoning. Shea is even more obtuse in his bullying. He told someone on this thread that refusing to accept the revisionist Catechism on this issue makes him "Protestant."

Finally, read Cdl. McCarrick's comments in my article about the families of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, who viewed McVeigh's execution on closed-circut television. He equates grieving people with the bloodthirsty Roman masses who attended the Colisseum's gory spectacles. Anybody who makes such an equation not only is dense but also cruel.

As a result of this revisionist teaching, the Church is showing more compassion toward the perpetrators of evil than the victims of evil. Is this really what Christ had in mind?

Finally, about Shea: He is not an apologist. He is a parrot.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Thanks Joseph, I'll check it out!

Alan Aversa said...

From the Iota Unum chapter: "to take away a man’s life is by no means to take away the transcendent end for which he was born and which guarantees his true dignity."

So what's wrong with killing the innocent as in abortion? Of course there is Exodus 23:7: "The innocent and just person thou shalt not put to death." But also, from the same Summa question Tollefsen quotes, albeit article 6:

"[H]e who kills a just man, sins more grievously than he who slays a sinful man: first, because he injures one whom he should love more, and so acts more in opposition to charity: secondly, because he inflicts an injury on a man who is less deserving of one, and so acts more in opposition to justice: thirdly, because he deprives the community of a greater good: fourthly, because he despises God more, according to Luke 10:16, 'He that despiseth you despiseth Me.' On the other hand it is accidental to the slaying that the just man whose life is taken be received by God into glory."

The Iota Unum chapter concludes: "[T]he death penalty, and indeed any kind of punishment, is illegitimate if one posits that the individual is independent of the moral law and ultimately of the civil law as well, thanks to the protection afforded by his own subjective moral code. Capital punishment comes to be regarded as barbarous in an irreligious society, that is shut within earthly horizons and which feels it has no right to deprive a man of the only good there is."

Antonin Scalia thinks similarly when he writes: "the major impetus behind modern aversion to the death penalty is the equation of private morality with governmental morality. This is a predictable (though I believe erroneous and regrettable) reaction to modern, democratic self–government."

Tollefsen commits makes this error when he says: "It could well be that no human being has the authority to warrant intentional killing, even of the guilty."
Certainly "no human being has the authority" of his own power, but that does not imply that God does not give that authority to the civil government.

Alan Aversa said...

Steven Long, author of that The Thomist article I referenced, has responded to Christopher O. Tollefsen's "Capital Punishment, Sanctity of Life, and Human Dignity," which claims St. Thomas Aquinas's view on human dignity "appears to border on incoherence". The article, up on Thomistica.net, is: "'Goods' Without Normative Order to the Good Life, Happiness, or God: The New Natural Law Theory and the Nostrum of Incommensurability".

Ben Warren said...

The way to deal with Mark Shea is to demand the excommunication of those who vote for leftist parties. St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica said that only laws that burden society "proportionately" are just. Leftists plunder the rich, and therefore are guilty of mortal sin if they have enough intelligence to be above dogs, which many leftists do not. Leftists ought to be threatened with excommunication the way St. Augustine condemned Alexander the Great as a grand pirate. That is what leftists are! I was kicked off of Mark Shea's blog, but you can still go there and work to tell them they ought to be excommunicated! The fate of the world depends on it!