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