As promised, here is my response to Mark Shea’s claims on the death penalty. I will keep it concise and to the point. I will quote his text in an indention and then put my responses between his texts.
I got het up yesterday about the execution of Troy Davis and spoke out of turn about his "innocence" when what I really was protesting was the dodginess of the evidence against him, dodginess that seemed to me to introduce an element of reasonable doubt concerning his guilt for the crime for which he was executed.
My response: Speaking out of turn is a common occurrence for Shea. I wonder how much research and time Shea has put into the case to make such a judgement? I believe the state concluded that there was ample evidence to convict the man. Moving on.
This in turn led to understandable confusion among some readers given the fact that, innocent or guilty, I oppose the infliction of the death penalty. Some people assumed (wrongly) that I was trying to say anything just to stop infliction of the death penalty, which was not my intent. You don't (as I have been at pains to say for some time to Liars for Jesus) achieve good ends by evil means. And lying that somebody is innocent when they are not is an example of that. So I would not lie to achieve that end.
My response: No confusion from the readers, they took Shea at his word. As far as lying goes, I am sure that he did not intend to deceive anyone, he just has no clue as to what he is talking about.
What really happened was this: I had an emotional outburst and, as is my custom, indulged hyperbole. That was wrong.
My response: An emotional outburst from Shea? You don’t say? An apology here, which really is not an apology at all, because as we will see, he does the very same thing later in this post. Most of the entire post is an emotional outburst.
Permit me, however, to talk about what provoked the outburst. It was provoked by a number of things, or rather one thing that keeps manifesting itself in lots of different ways. That one thing is Christian *zeal* for death.
My Response: So here we begin with the emotional non-arguments. Shea here pulls the classic ad-hominem labeling anyone who in any way supports capital punishment as zealots for death. Then he moves on to attack a US governor personally, who I am sure he does not even know. This is typical Shea style, no substance, just character attacks.
That zeal for death expresses itself in numerous ways, such as Rick Perry's conscience-free cock-a-whoop swaggering and boasting over being the most efficient executioner in Texas history and his cloudless lack of concern over the question of executing people who may be innocent.
My response: This attack on Perry of course has no bearing on the discussion at hand, since Perry is not committing any sin in allowing the legal system to carry out a just punishment. But Shea wants to build an emotional case here on the fact that innocents may be put to death accidentally by the State. Has this not always been the case? Was Pius XII so stupid that he did not realize that legal systems were not perfect when he wrote, “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.” Shea must think so. Stop all just punishment! Someone might not be guilty! Until we have a perfect system lets not punish anyone. In fact, there are probably some people in horrible prisons being raped and abused by prisoners and they are innocent! As you can see, this fact has little bearing on the argument at hand. We all would be saddened to know that an innocent person was put to death or imprisoned wrongly. That is a matter for individual cases, and we all hope that modern technology has helped in improving those odds. But as far as using this as a reason to shut down the state's right to exact such a punishment is certainly untenable.
It manifests in treatment of Just War theory, not as an attempt to minimize killing, but as a sort of maze to be navigated with the hope and promise that we will *get* to start killing if we just outwit the Church's ivory tower restrictions on "real world" brutality. It manifests in the utterly appalling and embarrassing sophistry of Catholic torture advocates over the past decade. It manifests in the zealous Christian defenses of the slaughter at Hiroshima and Nagasaki every August.
My response: No it does not manifest itself in the just war theory, since those who actually understand moral theology do not just lump all of these issues into one pile and then make sweeping pronouncements on them as Shea usually does. Again, nothing more than emotional nonsense. What Hiroshima and Nagasaki have to do with this is anyone’s guess, since any moral theologian worthy of the name would never compare means used in a war to just punishment exacted by the State. They are two totally different moral issues. Torture is also one of Shea’s topics of choice when he gets on his soap box. Again, not relevant here. So far, in all of his ranting all we have read up to this point in Shea’s post has amounted to nothing more than hot air. Let us continue.
It manifests in the open and naked contempt heaped on Evangelium Vitae, the Catechism, Popes JPII and Benedict (and virtually every bishop in the world), when the Church's very clear desire to abolish the death penalty is bruited.
My response: Here at least we get to something more substantive. Neither Evangelium Vitae, nor the Catechism however has defined anything regarding the death penalty in any doctrinal or dogmatic fashion. We must read such documents in light of tradition, which means that you should read what the Church has said on the matter up until these two documents were written as well. This means that if you are going to be making pronouncements on the matter you need to know more than a total amount of text that amounts to not much more than a couple of paragraphs. You also have to have a general understanding of moral theology, which is rooted in the natural law. The Church’s desire has never been to completely abolish the death penalty around the world. In fact, I have pointed out this fact in other articles that I have written. This position is not a tenable one to hold. We can call for a more prudent use of it yes, but to force a legitimate state to give up a just means of punishment for heinous crimes is not something the Church can outrightly force on a nation, since the act itself is not immoral. Of course nations should look to the Pope and take his advice on the matter seriously, and make prudent decisions regarding it use. I also realize that we can disagree on the issue without anathematizing each other. Yes my position on this matter is quite strong, but I have never said that anyone who agrees with JPII is outside the Church or a dissenter. I have however vigorously disagreed with their position, which as you will see, I have a right to do. But this all means nothing to Shea. There is no difference to him when the Pope speaks on any number of issues. They are all on the same level of doctrinal certainty for him. But as we will see, the Magisterium does not even agree with him.
Minimum Daily Adult Requirement Catholicism is rife on this question. The argument is perpetually made that because the death penalty is not intrinsically immoral, opposition to it is obviously stupid, the abolitionist is somehow mysteriously supporting abortion, and the whole thing can be blown off as "liberal". So I get mail from embarrassing "witnesses" to the compassion of Jesus like this:
The Judeo-Christian DEATH PENALTY!!!!
Jesus told us that IN OUR PERSONAL LIVES, we should forgive the people who wrong us, 7 times 70 times. However, Jesus NEVER told the GOVERNMENT to forgive murderers and rapists and terrorists 7 times 70 times.
On the contrary, God, who is absolutely PRO-LIFE and who knows the full value of each human life, told Moses that the GOVERNMENT should promptly execute anyone duly convicted a HEINOUS CRIME.
CAUTION: Today we have APOSTATES who consider themselves ... HOLY THAN GOD ... WISER THAN GOD ... MORE LOVING THAN GOD ... , who think hard-working taxpayers should reward duly convicted heinous criminals with a lifetime of ... FREE housing and meals and medical care and education and recreation ... .
PS: The LIFE-IN-PRISON SENTENCE often costs taxpayers more than $1 Million ... !!!!!!!!!
Then the King will say to them, "I was in prison and you thirsted for my blood, because I was expensive." And people wonder why Christianity is repellent to many people.
My response: Here we see the depth of Shea’s understanding concerning the level of teaching on the death penalty. All you have to own is a Catechism and you are now able to tell everyone what matters of faith and morals puts you as a Catholic outside the faith. For Shea, everything is on the same level. The death penalty is on par with abortion and contraception for him. Shea has in effect made himself head of the CDF. Did we all miss the installment that Pope Benedict made when he replaced Cardinal Leveda’s seat on the CDF with Shea?
I've even seen appeals to the glories of the death penalty like this:
Don’t any of you self-righteous death penalty opponents ever read the Bible? As he was hanging on the cross Jesus promised Paradise to the felon who confessed the justice of the death penalty (cf. Luke 23: 39-43).
The strange conflation of dogmatic death penalty maximalism with some sort of core doctrine of Catholic faith is a classic illustration of how a tribal shibboleth can get fuddled with the heart of the faith. For, of course, the actual biblical teaching is that Jesus promises paradise to the one who placed his faith in Him, not to those who place their faith in the death penalty. Such enthusiasts for killing never seem to get around to acknowledging the corollary to their argument: namely, that not just the death penalty, but crucifixion is, by their twisted logic, sanctioned as legitimate.
My response: Here come the straw men! Burn them down Mr. Shea! They are easy targets. Now Shea equates everyone who thinks the death penalty should not be completely abolished as a “death penalty maximalist.” Everyone who has argued for the consistent teaching of the Church up until recent times are death enthusiasts! Fry the kid who stole a sucker from the convenient store! Hang the guy who jaywalked across the intersection! Do you see how childish Shea’s post is? How can a grown man act like this? It appears to me that Shea has never bothered to read the scholarly work of competent theologians like Dr. Steven Long. He has not dealt with their arguments. He would rather just call them “death enthusiasts” and sweep them all into one neat pile to be burned! He would rather make sweeping generalizations about the character of people who disagree with his assessment of the matter, rather than actually deal with the arguments they have brought to the table. It is all twisted logic to Shea, yet Shea never attempts to refute any real argument.
The bottom line is and remains this: The Church does not say the death penalty is intrinsically immoral. So what? The Church is on the side of saving and redeeming human life, not snuffing it out for the sake of cost efficiency.
My response: No, the bottom line is that this subject of discussion is open for debate by the very fact that a just punishment is not immoral. I, nor have any of the theologians I have quoted, said that redeeming human life is not important. As far as I know, the core arguments that folks like Dr. Long have put forth have not been for “snuffing” out life to save a few dollars. If this is the shallow level that Shea wants to continue to engage this matter on, he should leave it alone. He is only making a fool out of himself.
So the Magisterium--that would be the teaching office of the Church founded by Jesus Christ to conserve and articulate the Tradition--urges minimal use of the death penalty with an eye toward abolishing wherever possible. That is the teaching of the Church and those who are at war with this teaching are, in fact, dissenting Catholic every bit as much as those who are at war with the Church's teaching on contraception. Something does not have to be dogma (as, for instance, Humanae Vitae, like Evangelium Vitae, is not dogma) for it to be normative teaching of the Magisterium to which we owe our obedience and not our weasel-worded dissent and contempt.
My response: Here we have it folks! What we have all been waiting for! The Magisterial pronouncement from the new head of the CDF! Shea has spoken, the case is closed. Let us see what the real head of the CDF had to say on the matter and see if matches up with what the charlatan Mark Shea has written, shall we? When the present Pope was head of the CDF he wrote the following concerning general principles regarding moral issues, which pertained to Catholics and voting, “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, 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.” You see, it is fools like Mark Shea who have no idea what they are talking about, who are causing more problems for Catholics than those outside the Church. No Mr. Shea, one who goes against contraception is not in the same boat as one who argues for a different application of the death penalty. They are not dissenters Mr. Shea, and those who you have told this rubbish to should withstand you to the face! You owe them an apology, and if you are a man who knows whats best for him, you owe them your resignation as an "apologist." The CDF says they are not dissenters, yet clearly Shea says otherwise. This is the type of nonsense that really makes my blood boil. You see, someone like Mark Shea should not be in the business he is in. He is not capable of teaching the Catholic faith properly. Moral issues like these are not open to amateurs who think they can go around making grand pronouncements, essentially excommunicating everyone, labeling them as dissenters from the faith when they disagree with them. Yet, Shea insists on going on to his blog and essentially damning everyone who does not agree with him. I take serious issue with that.
So: Watching this spectacle of *eagerness* to kill and the (as I took it) reluctance to take a look at the reasonable doubt about Davis, I got ticked. What bugged me was not that I was certain he was innocent, but the apparent disinterest in finding out. If I'm wrong about the facts in Davis' case, I can live with that. I'm opposed to the DP nonetheless (per Evangelium Vitae). But cases where there's a reasonable doubt that we are even executing the guilty just exacerbate the issue, because so many Christians are willing to fight for the death penalty, to be *zealous* for death, despite the fact that they *know* this means a certain percentage of the victims are going to be innocent. That's because our legal system is not perfect. To embrace the DP is, at the end of the day, to say "Better the innocent should perish than the guilty survive." I don't buy that "Kill all! God will know his own!" moral reasoning. Neither do two Popes and virtually all of the world's bishops. There are other reasons I oppose the DP too, but that's not a small one.
My response: So, now its all about an “eagerness” to kill. I do not know whether or not there was a disinterest in finding out if the guy was guilty. I have read that the execution was postponed 3 times, so they must have looked into it more than once. Yet again, that is all beside the point. Shea here is trying to paint a grim picture here to sell his story. The picture he paints looks like this. All of the Popes, bishops and priests, as well as Catholic nations the world over were nothing more than maximum death zealots eager for death when they used capital punishment for heinous crimes. They just wanted blood and more blood, and were all eager to kill, and those who think it is OK to use the death penalty now are the same. Anyone who argues that it is important that we do not completely abolish the death penalty are likewise nothing more than eager killers seeking fresh blood. They are all just zealots for death. Yet in the several articles that I have written, and the several articles I have referenced, have never exhibited this foolish caricature that Shea has painted for his audience. What a masterpiece of imbecility.
How anyone can take this guy seriously is beyond me. I really cannot imagine anyone wanting this guy’s opinion on much of anything, let alone inviting him to speak at parishes, or having him write for Catholic publications. The Magisterium has said, “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight...” and “if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion....There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty” That means that no, one is not a dissenting Catholic if their opinion differs from Evangelium Vitae, etc. However, we have clear evidence that the mountebank Shea has falsely proclaimed this foolishness from his lofty high throne. Do yourself a favor. Stay far, very far away from this man when it concerns your Catholic faith, and warn others to do the same.
For more info on the Catholic teaching regarding the death penalty see the sidebar on the right side of this blog, under moral theology.