I also think that some people deserve to live, but die.
I can't bring the dead to life, so I'm not enthusiastic about capital punishment.
I read in yesterday's news that the American Supreme Court "refused to reconsider its June ruling banning capital punishment for child rapists, rejecting Louisiana officials' argument that a 'significant error' led to its conclusion that there is a 'national consensus' against executing non-murderers." (CNN)
I'm glad to see that. Which may seem odd, since I'm a devout Catholic, and:
- The Catholic Church is part of conservative Christianity
- It's 'well known' that conservatives
- Love the death penalty
- Care nothing for social justice
- Are cold, heartless, unfeeling people who delight in snatching bread from bleeding lips of the poor
So, if I'm a Catholic, and the Catholic Church is conservative, why am I glad to see that child rapists won't get executed?
The Catechism lays out what the Church teaches about how far people and societies can go to defend themselves, in 2263-2267. The section includes something St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about what is, and what isn't, acceptable:
"If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.66"Societies are allowed to protect themselves, too.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2264)
"Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm...."The Church doesn't declare open season on the bad guys, though.
"Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.The way I explained this to my kids was that the Catholic Church makes rules and guidelines that fit cultures around the world, and throughout the history that's been, and will be. There's got to be a lot of consideration for local circumstances.
"If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person...."
(Catechism, 2267) [emphasis mine]
Now, let's say they have to decide what to do with one of their number who keeps killing people. They've tried talking to him. They even tried tying him up and feeding him. That put a real strain on the culture's resources, though, since it deprived them of a food gatherer. Besides, he's pretty strong, and broke loose several times.
In a situation like that, I'd say that executing the killer would probably make sense.
In 21st century America, on the other hand, we're not in that hypothetical culture's position. Not even close. I've discussed capital punishment with someone who wants to kill the bad guys because it's cheaper than making sure they stay in prison, but offhand I think we can afford it.
If someone had been put in prison, and later found innocent, that person can be released. Since not even the Supreme Court of the United States of America can raise people from the dead, if that person had been executed, the best that authorities could do would be to say, "sorry about that."
Given how much I trust the American judicial system to recognize truth, and how hard it is to un-execute someone, I don't think that capital punishment is defensible in America.
But, that's my opinion. I'm pretty sure that someone could, in good faith, study Catholic teaching on the subject and decide that capital punishment is acceptable in some cases in America.
In the news:
- "Appeals court overturns conviction of DNA exonoree"
Houston Chronicle (October 1, 2008)
- "Court: Ban on execution of child rapists stands"
CNN (October 1, 2008)
- "Stay of execution angers slain cop's family"
CNN (September 24, 2008)
- "Police: Sex offender died of strangulation"
WSJV (September 30, 2008)
- "No charges filed against man accused of striking, chasing daughter's boyfriend from home"
Orlando Sentinel (September 22, 2008)
- "Pair convicted of homeless man's murder"
CNN (September 19, 2008)