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Monday, July 11, 2005
Discussion Topic Week Two: Capital Punishment

Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.  
(Pius XII, Address to the First International Congress of Histopathology
of the Nervous System, 14 September 1952, XIV, 328)
First of all, this week's topic is on Capital punishment or the death penalty. I gave a lenghty report on this before, so I will try to shorten it but keep valuable statistics and information in here nonetheless. Please comment on this after you read it.

Okay, "capital punishment" is derived from the latin word "caput" meaning "head" claiming that the crime was so bad the criminal deserved to lose his head. In 2004, there were 3,797 executions in 25 countries with China performing at least 3,400. The United States committed 59. Throughout the world 89 countries have abolished the death penalty with 74 still using it. All countries in Europe, except Belarus have abolished the death penalty. Look up more information at this source.

In the United States, 38 states allow the death penalty with two of them, Maryland and Illinois, having a moratorium on it. As of Jan. 2005 Texas had 337 executions and accounted for the most in the United States, but California has the most death row inmantes. The United States has a reversal rate of 67% in death row convictions. The most common method is lethal injection as 82%. As of February 2005, the United States stopped executing juveniles and now only 7 countries in the world do it. (Source with additional information)

Okay, that was a quick look at some basic death penalty statistics. Now on to the religious aspects of it. It is true that St. Thomas Aquinas and others in history have supported the death penatly. When the well-being and security of a nation is threatened, the death penalty is permissive. Similarly, I support the use of the death penalty in this and a few other cases.


del_button July 12, 2005 at 10:31 PM
Mike said...

I posted this on the wrong thread so I am moving it here. Sorry about that

This is a difficult subject for me to reconcile. While the Church's position on abortion and contraception has always been the same teh current stand on capital punishment is a relatively recent development. I am not saying the teaching is wrong but how do we reconcile it with the Church's past history as regards this issue.
I also have to say I find it difficult to oppose the death penalty for certain crimes, especialy those involving children. Maybe it's a sin but I shed no tears over Timothy McVeigh.


del_button July 12, 2005 at 10:56 PM
Jeffrey said...

The Church has actually not changed its teaching on the death penalty. This issue actually parallels the Church's teaching on war. It's not the ideal, but it is necessary in a fallen world in order to protect the innocent.

The constant teaching of the Church on capital punishment is that governmental authority has the power to protect society, effect conversion in the criminal, and gain retributive justice by putting dangerous criminals to death.

However, the power over life has to be exercised with great care (cf. Just War Theory). A society should not use the death penalty if the goals of punishment can be acheived in other ways (cf. last resort), or if retributive justice is sacrificed for revenge (cf. just cause).

The Church's current opposition to Capital Punishment is a prudential statement (not an infallible moral teaching) that most societies in today's world are able to acheive the goals of punishment without putting criminals to death, and should therefore do so.

I believe that the United States uses capital punishment for revenge rather than for retributive justice, which is another reason to oppose its use.

See my blog at We Catholic bloggers need to support each other! God bless!

del_button July 13, 2005 at 9:57 AM
Moneybags said...

Thank you for both Mike and Jeffrey for participating here on my blog. I'll be sure to check out your blog, Jeffrey.

del_button July 13, 2005 at 2:11 PM
Mike said...

Hi Jeff. Thanks for your response. The statements from the usccb and the Vatican do not seem to leave any room for the application of the death penalty and indeed call for an outright ban. The question is to me whether "the goals of punishment can be acheived in other ways" in any meaningful sense. Is it right to feed, clothe, house and provide medical care indefinately for the likes of a McVeigh, a Bin Laden or a Dahmer while others who have commited no crimes are homeless, hungry and have limited or no access to medical care? I'm not making a link between spending in prisons and for the underpriviledged in the context of that expenditure making a difference in the plight of the poor. But from a moral perspective, is it justfiable to provide one morsel of food to a mass murderer while there is a single hungry child on the streets of Manhattan or anywhere else.


del_button July 14, 2005 at 8:53 PM
Moneybags said...

"But from a moral perspective, is it justfiable to provide one morsel of food to a mass murderer while there is a single hungry child on the streets of Manhattan or anywhere else."

My personal answer (not necessarily in accordance with the Magesterium) is that yes, we must provide for all of those before us whether they are more sinful or not. After all, we are all sinners.

"I can't help everyone, therefore, I must help those that God has placed before me" (Saint Augustine of Hippo)

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