Friday, July 11, 2008

The Death Penalty: Fine Points in Theology

An interesting discussion here.

No, I'm not advocating the DP, although if someone wants to, that's fine.

...Flannery notes that the Catechism cites two sentences from Thomas Aquinas in support of its statement: “The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing.” Those two sentences are the classic invocation of the principles of double effect, “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life, and the killing of the aggressor,” and “Nothing prevents one act from having two effects, of which one is within the intention, the other beside the intention.”

However, Flannery points out, “Aquinas does not resolve the issue of public self-defense by appeal to a double-effect.” That argument he reserves for private self-defense. His justification for the exercise of lethal force by the sovereign (state) is otherwise, and directly contrary to what the Catechism suggests (and follows directly, in Aquinas’ writings, upon the two sentences quoted therein): “But as it is illicit to take a man’s life, except for the public authority acting for the common good…it is illicit for a man to intend killing a man in self-defense, except for such as have public authority….” Flannery thus concludes, and it is hard to see how he could be mistaken: “Aquinas says as clearly as one could want that a public authority can legitimately intend to kill a person who threatens the well-being of society.”


In other words, the principle of double-effect, relevant to individual killing in self-defense, is not relevant to the question of killing by the state. The state, and its officers, may, licitly, intend to kill. While a man may kill when he himself is threatened; the sovereign may do it “for the common good,” including “redressing disorder.”

Here is how Flannery puts it, speaking first about just war: “In a secondary sense…killing in war is according to natural law. Given the conditions of life in an imperfect world, a nation that defends itself by means of intentional killings can be acting in a perfectly natural – that is to say, ethical – way. But in the primary sense of what is natural, all killing is unnatural….We can say similar things with respect to capital punishment. Throughout the history of the Church, Catholic philosophers and theologians have said that capital punishment is licit. But they have done this without ever denying that, in a more abstract sense, any such killing goes against what is favored even by nature.”


Personally, I like life-imprisonment. But there's the argument, for those who wish to make it.

3 comments:

Jeff said...

Thanks for posting that, I've never read Catholic Thing before.

dudleysharp said...

Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
 
Religious positions in favor of capital punishment are neither necessary not needed to justify that sanction. However, the biblical and theological record is very supportive of the death penalty.
 
Many of the current religious campaigns against the death penalty reflect a fairly standard anti death penalty message, routed in secular arguments. When they do address  religious issues, they often neglect solid theological foundations, choosing, instead, select biblical sound bites which do not impact the solid basis of death penalty support.

The strength of the biblical, theological and traditional support for the death penalty is, partially, revealed, below.
 
Some references:
 
(1)"The Death Penalty", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, by Romano Amerio, 
 
Thoughtful deconstruction of current Roman Catholic teaching on capital punishment by a faithful Catholic Vatican insider and expert theologian.
 
http://www.domid.blogspot.com/2007/05/amerio-on-capital-punishment.html
titled "Amerio on capital punishment "Friday, May 25, 2007 
 
 (2)  "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at http://www.homicidesurvivors.com/2006/10/12/catholic-and-other-christian-references-support-for-the-death-penalty.aspx

 
 (3)  "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective", by Emmanuel Valenza (Br. Augustine) at
http://www.sspx.org/against_the_sound_bites/capital_punishment.htm
 
 
(4) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 200
http://www.st-joseph-foundation.org/newsletter/lead.php?document=2003/21-4
 

(5) "MOST CATHOLICS OPPOSE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT?", KARL KEATING'S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers, March 2, 2004
http://www.catholic.com/newsletters/kke_040302.asp
 
 
(6) "THOUGHTS ON THE BISHOPS' MEETING: NOWADAYS, VOTERS IGNORE BISHOPS" , KARL KEATING'S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers,, Nov. 22, 2005
http://www.catholic.com/newsletters/kke_051122.asp


(7) "God’s Justice and Ours" by Antonin Scalia, First Things, 5/2002
http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2022

 
(8)  "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).
 

(9) "The Death Penalty", by Solange Strong Hertz at
http://ourworld.compuserve.com/HOMEPAGES/REMNANT/death2.htm
 

(10) "Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says", Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Abingdon Press, 1987. The definitive biblical review of the death penalty.

copyright 1999-2008 Dudley Sharp

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
 
Pro death penalty sites 

homicidesurvivors(dot)com/categories/Dudley%20Sharp%20-%20Justice%20Matters.aspx

www(dot)dpinfo.com
www(dot)cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
www(dot)clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
www(dot)coastda.com/archives.html
www(dot)lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
www(dot)prodeathpenalty.com
www(dot)yesdeathpenalty.com/deathpenalty_co
yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2 (Sweden)
www(dot)wesleylowe.com/cp.html

Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.

dudleysharp said...

The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
 
Often, the death penalty dialogue gravitates to the subject of innocents at risk of execution. Seldom is a more common problem reviewed. That is, how innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.
 
Living murderers, in prison, after release or escape or after our failures to incarcerate them, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.
 
Although this is, obviously a truism, it is surprising how often  folks overlook the enhanced incapacitation benefits of the death penalty over incarceration.
 
No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.
 
Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.
 
That is. logically, conclusive.
 
16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.
 
A surprise? No.
 
Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
 
Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don't. Studies which don't find for deterrence don't say no one is deterred, but that they couldn't measure those deterred.
 
What prospect of a negative outcome doesn't deter some? There isn't one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.
 
However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life.
 
Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it's a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.
 
Reality paints a very different picture.
 
What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
 
What percentage of convicted capital??murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
 
What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.
 
This is not, even remotely, in dispute.
 
Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
 
Furthermore, history tells us that lifers have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc.
 
In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.
 
Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 20-25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher,are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking.
 
6 inmates have been released from death row because of DNA evidence. An additional 9 were released from prison, because of DNA exclusion, who had previously been sentenced to death.
 
The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting exposure for many years. Even the behemoth of anti death penalty newspapers, The New York Times,  has recognized that deception.
 
To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released from death row . . . (1) This when death penalty opponents were claiming the release of 119 "innocents" from death row. Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order for cases to be added to their "exonerated" or "innocents" list. They simply invented their own definitions for exonerated and innocent and deceptively shoe horned large numbers of inmates into those definitions - something easily discovered with fact checking.
 
There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.
 
If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, we can reasonable conclude that the DNA cases will be excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 8000 death sentences, that we will experience a 99.8% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions. This improved accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that have been added to the system, over and above DNA testing.
 
Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?
 
Unlikely.
 
Full report -All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.
 
Full report - The Death Penalty as a Deterrent, upon request
 
(1) The Death of Innocents: A Reasonable Doubt,
New York Times Book Review, p 29, 1/23/05, Adam Liptak,
national legal correspondent for The NY Times
 
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.