I have found it difficult not to wade in on the recent anti-death penalty
bra burning First World Kvetching editorial that was jointly–because ultimately birds of a feather–published by Our Sunday Visitor, The National Catholic Register, America, and The National Catholic Reporter. I agree with Boniface that this latest spectacle of woolly-headed moralizing is not even worth getting upset about, and I endorse his succinct response to the dogmatic bra burners:
The prime rationale employed by those who oppose the death penalty absolutely is that it is unjust to take a human life because of the intrinsic dignity of the human person. As a being made in the image and likeness of God, man possesses a certain inherent dignity, which — they say — makes it an offense against the dignity of the human person to take his or her life. …
In Genesis 9:6, the practice of capital punishment is instituted by God Himself. Note that He does not simply tolerate and permit capital punishment (as he tolerated polygamy and divorce in the Old Testament), but He actually institutes it by a positive decree. That alone tells you it could not be intrinsically evil.
But anyhow, look at the rationale God gives for instituting capital punishment:
“Whosoever shall shed man’s blood, his blood shall be shed: for man was made to the image of God.” – Gen. 9:6
In other words, the very rationale God gives for instituting the death penalty is the same rationale now given to abolish it! Those who argue against capital punishment based on man’s intrinsic dignity as an imago dei are appealing to the same principle God did when He instituted it!
In any case, the heartfelt essay which finally tipped my hand to make even this much noise about the issue boils down to the idea that because what we do to prisoners is equivalent to what we do to Christ, therefore killing a prisoner is “killing Christ all over again”.
On that note, I shall be heading to my local jail this afternoon to bust out all those little Christs.
It is odd, though, that, in a parable (Matthew 25:34ff) which allegedly denies the power of the state to assign just punishments to wrongdoers, Christ would admit the reality of the state’s authority to imprison anyone. Odd, too, that Christ would endorse giving taxes to support the state, much less make a tax collector one of His Apostles, if it is the state itself which “murders Christ”. If “jailing Christ” is wrong, why not tear down the whole system? Why, it’s almost as Our Lord both affirmed the reality of the state to assign punishments and enjoined His disciples to comfort those who incur such penalties. Or is that too sophisticated a line of reasoning for Our Shiny Modern Age?
FORWARD! ALWAYS FORWARD!
Even odder is the fact that Christ, while He was supremely revealing the mercy of God, would not have condemned the execution of the thieves on His right and left, one of which sounds remarkably like those today who reject the Church’s teaching on the state’s right to impose death upon wrongdoers (Luke 23):
39 And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us [from this death penalty]. 40 But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil.
Odd again is how Christ called an apostle who could get it so wrong on such a supposedly obvious moral truth that “the death penalty is murder”. As that old buffoon wrote in Romans 13:
1 Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. 2 Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. 3 For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. 5 Wherefore be subject of necessity, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.
Sadly, the antediluvian oddness does not end there.
Why, even a solemn, ecumenical council of the Church was foolish enough to enshrine the heretical nonsense that state-imposed death is not at all equivalent to murder:
“Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. 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. Hence these words of David: ‘In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.'”
And of course, just when you thought the Church might have finally sloughed off its “worldly” errors–liberated by the Spirit in Our Shiny Modern Age, you see*–it was only July 2004 that the head of the CDF, who within a year’s time would become the Supreme Pontiff, had the unmitigated gall to spew such heresy as this:
“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.”
“Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles” — Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
But, of course, that was then. This Is Now.
* David Gray, the author of the hand-tipping essay, claims that for 2,000 years “the Holy Spirit has been … purifying and liberating the Church” from worldly illusions, such as supporting the state’s right to punish criminals. Isn’t is neat how neo-Waldensian errors like those of Gray et al. was already answered as long ago as a.D. 1210? As Pope Innocent III decreed: “Concerning secular power we declare that without mortal sin it is possible to exercise a judgment of blood as long as one proceeds to bring punishment not in hatred but in judgment, not incautiously but advisedly” (DS 425)