Is Capital Punishment Morally Justifiable - Essay Example

As logicians like to point out, follows from a contradiction. It is no surprise, then, that the pope’s defenders have ended up saying such radically different and inconsistent things. For there simply is no way to make an absolute condemnation of capital punishment consistent with past scriptural and papal teaching. The only way out of the mess is for the pope to issue a clarification that reaffirms traditional teaching.

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Now, another defender of Pope Francis’s remarks, theologian E. Christian Brugger, takes a very different tack. Brugger is a longstanding advocate of the view that capital punishment is always and intrinsically wrong. In a story about the controversy raised by the pope’s remarks, Brugger is :

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The most vociferous defender of Pope Francis’s remarks has been the . Unfortunately, as has become his wont in recent years, Shea completely ignores the actual arguments of his opponents and instead attacks straw men, indulges in attacks, and drags in political controversies with which he is personally obsessed but which have nothing to do with the debate over capital punishment.


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You seem to miss my point. The statements you quote don’t qualify as definitive, infallible statements. Popes are only bound by the deposit of faith and prior infallible judgments about what is contained in the deposit of faith. I am simply questioning whether Feser et al. have demonstrated an infallible doctrinal tradition on the legitimacy of the death penalty. I also think the claim of a 2,000 year old tradition is overblown. Some of the early Fathers were clearly opposed to Christian involvement with capital punishment. They did not challenge the right of the State to execute because they were under the imperial rule of Rome.

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There is no way for this pope and his supporters to reconcile the almost twenty centuries of the Church not having the truth on capital punishment and, now, through pretzel-logic, saying it definitely does.

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With all due respect to Dr. Feser, most of his comments betray a failure to grasp fully the points I made in reply to Eduardo Echeverria’s Oct. 15 article on Pope Francis and capital punishment. As I wrote: “Regarding prior teaching on capital punishment, much depends on whether it is definitive or subject to change and development. Not everyone agrees with Feser, Bessette, and Cardinal Dulles that the liceity of the death penalty is settled doctrine. Some believe that the historic recognition of the penalty’s legitimacy is more like a sententia communis rather than a definitive teaching.”

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This is just a simple statement of fact. Not everyone agrees with Feser and Bessette that the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment “is a requirement of Catholic orthodoxy” (By Man Shall His Blood be Shed, p. 122). In their book, Feser and Bessette bring forth many examples manifesting a widespread consensus (sententia communis) in favor of capital punishment’s legitimacy in the Catholic tradition. These examples are noteworthy, but they do not, in my opinion, demonstrate a definitive, infallible judgment on the part of the Magisterium in favor of the legitimacy of the death penalty. I explain this in more depth in my article, “Capital Punishment, the Magisterium, and Religious Assent,” Josephinum Journal of Theology Vol. 12, No. 2 (Summer/ Fall, 2005), 192-213.