15 November 2005

Catholic Doctrine & the Death Penalty

From Ave Maria Law's Law Review: A Note by Patrick Laurence

"It is true that those who argue that a doctrinal development has occurred do not all assert that the death penalty is immoral in principle. The precise change, they argue, is that the current teaching substantially limits the purposes for which the death penalty can be imposed. The new teaching is that, unless it is necessary to defend society against further harm, the death penalty should never be used. Under the traditional teaching, as expressed in the 1994 version of the Catechism, the death penalty was given more expansive use—a retributive function, not just a defensive function—and could be inflicted as a proportional punishment to redress particularly grave crimes. In a manner of speaking, this is a development to the extent that a change has occurred that is not contradictory to previous teaching. The development, however, is not necessarily predicated on any doctrinal change, as argued above. Thus, even in this sense, the argument that Evangelium Vitae’s teaching on capital punishment represents a development in doctrine is unfounded."142

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142 "Although Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger announced at the publication of Evangelium Vitae that it contained a 'development of doctrine,' his subsequent explanation makes it clear that he was only speaking loosely: 'Clearly, the Holy Father has not altered the doctrinal principles which pertain to this issue [the death penalty] as they are presented in the Catechism, but has simply deepened the application of such principles in the context of present-day historical circumstances.'"
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"In the absence of a blanket prohibition against the death penalty, it would be over-reaching to assert that Catholic judges and attorneys are barred from participating in any capital proceedings whatsoever. In order to conform properly one’s mind and heart to this teaching, however, and in light of the reasonableness of the prudential judgment concerning the medicinality of the death penalty in our own times, extreme circumspection is necessary."

Interesting. This is what I've plucked out of an extremely quick reading (after I stumbled over this by accident). I urge ya'll to take more time then I have at the moment and read it more thoroughly.

For further discussion see my videocast, read Tom's reply and my quick reply to him.

1 comment:

Tom McKenna said...

I agree... the new policy position is not a development of doctrine, it is a hortatory encouragement of the practical considerations in play for use of the death penalty. Since there is, however,no development of doctrine, then it is the case that the prior, traditional teaching is in full force and effect, and the new practical considerations, while they must be acknowledged, do not limit the applicability of the death penalty.

If the traditional teaching allows for retributive use of the DP (which it does) and the new position is not a "development" of that teaching (it could not be a development in any case, since it does not "develop" but rather attempts to curtail the prior teaching) then the conclusion is that the new position is just an expression of policy preference, not a binding moral teaching. Retribution therefore remains a viable use for the DP.