October 23, 2017 § 59 Comments
Exercise of public authority is justified based on the common good of the community and the individual good of members of the community. Therefore, under the traditional doctrine of the Church, resort to the death penalty by the public authority requires a twofold justification.
First, of course, the condemned must be actually guilty of a capital crime and must justly deserve death for that crime.
Second — and this is where folks tend to miss the fact that the Catechism of Trent and Evangelium Vitae assert mutually consistent theology, albeit with different emphases — it must be necessary to carry out the death penalty to protect the innocent from harm.
It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.
Evangelium Vitae goes on to suggest that this condition is rarely, if ever, met:
Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
This latter is manifestly a question of fact, not moral principle. It is also manifestly false, unless we assume that prisoners themselves are not a part of “society” worthy of protection from (e.g.) decades of being sodomized and violated in countless other ways by other prisoners.
In other words to accept this as fact, as a premise leading to the conclusion that the death penalty should be fully abolished, requires us to dehumanize the prisoners in our penal system. Yet the whole point of the abolitionist position, its whole basis with which I fully agree, is that to act justly ourselves we must avoid dehumanizing prisoners.
October 21, 2017 § 108 Comments
No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.
—USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death
The Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches that the death penalty is licit, not simply as a matter of proximate justice carried out on the perpetrator of a heinous crime, but when it is directed at the preservation and security of human life. This is echoed in the current Catechism. Many people seem to believe that it is possible to secure and preserve human life without resort to the death penalty.
While that may be an abstract possibility in hypothetical stories, it has yet to be demonstrated an actual possibility in reality.
September 10, 2012 § 7 Comments
In the previous post we covered the fact that in the traditional teaching (citing the Catechism of Trent) the State’s power to inflict the death penalty derives from its mandate to protect the innocent, not from an independent mandate to dispense transcendental justice. Obviously death must not be inflicted unless it is a just punishment in a particular case; but that death is a just punishment is not sufficient in itself. The State is not God, and must not play God: its charter is to cultivate and protect the common good in the practical domain, not to immanentize the eschaton.
In fact, as Evangelium Vitae tells us, the justification for the State’s very existence as an authority is the protection of the innocent. That is why a State which enshrines abortion (or any other form of killing the innocent) as an explicit fundamental right undermines its own existence. If it fails to carry out its mandate to protect the innocent from murder the State is superfluous; if it undermines protection of the innocent from murder in its explicit laws the State chips away at its own foundations.
And this is precisely what liberalism does and has ever done: it chips away at the foundations of legitimate traditional political authority. By pedestalizing individual freedom and equality of rights as the transcendent foundation of legitimate politics – so-called ‘consent of the governed,’ with its concomitant rituals – liberalism attempts to abolish substantive politics, replacing it with procedures putatively designed to treat all substantive conceptions of the good equally. Unfortunately for liberalism it is the very nature and essence of governance to authoritatively discriminate, restricting freedoms to enforce some substantive conception of the good, discriminating against contrary conceptions of the good. By embracing equal rights and individual freedom as the primary justifications of the exercise of political power, liberalism sets up a contradiction between authority and its own legitimacy. “Liberal governance”, when taken seriously, is a contradiction in terms: authoritative discrimination resting on the premise that authoritative discrimination is illegitimate.
Across the spectrum of liberalism, from the less developed property-centric classical liberalism we call ‘conservatism’ to more consistent modern liberalism, discriminating authority resting on a substantive conception of the good, restricting the freedom of autonomous individuals, is considered the very essence of political tyranny. Opposition to the death penalty and to legal restrictions on abortion are thus both, to liberalism, opposition to tyranny. The most consistent liberal is always both an anarchist and a tyrant.